Virginia’s Gay Vortex
When No Candidate is Clearly Supportive, Attention Turns to Least
November 2, 2001
By Rhonda Smith
The Log Cabin Republican Club of Northern Virginia decided this week not to
endorse any candidate in Virginia’s statewide races Tuesday for governor,
lieutenant governor, and attorney general.
"The statewide candidates have not made a positive public statement
about their commitment to an inclusive Republican Party open to gays and
lesbians, and that’s one of the factors we look at," said Jeffrey
Miller, president of Log Cabin’s Northern Virginia chapter.
"We’re loyal Republicans, but we’re not there as a rubber
stamp," Miller added. "We’re there to make a statement that we
want to be included and we don’t want to hide our orientation. And our party
should be a welcoming place."
Gay Democrats, however, have been scrambling to embrace Mark R. Warner for
governor, even though the 46-year-old Democrat has stated his opposition to
same-sex marriage and has been unwilling to publicly discuss several other gay
civil rights issues generally considered important to this voting bloc. Warner
has refused, for example, to say whether he would support efforts to repeal
Virginia’s sodomy law.
Democratic observers concede that Warner’s stance on gay civil rights is
not perfect. But when compared to his staunchly conservative Republican
opponent, Mark L. Earley, they said Warner is the best choice.
"I think [Warner] gets our issues. They may not be his No. 1 priority.
But I do feel he’s sensitive to our issues," said Kevin Medwedeff,
president of Virginia Partisans Gay & Lesbian Democratic Club. "And
when opportunities come up as governor, I feel confident he will vote in
appropriate ways and push supportive legislation."
Warner’s unwillingness to support same-sex marriage and his refusal to
state whether he supports gay civil rights issues related to domestic partner
benefits, child custody, adoption, or the state’s sodomy law worries some
longtime gay civil rights activists.
‘We shouldn’t settle’
"I am leaning more and more toward [the position] that we need to take
a stand with politicians and say to them it is not OK to look us in the face
and tell us they believe we are second-class citizens," said Lorri L.
Jean, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force.
"And when they say they do not support same-gender marriage, that is
exactly what they are saying to us."
Campaign officials in the offices of Warner and Earley did not return
numerous calls from the Blade for comment.
North Carolina resident Mandy Carter, a longtime gay civil rights activist
and "loyal Democrat," echoed Jean’s concerns.
"A lot of politicians are realizing they can kind of get away with
this now because gay people are so happy to have anybody who supports some of
their issues that they’re willing to settle," she said. "And we
shouldn’t settle like this. We should be [challenging] folks. We shouldn’t
just let them slide."
Harry Knox, executive director of Georgia Equality, a statewide gay civil
rights group, shared another view.
"Every election cycle presents an opportunity for the community to
move candidates who are inclined to be friendly a little further along than
where they were when the cycle began," he said. "It really is a
dance that LGBT community leaders and politicians play with each other each
In his state, Knox said, Georgia Equality’s approach has been to try to
help politicians by first educating their constituents about gay civil rights
"That will get their constituents to the place we need them to be
before we ask the politician to go out on a limb," he said.
"It certainly helps if the politician is able and willing to help us
do the education," Knox added. "But on an issue like [same-sex]
marriage, where the voters in our state are clearly against it in every poll
we conduct, it’s not realistic to expect a politician to be that far ahead
of his or her constituents."
Winnie Stachelberg, political director at the Human Rights Campaign in
Washington, D.C., said HRC does not issue endorsements in gubernatorial races
but that Warner is more supportive of gay civil rights than Earley.
"I don’t think we agree with Mark Warner on all the issues. But I
think he has made a very clear stand for civil rights for all Virginians—including
gay and lesbian Virginians," she said. "And each voter has to
determine whether that is enough.
"Some support on gay and lesbian issues will be enough for some
people, and for others it won’t," Stachelberg added. "But, by
comparison, the Democratic ticket is much better for gays than the Republican
Jay Fisette, the openly gay candidate seeking a second four-year term on
the Arlington County Board, agreed.
"Elections are about choices—usually imperfect choices," he
said. "But comparing Warner and Earley, Warner is, by far, the better
candidate for the state and for the gay and lesbian community."
The Log Cabin Republican Club of Northern Virginia endorsed Fisette’s
opponent, Michael W. Clancy, an independent who said, if elected, he planned
to focus more on public safety, education, and neighborhood development
That group also endorsed Danny Smith, the openly gay Republican competing
against longtime incumbent Democrat Bob Hull to represent the 38th District in
Virginia’s House of Delegates. Smith, a manager at Fannie Mae, also is a Log
Regardless of which candidate one supports, Stachelberg said HRC has
alerted its members in Virginia and New Jersey, the only other state where a
governor’s race takes place Nov. 6, to vote.
