“Virginia is for Lovers” has been the tourism slogan of the Commonwealth of Virginia since sometime during my childhood. Yet this is a phrase that has always sounded hollow (and still sounds superficial and ridiculous) to me, a Virginian by birth and a resident for all but seven years of my life, given the familiar usage of the word “lovers” to denote the partners in a gay or lesbian relationship and that mine is very clearly a state that, at the state level, at least (there are pockets of tolerance and acceptance, particularly including my own Arlington County), is not at all supportive of its gay and lesbian citizens.
Granted, Virginia historically hasn’t been particularly supportive of all other lovers, either, even fighting for the right to keep its miscegenation laws on the books all the way to the Supreme Court in 1967, in the case of Virginia v. Loving.
True to form, then, following yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling that has the effect of overturning Virginia’s own “Crimes Against Nature” law, as reported by The Washington Post and noted also by Gene, our Attorney General, Jerry W. Kilgore (R), has spoken out against the decision:
Kilgore (R) expressed disappointment with the ruling, which he said invalidates a state statute banning oral and anal sex between consenting gay and heterosexual couples. “As one who believes that the courts are to interpret and not create law, I disagree with the ruling and am always disappointed when a court undermines Virginia’s right to pass legislation that reflects the views and values of our citizens,” he said in a statement.
My own disappointment comes from the degradation of Virginia from its position as one of the centers of the birthplace of the American Revolution (“Mother of States and Statesmen”) through its lamentable position as hosting the capitol of the Confederacy to its current pride in an extremely regressive political mindset exemplified by Kilgore’s statement. Aren’t I a citizen of Virginia? What about reflecting my views and values? As a child growing up in Virginia, I was inundated in school with classes in Virginia History, and I felt so proud that, by an accident of ancestry and birth, I was one of a long line of Virginians. My senior year of high school, I was honored by the Daughters of the American Revolution as the “Good Citizen of the State of Virginia,” delivering a speech to them about patriotism (I am so embarrassed to remember the degree of my naïveté, even as late as 17; I’m just so grateful now that it wasn’t an honor bestowed by the Daughters of the Confederacy) at a dinner in Richmond fêting my youthful accomplishments. I suspect that had I been out that year, rather than a few months later once I reached the safety of college, that award would have gone to another; even now there are those, like Kilgore, who believe that a gay man cannot de facto be a “good citizen,” and, until yesterday, I was indeed an unapprehended felon and recidivist for my (all too) occasional acts of sodomy.
Yet I still sometimes feel the stirring of that bizarre erstwhile pride in having been born a Virginian. When I moved back to the DC area from my seven years in Massachusetts, I made a deliberate decision to live in Virginia rather than Maryland. Even now, as the Commonwealth has delivered disappointment after disappointment to me as a gay man, especially, but as a human and civil rights advocate more generally, I still identify, to some degree, as a Virginian–or, at least, as a Virginian of an ideal Virginia, the Platonic Commonwealth that might have been. And, while I remain in the DC area, I feel that it’s important that I stay here, and try to change things, and not to cede this, which is my home, too, to the narrow-minded, those who idealize a different historical Virginia, and who pray to their Dixie God, as per the lamentable state song, to Carry Me Back to Old Virginny:
Where I labored
So hard for old Massa,
Day after day
In the field of yellow corn….
There’s where the old darkey’s
Heart am long’d to go.
Frankly, I’m ready for a brand new Virginny, a Virginia that looks forward rather than nostalgically back, one that truly is for lovers, not haters.