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Queer Coffeeshop Talk

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Article by Drew Luther

Photo Courtesy of Gabe Umland

On September 1st at Mill Mountain Coffee Dr. Gregory Rosenthal gave a talk titled “Queer History after Orlando.” The talk was the first of the semester, starting off Roanoke College’s “Coffee Shop Talks” series.

Dr. Rosenthal began by telling different reactions to the shootings at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, as well as counter reactions. In addition to Facebook adding a rainbow filter to profile pictures, he mentioned the reactions of different organizations after the shooting, such as the many police and government departments that declared their support for the LGBTQ+ community. This support felt differently by members of the LGBTQ+ community, with some welcoming the support from previous antagonists and others distrusting the sincerity of the government in light of past history.

In addition, Dr. Rosenthal talked about the effect of the internet on the LGBTQ+ community, in particular how connecting to other LGBTQ+ people online decreased the prevalence and success of physical LGBTQ+ spaces and venues. Rather than going to gay bars and clubs, people find others online and communicate with them through viral connections. In the Roanoke Valley, there is now only one gay nightclub, the Peak in Salem, and people argue about whether or not that even counts anymore.

Dr. Rosenthal detailed some of his research into local LGBTQ+ history, including a Downtown Roanoke LGBTQ+ history walking tour, a physical and digital historical archive in the Roanoke Public Library, and a collection of oral histories from members of the local LGBTQ+ community.

He also mentioned historiography, which is the process of creating a historical narrative, and some questions about who should be in charge of that narrative and how it gets developed. Specifically, he addressed the recent naming of the Stonewall Inn as a US National Monument, and the arguments amongst the community about whether or not this was a good thing.

His own personal anecdote was shared as he recounted the memory of walking past police armed with machine guns into the Greenwich Village Community Center and his personal discomfort with it.

After the talk, many students in the audience expressed how welcoming Roanoke College is to LGBTQ+ people. Some members of the Salem community asked questions regarding pride parades and oversexualization.

The talk had the largest audience of any Coffee Shop Talk, and many of the members of the audience stood because there weren’t enough seats. Throughout the talk, the audience applauded and snapped their approval.

For more information on the Southwest Virginia LGBTQ+ History Project, visit http://lgbthistory.pages.roanoke.edu. The next Coffee Shop Talk is at 8 PM on Thursday, October 6th when Dr. Paul Hinlicky speaks on “The 95 Theses -What was that all about?”.