Aug 27, 2013

Progress Marches on, but Will Virginia Join?

When I started volunteering for the Obama campaign during the 2008 primary, I could not have imagined the progress that we are seeing today. In just over four and one-half years since President Obama took office, we’ve seen hospital visitation rights secured for same-sex couples, the end of prosecution based on sexual orientation in the ranks of our military, and the end of discrimination against married same-sex couples at the federal level of government.

At the state level, we’ve gone from having same-sex marriage legal in only three states (California, Massachusetts, and Connecticut), to now having thirteen states (California, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington) where it is now legal for same-sex couples to get married. Recently, Rachel Maddow talked on her MSNBC show about how the fight for marriage equality has virtually been won in states that trend Democratic, and how the focus is shifting to Republican dominated states and that we’re beginning to see progress even in those states.

Stepping away from politics, we’re seeing amazing progress in entertainment as well, as one television show after another is introducing audiences to gay characters (The New Normal, Modern Family, Camp, Orange is the New Black, Nashville, Scandal, Smash, Political Animals, Teen Wolf, etc., etc., etc.,). Not only are gay characters being written into these shows, they are being used in ways that shows progress in understanding that LGBT people don’t fit one mold, and in many ways we’re being shown that they’re really just like everyone else, even if they are warewolves. In fact, Sean Hayes, who gained fame from his role as “Jack” in Will & Grace (arguably the spark that lit the fire in making gay okay on TV), is in a new show, Sean Saves the World, that NBC says is a, “post-gay show where there is a gay man at the center but it’s not about his being gay.”

Currently, it’s hard to escape a song that has become an anthem for marriage equality for many throughout the nation, Same Love by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. As independent artists, it took a while for their music, including this song, to make the rounds and get noticed. However, the message in Same Love helped propel the duo to popularity. It traveled through social media, was downloaded by those who love it, and eventually hit the radio. I was listening to it while waiting for the Supreme Court’s decision on Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act. I suspect many were. The impact of the song hit me again while visiting my dad in Florida, playing on the radio in the garage as he helped me with my car. He and I really don’t talk much about my being gay, but there the song was providing a soundtrack to that moment in my life, with my dad. Progress indeed, even at that personal level. This week, Same Love won a MTV Video Music Award for “Best Video with a Social Message”. While accepting the award, Macklemore said, “Gay rights are human rights there is no separation.” You can watch their VMA performance by clicking here, and the video for the song below.

Progress does indeed march on, politically and socially, and it’s marching quickly. It’s been an amazing experience to work with members of Congress, the Virginia General Assembly, and local officials to aid that progress along, and to see results happen. I’ve learned a simple, yet very powerful, lesson since beginning my political activism in 2008. That lesson is that elections have consequences.

Had Senator John McCain won in 2008, I believe progress for LGBT people would have been slow, still ongoing, but slower than what we’ve seen in the past few years. The events since that election should serve as a wake-up call to Republicans, and I think some are beginning to hear the faint sound of that alarm. It’s getting louder, and eventually the Grand Old Party will need to wake up and stop prosecuting people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. When that day comes, I believe there will be a resulting shift in coalitions.

But Republicans are not there yet. In fact, in Virginia, they are far from it. For LGBT Virginians, the importance of electing Democrats at all levels of government is high. This year’s race for Governor, Lt. Governor, and Attorney General provide an opportunity for Virginia to make significant progress toward equality for LGBT Virginians in employment, adoption, and marriage.

Terry McAuliffe, Ralph Northam, and Mark Herring stand behind equality for all people. Their Republican opponents have made careers out of demonizing and prosecuting the LGBT community, and, if elected, they will not only command the Executive branch of Virginia Government, but also the House of Delegates, where Republican Delegates will cower and bow down to their extreme social agendas that target lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgendered people.

Progress marches on, and Virginia can either join in that march by electing Democrats this year, or they can lag behind with consequences ranging from personal lives being ruined, to economic troubles as business avoid Virginia like the plague and opt for more welcoming environments.

Virginia, the choice is yours.