Partial Transcript: LASH: Cool, okay, so I’m just going to start with some basic questions. Can you tell us your name, place of birth, and about, like, your family and where you were raised?
Segment Synopsis: Sutphin gives a brief overview of his background, including where he grew up and information about his parents.
Keywords: childhood; family
Partial Transcript: LASH: Cool, okay, so how would you say you identify yourself?
SUTPHIN: I identify as gay. Is that what you’re looking for? Or do you want, like broader than that like middle class or something?
LASH: [Laughter] No, just related to the project. So when you were growing up in the Williamsburg area, were you out in high school or was that something that happened more when you came to Tech?
Segment Synopsis: Sutphin discusses coming out in high school to his friends and family.
Keywords: coming out; high school; self-identification
Partial Transcript: LASH: And when you got here in 2002 was there a large gay community, like LGBT support?
SUTPHIN: Yeah, so when I first came, my freshman year, when I first started in college, my biggest social support actually came from my hallmates. I lived in Thomas Hall. At the time it was all male and it wasn’t a cadet dorm.
Segment Synopsis: Sutphin discusses coming to Virginia Tech and the support he found from classmates.
Keywords: LGBTQ community; LGBTQ support
Partial Transcript: There was a controversy because the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors removed sexual orientation from the non-discrimination policy. And there was a whole series of protests and I went to this one big protest in front of Buruss Hall, so after that I got really excited about being involved. For like background, there was a faculty member, Shelli Fowler, who, they didn’t approve her…
Segment Synopsis: Sutphin discusses his involvement in protesting the Board of Visitors' non-discrimination policy.
Keywords: Board of Visitors; LGBTA; protests
Partial Transcript: LASH: you helped start the Safe Watch?
SUTPHIN: Yeah, so when I was president in 2005, we started a campaign, we called it the “Give a Damn” campaign—
Segment Synopsis: Sutphin continues discussing his involvement in the LGBTA, such as starting up SafeWatch with the "Give a Damn" Campaign.
Keywords: LGBTA; SafeWatch
Partial Transcript: LASH: But so, you were also a Collegiate Times writer, correct?
SUTPHIN: Yeah, I was the—I started out as a staff writer for the Collegiate Times, and then over the summer I became the News Editor. And then there was an opening for News Editor that fall because someone left, so I was the News Editor. The fall of my senior year. And then we split up the News Editor position, and there were multiple News Editor positions, and I became the City Editor. So I covered everything off campus that happened, so, Blacksburg. I went to the town council meetings and now I’m on the town council.
Segment Synopsis: Sutphin discusses his work as a reporter and editor at the Collegiate Times, career opportunities after graduation, and joining Virginia Tech in the communications department of the College of Agriculture and of the vet med school.
Keywords: communications; journalism; Vet School
Partial Transcript: LASH: Gotcha. That’s pretty cool. Yeah, so, obviously now you’re on town council. So while I was—we do research on you guys, not to be creepy
SUTPHIN: Mmm hmm. You Googled me?
LASH: Just a little bit. But yeah, I thought it was really interesting, when I was reading about when you ran in 2013, correct?
SUTPHIN: Uh, 2011
Segment Synopsis: Sutphin discusses how he got interested in local government and his election to the Blacksburg Town Council.
Keywords: Blacksburg Town Council; local government
Partial Transcript: SUTPHIN: But thankfully, after the Supreme Court kind of non-decision recently, those problems have all been fixed.
LASH: Yeah, which is awesome.
SUTPHIN: It was within a couple days that the town of Blacksburg started offering same-sex partner benefits. So, similar to Virginia Tech, did the same thing.
Segment Synopsis: Sutphin discusses how the Supreme Court decision affected how Blacksburg handles same-sex partner benefits.
Partial Transcript: LASH: [Laughter] So, can you tell us more about your work with Equality Virginia?
SUTPHIN: Yeah, sure. So I joined in 2010. So I lost my race in 2009 because there were too many people running. There were ten people on the ballot for like three and a half seats. I could explain—
Segment Synopsis: Sutphin discusses his involvement in EqualityVA, including the advocacy issues of the group. He discusses how advocacy and acceptance has changed in the state and country.
Keywords: Equality Virginia; LGBTQ advocacy
Partial Transcript: LASH: So after—obviously the transition from being on campus to being in the Blacksburg community, is there an LGBTQA community in Blacksburg? Or does it kind of tie into the one on campus?
Segment Synopsis: Sutphin discusses organizations that have developed since he left Virginia Tech and how they connect to members of the Blacksburg community. He also talks about places in Blacksburg that is supportive of the LGBT community.
Keywords: LGBTA; LGBTQ community
Partial Transcript: LASH: But yeah, so, you’ve talked about all these different things that you’re involved in, and is there a primary community that you would associate yourself with? Do you, like, first and foremost associate yourself with the LGBT community?
SUTPHIN: Probably, yeah. I would say that. I think I’ve become broader in my associations, such as in running for Town Council.
Segment Synopsis: Sutphin talks about his work on the Blacksburg Town Council, including the Metropolitan Planning Organization, Blacksburg Partnership, and assorted committees. He also discusses how he divides his time between the town council and work at Virginia Tech.
Keywords: Blacksburg Town Council; Virginia Tech
Partial Transcript: SUTPHIN: So the Roanoke Times called me and they wanted to do this story about how I was the first openly gay person in the area who’d been elected. I was like, okay. So they interviewed me to do this story, and they also send out a photographer to get some photos of me, and these photos were not very good. I was wearing flannel—I didn’t have much notice. So I was wearing flannel and I’m in front of the town hall and the, like, lighting is really bad, and I’m in front of those white statues.
