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As Hampton Roads' queer community grew, it also came under fire

A black-and-white photograph of people marching down a sidewalk with signs
Norfolk LGBT Life Center
Protesters marched in Norfolk against anti-gay speaker Anita Bryant in 1977.

Read the original story on WHRO's website.

By the mid-1970s, white flight was ravaging Norfolk.

As businesses and residents moved to the suburbs, the city’s LGBTQ+ community took notice. A series of bars and businesses focused on gay clientele moved to downtown.

“Gay men were one of the few subsets of the population that were willing to go back into downtowns: downtown Chicago, downtown Cleveland, downtown Buffalo,” said Joe Amos, a gay man who’s lived in Norfolk since the 1970s. “Your typical straight white family — they wanted to get the hell out and go to the [suburbs].”

The Ghent neighborhood became a safe haven with a large LGBTQ+ community.

Fred Osgood lived there for three decades. Back in the day, it was often referred to as a gay “ghetto.”

“I had 35 years that I lived in Ghent and some of that was intentional, that I knew that it was a safer place,” Osgood said.

As a growing community became more visible, it also came under fire.

Norfolk’s gay community was brought into the national spotlight in 1977 when Anita Bryant brought her infamously anti-gay campaign, “Save the Children,” to the Scope.

Local gay activists took seats in the arena and when she began to discuss homosexuality, they stood and walked out in protest.

Later, as Bryant was discussing her experience in Norfolk while in Iowa, she was hit with a pie by a gay rights activist.

As the 1980s ticked by, public opinion began to shift and the gay community began “blending” into society. What was once outlawed began to be celebrated.

Many of the trailblazers of the gay rights movement following the 1969 Stonewall Riots said they never dreamed they would see the degree of acceptance and support that exists today.

Those people movement still celebrate those moments in the Prime Timers Club. The club is a group of older gay men who meet monthly for social events.

“There’s a certain isolation involved with gay men when they get to a certain age and the club is a way to keep the conversation going,” said president Joe Davis.

WHRO audio engineer Jordan Christie contributed to this report.