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A Spot of Blue in
a Sea of Red 

A Spot of Blue in
a Sea of Red 


With Barack Obama making Virginia look like it might just go blue in 2008, things are slowly improving for the LGBT community throughout the state. But with the state still not recognizing civil unions or domestic partnerships -- nevermind marriage -- Equality Virginia's Molly McClintock recognizes they still have a long way to go.

When Molly McClintock left for a trip out of the country just a few weeks before Election Day, she left hoping that her home state, Virginia, would climb a "pretty high mountain" and vote Obama. Now, with one of her state's high profile residents, General Colin Powell (Ret.), endorsing the man who embodies hope, McClintock's wish may just come true.

But wishes are just that and there are still more than two dozen days left until Virginians go into the voting booth and make their choice.

"Obama's campaign is giving Virginia the best chance to turn blue," said McClintock, who lives in Christiansburg in the Blue Ridge Mountains and who sits on the Equality Virginia Board of Directors. "There are Obama offices everywhere. Mark Warner [the former Democratic governor of the state] is going to run away with the election for U.S. Senate. Things are lining up in Obama's favor but it's still going to be a challenge."

Despite the name of her town and the fact that she's nestled in a traditionally conservative mountain range, McClintock lives in "a spot of blue in a sea of red." Christiansburg is 30 miles south of Roanoke but more importantly is right next door to Blacksburg, the home of Virginia Tech. Together, the town and the college "gives us a nice, liberal progressive community."

In fact, so nice and progressive that the area has re-elected Rick Boucher, her Democratic Congressman, thirteen times. This year he is running unopposed. But McClintock knows that just because she and her partner, Irene Paterson, live in a community where her "sexuality and our lives have never been a problem," living in Virginia is far from a LGBT-friendly experience.

"Just by being lesbian or gay in Virginia you're making a political statement," she explained. But McClintock also understands, perhaps more than most of the LGBT community in Virginia, that just "being" is just not enough in a state that revels in its homophobia.

"This is a state that in recent years has really had an antagonistic relationship with its gay and lesbian citizens," she said. "In 2003, Virginia passed for the third or fourth time a bill telling me that I couldn't marry my partner, couldn't have a civil union, couldn't have a domestic partnership. It reiterated in just another fashion what I was not. It was the breaking point for me. I've been involved in statewide politics ever since then."

McClintock has served three terms on the Equality Virginia Board of Directors. According to its Website, she has been the organization's Acting Chair, Vice Chair, Outreach Committee Chair and, she is now the board secretary. She also serves as a district chair for the Montgomery County Democratic Committee and serves on the Roanoke Pride committee.

"I think there are a lot of people here who just say 'I'm not into politics.' Well, I'm into politics because we have to make a difference in this state and the country. It's distasteful, at times, but it's necessary to make change."

When McClintock rolled up her sleeves to fight the state's constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage and have it defeated in her home county, she said the majority of folks by her side were fellow Democrats and folks from the Unitarian Church. "When I look back, it was great to have those folks. But, where were the gay and lesbian people?"

Now a political veteran, McClintock understands how important yet how tiring it can be to keep protecting the community from harmful legislation while also keeping an optimistic outlook for the future. "We've had years of fighting one bill after another, some enormous with wide implications -- like the Marriage Amendment in 2006 -- and some silly and pesky. We've spent most of our time being on the defensive while we saw positive change happening in other parts of the country. We are victimized by the General Assembly."

The Marriage amendment did pass, but only by a vote of 53 percent in favor and 47 percent opposed. When it was passed in the state's General Assembly (GA), comprised of the state's House of Delegates and Senate, McClintock said the vote did not reflect that same 6 point spread. "The General Assembly is far to the right and extremely partisan."

Not to be deterred, the GA is the target of McClintock and Equality Virginia's work. "We're doing work to prepare for a successful General Assembly. We're working on a non-discrimination bill just for state employees."

When Mark Warner, the Democrat now looking good to be the state's next U.S. Senator, was Governor he issued an executive order banning discrimination based on sexual orientation in state service. His successor, Tim Kaine, also a Democrat, has kept the order on the books. But, if a not so friendly Governor sits in the state house in the future, that executive order could very well go by the way side.

"The executive order needs to be put into law," said McClintock. "We're particularly interested in getting teachers covered. We're working with universities, town and city council, trying to get their support."

She's cautiously optimistic. "I don't know if we're at a tipping point like in Colorado," McClintock said. "Democrats have made some gains here but it's going to take a few election cycles to get back in the majority."

Next up: A look at how Virginia's 2006 amendment will affect the outcome of this year's election.

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