Segment Synopsis: Sutphin discusses being the first openly gay man on the Blacksburg Town Council, the article about his election in the Roanoke Times, and reactions from the community.
Keywords: politics; publicity
Partial Transcript: LASH: So is there anything that, for you, has been really important for shaping how you’ve identified with the LGBT community, or just your view of being gay in general?
Segment Synopsis: Sutphin wraps up about how his experiences being out differ from others' and affect his outlook and opinions. He also gives advice to those struggling with their sexuality and coming out.
Interview with Michael Sutphin
Date of Interview: November 5, 2014Interviewer: Molly Lash Assistant: Amanda Lilly Place of Interview: Michael Sutphin’s residence, Blacksburg, Virginia Length: 43:20 Transcribers: Molly Lash, Amanda Lilly, Claire Gogan
Amanda Lilly: Yeah, go ahead.
Molly Lash: It’s November 5th, 2014. This is Molly Lash and I’m interviewing Michael Sutphinin his home in Blacksburg, Virginia.
LILLY: You’re good.
LASH: Cool, okay, so I’m just going to start with some basic questions. Can you tell us yourname, place of birth, and about, like, your family and where you were raised?
Michael Sutphin: Sure, I’m Michael David Sutphin. I was born in Knoxville, Tennessee at theUniversity of Tennessee Memorial Hospital. I lived in Tennessee for about three years, then after that my family moved to Asheville, North Carolina and then I lived there for about seven years, so when I was 10 or 11 we moved to just outside of Williamsburg, Virginia. So I went to middle school and high school in Williamsburg.
LASH: I’m from Newport News
SUTPHIN: Oh yeah?
LASH: So, really close by [laughs].
SUTPHIN: I went to Lafeyette High School. Let’s see, then I came to Virginia Tech in 2002 and1:00graduated in 2006. Since then I’ve worked for the University—
SUTPHIN: Let’s see, about my family and other biographical information?
LASH: Yeah, just about how you were raised—
SUTPHIN: Um, I’m an only child, my parents are still married. Let’s see, my mother was ateacher for about ten years, then she did some lobbying when I was in high school. And my dad designed nuclear submarines for a living.
LASH: That’s awesome [laughs]
SUTPHIN: So, he retired a couple years ago from doing that.
LASH: Cool, okay, so how would you say you identify yourself?
SUTPHIN: I identify as gay. Is that what you’re looking for? Or do you want, like broader thanthat like middle class or something?
LASH: [Laughter] No, just related to the project. So when you were growing up in the2:00Williamsburg area, were you out in high school or was that something that happened more when you came to Tech?
SUTPHIN: Yeah, so I came out when I was 15 to my friends in high school. I told my best friendfirst, then I told a few other friends and then it kind of spread to everyone else because it’s high school. I told my parents a year later when I was 16. I don’t remember if I was a sophomore or a junior, I remember being 16 years old when I told my parents. I told my parents in a letter…I don’t know if that’s useful information or not. I’ve just always been a writer and it’s just easier
LASH: To write down things
SUTPHIN: To write out your thoughts than tell them in person sometimes. So, I gave my momthe letter then my mom gave it to my dad so, it was the same thing.
[Front door opens and closes]
LASH: So how was that experience for you?
SUTPHIN: Let’s see, so that would have been in like, 1999, 2000 kind of era so it was a little bit3:00different than the country is now, I would say. So people were a little bit less tolerant. I did lose this group of friends that I hung out with. I wasn’t friends with them anymore when I first came out. I found another group of friends. And they never explicitly said “we’re not hanging out with you because you’re gay” or something like that. It just…they were friends that went away. Um, I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve heard similar stories from other people, that kind of thing. Ummm—my parents were very accepting. I grew up in a very liberal house. I wasn’t raised in a church or anything like that, so I didn’t have any religious hang ups or anything. Let’s see, it’s kind of an interesting story that the day I came out to my parents, because I was almost suspended from school that day for something completely unrelated—
SUTPHIN: So I broke into the computer system at my high school just to, like, play a prank. So,then, I was caught and the assistant principal called my mom and my mom kept asking me why I 4:00was acting out. And I said, “can I write it in a letter?” And so that was why I wrote the letter. My mom read the letter and she came and she talked to me for a little bit, and then when my dad came home from work she gave the letter to him. I could hear them— I was in the bedroom above where the living room is so I could hear what they were saying, then my dad came upstairs and like the first thing he said to me was, ‘how did you hack into the school computer system?’
SUTPHIN: He was more intrigued by this, so—
LASH: But I feel like—I feel like that’s good. I would be more intrigued by that, too, to behonest
SUTPHIN: [laughs] Yeah.
LASH: That’s a pretty elaborate prank! [laughs]
SUTPHIN: My dad, when he was still working for Newport News Shipbuilding
LASH: Oh yeah.
SUTPHIN: It was owned by Northrop Grumman at the time, and they used to have, where theydid Pride Month, where they put posters around the buildings to celebrate June is Pride Month for LGBT awareness. And when the company spinned off into its own company and they 5:00stopped doing that and instead just sent out an email, they didn’t put up posters, and my dad didn’t like that so he made his own Pride Month posters he designed and put them around the building. I don’t know if it was to show support for his son or to anger some of his conservative co-workers or something like that [laughs].
