Gay Virginians Meet with Mark Warner
Blade, January 11, 2002
By Rhonda Smith
RICHMOND, Va.óGov.-elect Mark Warner and a few
senior staff members met in Richmond Wednesday, Jan. 9, with 10 gay civil
rights and AIDS advocates in Virginia to begin discussions with a constituency
largely ignored by the states last two Republican governors.
Grant Neely, who attended the gathering and works in the incoming governors
policy office, described it as "a very informal meeting" with a
group of friends who supported Warnerís campaign.
"The governor-elect has said for months and months that heís
committed to reaching out to all Virginians, and this was a continuation of
that," Neely said.
"The main goal was to open up lines of communication and begin an
ongoing dialogue, and we will meet again," he added. "But this wasnít
a commitment-making meeting."
The General Assembly convened its 60-day session Wednesday. Warner is to be
sworn in as Virginias 69th governor Saturday, Jan. 12.
Adam Ebbin, an openly gay member of the Virginia State Central Democratic
Committee, helped organize the meeting with the Virginia Partisans Gay &
Lesbian Democratic Club.
"[Warner] said he wanted to leave no Virginian behind," Ebbin
said, "and the meeting was a step toward ensuring he will leave no gays
and lesbians behind."
Neither Ebbin nor Neely would disclose which gay Virginians attended the
meeting. Warner attended part of the meeting, along with his chief of staff,
director of policy, and assistant director of policy.
Ebbin said participants thanked Warner for his support of a proposal by the
Virginia Housing Development Authority to make unmarried couples, including
same-sex couples, eligible for low-interest home financing loans. The VHDAís
board is scheduled Jan. 23 to vote on this matter.
Ebbin also said the gay civil rights leaders suggested actions Warner and
his staff could take to ensure that gay men and lesbians are hired or
appointed to various positions in his administration during his four-year
David Scoven, executive director of Virginians for Justice, a statewide gay
group based in Richmond, attended the meeting. He said the gay civil rights
and AIDS advocates outlined legislative priorities, among other issues,
including whether Warner plans to sign an executive order to protect state
employees against discrimination based on sexual orientation.
During Warnerís campaign for governor last year, he said he supports
protection against employment discrimination based on sexual orientation
because it makes good business sense.
Gay civil rights advocates want Warner to sign an executive order because
they are less sure that identical legislation would be approved by Virginias
General Assembly, where Republicans now occupy a large majority of House and,
to a lesser extent, Senate seats. There are 64 Republicans in the 100-seat
The Log Cabin Republican Club of Northern Virginia recently approved a
resolution that supports passage of a measure to protect employees at state or
local government agencies against employment discrimination based on sexual
orientation. Log Cabin members said they do not support approval of an
employment non-discrimination act that would apply to private employers,
"This resolution exempted the private sector because many members do
not believe that private sector employers should be subject to such government
mandates," Log Cabin officers recently said in the gay groups newsletter.
Democrat Jay Fisette, an openly gay member of the Arlington County Board,
was unable to attend the meeting. He said this week, however, that he supports
a broad employment non-discrimination measure that would protect workers in
Virginias public and private industries from discrimination based on sexual
"That would be something Id like to see," he said. "The
challenge here is the fact that you have a very heavily out of balance
Republican General Assembly. So its going to be very difficult."
The most that gay civil rights advocates should expect during the current
legislative session is "small advances," Fisette said.
"But we want to stem the tide of setbacks, and I think thatís one of
the things this governor will do, at least in the beginning," he added.
Fisette also said the likelihood "will not be high" that gay
civil rights advocates can gain approval of legislation to amend the Virginias
hate crime statute to include protection based on sexual orientation. Warner
has said he supports expanding the hate crime law to include protection for
people based on sexual orientation or disability.
"A lot of these things are not going to go far within the General
Assembly," Fisette said.
Like Ebbin, Fisette said one question that could be asked of Warner is that
his administration appoint gay people to various committees and boards
"Iím not aware of anyone openly gay who has been appointed," he
said. "If anything, Iím hopeful that we can rely on this governor to
appoint some openly gay people to protect us from negative measures that might
come up. We would also look to this governor to veto such things."
Virginians for Justice and the Log Cabin Republican Club of Northern
Virginia are working together to have the states sodomy, or Crimes Against
Nature, law "reformed."
This law prohibits oral and anal sex in public or private between all
Virginia residents, regardless of sexual orientation.
The two gay groups support a legislative proposal to repeal provisions of
the law that pertain to private behavior between consenting adults. The
proposed measure would increase penalties for public sexual acts that involve
"We addressed what we felt were legitimate concerns by law enforcement
officers," said Log Cabin member Bill Kocol, who has been working on this
issue for the Republican gay group. "We want to be careful not to
undermine the law, as far as it prohibits public sexual conduct."
Log Cabin officers said getting the sodomy law reformed would again be the
groupís top legislative priority. During the most recent legislative
session, a House committee defeated the measure and the full chamber never
voted on it.
For the first time, a Republican lawmaker has agreed to sponsor a sodomy
reform measure. Gay civil rights advocates said this, along with support from
Libertarian lawmakers and moderate Republicans in the General Assembly, might
help its chances of getting approved.
Republican James Dilliard II of Fairfax, who has been a member of the
General Assembly for 28 years, said he agreed to co-sponsor sodomy reform
legislation because "itís the right thing to do."
"It may apply more to homosexual relationships but what it basically
says is that everybody who serves in the Assembly is a violator of the
law," he told the Blade. "Were talking about sexual activity that
everybody I know participates in and, technically, itís a criminal
Scoven of Virginians for Justice said that during the gay leaders meeting
with Warner and his staff members, he and others said the sodomy law has more
of an impact on custody and adoption cases involving gay Virginians than it
has on prosecuting people for taking part in public sex acts. Judges, among
others, have said that gay people are unfit parents if they engage in sexual
acts defined as sodomy because they are committing a felony.
"We need to repeal that law or pass the bill Virginians for Justice
supports that would reform the statute by decriminalizing private consensual
sexual acts between adults in the privacy of their own homes," Scoven
Warner has refused to say whether he would support repealing or reforming
the stateís sodomy law. He also has said he would not support legislation to
repeal Virginiaís four-year-old ban on same-sex marriage.
One issue on which gay civil rights advocates seem to agree is that Warners
attention will be focused, primarily, on developing a strategy to address the
states $1.3 billion budget shortfall in the current fiscal year and an
expected shortage of at least $2 billion in the two-year budget cycle that
begins July 1.
Neely, in Warnerís policy office, said the incoming governor has spent
probably 90 percent of his time trying to get a handle on whatís going on
with the state budget.
"Its worse than he ever expected," he said. "But that doesnít
mean everything else gets pushed to the side."
Jim Ball, another gay civil rights and AIDS advocate who attended the
meeting with Warner Wednesday, said gay Virginians still have a reason to be
"We have just emerged from eight years of darkness, bigotry and
prejudice," he said, alluding to the administrations of former Republican
governors James Gilmore III and George Allen. "To even have a meeting
with them was unthinkable."
Virginians for Justice 6 N. Sixth St. Suite LL3 Richmond, VA 23219 firstname.lastname@example.org
Log Cabin Republican Club of Northern Virginia P.O. Box 16611 Alexandria,
VA 22302 703-972-3838 info@VaLogCabin.org
Virginia Partisans Gay & Lesbian Democratic Club P.O. Box 6243
Arlington, VA 22206 703-658-5331 email@example.com
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