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How Virginia attracts LGBTQ+ visitors: ‘Just be nice to everybody'

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Posted at 3:56 PM, Jun 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-03 10:12:55-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- June marks the start of Pride Month for the LBGTQ+ community which commemorates years of struggle for civil rights and equality.

On Wednesday, the Office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth hosted “Pride Month Series: Virginia is for Tourism Lovers” virtual roundtable. The event was led by Virginia Tourism Corporation along with members of the LGBTQ+ tourism industry discussing marketing efforts for 2021.

“The number one reason for travel is visiting friends and family and that doesn’t change within the LGBTQ+ community,” said Wirt Confroy, director of business development for Virginia Tourism.

According to Virginia Tourism, queer travelers in Virginia stay longer compared to all travelers. On average, 6% of visitors to our state identify as LGBTQ+ and they bring their wallets with them.

LGBTQ+ travelers spent an estimated $63.1 billion on domestic and international travel.

“It’s not just about the money. It’s about making a place, it’s making a community,” said Rita McClenny, president of Virginia Tourism.

McClenny highlighted the work of Virginia’s lawmakers who passed 11 pro-equality bills this session, which is considered a rainbow sign to visitors.

“This is all to make our visitors, our citizens, our community feel welcome and whole and positive,” she explained.

Virginia has taken the lead among Southern states to attract more communities to the Commonwealth. Virginia was the first Southern state to provide sweeping anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people following the passage of the Virginia Values Act in 2020.

“The laws are so elevated now that queer couples used to have special documents to say if something happens to someone in my family and I’m not legally married my father will be the point of contact. Now, that’s gone, and they are going to family reunions,” Confroy explained.

Virginia Tourism Corporation also updated its current Virginia is for Lovers Pride Heart logo and adopted the Progress Pride Flag design that represents different identities within the broader queer community.

To attract queer visitors, non-profits across the state have highlighted the histories of their communities.

Dr. G. Samantha Rosenthal has organized walking tours of Roanoke’s gay neighborhoods, including Old Southwest where the LGBTQ+ make up a disproportionate number of the population.

“We’ve done 46-hour long interviews that are all available online with LGBTQ+ elders in Southwest Virginia,” Rosenthal stated.

For some localities, the goal is to encourage visitors to settle down especially in rural areas. The Arrow Project in Staunton provides safe spaces and free counseling for residents.

“I would like to think the support we provide to new coming members of our community does make them feel situated and want to stay and be a part of our community,” said Sabrina Burress.

But regardless of how you identify, Virginia Tourism shared the following simple advice.

“The grand welcome in tourism is to just be nice to everybody and help them get them what they need,” Confroy said.