LASH: That’s pretty funny, though. Because, yeah, that area though—that would anger people,but yeah, I like that. [laugh] So, when you got to Tech was it a transition from you from after that in high school?
SUTPHIN: I liked going to college much more than high school
SUTPHIN: for sure. Because even though my high school had 1400 people, suddenly in collegeit was
SUTPHIN: 30,000 people or whatever it was, 25,000 people. So there’s a whole lot more, like inmy high school, I don’t remember there being other, there were certainly other gay people, there weren’t other openly gay people like me. But going to college, there were a lot more. People would be in my friend group, or dating group, or whatever, so, yeah, college was definitely much 6:00better.
LASH: And when you got here in 2002 was there a large gay community, like LGBT support?
SUTPHIN: Yeah, so when I first came, my freshman year, when I first started in college, mybiggest social support actually came from my hallmates. I lived in Thomas Hall. At the time it was all male and it wasn’t a cadet dorm.
SUTPHIN: And it was kind of separated from the rest of campus, so we were kind of out in thewilderness of Virginia Tech’s campus. So I made friends with them. I don’t remember if any of them specifically were gay, but they were definitely more accepting than my high school had been. They knew I was gay. I did, my first semester, join the LGBTA, it’s now changed its name this year to Hokie Pride, so I got involved with that. I was just kind of like a member who just came to the meetings and sat in the back for a while, but then I got really interested when, the 7:00Spring of 2003, my freshman year there was a—well, I should—yeah I’ll just start there. There was a controversy because the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors removed sexual orientation from the non-discrimination policy. And there was a whole series of protests and I went to this one big protest in front of Burruss Hall, so after that I got really excited about being involved. For like background, there was a faculty member, Shelli Fowler, who, they didn’t approve her…
SUTPHIN: …yeah, her spousal hire around that time as well. I think that actually happened thesemester before I came but it was still like an issue because of this discrimination thing. And thankfully after a month the Board of Visitors reversed its decision. So the Collegiate Times article the next day from that protest, it was in March, said that the protesters had stormed 8:00Burruss Hall. I was there and I don’t know if there was much storming. We did go inside Burruss Hall, but I still like to think that I stormed Burruss Hall.
LASH: [Laughter] A little bit of empowerment
SUTPHIN: It wasn’t like, no one was arrested or anything like that. There was just signs andspeeches and stuff like that—
SUTPHIN: But I got like really interested after that. So they were having like an election forofficers at the end of my freshman year for…did they? Well, they had an opening because someone left and then for this position it was like Presidential Advisor or Presidential Counselor or something like that. It was just like an at-large officer position. So, I ran for that and got that. And then I became the office manager for the LGBTA and during that time I organized in 2004 the Freedom to Marry Day—
LASH: You mentioned that—
SUTPHIN: They had had Freedom to Marry Day events before, but they were usually like a9:00table in front of Squires to have people sign a petition saying that there should be marriage equality. So, I stepped it up a bit and had a protest that we organized on the Drillfield kind of in the format of a wedding, but it’s obviously, no one’s actually—
LASH: Yeah, I think I saw the pictures of that—
SUTPHIN: Yeah, so people instead of exchanging vows they exchanged vows to fight formarriage equality kind of thing. So I organized the first one of those demonstrations and it carried on. It’s no longer relevant, I don’t think they’ll have it anymore since we have marriage equality, but it was a tradition for a little while there. So I was very excited to organize that. And then I was the president of the LGBTA the year after that.
LASH: And then, when I was looking into that, it said that you helped start the Safe Watch?
SUTPHIN: Yeah, so when I was president in 2005, we started a campaign, we called it the “Givea Damn” campaign—
SUTPHIN: We actually had these bracelets. John Gray has one of the bracelets. Mine got lost.10:00So I gave a speech—we had been organizing it for a few months to kind of raise awareness about harassment on campus and it was sort of like a precursor to the “It Gets Better” campaign, but there wasn’t anything called “It Gets Better.” But it was trying to do that kind of work with dealing with harassment and bullying on campus, and there had been a series of incidents that had happened—not to me, specifically, but to other people I knew or that were in the LGBT community, where we didn’t think that the university administration was responding adequately to it. It wasn’t their fault, but they’re also responsible for creating a safe environment. And a safe campus climate. So I gave a speech at the celebration of diversity, which is an event they used to have in Burruss, where different groups did like shows and speeches, or things like that, and that kicked off—and in the speech, I used the phrase “give a damn” at one point—and somehow, I didn’t name this campaign, I would have probably named it something else without profanity. 11:00Yeah.
And so, after that we kind of organized to raise awareness about this and we had severalmeetings with the university administration, so the provost called these meetings with us because we were doing this campaign, this anti-harassment campaign. Out of that came a program called Safe Watch, which was kind of a centralized way of how the university handled harassment. Students, faculty, staff, anyone could, if they saw something, they could report it and it would get handled centrally. There was a website and they had a process for handling those sorts of things. It doesn’t exist anymore, it’s kind of folded in with the other anti-harassment efforts. And after that, with the April 16th shootings in 2007, the university changed again how it was handling reporting incidents. So it became less relevant, but it was a big deal for us in 2005. It was very empowering that we were—
LASH: No, that’s awesome
SUTPHIN: dealing with our issue.
LASH: Yeah. I think that’s really smart, actually, and I think that’s a good way to have people be12:00able to report things.
LASH: But so, you were also a Collegiate Times writer, correct?
