Like many destinations, urban areas have traditionally been the most popular for Queer leisure and business travel. Virginia is no exception to that rule. Our cities close to large metro areas, such as Alexandria and Arlington near Washington D.C., have been long-standing popular destinations for LGBTQ+ travelers for decades. Similarly, Virginia’s capital city of Richmond has a long history of notable Queer figures and a contemporary OutRVA life and culture. Less than two hours east of Richmond, Norfolk, and nearby coastal cities Hampton and Virginia Beach, have a centuries-long military histories, bringing with them Queer travelers from around the world. Traveling westward, Charlottesville has distinct and OUT local communities, with popular pride events and year-long social and cultural programs.
But in addition to the urban centers, Virginia has many lesser-known yet welcoming, creative and vibrant communities, from smaller cities to Main Street downtowns. Statewide, LGBTQ+ locals and allies own and operate lodging, dining, shopping, events and outdoor experiences. Hear from these locals about their experiences living in a more rural Virginia and check out some of their local favorites.
Homeowner Rachel Leyco, along with her wife and two sons, established roots in Cape Charles three years ago. “It is a small, historic town with a relaxed beach vibe, thriving arts community, world-class food/drink and diverse population,” says Leyco. She most enjoys time with her family, and entertains visitors and locals playing acoustic guitar a several locations throughout the year. “We have been fortunate to find many other Queer residents and Allies in Cape Charles, making it feel like a safe place for my family. Everyone has been so welcoming and inclusive. Cape Charles is truly a small town with a big heart.”
– Rachel Leyco (she/her) 36, Filipino, married with 2 sons (ages 4 & 6)
Some of Rachel and family’s local favorites:
“Colonial Beach is one of my favorite places on earth. I love the hustle and bustle of Rehoboth Beach, but Colonial Beach has down-home charm and the friendliest people I have ever met,” says business and home owner Eric Nelson. He and his husband Edward were originally a little wary about buying a weekend house in Colonial Beach, but it was the best decision ever. “The growing LGBT community in Colonial Beach is welcomed with open arms and is completely integrated into the town’s character. LGBT visitors feel at home when they see all the rainbow flags flying and the same-sex couples so openly enjoying life. I cannot imagine living anywhere else. It has become our forever home.” – Eric Nelson (he/him) Local artist, realtor, Chamber of Commerce member; Spouse Edward Hart
Some of Eric's local favorites:
Mo Kahn is a senior at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, studying computer science. When asked about his local experience, Mo shares, “JMU’s culture is based on community and allows students to find themselves and make lifelong friends and connections." An avid hiker, Harrisonburg is a great place to enjoy the outdoors. Mo added, "One of my favorite things about Harrisonburg is its proximity to some great hikes. JMU and Harrisonburg share some really great spaces for queer folks - whether that be through JMU’s diversity & inclusion student organizations and programs or the events put on by local Shenandoah Valley organizations, there are many resources for LGBTQ+ folks to feel safe and welcome here.”
– Mo Khan (he/him) Gay, Vice President – Madison EqualitySome of Mo's local favorites:
“Virginia is a beautiful and diverse state and the Roanoke Valley is no exception. My wife and I have lived in Roanoke since 2013 and we love the local can-do attitude and community,” shares Roanoke resident Felix Nguyen-Dalton. Located in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, the city is known for its vibrant downtown surrounded many outdoor trails and parks. “Roanoke has so many passionate residents and you really feel like you can make a difference here. Also, the Roanoke and adjacent New River Valley communities are incredibly hospitable, and I encourage people to visit, explore, and find joy in what the area has to offer."
– Felix Nguyen-Dalton (they/he/she) 28, Agender, Asexual, married (to a wonderful lesbian) with three cats, two dogs, one hedgehog, a ball python, and ever-multiplying plants
Some of Felix's local favorites:
Joseph McCain moved to Smithfield in 2009 to be with his partner Jason, who grew up there. They own local florist Fleur de Fou, one of Main Street’s popular, locally-owned shops. “Smithfield is a quaint town and reminds me of where I grew up in Keeling, Virginia, which is outside of Danville. The people here have been very welcoming and personable, and I enjoy seeing neighbors we know at the post office, grocery store and when dining out,” says McCain. “There is just something reminiscent about walking down Main Street and waiving to your neighbors. We have never had a problem with feeling welcomed here.”
– Joseph McCain (he/him) 35, Partner Jason 40, both identify as organic males
Some of Joseph's local favorites: