I have frequently noted that the City of Norfolk is not what I would generally call gay friendly. Yes, things are better than they once were and last year for the first time Hampton Roads Pride's annual pride event ceased being relegated to less than prime time locations. But there is much to still be done. And with City Council elections next month, there are some candidates who believe that much more should be done. One such candidate is Jesse Scaccia, running for Super Ward 6 against incumbent Barclay Winn. To help showcase Jesse's ideas, the following is an op-ed that he wrote (other candidates will also be submitting op-eds for publication on this blog):
The City of Norfolk took a grand step forward last year when it permitted Hampton Roads Pride to hold Out in the Park in Town Point Park. On that gorgeous June day our world got smaller, yet with more friends in it. As someone who worked behind the scenes to get the City's approval--and then on Pride's volunteer and marketing committees--it was one of my most proud moments as a Norfolkian.
But there's plenty more work to be done. For the local LGBT community to thrive as it should, there will need to be a strong institutional push as well. If I'm elected to Norfolk City Council, here are some items that will be high on my agenda:
1. Broaden our anti-discrimination policy
Currently it is perfectly legal in Norfolk to refuse to rent to a person because they are gay. Let's add sexual orientation to Sec. 45.1-2. (Unlawful discriminatory housing practices—Unlawful practices by persons selling, leasing, etc., dwellings) of the city code.
There are other places where the anti-discrimination policy should be expanded to include sexual orientation, including Sec. 33.1-53, which handles employment discrimination by contractors.
Virginia Beach has shown real leadership in attempting to get discrimination laws expanded at the state level. Norfolk should be right there with them.
2. Create a task force dedicated to Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Affairs
The quality of life of our LGBT residents needs to be an active part of the City's consciousness. Plus, DC has one. Populated by volunteers and one paid city staff member, this is a low cost way to send the very clear message that yes, Norfolk is LGBT friendly.
3. Start a 'Norfolk Comes in Colors' / 'I (rainbow) Norfolk' campaign
It's a simple sticker--produced by the City or in partnership with a private organization--offered to all Norfolk businesses. Incorporate a rainbow, the word Norfolk, and hand them out: immediately every business who has one in the window becomes a safe place for those in the LGBT community.
4. Allow for a gay pride parade associated with Out in the Park
Norfolk is the cultural capital for a region of 1.7 million people, making us the 36th largest metro in the country. While a gay pride festival is great, traditionally is the parade--a literal march and celebration through the streets--that holds the greater cultural significance. Make the offer to Pride before they even ask.
And, c'mon, even Salt Lake (freaking) City has a gay pride parade. We can do this--even if it's just a few blocks from the federal courthouse to the park.
5. Celebrate the LGBT Center of Hampton Roads in Park Place.
We all know it's there. But was the mayor there for the grand opening? Did the mayor mention the opening of the center in his State of the City speech? No, of course not. But it's not too late to recognize this wonderful beacon for the LGBT community.
6. Officially recognize National Coming Out Day
As readers of this blog know, National Coming Out Day is October 11. When a city's leadership recognizes this kind of thing, they normalize it. And any way that coming out can be normalized, our city should support.
7. Visit Norfolk should reach out to GLBT visitors
I'd like to see the Norfolk Convention & Visitors Bureau make a strong pitch to LGBT visitors, similar to what I've seen a number of other organizations of that type do in other metro areas, such as Philly.
8. Encourage the formation of GSAs at local high schools
GLBT young people are more likely to commit suicide than straight young people. Young people--especially when they feel marginalized--desperately need a sense of community. Gay-Straight Alliances provide that safe place. Plus, GSAs improve the learning environment for GLBT students.
Most of these ideas wouldn't cost the City a dime, yet they'd improve quality of life for thousands of our residents. These are the kinds of things I will push for if elected to the Norfolk City Council. Along with a community more active in the schools, more government transparency, civic engagement, and a celebration of multiple forms of transportation, Norfolk can get even better, just by changing the way it looks at things.