Sutphin. Yeah, I was the—I started out as a staff writer for the Collegiate Times, and then overthe summer I became the News Editor. And then there was an opening for News Editor that fall because someone left, so I was the News Editor. The fall of my senior year. And then we split up the News Editor position, and there were multiple News Editor positions, and I became the City Editor. So I covered everything off campus that happened, so, Blacksburg. I went to the town council meetings and now I’m on the town council.
SUTPHIN: So I’ve been interviewed by Collegiate Times reporters and gone full circle.
LASH: [Laughter] That must be interesting
LASH: But so obviously you stayed after you graduated and you work for the veterinary schoolnow?
SUTPHIN: Yeah, so, after I graduated, I searched for jobs all around the state and all around the13:00Mid Atlantic area, and I was offered two positions, one was to be like a local government and breaking news reporter for the Northern Virginia Daily, which would have been really fun, I really like government, and I like breaking news stories sort of stuff, but the hours for that job were going to be 3 to 11 pm Monday through Friday, and like, every third Saturday, and they wanted to pay me $24,000 a year to live in Northern Virginia, which would have been the rent
SUTPHIN: So even though I, I like flirted with the idea of taking this job, I didn’t end up takingit. But I was offered, thankfully, two days later after I turned down that one, well I guess a few days after the interview, I think it was actually the same day I turned down that offer, I got the call for the offer for the Virginia Tech job. So I worked, I was a writer for the communications department in the college of Ag and Life Sciences, and I did that for five years, and then in 2011, 14:00I became the public relations coordinator for the vet school. So it’s a similar job, but for a different college.
LASH: Gotcha. That’s pretty cool. Yeah, so, obviously now you’re on town council. So while Iwas—we do research on you guys, not to be creepy
SUTPHIN: Mmm hmm. You Googled me?
LASH: Just a little bit. But yeah, I thought it was really interesting, when I was reading aboutwhen you ran in 2013, correct?
SUTPHIN: Uh, 2011
SUTPHIN: So, I ran twice. I ran in 2009 and lost and 2011 and won.
LASH: Okay, so, but I thought it was interesting because there was all this information that yougave us, but it was also around, while you were a student you were very very involved
SUTPHIN: Mmm hmm
LASH: with the LGBTQ and obviously still involved. But, that you ran more on campaign—like, you ran more for like, the town and more about that.
SUTPHIN: Yeah, I ran more about local government and land use types of issues than I did onLGBT issues.
SUTPHIN: So, apart from the LGBT history things, so, I wrote for the Collegiate Times about15:00local government, so that’s how I got interested. My mother did some lobbying and advocacy work, so even when I was in high school, sometimes I went to the general assembly with her when she was meeting with delegates and senators, and I saw her testify before a senate subcommittee hearing, and things like that. So I’ve always been kind of interested in politics more generally, and LGBT issues specifically. But I’ve also, before I was elected, for a year I was on the town’s long range planning committee, which does the town’s comprehensive plan, which is a vision for the future, and I was on the town’s housing board before I was elected, so I was always interested in kind of other things that were happening in the town. So I realize it was kind of trendsetting. Before I was elected, there had only been five LGBT elected officials in Virginia
LASH: And they were all in Northern Virginia
SUTPHIN: Yeah, they were all in like a Washington, DC suburb of some sort. So I was the first16:00kind of outside of that area. Since then, there’s been one other in Virginia Beach, who I know, actually.
LASH: That’s cool
SUTPHIN: Yeah, so I ran, my campaign focused on smart growth types of issues, so for land usepatterns in Blacksburg so the growth is kind of in the center, near downtown, as opposed to encouraging sprawl. I was very interested in environmental friendliness, economic development, working together with other local governments as a region, so those are the sorts of issues I ran on. And Virginia, Virginia’s what’s actually called a Dillon Rule state, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard this term before. So, local governments can have one of two different types of relationships with the state government. So, one’s called Homestead, which is, they kind of work it out together, sort of like states and the federal government, divide everything up through Federalism. This is way too technical and I apologize, you can cut it out of the transcript if you want.
LASH: No, it’s fine [laughter]
SUTPHIN: So in Virginia, that’s not the case. For a local government to do something, the state17:00government has to give them permission to do it. Dillon was the name of a Supreme Court justice in the 19th century who wrote this opinion. Because of that, civil rights types of laws, like LGBT types of issues, aren’t under the purview of local governments. So, on the Blacksburg town council, I wouldn’t be able to even do, like I couldn’t start, like, having the Town of Blacksburg issue marriage licenses. Or change the adoption rules, or something like that. Or even do like, banning companies from discriminating based on sexual orientation. All of that is under the purview of the state government. And state governments haven’t given local governments permission to be able to do that. I have been able to, other than being an out LGBT elected official, there has been some progress on some issues. Some of it actually started before I was elected. The Blacksburg town council’s very progressive and liberal. So, before I was 18:00elected, there was a resolution, so the town passed a resolution asking the state to change its nondiscrimination policies to protect LGBT people, including sexual orientation and gender identity. So that happened. And the town worked to make its town code gender neutral, so instead of saying “he” or “she,” in the language in the actual town code, to get rid of some of that. But it was kind of hamstrung on some other things, like offering employee benefits, because those are all done through the state law. But thankfully, after the Supreme Court kind of non- decision recently, those problems have all been fixed.
LASH: Yeah, which is awesome.
SUTPHIN: It was within a couple days that the town of Blacksburg started offering same-sexpartner benefits. So, similar to Virginia Tech, did the same thing.
