Lesbian Couple On What It Means To Be QTPOC in Richmond

“In my experience, Richmond is a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ kind of place.”

My City with Jetta & Vanessa Washington
Richmond, Virginia

What is it like for queer women of color in the south? Jetta Washington, 45, and her wife Vanessa, 47, keep it real as they describe the LGBTQ scene, or lack thereof, in Richmond, Virginia and how the deep-rooted history of the city directly impacts people of color in the LGBTQ community. The two were married in New York State in 2011 but weren’t considered legally married in Virginia until 2015, when Gay Marriage became the law of the land. Despite having to create their own sense of community, Jetta and Vanessa do what they can to stay committed to LGBTQ activism, connect with other LGBTQ individuals, and carve out their own little comfy LGBTQ niche in the city.

Jetta and Vanessa featured in Equality Virginia’s wedding online album

Describe the Richmond LGBTQ scene in a nutshell:

Richmond doesn’t really have an LGBTQ scene, which means that you really have to know people because folks here are not open enough to even speak. You have to create your own scene and establish your own LGBTQ family in Richmond because they’re not forthcoming here like they are in bigger cities.

Is Richmond a welcoming city for LGBTQ folks?

I wouldn’t call Richmond a welcoming city for LGBTQ folks and in that same breath I would not call Richmond an unwelcoming city for us, either. In my experience, Richmond is a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ kind of place. What I mean by that is that it is rare that other gay folks around here will acknowledge or even speak if spoken to. It’s weird. 

We were fortunate, however, to meet a wonderful LGBTQ person at a community gathering we attended at the Gay Community Center of Richmond a few years back. He was so kind and welcoming that we were taken back. A beautiful relationship has blossomed as a result and he has introduced us to many of his friends in the city. 

Bar/Restaurant/Club that is a must-go-to?

There are none that I’d classify as a “must-go-to,” but I enjoy Barcode and Godfrey’s. Barcode has a community feel and there is an eclectic group of patrons that frequent the place. True diversity. It’s not a club, but a bar where you can just hang with friends, grab a bite to eat, shoot some pool and have a good time. You feel right at home when you walk through the doors.

Godfrey’s is a good spot for drag shows and dancing before and after the show. They have specialized nights depending on the crowd you want to mix with and even a Sunday Brunch Drag Show. The drag shows are strictly men in drag as I have yet to see women in drag at Godfrey’s. But I absolutely love the boys! 

Club Colours, aka Club 534, is a known spot that people of color frequent. The great thing about Colours is the location as it is in the heart of Richmond right next to Virginia Commonwealth University and at one point they featured an all-white party on every first Sunday of the month. It’s for a more mature and grown crowd. 

Jetta, Vanessa and friends at a white party at Club Colours

Describe the Richmond LGBTQ Community in one word or phrase:

Non-existent unless you know people personally. 

What is your favorite LGBTQ-owned businesses to frequent in Richmond?

The Gay Community Center of Richmond’s Diversity Thrift Shop.

LGBTQ nightlife in Richmond is:

For the babies and the young ones if you’re talking about clubs and bars. The mature crowd tends to throw parties in their homes or have private outings at places of a consensus choice. If they go out for a night on the town, it is rare and with a crew of their own as they hop from spot to spot.

For queer WOC, Richmond is:

Sad because we all need affirmation. Find your niche and your own community where you are seen, recognized and loved. A great resource is the online meet up groups, the Diversity Center of Richmond, or volunteering with the local pride organization committee or Human Rights Campaign office. 

Jetta and Vanessa at a cookout on Fourth of July

Pride Weekend in Richmond is:

Interesting from what I know and have seen of its past. The first year I attended, I served as a pride volunteer. It was great way to meet people. After my shift ended, I met up with friends and enjoyed the day.

This year, Virginia Pride will be held on Brown’s Island in September. Brown Island is nice and it is much better than a downtown Richmond park area where we would infringe upon the homeless. Vanessa and I are headed for a tour around the world starting in early August so I don’t know about the events lined up for this year as we both have been preoccupied with planning to go abroad as LGBTQ WOC traveling the globe. (Feel free to follow Jetta and Vanessa on their globe-trotting journey @ www.ourworld-ourway.com)

Jetta (in rainbow suspenders) on her way to volunteer at Virginia Pride

LGBTQ activism in Richmond is:

Necessary. I am big on activism and there is still more work to be done. We have come a long way, but we have not arrived. There still hangs this grey cloud of oppression over Richmond. After all, Richmond was once the capital of the confederacy. There is an ugly history here in regard to slavery, racism and discrimination. Stuff like that doesn’t just go away. Somehow, I think there is connection between that and LGBTQ people of color that are born, bred and raised here. The “don’t ask, don’t tell” keep your head down mentality is deeply rooted. 

What would you tell LGBTQ individuals who are planning to visit Richmond in the near future?

Do not expect much. Bring your fun LGBTQ crew with you if you’re going to go out, otherwise you may be disappointed if you come from a city that has a lively, active and open LGBTQ scene. At the end of the day, a city is what you make it and who you make it with. Because this has been my experience with Richmond, doesn’t mean that it will be your experience. Establishing a network of friends and support is crucial if you’re relocating or migrating here. If you’re planning a visit, bring the fun and support with you. Richmond has forever made an imprint on my life because of the relationships that I’ve had the opportunity to establish and cultivate over the years. That did not happen overnight, but it has been the value of my discovering this beautiful city. 

What do you love most about your city as an LGBTQ couple?

We have lived here for almost seven years now and I love that my wife and I have never felt physically threatened or been openly discriminated against because of our orientation. That is a true blessing.