Carter and Jean at NGLTF agreed.
"If you have to choose between a horrible Republican and a Democrat
that can be educated and who could change, what can you do?" Carter said,
"Most politicians, when it comes to our rights—our full rights—are
being cowardly these days, even our friends," said Jean, who is based in
California. "But we do have to vote for those we think are the best for
"But," she added, "I do not believe we should be pouring
tons of money into people’s campaigns who don’t support our full
Larry J. Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for
Governmental Studies in Charlottesville, said there has never been a
gubernatorial election like the current one in Virginia.
There also is a Libertarian candidate in the race, William B. Redpath, but
he has far less support than Warner or Earley. The latest Washington Post poll
of the Virginia’s governor’s race shows that Warner is leading Earley by
10 percentage points.
"The Democratic candidate cleverly re-positioned himself to neutralize
almost all of the standard GOP issues—crime, taxes, gun control, and social
issues except abortion—primarily by taking stands that were generally the
same as those of his Republican opponent," said Sabato, a nonpartisan
election analyst and author of a new book titled "OVERTIME! The Election
Sabato noted that Warner, a multimillionaire and entrepreneur who has never
held public office, has far more personal and other non-party money than
Earley did, enabling Warner to finance a "Cadillac campaign."
"And the Republican governor [Jim Gilmore] and legislature handed
Warner the issue of the year by deadlocking on a budget and depriving all
state employees and teachers of raises," he added, "while projecting
the very un-Virginian image of chaos."
Briefly during the summer, gay civil rights issues drew attention in
Virginia after the Republican Party paid for a radio advertisement that
claimed Warner and his Democratic running mates, Timothy M. Kaine and A.
Donald McEachin, who are competing to become lieutenant governor and attorney
general, respectively, supported legalizing same-sex marriage. The GOP also
mailed fliers to Virginia residents statewide that described Warner, Kaine and
McEachin as having "extreme liberal views on issues ranging from higher
taxes and gay marriages to ending the death penalty."
Earley and Jay K. Katzen, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor,
also began touting the political slogan, "Virginia values, not Vermont
values," to imply that their opponents supported gay rights including
civil unions. The GOP candidate for attorney general is Jerry W. Kilgore but
he has not been as vocal about gay issues.
The Washington Post reported that Earley’s supporters displayed a
handwritten sign at a Democratic event that said, "Heterosexuals for
Earley." Another sign reportedly said "Fags for Warner."
Campaign officials in Earley’s office disavowed the signs.
Earley, 47, has strong support from politically active Christian
conservatives in Virginia, including Rev. Jerry Falwell, founder of Liberty
University and Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, and Pat Robertson,
host of the "700 Club," a faith-based television program.
Earley opposes adding gay men and lesbians to the list of groups protected
by Virginia’s hate crime law. He also supports not changing or abolishing
the state’s sodomy or "crimes against nature" law.
Most newspapers in Virginia criticized the Republican Party, as well as
Earley and Katzen, for misrepresenting their opponents’ platforms. The Washington
Post recently endorsed Warner; the Washington Times endorsed Earley.
In addition, the Associated Press reported that President Bush recently wrote
a letter urging Virginians to vote for Earley, but he did not campaign there
personally. The letter was to be sent this week to "hundreds of thousands
of voters," a spokesperson for Earley said.
Of the three statewide Democratic candidates, only Kaine, a civil rights
lawyer and the former mayor of Richmond, said he favors granting certain
rights to gay couples in long-term relationships. Those couples should have
the right to enjoy the "civil benefits" available to married
couples, he said.
But Kaine also told the AP, "I have never said I supported gay civil
unions [or] gay marriages." Still, he said he believes people should not
lose their jobs or be discriminated against "because of who they
And when Katzen, the Republican candidate, accused Kaine of not supporting
Boy Scouts of America meetings in Virginia schools because he favors legal
protection for gay people, his Democratic opponent said he had no opinion
about whether the Boy Scouts should be allowed to ban gays from leadership
Katzen does not support same-sex marriage. He has described Kaine as
"the extremist" on this as well as issues related to gun control and
the death penalty.
Gay civil rights activists, among others, criticized Katzen for telling Style
Weekly, a publication in Richmond, that he opposed eliminating a state law
in Virginia that makes sodomy illegal because he believes it acts as a
deterrent to dangerous behavior.
"AIDS is the product, sadly, in most cases of a choice that people
have made," Katzen said in July. "We recognize homosexuality is a
choice. It’s a lifestyle with public-health consequences."