LASH: Very cool. I didn’t know it was in a couple days. I feel like there would be—
SUTPHIN: Yeah, so they like immediately—19:00
LASH: take action like immediately though.
SUTPHIN: Yeah, so the Town Council didn’t even have to do anything. I just sent some emailschecking up to make sure that they did it. I was actually, when they did the Supreme Court opinion, I was sitting next to the town attorney and I like, read it on my smartphone while I was at this conference in Roanoke and the town attorney who was sitting next to me was like, “Does this mean we can offer same-sex partner benefits?” and I was like, “Oh, I don’t know. Let me check on that.” And then he gets back to me that afternoon, “Yes, we can.” People have been trying to do that for decades and then I look over and ask someone and send an email and then suddenly—
LASH: You can.
SUTPHIN: We can do it. And it required no actual vote or anything like that because theSupreme Court recalls the lower court’s opinion was that those marriages were recognized and suddenly they’re all recognized. So that was good. And I do most of my LGBT organizing today through my work on Equality Virginia’s board—
LASH: Yea, I saw that too.
SUTPHIN: Not through the town council. Although the Town Council does go every year to theGeneral Assembly to lobby them kind of on behalf of the town government and every time, I 20:00bring up LGBT issues. Mostly the workplace discrimination law, which fails every time. But it’s worth asking anyway.
LASH: Yea, I actually interned at the General Assembly when I was in high school—
SUTPHIN: Oh, did you?
LASH: And I remember the Legislative Aid for the senator I worked for complaining about that.
LASH: So yeah. But yeah, it was fun. The General Assembly is an interesting place.
LASH: [Laughter] So, can you tell us more about your work with Equality Virginia?
SUTPHIN: Yeah, sure. So I joined in 2010. So I lost my race in 2009 because there were toomany people running. There were ten people on the ballot for like three and a half seats. I could explain—
LASH: [Laughter] Three and a half?
SUTPHIN: So there were three real seats and then there was this special election to fill only atwo year term, it’s usually a 4 year term. So there were ten. It was a very confusing election. There were too many people running, it was the first time the election moved from May to November. Which is good because more people could vote and students were actually in town and they could vote. Yeah and it was right after Obama’s 2008 election so people were more 21:00interested in politics than they probably are right now. So there were too many—there were all these factors going on at once so I wasn’t able to distinguish myself from the other candidates but I ran again in two years and was much more successful. But, after I lost the first time, a friend of mine, Molly McClintock, said “Hey, you didn’t get on the Town Council but would you be interested in serving on Equality Virginia’s board? I’m on my third term or third two-year term.” So, she didn’t want to do it anymore and there’s term limits. So she asked if I would represent this area for Equality Virginia’s board and I said yes. So I’ve been doing that since then and I was elected as Vice Chair last year on Equality Virginia’s board. And presumably, I’ll be the chair next year. Although I didn’t time it very well because I’ll also be running for reelection next year.
LASH: So that’ll be a fun year. [Laughter]
SUTPHIN: Yeah. [Laughter]
LASH: So what are some of the—what does EqualityVA work to do?
SUTPHIN: Yeah, so it’s the statewide LGBT education and advocacy group. The three major22:00areas that we focus on—and we’re the largest LGBT group in the state of Virginia and we have maybe 25,000 members. That’s not to say there’s only 25,000 LGBT people in Virginia—
LASH: That’s just how many are part of it.
SUTPHIN: Yeah, 25,000 people. LGBT people and their allies are involved in the organization.And we focus on three main areas. The first is workplace fairness, and that involves passing a law that says that you can’t fire someone for being L, G, B, or T. And the second is—I’m probably going to get them out of order, but that’s okay—the second is like school types of issues and community types of issues. So ensuring school bullying policies, things like that, include protections for LGBT people. And the third is family recognition, so that would include marriage, adoption types of issues. So we look at a whole, kind of broad range of LGBT issues. 23:00Some of it’s very political, like we have an annual lobbying day at the General Assembly that we go and visit every single senator and delegate every year to talk about upcoming legislation. It’s actually gotten—we probably started in this direction before I came on, but since I’ve come on, Equality Virginia’s no longer having to fight bad things that come up. Instead we’re pushing for good things to happen. So previously, like when I was in college, there was a whole variety of really bad bills that came up in the General Assembly. Like an anti-gay marriage license plate, like a license plate that says you’re against gay marriage. Or a—
LASH: Did that fail?
SUTPHIN: Yeah, that failed.
LASH: Okay, thank goodness.
LASH: [Laughter] You never know sometimes!
SUTPHIN: I’ll fact check it. I think failed. And then there was a proposal to ban Gay Straight24:00Alliances in high schools, so high school students couldn’t get together, but I think that failed also. But anyway, the point is, instead of fighting bad things, we’re now trying to fix laws that don’t include LGBT. Which is a better place to be in. The other side’s on the defensive.
LASH: Yeah, do you feel like overall since were in college or since when you came out forexample, do you feel like it has changed—
SUTPHIN: Oh, yes.
LASH: from facing the bad things to focusing on good things that can be changed?
SUTPHIN: Oh yeah, definitely. There’s been—even if you look at polling numbers, way morepeople are in support of LGBT issues now. And the country itself has probably moved, even though I know the Senate just became Republican. The country itself has moved, especially on LGBT issues, to the left. And social issues in general, I think. Yeah, it feels like a very different climate to me than it was even ten years ago.
