Nicholas Benton (left), owner-editor of the Falls Church News-Press, participates in a 2019 panel discussion on the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots and the LGBTQ rights movement in Falls Church. – Photo: Falls Church News-Press
“I’ve been an activist since the late ’60s, and I’ve been running the Falls Church News-Press here for almost 30 years now in Falls Church, and have taken very strong positions on all the issues pertaining to the LGBT community,” says Nicholas F. Benton. “Yet all the time I’ve been here, and [with] all the gay people that live in Falls Church, nobody’s ever taken the initiative to do something like this.”
Benton, the owner and editor of the News-Press, is talking about his soon-to-be-launched 501(c)3 organization, LGBT Falls Church. He was inspired to launch the new endeavor by the recent Supreme Court ruling on workplace discrimination — which found that LGBTQ people are protected by a portion of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Benton realized that the decision would likely give a measure of comfort to LGBTQ people in the Northern Virginia area and make them more likely to come out and openly share their views on various issues.
In addition, “a whole spate of new laws,” particularly a number that expand LGBTQ rights, are set to go into effect on Wednesday, July 1, which will further embolden LGBTQ people. In the case of many of these laws, localities are permitted to enact their own laws or adopt nondiscrimination policies that would better protect LGBTQ individuals.
“Locally, it will fall on the local jurisdictions around the state how exactly to implement these new laws and so forth. So that will put the burden on the city of Falls Church, as an independent jurisdiction, to have to have its own set of laws,” says Benton.
As such, he hopes LGBT Falls Church will be able to help “elected officials in Falls Church and so forth to make sure that all of their interpretation of the laws and their wrinkle on these laws is appropriate and good. They need to have somebody in Falls Church helping them with that process.”
Benton also hopes that LGBT Falls Church can educate the wider Falls Church community on the importance of issues affecting the LGBTQ community. To that end, the nonprofit will soon launch a Facebook page, a podcast, and other interactive tools to encourage discussions among its followers and serve as a community resource for LGBTQ people.
“The main thing is to get the community together, as best we can, in Falls Church and its environs,” Benton says, noting that the population of the Greater Falls Church area is about 75,000 to 80,000. “We want to have something that represents everybody in this extraordinary climate of social affirmation that we’re in the midst of right now.”
He adds that Falls Church has been at the center of the demographic, cultural, and societal changes that have characterized Virginia’s political revolution from a “red state” to a Democratic stronghold, as well as its shift towards an embrace of socially liberal attitudes.
“Falls Church has always been very progressive, and in the course of the time that I’ve been here and running a paper…has moved increasingly towards being more open and progressive,” says Benton. “It has led the state of Virginia, almost every election, in terms of voter turnout, high voter turnout, and is in the middle of the area of the state — flanked by Fairfax and Arlington and Alexandria — that has made a difference in many statewide elections going back to 2001.”
Benton says that LGBT Falls Church seeks to engage area residents on local political or community issues.
“We plan to be a very feisty and community based, community-oriented part of the political process in Falls Church and in this whole area,” he says. “As a nonprofit, we won’t be endorsing particular candidates, but we certainly will be taking very strong positions on the issues.”
He also hopes that “LGBT Falls Church will encourage more people to step forward and offer their opinions and viewpoints. And I will encourage them to submit those to the News-Press and get them published. It’s going to help that this organization has the backing of the local newspaper.”
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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at email@example.com
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