Looking Demward: Gay group risks optimism

Virginia Democrats are running from the gay civil-rights issue like the radioactive political time bomb that it is in the Red Old Dominion. That's not to say that gays and lesbians are themselves running away from Democrats.

"You have to understand that the sorts of issues we're dealing with in Virginia are not the same that the GLBT community is dealing with in Massachusetts, for example," says Josh Israel, president of the Virginia Partisans Gay and Lesbian Democratic Club.

"We're not raising issues about gay marriage in Virginia. We're focused on making it illegal to fire somebody from their job simply because their employer suspects that they might be gay or lesbian," says Israel. "Our feeling is that with more Democrats in the state legislature and in statewide office, we'll have more success making our case that Virginia should be more open."

For its part, the nonpartisan Equality Virginia gay and lesbian civil-rights group is focusing its efforts not on the fall elections, but on educating the public on gay and lesbian issues.

"We recognize that a lot of folks don't know what gays and lesbians have to face each day," says Equality Virginia executive director Dyana Mason. "Our goal is to raise awareness of these issues to lay the groundwork for down the road, and the best way to do that is through education and face-to-face meetings."

The groundwork for down the road has a lot to do with next year's votes in the General Assembly on a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.

Israel thinks gays and lesbians have a good chance of blocking the amendment– either in the legislature or at the ballot box in November 2006.

"Mainstream Virginians are tired of the attempts to divide people," Israel says. "People aren't all that concerned about whether the General Assembly passes a fifth different law banning gay marriage or decides to stick with the four existing laws banning gay marriage that are currently on the books.

"I think Republicans in the General Assembly are coming around on this, too," he says. "The gay-marriage amendment made it through this year, but a number of other significant anti-gay measures were blocked. I'd like to say it was because of Democrats, but when you have only 38 Democrats in the House and 16 in the Senate, that's hard to say. It took moderate Republicans joining in with moderate Democrats to block those bills.

"I think that's an indication that the message is getting through to Republicans that people are tired of this being used as a political football," Israel says.

Doilies in the springtime