LASH: So when you were at Tech, since you were so involved with the LGBT community, was25:00it a really comfortable place for you? Did it feel like a safe place? Or since you were fighting so many issues, was it—
SUTPHIN: I felt generally safe. But other than being gay, I do come from a position of privilege,where I’m white and male and middle class and my parents paid for my college, so those sorts of things. So I’d imagine for other people it wouldn’t be so safe. Like I said, I had lots of friends and other people who were involved in the community. Like I know someone who, he went to a party and was coming back, he was holding his boyfriend’s hand while leaving a fraternity party and some kids decided to pick him and beat him up a little bit. So there were things like that that happened and I haven’t heard stories like that happening in the last like, five years. It’s definitely, I think it’s a better climate. And I think if you polled Virginia Tech students, a large 26:00number of them would be in favor of LGBT issues. I’m not sure you would get the same result when I started in 2002.
LASH: So after—obviously the transition from being on campus to being in the Blacksburgcommunity, is there an LGBTQA community in Blacksburg? Or does it kind of tie into the one on campus?
SUTPHIN: There is but it ties in pretty heavily with the one on campus. So when I started, whenI first came here in 2002, the LGBTA was the one big organization, though I suppose there was an LGBT Faculty/Staff caucus at the time, but I think it was a small number of people. It still is a small number of people, I’ve been to some of those meetings.
SUTPHIN: But the LGBTA was the big organization and everyone participated in that. Sincethen, there’s been a whole variety of other organizations pop up. HokiePRIDE is still the biggest, I think, but there’s a group called Queer Grads, Professionals, and Allies. It’s still like a smaller 27:00group that maybe has ten or fifteen members, but they meet regularly at Rivermill or somewhere like that. To me, it does that young professional or graduate student demographic. I think the LGBT Faculty/Staff caucus has become bigger. There’s a PFLAG group, I think it’s the New River Valley PFLAG, which is for parents, friends of lesbians and gays. So that has a lot of community members go to that especially parents who their children came out and they want to find resources for them or sometimes their kids come with them, that sort of thing. So there’s that and that’s become more active over the years. And there’s a group called OSTEM, Out in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, for LGBT kids and their allies who are interested in geeky things.
LASH: [Laughter] Yeah, so, the transition was very tied in to the school?28:00
SUTPHIN: Yeah, so I think it was, I’ve talked to a lot of people in Blacksburg who are my age,who went to some other school and they came here to work, and their experience is very different than mine, because I already had a group of friends. Like, a lot of them left because it’s Blacksburg, it’s a college town
SUTPHIN: But some of them stayed around, like John Gray, for instance.
SUTPHIN: He did leave for two years, but came back.
SUTPHIN: So my transition felt kind of seamless, personally. I mean, the group of people I hangout with from college aren’t the same group of people I’m with now.
LASH: Mmm hmm. But finding a space where you felt—
SUTPHIN: Yeah it was much easier to find a space because of that.
LASH: So, were there a lot of places, or are there currently, like in Blacksburg, where you feel islike a meeting place for the gay, the LGBT community, or a safer place for them, or do you feel like in generally the whole—
SUTPHIN: Like, where are the gayest bars? [Laughter] Rivermill, maybe?
LASH: [Laughter] Well not even that, but just like, was there a place on campus, or a place now,29:00that is kind of a safe place?
SUTPHIN: Well there’s things like the Hokie Pride office, and their meeting locations, whereverthey meet, and some of the events that they have, and those sorts of things. There’s not, like, one meeting place. When I was in college, Sharky’s used to be, not in the space it is now, but next door, the tall one that’s, empty right now. Sharky’s is actually owned by a lesbian, and she used to have, every Thursday night was gay night at Sharky’s. Unfortunately, I was not 21 at the time, so I would go sometimes, but they kind of—when they moved from that location to next door, I don’t think they really had that much anymore.
SUTPHIN: So there used to be that. There’s The Park in Roanoke. A lot of people go to that. Iprobably went to it more in college than I do after college, though.
LASH: That makes sense.
LASH: But yeah, so, you’ve talked about all these different things that you’re involved in, and is30:00there a primary community that you would associate yourself with? Do you, like, first and foremost associate yourself with the LGBT community?
SUTPHIN: Probably, yeah. I would say that. I think I’ve become broader in my associations,such as in running for Town Council.
SUTPHIN: I used to be able to remember everybody’s names, and then when I first ran for TownCouncil in 2009—because the major way to run for office in this community is to knock on people’s doors. After knocking on everyone’s door in Blacksburg, I no longer remember, like I don’t even, are you Amanda? I don’t know. I’m just kidding.
SUTPHIN: [Laughter] So yeah, it’s definitely become broader, and I’ve, like I know some of myneighbors. I know people who work—kind of a lot of people who are involved in local politics, obviously I know the other town council members, but other people who are a part of like local groups, like the downtown merchants for example.
LASH: Yeah. And you’ve done a lot of cool work downtown.
SUTPHIN: Yeah. The town when I first got on did the College Avenue promenade31:00redevelopment and stuff like that. So I’ve had a lot of interaction with the downtown merchants in the business community. Because when you’re elected to the Town Council, they appoint you to all these other committees to represent the town on. So I’m on, my biggest ones are the MPO, which stands for Metropolitan Planning Organization, I don’t know why this is considered metropolitan, but, there’s a federal law that named it, and they’re all called the MPO, wherever you go. So I’ve gotten to know other elected officials in the region who are doing transportation types of things. I’m also on the—I was appointed—when was that, last year? I don’t know. I was appointed to the—I don’t even know. Do you know how many committees I’m on? Because I don’t. You Googled me, so—
SUTPHIN: I was appointed to the Board of Directors for the Blacksburg Partnership, which is aneconomic development group in town, so I not only now have a lot of familiarity with people 32:00like the downtown merchants, but kind of the broader, kind of, business community.