Katzen also said that abolishing the state’s sodomy law would be "an
effort to begin the process of laying the framework for gay marriage."
A net minus
After the Sept. 11 attacks at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon,
which is based in Arlington, the gay-related issues were rarely mentioned
"Overall, the anti-gay theme was likely a net minus for the
Republicans, though not a big net minus," Sabato said. "It just wasn’t
in the headlines long enough to leave a lasting impression with most
Jean at NGLTF said she has been more concerned about "the
homophobia" that both parties have shown in the Virginia governor’s
race than she has been about Warner’s stance on gay civil rights issues.
"When the Republicans started attacking the Democrats, the Democrats
rushed to say ‘That’s not true,’ or to call it ‘dirty politics.’
That’s homophobia," she said. "These times require more
thoughtful, different kinds of approaches from people who support equal rights
for GLBT people."
David Scoven, executive director of Virginians for Justice, a nonpartisan,
statewide gay organization based in Richmond, said Warner has identified
"the issues people are ready to accept."
Virginians for Justice released its "candidate scorecard" in late
October that rated Virginia’s governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney
general candidates, among others. Each candidate was asked to complete and
return a questionnaire stating his or her views on hate crimes, the state’s
sodomy and cohabitation laws, HIV/AIDS funding, "family issues,"
education, and legal protections against sexual orientation discrimination in
employment, housing, public accommodations, and credit, among other areas.
Redpath, the Libertarian candidate for governor, was the only candidate who
completed and returned the questionnaire. Warner submitted a typewritten
statement outlining some of the information requested on the survey. The other
candidates—Earley, Kaine, Katzen, Kilgore, McEachin, and Gary A. Reams, the
Libertarian candidate for lieutenant governor—did not respond.
Redpath’s scored 61 out of a possible 100 points on the survey, based on
his responses. He received scores of zero on questions about hate crimes and
HIV/AIDS funding because of his responses. He said he opposes hate crime
legislation because "a crime is a crime and ought to be punished equally
with anyone as the victim." He also said he does not support state
funding levels to ensure that all Virginians with HIV/AIDS receive medically
indicated treatment. In addition, Redpath said he does not support sufficient
funding for HIV testing, prevention and education to minimize the spread of
the disease because, "individuals’ health is not the responsibility of
Redpath, who does support some gay civil rights issues, such as repealing
the state’s sodomy law, said he would not support legislation creating
enhanced anti-discrimination laws because he believes in "freedom of
In Warner’s response letter, he said his vision for the state includes
"all Virginians." He said would not support legislation to repeal
Virginia’s four-year-old ban on same-sex marriage.
Warner also said in the letter that he opposes employment discrimination
and that people should be hired based on their qualifications to do the job.
"As you know, many of Virginia’s largest employers and most of the
nation’s most successful high-tech companies prohibit employment
discrimination [based] on sexual orientation," he wrote. "Not only
is opposing this the right thing to do, it also makes good business
Warner said in the letter and in his "Action Plan" for Virginia
that he supports expanding the state’s hate crime law to include protection
for people targeted because of their sexual orientation or a disability. The
current law includes protection based on race and religion.
Warner also said he supports Virginia’s Family Life Education curriculum
and a system that allows parents to choose whether their child can take part
in related courses. He supports a Family Life Education curriculum that
includes age-appropriate HIV/AIDS prevention and education information.
Finally, Warner said he supports funding to ensure that Virginians with
HIV/AIDS receive medical treatment "and sufficient funding for testing,
prevention, and education to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS."
Adam Ebbin, an openly gay member of the Virginia Central Democratic
Committee, said if Warner is elected, gay Virginians will advance.
"Warner is clearly more amenable to taking certain actions that
benefit gay people than are the Republican candidates being supported by Jerry
Falwell and Pat Robertson," he said.
J. Campbell Spencer, national director for gay and lesbian outreach for the
Democratic National Committee, echoed Ebbin. She said the DNC has been working
with the Virginia Partisans Gay & Lesbian Democratic Club to increase
turnout for the Virginia statewide races. The Democratic Party also provided
staff, volunteers, and $10,000 for gay and lesbian outreach in Virginia for
the 2001 election.
"We need to focus on the issues that will be immediately salient in
the next governor’s four-year term," she said.
This includes working to get sexual orientation and disability language
included in Virginia’s current hate crime law, addressing job security in
the current economy, Spencer said, and securing more funds from the state
legislature for HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention programs.
"These are the things that are going to be at the forefront in the
next governor’s four-year term, and that’s what we need to focus on,"
she said. "Mark Warner, Tim Kaine, and Donald McEachin will be advocates
and friends of the gay and lesbian community."
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