After getting hit by a car and getting extensive rehabilitation in Los Angeles, Stephen Marion began reflecting and decided to move back to his hometown, Farmville. Marion grew up in Farmville and graduated from Prince Edward County High School in 1999, then attended Bard College in New York.
Once he moved back, Marion realized there was no inclusive organization in the town, so he founded his own.
“After being away for 18 years, (I) was looking for an LGBTQ community to be a part of and I didn’t find anything,” said Marion.
In April 2018, Marion held his first meeting where only his parents came to the event. Then, the mother of Marion’s childhood friend spread the word around and during the next meeting, 12 people showed up.
Farmville Pride has now grown to see 17 people, with 40 people attending a barbecue held back in September.
“I’m so happy with how the group has grown. We have such a strong group, people are really supportive of one another,” said Marion.
Dr. Jes Simmons, assistant director of Citizen Leadership and Social Justice Education at Longwood and member of the Board of Directors for Farmville Pride, brought Marion to some Longwood PRIDE meetings and coming out rallies at the university after meeting him at Third Street Brewing.
According to Simmons, there are roughly a dozen openly transgender students on campus and about 50 openly LGBTQ+ students.
“I think for Longwood faculty, staff and students who are LGBT or allies, this is just one extra place to find your tribe, to feel safe, to feel comfortable,” Simmons said.
Member Adam Trimmer travels from Richmond every month to attend the meetings. Trimmer is known for speaking out against conversion therapy after experiencing it as a teenager, and later became involved with Farmville Pride at the launch of the General Assembly event with Equality Virginia back in January.
Trimmer went to Longwood for a year and a half, and was familiar with the area.
“I immediately recognized Farmville and Pride and tried to figure out how those two words were on a sign together, and I was so encapsulated,” said Trimmer.
Growing up Pentecostal, Trimmer and his family transitioned to a Southern Baptist church when he was 13. Trimmer said he felt conflicted as a closeted gay male, so he used his sexual identity to become more involved with the church.
After surviving a suicide attempt at 18 years old, a pastor recommended Trimmer try conversion therapy. Trimmer quit after eight months and now uses the experience to advocate against and raise awareness of it.
“It’s super important for anyone who has grown up Evangelical and who’s having that struggle of reconciling your identity, it’s super important to know you’re not alone, (and) there are resources out there for you,” said Trimmer.
According to Marion, the environment in Farmville has been very supportive but said he still has his fears.
“There’s always a little anxiety because people who disagree with the group could easily show up,” said Marion.
Marion added there’s also been no hate or backlash online through their social media.
Secretary of Farmville Pride, Tatum Standley, said the support from the town has been “surprising”.
“I found this group when I needed it and to see it grow and to see the community really embrace us is sort of wild,” said Standley.
As the goal for the organization, Marion said he would like to see a diversity center in Farmville. Marion added a pride parade in the town would be a good way to show how Farmville has progressed over the years.
“I think (a pride parade) would be really great for the town because the town is known for division with the closing of the schools,” said Marion in reference to the closing of Prince Edward County Schools in 1959 after being forced to integrate. “To show that Farmville’s really progressing and it really accepts and loves everyone.”
The organization is coming up on one year, holding a celebration at Wilck’s Lake Island on April 20 where all are welcome to attend.
Farmville Pride meets the third Saturday of each month at Third Street Brewing from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.