LASH: This is not really related to the project, but how do you manage all those differentcommittees?
SUTPHIN: Not very well. [Laughter]
LASH: Not very well? [Laughter]
SUTPHIN: Some of the committees I’m on meet very infrequently, like the Agriculture andForestry District Advisory Committee has only met once while I’m in office.
LASH: Well, that makes it easy for you.
SUTPHIN: That makes it easy.
SUTPHIN: The Local Emergency Planning Committee, and this is absolutely terrifying, hasn’tmet since 2012. Let’s hope there’s not a local emergency. [Laughter]
SUTPHIN: Because this committee is not ready to spring to action. I think it’s, like, a staterequirement that they have this committee—
LASH: But not a state requirement that it actually meet.
SUTPHIN: Yeah, probably not, no.
SUTPHIN: But the hardest part about managing it is working it within my work schedule at thevet school, so I have to take off every first and third Tuesday for a few hours, or a couple hours, part of it’s over my lunch break, to go to work sessions. Like the Town Council, we actually see 33:00each other once a week, so we have work sessions the first and third Tuesday in the middle of the day, and then we have the full council meetings on the second and fourth Tuesday, and the council meetings can last anywhere from—like, five minutes was the shortest—to we had one like a month or two ago that lasted three hours and eight minutes, not that I was counting but— [Laughter]
LASH: [Laughter] Just a little bit.
SUTPHIN: [Laughter] Yeah, so it does take up a lot of time. I probably have to use about half ofmy annual leave—my vacation time
LASH: to go to Town Council
SUTPHIN: To go to town-related meetings. And the other council members—John Bush, who’son the council, who’s a staff architect for Virginia Tech, has the same issue that I do. But the others, like Susan Anderson who’s a faculty member, her schedule’s more flexible. She doesn’t have to request off specific hours to go to a meeting. So it is a challenge. And the mayor owns his own insurance company, so I assume he can work whenever he wants. 34:00
LASH: Mmm hmm. That’s nice. But, so—
SUTPHIN: I got way off the topic of LGBT issues.
LASH: No, but now I’m like trying to think of how you would manage that many differentmeetings. But, so, when you came into office, and when you were on the Town Council, was there any kind of like push, about you being openly gay? Or was everyone kind of just like, cool.
SUTPHIN: I think actually—and this wasn’t, like, covered in the newspaper—but probably moresignificant than me being openly gay, I’m the youngest person every elected to the Blacksburg Town Council, allegedly.
LASH: Allegedly [laughter]
SUTPHIN: I don’t think anyone’s done a study where they looked back. After I was elected, Ihad coffee with the mayor, Ron Rordam. And he said, you know, when I first, when the mayor, before he was the mayor, when he first ran for town council in 1996—I think it was 1996—you 35:00would want to fact-check that if that were in, like, a history textbook or something—when he first ran for Town Council, when he was elected, everyone kept telling him that he was the youngest person who had ever been elected to the town council. They’ve got this young professional on, it’s so exciting! He was forty years old when he was elected. And then in 2009, in the election, I lost, someone won, Krisha Chachra, who is in her thirties. And then I won, I was twenty-seven years old, elected to the Town Council. So there’s a running joke that soon an eighteen year old will be
LASH: On the Town Council
SUTPHIN: Running the Town Council. It’s unlikely, but—
SUTPHIN: It was very different being on the Town Council and the youngest person. I’m alsothe only one on the Town Council who’s been an undergraduate student at Virginia Tech. So, the mayor Ron Rordam, and John Bush both have graduate degrees here, but none of them were here as an—
SUTPHIN: Undergraduate student. Although, Cecile Newcomb is now taking classes. So, I don’tknow if I can say that anymore. But so I definitely come from a unique perspective of seeing the 36:00life in Blacksburg, versus a college student, and now as kind of a long-term resident living in the community. There wasn’t much push-back for being gay. Right after I was elected, there was a newspaper, The Washington Blade, which is an LGBT newspaper based out of Washington, DC. Did an article, kind of like an election recap, saying that, it was talking about all the openly gay people who were elected, all around the—I don’t know if it’s all around the country, I think it focused mostly outside of the Washington, DC area—and it mentioned me. They, like, interviewed me and included it, and I posted it on twitter, and I’ve noticed that anything I tweet, the Roanoke Times notices it.
SUTPHIN: Several times I’ve tweeted things and it just shows up in the—
LASH: Are you one of the only people that tweets?
LASH: Are you one of the only Town Council members that tweets?
SUTPHIN: I’m the most active member on twitter on the Town Council
LASH: That’s probably why [Laughter]
SUTPHIN: Yeah. So I tweeted this, and so the Roanoke Times called me and they wanted to do37:00this story about how I was the first openly gay person in the area who’d been elected. I was like, okay. So they interviewed me to do this story, and they also send out a photographer to get some photos of me, and these photos were not very good. I was wearing flannel—I didn’t have much notice. So I was wearing flannel and I’m in front of the town hall and the, like, lighting is really bad, and I’m in front of those white statues.
