November 8, 2011 | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
ELECTION ROUNDUP: Va. elects first openly gay senator
Adam Ebbin

Adam Ebbin (Photo courtesy Adam Ebbin)

Democrat Adam Ebbin, a gay man who has served in the Virginia House of Delegates since 2004, won election on Tuesday to the Virginia Senate, becoming the state’s first openly gay senator.

Ebbin defeated Republican challenger and political newcomer Timothy McGhee by a margin of 64 percent to 35 percent. He ran in a district with a solid Democratic majority that includes parts of Alexandria, Arlington and Fairfax counties.

“I am honored by the trust the voters have showed in me,” Ebbin said in a statement. “During the campaign, I listened to the voters’ concerns and will work on behalf of the values we all share: improving our public schools, expanding our transit system and cleaning up Virginia’s environment. I will make sure their voices are heard.”

Ebbin emerged as an outspoken advocate for LGBT equality during his tenure as the state’s only out gay member of the House of Delegates. He said one of his top priorities in the Senate will be to push legislation to ban job discrimination against state government employees because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

In a separate race, gay Republican Patrick Forrest lost his bid to unseat Virginia State Sen. Janet Howell (D-Reston), a longtime supporter of LGBT rights. Forrest, who had been endorsed by the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, was vying to become the first openly LGBT Republican to win election to a state legislature.

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He created a stir when he and his campaign accused the Howell campaign of using “gay baiting” tactics to discourage Republican voters from supporting him. His campaign identified a Democratic Party volunteer who admitted to a Forrest campaign worker that she told voters that Forrest was gay and would likely promote a “gay agenda” for the state’s public schools.

Howell said the party volunteer was not part of her campaign and was dismissed from her role as a party canvasser when Howell learned of the allegation. Gay Democrats backing Howell complained that the Forrest campaign and the Victory Fund were unfairly linking Howell to the gay baiting claim.

Terry Mansberger, chair of the Virginia Democratic Party’s LGBT Caucus, expressed concern that the Victory Fund’s support of Forrest was hurting LGBT rights efforts in the state because a win for Forrest and just one other Republican would lead to a GOP takeover of the State Senate.

LGBT Democratic activists pointed out that a solid majority of Senate Democrats support LGBT rights. They noted that most Senate Republicans and Republican candidates seeking Senate seats strongly oppose LGBT rights initiatives and, in some cases, have advocated for anti-gay laws, including a bill to prohibit gays from adopting children.

With the apparent loss of two other Democratic seats, Republicans were poised to win control of the Senate independently of Forrest’s race. Republicans control the House of Delegates.

Ebbin has said his efforts to push LGBT supportive bills and block anti-gay measures would be in jeopardy if the State Senate flips from Democratic to Republican control in the 2012 legislative session.

In another Virginia electoral contest, gay candidate Michael Sutphin appears to have won his race for a seat on the Blacksburg, Va., Town Council by a solid margin. With results in for nine out of the town’s 10 precincts as of early Wednesday morning, Sutphin came in second place in a race where five candidates were competing for three seats up for election.

Sutphin is poised to become the first known openly gay candidate to win election to public office in a part of the state outside Northern Virginia, which is a D.C. suburb.

In a hotly contested race on the other side of the country, gay former San Francisco Supervisor Bevan Dufty was in seventh place in his bid to become San Francisco’s first out gay mayor. In a mayoral contest with 16 candidates, Dufty won just 4.7 percent of the “first choice” vote and was trailing far behind frontrunner Ed Lee, the incumbent mayor, who had 31.4 percent of the “first choice” vote.

Under San Francisco’s “ranked choice” voting system, voters cast ballots for their first, second and third choice for mayor. If no candidate received at least 51 percent of the vote, the candidate with the least number of votes is eliminated and the city counts the second choice votes of that candidate. The process is repeated until a candidate obtains a 51 percent majority.

Second place candidate John Avalos had 18.7 percent of first choice votes and third place candidate, City Attorney Dennis Herrera, had 11.3 percent of the first choice vote. Herrera, a strong supporter of LGBT rights, had been considered Dufty’s strongest competitor for LGBT votes.

Dufty has said he expected the vote count to go to at least one or more rounds before someone emerged as the winner. He said he had a good shot at winning in a second or later round of vote counting.

But observers say Lee remains the strong favorite to win a later round due to his strong showing in the “first choice” vote.

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Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

8 Comments
  • Mayor Jeffrey Slavin

    I am glad Adam won and will be able to work with newly re-elected Senator Janet Howell, who has been to date Adam’s strongest ally in the Virginia Senate.

    • I strongly agree with Jeffrey, we are lucky to have both Adam and Janet fighting for our rights. Keep your fingers crossed that the recount preserves the Democratic majority.

  • I´d really like to know where District 30 is. Norfolk? Northern VA? Richmond? A lot of us don´t live in VA and I bet even some Virginians don´t know all the numbers of the districts.

  • Fr. Scott Russell

    We in Blacksburg are thrilled to have Michael on our town council. Don’t forget 11/8 is the anniversary of Harvey Milk first being elected to San Francisco’s board of supervisors!

  • Bill–district 30 is Northern VA, so Alexandria and Arlington areas…definitely some of the most liberal parts of the state.

  • Why does being gay make him a good choice for a senate seat?

  • @ laurelboy2 I don’t see anything in the article implying that at all. Hopefully no one votes for any politician based solely on sexual orientation! I think gay people are just proud that Ebbin is a good role model and a liberal who will vote for their equal rights.

    The point here, I believe is that straight people voted for him because they believed he is most qualified for the job, without taking sexual orientation into account, which is as it should be.

    I voted for Obama not BECAUSE he is black, but I am proud that we are as a nation finally getting to a place where we don’t judge people on anything other than, “The content of their characters.”

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