AFP InDepth | A ‘strategic quiet’ on the LGBT front

You don’t need to go as far as gay marriage. A candidate can win the support of the LGBT community by advocating legislation that would allow employees to include gay and lesbian partners in group life-insurance policies.

Indeed, it doesn’t take much to break through what Jay Fisette, the Arlington County Board of Supervisors member who was the first openly-gay candidate elected to public office in Virginia, calls the “strategic quiet” from LGBT opponents and supporters this election season.

“When our issues have been out there in the past, it’s been as a wedge issue used by Republicans to scare people into voting for them. So they’ve made a strategic, calculated move to stay quiet so they can elect candidates like Bob McDonnell and Ken Cuccinelli who are truly motivated to turn back the clock on social issues,” Fisette said.

Democrats have had their own “strategic quiet,” it seems, at least with specific regard to LGBT issues. The attention on the controversial 1989 McDonnell grad-school thesis has been put on the future gubernatorial nominee’s comments on working women, though what he had to say about gays and lesbians and other “fornicators” was perhaps the most personal and revolting from the missive.

Democratic nominee Creigh Deeds has been generally supportive of the LGBT civil-rights cause, but LGBT issues clearly aren’t his comfort zone. The LGBT movement will take what it can get in that respect.

“In the past, you’d talk to campaigns and say, We want to talk to you, and they’d say, Well, I’d rather you just say you don’t like me. So in that context, things have come a long way,” said Claire Guthrie Gastanaga, a lobbyist and consultant who works on LGBT issues in Richmond with the Equality Virginia LGBT civil-rights organization, noting the support that Deeds has been getting in the LGBT community of late, including his endorsement last week by the Washington, D.C.,-based Human Rights Campaign.

“Electing Creigh Deeds must be a top priority for all fair-minded Virginians,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese in the endorsement announcement.

“Sen. Deeds will continue the work of Govs. Warner and Kaine to eliminate barriers to equality for the LGBT community. HRC is pleased to be working with Equality Virginia to support Sen. Deeds,” Solmonese said.

The HRC presser praised Deeds for his support for legislation allowing LGBT’ers to include domestic partners in group life-insurance policies and his pledge to codify into law the executive orders from the Warner and Kaine administrations banning discrimination in the workplace, which McDonnell for his part said in last week’s televised debate with Deeds he would rescind because he believes “it would be illegal to carry it forward.”

“What’s interesting about where we are is, mainstream America has spoken, and spoken clearly. Virginia is still just a little behind the times. State and federal government in general is behind the times,” said Steven Sisson, a Waynesboro resident and member of the board of directors of Equality Virginia, whose political action committee has also endorsed Deeds.

“Corporate America and mainstream America already supports openness and inclusion. Government is the last institution to come around on this. Government just isn’t listening to what the people want,” Sisson said.

And it may be a while before policymakers in Virginia get the message with the way the ’09 state elections seem to be trending.

“We’re on the verge of setting back the cause in Virginia for decades,” said Charley Conrad, the president of the Virginia Partisan Gay and Lesbian Democratic Club.

“The good things that Mark Warner and Tim Kaine have done have us on the right path. These were two very friendly GLBT administrations, that welcomed us to the table, wanted our comments, wanted our input, have people on their staffs, things like that. We are not going to get that at all in a Republican administration. We’re headed back to the drawing board,” Conrad said.


– Story by Chris Graham


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