Coming Out into the Light

Illuminating Virginia’s LGBTQ+ History, Landmarks, and Achievements
June 21, 2022
At BBB, this year’s Pride brings a new appreciation for the music and cheers, the rainbow flags and costumes, the radiating joy, the freedom to be oneself, and unabashed expressions of love. 

Over the past year, BBB has had the honor of working with Arlington County, Virginia on a pilot study for the identification and study of LGBTQ+ heritage sites in the county. This effort stems from national and state initiatives to identify places associated with the stories of LGBTQ+ individuals and communities, with the goal of raising the visibility of those stories and increasing recognition of LGBTQ+-associated properties. 

Elevating LGBTQ+ stories and interpreting LGBTQ+ history creates a more inclusive and accurate telling of our collective past, while also serving as an important act of repatriation to a group that has experienced disregard, slander, erasure, or worse. BBB is incredibly grateful for the opportunity to participate in this effort with Arlington County and, more broadly, to celebrate the history of the LGBTQ+ community through our work. In doing so, everyone on this project has developed an enriched understanding and appreciation of the courage and perseverance required when facing injustice.

Lilli Vincenz Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress

The focus of the pilot study with Arlington County is the home of Dr. Lilli Vincenz, an especially active member of the homophile movement in the 1960s and 1970s who continues to serve as a gay rights advocate today. Vincenz, an out lesbian, hosted the Gay Women’s Open House at her residence from 1971 to 1978, offering a safe and comfortable place for lesbian, bisexual, and women questioning their sexuality to meet on a weekly basis. Women throughout the region sought the friendship, discourse, and support offered at Lilli’s home. During those eight years, the Open House fostered the development of the openly gay community in Northern Virginia and Washington, DC and inspired other social groups for gay women nationwide. 

As a journalist, filmmaker, and psychotherapist, Vincenz has always worked to empower members of the LGBTQ+ community and advocate for LGBTQ+ civil rights. In 1965, she joined the first pickets in Washington, DC that protested the US government’s treatment of homosexuals. In 1970, she was there with her camera to capture the first Christopher Street Liberation Day Parade, which was organized to commemorate the first anniversary of the Stonewall Riots and served as New York City’s first Pride March. 

Lilli Vincenz Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress

At the Library of Congress, Vincenz’s personal letters, journals, and photographs are available as part of the nation’s collective history; reviewing them offered our team an intimate window into Vincenz’s activism as well as her immense courage, kindness, intelligence, and humor. These papers were one of many primary and secondary sources deployed in the pilot study, which evaluated the home of Dr. Lilli Vincenz according to the National Register criteria and details its significance in a forthcoming report. 

At the 2009 Capital Pride Parade, Dr. Lilli Vincenz rode—perched in the back of a VW convertible, with her life partner Nancy Ruth Davis at her side—as she was honored as a Capital Pride Super Hero. It is important to recognize our heroes, those who have fought for so many with grit and grace. This Pride, thanks to the opportunity to explore in-depth the life of one of our nation’s gay rights pioneers, the celebration is just a bit sweeter.