“There’s a lot of potential here in Arlington,” says Jonathan Dromgoole, a 28-year-old candidate running in the June 20 Democratic primary for one of two seats on the Arlington County Board.
“I’m originally from Mexico. My husband is originally from Venezuela. We’ve lived in different cities across the United States, Latin America, and Europe, but we’ve never had the opportunity to experience what it’s like to call one home,” he adds. “Arlington has really changed that perspective for us, allowing us to build a community and discover a sense of opportunity, where we know that we’re going to be able to go about our day-to-day lives here without facing discrimination.”
Dromgoole is one of six candidates competing for two open seats on the Arlington County Board. If elected, he would be the first out LGBTQ Latino to serve on the board and the first out LGBTQ immigrant to hold political office in the commonwealth of Virginia.
Dromgoole was born to a teenage mother in Guadalajara, Mexico, who immigrated to the United States. She settled in Austin, Texas, where Dromgoole was raised, and became the first in his family to graduate from high school.
Although he initially wanted to become a chef as a child, his mother urged him to pursue other careers. He eventually applied and was accepted at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, with plans to study international relations.
While in college, Dromgoole met Juan, a Marymount University student who had initially attended school in France, and the man who would later become his husband. The two began a relationship and eventually made their home in Arlington.
After graduation, Dromgoole shifted his attention to domestic policy, returning to Georgetown’s McCourt School of Public Policy for a master’s degree. As an Arlington resident, he became involved with local community issues and politics.
A Democrat, he helped establish both the Latino and LGBTQ Caucuses of the Arlington County Democratic Party. He soon became involved with the Democratic Latino Organization of Virginia, first working on communications and fundraising for the group before eventually becoming its president, a role in which he’s tried to change how the state Democratic Party engages with and speaks to the needs of Latino voters across the commonwealth.
He has been involved with the League of United Latin American Citizens, the nation’s largest Latino civil rights organization, and was appointed by former Gov. Ralph Northam to his current seat on Virginia’s LGBTQ+ Advisory Board, where he advises the governor and state lawmakers on issues of concern to the LGBTQ community.
Dromgoole decided to run for office because he believes he can bring important perspectives to issues tackled by the county board and highlight concerns that may have gone overlooked.
“Right now, we don’t have a renter on the county board,” he says, noting that 6 in 10 of Arlington County’s residents are renters. “We don’t have a Latino, we don’t have a member of the LGBTQ community, we don’t have a millennial on the board. And so, as a county, we can’t really make policies on behalf of all our residents if all those perspectives aren’t rooted in the decision-making conversation.”
He decision to run was motivated by conversations with residents of South Arlington — a blue-collar, heavily Latino part of the county — while working for another candidate’s campaign for county board and volunteering for a local congressional campaign. He began to hear concerns about issues like public safety and transportation and a perceived lack of engagement by county board members.
“My vision is grounded on inclusive community and community-driven policy,” he says. “Those are the ways that I’ve led a lot of the organizations I’ve been a part of and the way that I’ve led my professional life. I’m never going to come into a conversation saying, ‘I’m the elected official and I know what’s best,’ because that’s not the case.”
Dromgoole’s platform largely falls within the mainstream of Democratic politics, though generally more towards the progressive side regarding issues like affordable housing, public transportation, and climate resiliency.
However, he also touts the importance of incentives to assist small and independent businesses in establishing themselves within the county and becoming hubs of commerce. He has also pushed the idea of repurposing vacant commercial buildings and creating innovative ways for different businesses or community organizations to utilize the available space.
“Right now, so many people who have tremendous ideas are being told, ‘Well, Arlington’s too expensive for small business owners or has too much red tape. Look elsewhere,’” he says.
In terms of housing, he has generally been in support of Arlington’s “Missing Middle,” a policy approved by the current county board that is aimed at increasing smaller multi-family units in the county — large swaths of which were zoned for only single-family detached homes for decades – with the aim of providing more affordable housing for residents and workers who would otherwise be priced out of the market.
Dromgoole doesn’t see his intersectional identities as a detriment, noting that Arlington voters seemed to have no issue supporting former board member Jay Fisette, an openly gay man who served on the board for two decades, or State Sen. Adam Ebbin, who has represented parts of the county in both the Virginia House of Delegates and Senate.
“It’s not a situation where I would be afraid to run as an openly gay Latino individual here,” he says.
His willingness to embrace his identity probably shouldn’t come as a surprise.
By day, Dromgoole is the senior manager for political appointments at the LGBTQ Victory Institute, which provides training and guidance to LGBTQ officeholders and political appointees.
His bid for the county board has been endorsed by the organization’s campaign arm, the LGBTQ Victory Fund, which aims to increase the number of out LGBTQ people serving in elective office.
“Jonathan will bring a unique and necessary perspective to the county board, ensuring all residents are considered when making policy decisions,” Annise Parker, a former mayor of Houston who serves as president and CEO of the LGBTQ Victory Fund, said in a statement throwing the organization’s support behind Dromgoole. “His commitment to smart public policy that addresses the real concerns of constituents makes him the best candidate in the race.”
Asked about the backlash that some LGBTQ candidates are receiving when they seek office — particularly charges that being open about their sexual orientation or gender identity is a form of “grooming” with respect to children — Dromgoole says any such attacks against him would expose the fact such critics can’t attack him on issues of substance.
“It’s unfortunate that trope is used to attack members of the LGBTQ community, but I believe it’s used only when they can’t go after your qualifications or community experience, so they have to go after you in a personal capacity,” he says. “We’ve seen that with folks who are pursuing presidential appointments. However, I don’t see that being a problem in Arlington. We have a tremendous LGBTQ community that is well integrated into the larger community. We have businesses that actually call themselves ‘straight-friendly’ instead of [identifying as] LGBTQ businesses.”
He also notes that his election to the board could serve as a quiet signal to LGBTQ youth about what they can achieve, even as the larger community is currently being attacked in state capitals — including Richmond – and at the school board level, including neighboring Fairfax County and nearby Prince William and Loudoun counties.
“I think that’s why it’s tremendously important to have a member of the county board who is LGBTQ,” he says of serving as a role model. “I have these life experiences. I’m here to advocate for you now, to make sure you have the same access as anybody else in our county to go to school, to apply for a job, to buy a house, without facing discrimination.”
Dromgoole says the upcoming primary, in which Democratic voters will use ranked-choice voting to select the top two candidates for the board, offers an excellent opportunity to not only increase the diversity of the board but to engage more people in the political process.
“For a long time, I’ve always heard, ‘My vote doesn’t matter. Why am I going to be involved in this?’ With ranked-choice voting, your vote truly does matter, because if your first choice isn’t selected, your second choice comes into play, your third choice can come into play,” he says.
“I think that’s going to present an opportunity to really push for more progressive values and for more diverse candidates on the county board, which then results in being able to push for progressive and inclusive policies. It’s going to allow us to really see what the county wants and how all our residents feel by letting their voices, their viewpoints be heard.”
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