Tales from Alexandria’s Queer History
Alexandria was the first locality in Virginia to extend protections to gays and lesbians through its human rights ordinance. In recognition of October as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ+) History Month, the LGBTQ Task Force is sharing information, such as this, and stories about queer history in the city.
One of the stories began in 1990 when two lesbian women filed a complaint with the city and went to court after being kicked out of a bar on King Street for dancing the Texas two-step together. The story, which is posted on the official social media site of Historic Alexandria, describes how they won the case, as at that time, Alexandria had an ordinance to protect against this type of discrimination.
An apology was issued by the bar’s owner. However, the judge noted a 1934 Virginia law that banned bars from serving gay people. This complaint opened the door for others to bring a lawsuit challenging that law.
In the next year, an owner of another bar in Alexandria challenged the constitutionality of Virginia’s law prohibiting bars from selling alcohol to gay and lesbian people and overturned it. A federal judge determined that the law was unconstitutional.
“For years, the gay women and men in Northern Virginia have had to drive into Washington DC if they wanted to go to a bar to be with their gay friends,” said a host of Gay Fairfax, a cable television program covered the celebration of the opening of the only gay bar in Northern Virginia in June 1991.“ That is until now, the French quarter café and bar has recently opened at 808 King Street in Old Town Alexandria”.
Since then, the City of Alexandria has come a long way in recognizing and protecting its LGBTQ community.
A Historical Overview of Alexandria’s Human Rights Code Throughout The Years
On March 25, 1975, Alexandria City Council passed one of the first human rights ordinances in Virginia. The Code, which became effective April 21, 1975, prohibited discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodation, credit, health and social services, education and city contracts on the basis of race, color, sex, age, religion, national origin, ancestry, marital status or physical handicap.
Throughout the years, several changes have expanded the reach of the Code.
In 1988, Alexandria’s law became the first in Virginia to protect gay rights and the City’s human rights code was amended to include sexual orientation as a protected class. City Council approved a change in language to protect homosexual people from discrimination, as was reported by The Washington Blade, the oldest LGBTQ newspaper in the United States.
“October 15 became a red letter day for Gays in Virginia as the Alexandria City Council voted 5 to 2 to amend the city’s human rights law to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. The new law became effective immediately upon the bill’s final passage at 12:28 p.m.,” a news report published on the papers’ front page read. “The Alexandria law marks the first time a local jurisdiction in Virginia has amended its human rights ordinance to protect Gays from discrimination.”
Three decades later, the matter was brought again to Alexandria’s City Council which this time added “Gender Identity, Transgender Status” to human rights Code. In December 2019, the Council decided that the anti-discriminatory language would become the policy of the City regarding housing, public accommodations, employment, health and social services, credit, education and City government contracts. Furthermore, the policy declared that it is the duty of the City to exercise all available means and every power to protect its residents from “undesirable results that have been or may be caused or encouraged by the existence of such conditions.”
The amendment now protects transgender and nonbinary residents from discrimination. Read the ordinance and the amended text here.
Learn more about local LGBTQ history and find more stories, information and resources at Alexandriava.gov/LGBTQ.