While the tourism tagline might tout Virginia as the place for lovers, right now it’s all about the voters.
Buoyed by Virginia’s crucial role in the presidential race, as well as its potential to decide – as it did six years ago – which party controls the U.S. Senate, LGBT volunteers from D.C. have been heading across the Potomac to join their commonwealth counterparts knocking on doors, calling registered voters and otherwise convincing people to support pro-equality candidates on Election Day.
Tim Kaine and George Allen
After the presidential race, the next-biggest attraction is the U.S. Senate race pitting George Allen (R) – the former governor and senator, who held the Senate seat from 2000 to 2006 before losing to incumbent Sen. Jim Webb (D) – against former Gov. Tim Kaine (D). A Kaine victory would likely help Democrats retain their Senate majority.
LGBT activists are also trying to defend three incumbent House Democrats – Bobby Scott of Newport News, Gerald Connolly of Mantua and Jim Moran of Arlington – all of whom support marriage equality and received high ratings on the annual congressional scorecard released by the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights organization. Scott received a 95 percent rating for the current session, while Connolly and Moran received 100 percent ratings.
In coordination with the presidential and Senate campaigns, the LGBT Democratic Caucus of Virginia – formerly the Virginia Partisans – has been sending volunteers to assist the campaigns with voter identification and outreach.
Linh Hoang, a board member of the LGBT Caucus and a member of the Fairfax County LGBT Committee, is one such volunteer, having phone-banked and canvassed on behalf of the Obama and Kaine campaigns, as well as phone-banked for U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), who is seeking to become the first out lesbian elected to the U.S. Senate and whose race is also crucial to keeping the Senate Democratic.
Hoang said most voters do not specifically ask about LGBT issues when contacted, as the idea is to integrate the LGBT volunteers with the rest of the campaign. He said several other volunteers are associated with other local and national LGBT groups, though not on a formal basis.
Hoang has also been working to reach out to Northern Virginia’s large Vietnamese-American community on behalf of the campaigns, registering, persuading and educating potential voters about the candidates, issues and Virginia’s voter ID law.
Asked about Kaine’s commitment to the LGBT community, Hoang defended the Senate hopeful, who has stopped short of endorsing marriage equality. Hoang says Kaine is LGBT-friendly and would treat LGBT people with respect while working to advance equal rights.
”George Allen would take away LGBT rights,” Hoang added of Kaine’s Senate-race rival. ”Kaine will differ in his opinion sometimes, but he’s sympathetic and open-minded. That’s the type of person you want in the Senate.”
Virginia state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Arlington, Alexandria), the General Assembly’s only out gay legislator and who has participated on phone-banks and rallied volunteers on behalf of his party’s nominees, is also a stalwart defender of Kaine’s record.
”Tim Kaine is uniquely qualified to reach across the aisle,” Ebbin said. ”It was Kaine, after all, who worked with President Bush to save the aircraft carrier in Hampton Roads. George Allen is a partisan bomb-thrower, rather than a force to bring people together.”
Furthermore, Ebbin said, Kaine has a record on LGBT rights that Allen cannot match. On his first day in office as governor, Kaine issued an executive order against discrimination in hiring that explicitly mentioned sexual orientation. When Virginia faced the Marshall-Newman Amendment, which enshrined a ban on recognition of same-sex relationships into the Virginia Constitution, it was Kaine who spoke out against it, said Ebbin.
He also pointed to Kaine’s background as a civil rights lawyer and his willingness to show support for the LGBT community. And, Ebbin added, Kaine supports relationship equality – if not marriage equality – where LGBT relationships are afforded the same benefits, rights and responsibilities enjoyed by couples in heterosexual relationships.
Ebbin encouraged D.C.’s equality-minded activists to cross the river and help in Virginia during these final days of the campaign.
”I’m excited we’ve got a committed team of people who realize how high the stakes are,” he said. ”We can’t coast on the success of four years ago. This campaign is not going to be won with TV commercials, but by registration, identification of voters, and call by call.”
One of the District-based organizations following Ebbin’s advice is the Gertrude Stein Democrats. Club President Lateefah Williams said that although members have volunteered in Maryland for Question 6, the bulk of the club’s volunteerism has taken place in Virginia, working on behalf of Obama, Kaine and other Democrats.
For instance, Williams said, Stein members have phone-banked in conjunction with the LGBT Democrats of Arlington to reach likely Democratic voters and get them to turn out Nov. 6. Some Stein members have also volunteered as canvassers.
The Stein Club’s GOP counterpart, the Washington, D.C., Log Cabin Republicans, has, in the words of President Robert Turner II, ”deployed” members to Virginia on behalf of the Romney and Allen campaigns, as well as to Massachusetts, New York and Ohio districts with Republican incumbents who are considered LGBT-friendly.
The Northern Virginia chapter of the Log Cabin Republicans is currently inactive, but the group’s former vice president and political director, David Lampo, said that while the chapter won’t be endorsing any candidates, it would have endorsed Patrick Murray, the Republican nominee in Virginia’s 8th Congressional District, against Moran.
According to Lampo, Murray has ”evolved tremendously” on LGBT issues since his 2010 run against Moran, opposing the Defense of Marriage Act, supported the repeal of ”Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and supports relationship recognition for same-sex couples.
Virginia’s main nonpartisan LGBT-rights organization, Equality Virginia, will also be providing information to voters interested in congressional candidates’ stances on various LGBT issues via the website of Equality Virginia Advocates, the lobbying and political branch of the organization, as well as by email to Equality Virginia members.
”Equality Virginia distributes questionnaires to congressional candidates every cycle,” Equality Virginia Executive Director James Parrish said in a statement. ”We ask about the candidate’s support on pro-equality legislation, including the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, the Respect for Marriage Act, the Every Child Deserves a Family Act, the Student Non-Discrimination Act and appropriations for HIV/AIDS programs.”
Those positions will be accessible online starting Nov. 1 at evadvocates.org.