LASH: Yeah [laughter]
Sutphin. Yeah anyway. So, I saw the article online, it was posted that night. And then the nextday, I heard, some people sent me some emails about it, like, ‘hey, I saw you in the paper, congratulations.’ This was like two weeks after I was elected, before I took office. You don’t take office immediately.
SUTPHIN: I think it was, like, November and you take office January 1st. And then, I go to acoffee shop with my boss, Eric, and we look at the—I’m like ‘Oh, I’m going to pick up a copy of the paper cause I’m in it.’ When I was first elected, the election results were on page 8 or 38:00something like that. Like, it was not—the Blacksburg Town Council election didn’t make it
LASH: Not a big deal?
SUTPHIN: There was another election at the same time.
LASH: Mmm hmm
SUTPHIN: So, that much larger election got first billing. When I saw the paper, I was on thefront page of the papers, saying Blacksburg councilman said sexuality isn’t an issue or something like that. I was like, for one I don’t remember actually saying that [laughter]
SUTPHIN: It was very—like, front page, above the fold
LASH: In your flannel.
SUTPHIN: That scary photo of me, I’m like, oh god, what have I done.
SUTPHIN: After that, well several people congratulated me. Chris Tuck, who was on the Boardof Supervisors, congratulated me, which I thought was interesting, because he’s a Republican running for the—he’s a Republican politician in the area, so I thought that was very kind of him. I was expecting to get hate mail or something like that, but that didn’t happen. I get hate mail about other things all the time, like putting fluoride in the water, or, I don’t know, all sorts, a 39:00variety, I have a folder of hate mail. [Laughter] and I use the term “hate mail” loosely
SUTPHIN: But I’ve never received anything against me for being gay. Someone did ask to meetwith me and we, so we go get lunch, because he wanted to, he said he saw the article about me and he wanted to talk. And then I realized like halfway through the lunch that it was actually a date that he had asked me on, and I didn’t quite realize it. [Laughter]
SUTPHIN: So suddenly I was on a date with someone. [laughter]
LASH: From your flannel newspaper article [laughter]
SUTPHIN: So at least one person really liked it. [Laughter]
LASH: Yeah, the picture couldn’t have been that bad. [Laughter] But, so, it sounds like theBlacksburg community was very accepting.
SUTPHIN: Yeah, I think so
LASH: They were like, okay, whatever.
SUTPHIN: And the people who weren’t didn’t tell me, so, that’s good.
LASH: That’s good. Keep their opinions to themselves. So is there anything that, for you, hasbeen really important for shaping how you’ve identified with the LGBT community, or just your view of being gay in general? 40:00
SUTPHIN: Probably coming out early helped shape my view and it gave me a differentperspective than some of the other people who came out later in life. Because over half of my life, I’ve been out to my friends, where I knew other people who are older, and they may have also come out fifteen years ago, but they were, like, in their mid forties or fifties or something like that when they came out. So their experience is very different than my experience and sometimes they—people who come out later are a little bit more jaded, because they felt like society was pressuring them to be in the closet, and since I didn’t have those pressures, I was very lucky and fortunate in the environment I grew up in. My experience has been very different. I don’t know if that’s helpful or not.
LASH: No, that is helpful. And do you think that the fact that you were very involved, too, whenyou came to Virginia Tech and have stayed involved, do you think that’s kept you positive about 41:00LGBT issues? Do you think that’s better than not being involved or maybe not—
SUTPHIN: Oh yeah. I think everyone should be involved.
SUTPHIN: I know that’s unrealistic, and not going to happen. But even if it’s small things, likedoing a mentorship program—a mentorship program isn’t a small thing—but, or just like helping out one person who’s coming through the coming out process with something like that. I think it’s very important to stay involved. I’ve been involved in all areas of my life, though, from running for the Collegiate Times, to Town Council and local government, to my LGBT types of activism. So I think that’s just a part of my personality, to always be involved and stay involved, and I realize not everyone’s going to do that, but it is important. It’s probably affected my perspective on LGBT issues significantly, though, because people who aren’t involved are seeing it primarily as like a social thing. Like, they’re going to a bar, they’re hanging out with their friends. Whereas I’m going to a protest or signing a petition or something like that. So that 42:00probably affects my perspective a little bit differently. I still go to bars and hang out with friends, but—
LASH: [Laughter] you also—
SUTPHIN: It’s also more, like, heavily politicized for me than for other people.
LASH: So, if you had any sort of advice to give to, maybe, if it was your younger self, or ayounger person going through the same situation—
SUTPHIN: Don’t wear flannel.
LASH: [Laughter] don’t wear flannel for your cover photo!
LASH: But, would you have any type of advice that you would want to give someone maybestruggling through coming out, or just coming to terms with the fact that they’re gay?
SUTPHIN: I would say—because I did have that experience where I lost a bunch of my friendsin high school—that if people aren’t going to accept you because of your sexual orientation, they weren’t your friends in the first place. I know that’s a little bit cliche to say—
LASH: I mean, it’s true
SUTPHIN: But it’s absolutely true. Like, they weren’t, like if they won’t accept they whole you,then they’re not your friends. So, that’s what I would tell my younger self.
LASH: Okay, well, thank you43:00
SUTPHIN: Is that it?
LASH: Yeah, I’m—out of questions, you have a lot to, I want to ask you more about citycouncil, but—
SUTPHIN: Oh, you can [laughter]
LASH: [Laughter] But yeah no, I just didn’t know there were so many committees for TownCouncil
SUTPHIN: There are lots of committees. There’s probably a couple dozen or something likethat.
LASH: Are you good?LILLY: Uh, we’ll see.