Michael Hamar

An Interview with Equality Virginia's Executive Director

Filed By Michael Hamar | March 04, 2009 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics, Politics
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Last month I wrote about the ill fate of ten (10) bills up for consideration in the Virginia General Assembly that would have added protections and/or provided benefits for LGBT Virginians. It was not a pleasant picture and shows that living in Virginia can be a very negative experience if one is LGBT.

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Subsequently, I interviewed Jon Blair, the Executive Director of Equality Virginia to get his prospective of where the battle for LGBT equality in Virginia is headed. Equality Virginia is a statewide, non-partisan lobbying, outreach and education organization seeking equality for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Virginians. Surprisingly, while describing what transpired as a "mixed bag," Jon overall was upbeat despite the across the board defeats experienced by the bills this legislative session.

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Why was Blair upbeat? As he explains it, the committee votes killing the proposed legislation do not tell the entire story. For example, he said that where once pro-LGBT bills might get only one supporting vote in committee, now some had reached a tie in committee. While still not enough to pass the measure onto the full House of Delegates or Senate, as applicable, the clear progress in growing support is encouraging and indicates that with further education of members of the General Assembly perhaps successful passage of bills is in the near future.

Blair also expressed the view that the death of bills in committee reflected the willingness of a minority on committees in the House of Delegates to disregard the will of the majority of Virginians who, for example, favor employment protections for LGBT Virginians. Through retirement and election defeat some of those who pose roadblocks to pro-LGBT legislation will be leaving the scene.

As to what actions LGBT Virginians can take to foster an atmosphere where pro-LGBT legislation can be successfully passed, Blair stressed that individual Virginians can make a difference. While he considered the 2009 Lobby Day to be very successful - despite snowstorms in western Virginia that prevented some from attending the event - he believed that coordinating local visits to the district offices of Delegates and Senators was the most powerful thing that one can undertake.

Unfortunately, many legislators do not know gay constituents in their districts and all they hear is the propaganda disseminated by The Family Foundation (an affiliate of Daddy Dobson's Focus on the Family). As a result Blair believed coordinated visits by voters would help dispel stereotypes and bring home the fact that there are gay voters in legislators' home districts who in a tight race could be decisive in determining an election.

The other things that LGBT Virginians can do is to spend time educating themselves on the status of legislation - I am continually amazed that many gay Virginians think they already have employment protections when in fact they have none - or write letters to the editor, get involved with online organizing and obviously, support pro-gay candidates even if they are in other electoral districts.

Going forward, expect to see pro-LGBT legislation reintroduced every year until final success is realized.

One way fair minded Virginians can help is to attend the Commonwealth Dinner - Equality Virginia's largest fundraising event - on April 4th in Richmond. Details can be found here. The principal speaker will be Leslie Jordan of Will & Grace and Sordid Lives fame.

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