December 4, 2009 | by Chris Johnson
New leader takes helm of Virginia Partisans

The new president of Virginia’s LGBT Democratic group says reaching out to other organizations and raising money to elect pro-gay candidates will be the main priorities for the organization.

Terry Mansberger, 48, a gay resident of Annandale, Va., was announced as the new president of Virginia Partisans on Saturday. The group selects new leaders — as well as other officers — every two years through a mail-in vote.

Mansberger, a product manager for AT&T, said that when he takes office Jan. 1 he wants to start work on building membership and will reach out to other LGBT organizations to accomplish that goal.

“I want to grow membership and I want to grow access to the state — beyond where we’ve been traditionally in Northern Virginia,” he said.

The goal of building membership, Mansberger said, “goes hand-in-hand” with the goal to support the Democratic candidates Virginia Partisans wants to elect.

Still, Mansberger predicted that 2010 would be somewhat of a breather for his organization, noting that only congressional seats in Virginia will be up for grabs. Elections for offices within Virginia will next occur in 2011.

Mansberger said Virginia Partisans would play a role in policy-making in Richmond by influencing Democratic officials. Even with more limited Democratic influence following Republican wins in the 2009 election, Mansberger pointed to some areas where progress can be made.

“There’s some areas around workplace equality and non-discrimination, things like that, that I think would have a broader appeal than that hot-button marriage issue,” he said.

Despite its losses on the ballot this year, Mansberger said the Democratic ticket for the most part did a good job in embracing LGBT Virginia residents. He noted that Democratic gubernatorial nominee Creigh Deeds reached out early to LGBT people in his campaign and attended some Virginia Partisans events.

“We had a good relationship with Creigh Deeds,” he said. “I talked to him quite a bit and his campaign was certainly supportive, [and] wanted our support.”

By comparison, Mansberger said Steve Shannon, the Democratic candidate who sought to become Virginia attorney general, didn’t embrace the state’s LGBT population until later in the campaign cycle.

“I would have liked to seen him go after [Virginia attorney general-elect Ken] Cuccinelli’s radical positions on GLBT [issues] a bit earlier, but he waited to the 11th hour and it was too late,” he said. “His campaign is the only one that really didn’t seriously reach out to us.”

Mansberger said he was frustrated by the lack of enthusiasm among Democrats in this year’s races. He acknowledged that Deeds voted twice for the constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, but said he had “come a long way on the issue” and “was willing to help and support us.”

“Given the alternative, I really don’t understand why people would sit on the sidelines the way they did,” he said.

While saying he wants to reach out to other LGBT groups, Mansberger noted a distinction between Equality Virginia and Virginia Partisans. He said Equality Virginia serves a more educational role, while Virginia Partisans is geared toward electing candidates and influencing the Democratic Party.

“We support Democrats first and foremost and we make sure that we hold the Democratic Party to the fire on our issues and make sure that we’re not just getting lip service, but we actually have candidates that embrace and work for us,” he said.

In recent years, there has been some occasional friction between Equality Virginia and Virginia Partisans. The groups sometimes support different candidates in state House races. And tensions rose last year when Equality Virginia honored former Republican Del. Vince Callahan at its annual dinner.

Callahan had supported some pro-LGBT legislation, but sometimes during his political career voted against pro-gay measures and voted twice in favor of the constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. Virginia Partisans criticized the choice, while Equality Virginia defended the decision as advancing its non-partisan role.

Mansberger said “certainly it’s important” to make differences of opinion known when they exist between the two organizations, but noted that he doesn’t think such differences have caused a “real rift” between the two groups.

Virginia Partisans elected a number of officers Saturday. Tiffany Joslyn, an Arlington, Va., resident, was as elected as vice president; Alexandra Beninda, a transgender Arlington, Va., resident, was elected as treasurer; Brian Cook, a gay Arlington, Va., resident, was elected as secretary; and Clifton Taylor, a Falls Church, Va., resident, was elected as assistant secretary.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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