The Virginia state legislature will have its first openly gay member when it convenes next year. Adam P. Ebbin won a hotly contested
five-way Democratic primary in the Washington suburbs of northern Virginia on June 10. There is no Republican opponent in the
general election in the fall.
Ebbin, 39, has long been active within the gay community and Democratic politics. He was a member of the Arlington Gay and
Lesbian Alliance and a founding member of Equity Virginia, the statewide group lobbying for gay rights. He served as chief deputy
commissioner of the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry under current Gov. Mark Warner.
The 49th legislative district is the most diverse in the state, the only one in which neither whites nor Blacks constitute a majority of
the population of 50,000. The latest census showed it to be approximately 40% Hispanic, 30% white, 20% Black, and 10% Asian.
The incumbent was retiring after representing the district for more than a generation and the race was wide open. No Hispanics have
served in the Virginia legislature and two vied for that honor in the primarily. And another gay candidate, Nathan Monell director of the
Northern Virginia AIDS Ministry, threatened to split the gay vote. Only one candidate was a woman.
Ebbin was an underdog who received few endorsements. He campaigned on local issues such as property tax relief for those
who are retired and on fixed income, an elimination of the sales tax on groceries, and increased state support for local education.
In the end he beat out his nearest rival Teresa Martinez by 771 (29.65%) to 728 (28%), a mere 43 votes.
Ebbin's energy and focused campaigning were key. So too was his ability to raise $60,000 in just three months, a substantial
portion of it with the help of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund. A month earlier Paul Smedberg was elected the first openly gay
member of the Alexandria City Council and Ebbin was able to tap into that political network in his base of Alexandria where he rolled
up a large portion of his vote.
'The state as a whole has a lot of catching up to do when it comes to accepting different kinds of people,' Ebbin told the
Washington Post the day after the election. He hopes that his presence will help fellow legislators achieve 'some better
understanding of who I am and the things that I am about,' just as it has in other legislative bodies.
Virginia is one of the dwindling number of states that still has a sodomy law on the books. Republican control of both houses of
the state legislature is not likely to be threatened in the fall general election. It is difficult to predict whether being gay or a Democrat
will prove to be the greater burden for Ebbin in Richmond. But one thing he has going for him are his strong political ties to the