Location, Location, Discrimination

Unfriendly laws cause some gay residents to leave Virginia

VOTERS AND LEGISLATORS in Virginia have been increasingly busy in recent times, seemingly vying for the title of most homophobic state in the union. As nearly any sound medical professional will affirm, nobody can shake being gay. But anybody can give Virginia the boot.

As Jim Hoban describes it, Alexandria offered a fairly idyllic setting for him and his partner, Tim Devine.

”We got more for our money. We had a lot of space. There was a lot of convenience. We had a major shopping center less than a mile away. We also had a really nice park that was great for running. There was a lot of open space.”

But these days the commonwealth has that odor that just won’t go away.

”The main reason we moved out of Virginia was that law that went through about leaving your assets to someone of the same sex,” says Hoban, pointing to the so-called Virginia Affirmation Act, which became law in 2004. And it wasn’t the letter of the law, says Hoban, but the hateful spirit that triggered their exodus. ”It was the message it was sending that drove us out, the overall feeling, the lack of support for the gay community.”

Following the 2004 law, the couple headed to Capitol Hill and hasn’t looked back. Despite the higher housing costs and the niceties of Alexandria they left behind, Hoban insists they would do it again and that they have no regrets leaving.

The most recent attack on gay and lesbian Virginians, passage of Ballot Question No. 1 in November, which leaves any contract between two gay people of the same sex in question, set McLean real-estate agent Joe O’Hara’s phone ringing.

”I’ve received an unusually heavy number of calls from existing and prospective clients considering a relocation back to the city. Honestly, my partner and I have had the same consideration. We will eventually move back to the city.”

Maryland State Del. Heather Mizeur (D) of Takoma Park knows Virginia firsthand. She lived in Alexandria from 1995 to 2002. ”I definitely was uncomfortable with where some of the statewide politics were trending,” says the Illinois native who had only planned to live in Virginia temporarily. When her plans indicated that she’d be staying in the metro area for the long haul, she says she knew she had to get out. Washington was not an option, she says: ”Voting rights are important to me.”

Refusing for the second-class citizenship that Virginia offers gay people and that Congress offers D.C. residents, Takoma Park, Md., beckoned.

”It’s pretty much a utopia for gay families,” says Mizeur, who served on the Takoma Park City Council before her successful 2006 bid to serve as a state delegate. Mizeur does grant that despite rent control, home-ownership may be out of reach for many wishing to buy in Takoma Park. She also jokes that the town’s gay population weighs a bit more heavily in favor of the women. ”A lot of gay male couples in Takoma Park refer to themselves as lesbians,” she jokes. ”They’re more into cocooning than the bars.”

Jokes aside, Mizeur agrees that homeownership is an important part of life in America, for gays and straights alike, in Takoma Park or anywhere else.

”I think we absolutely should do all we can to create those [home-owning] opportunities,” she says. ”Building equity in a house has been the mainstay for how middleclass families in America build wealth. It’s hard to get ahead on a typical wage salary.”

Follow Will O'Bryan on Twitter @wobryan.

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