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Gay Rights Activists Rally in Fairfax

Arlington County chairman Jay Fisette and Fairfax County chairman Gerry Connolly discuss pending state legislation affecting gay rights.

Responding to controversial legislation now before the Virginia General Assembly targeting homosexuals and same-sex unions, gay rights activists from throughout Northern Virginia rallied in Fairfax Monday night.

“It is an avalanche of extremist legislation,” Arlington County Board chairman Jay Fisette said, shortly after his speech at the Metropolitan Community Church of Northern Virginia.

Fisette addressed members of Equality Fairfax, urging them to join and support campaigns for gay rights in the commonwealth. He also outlined bills put forth by several conservative members of the state House aimed at reducing the rights of gays and lesbians. That legislation includes an amendment to the state's Constitution, put forth by Del. John Cosgrove (R-78th) defining marriage as existing only between a man and a woman. Similar bills are being pushed by Del. Bob Marshall (R-13th) and Sen. Stephen Newman (R-23rd). Fisette told the crowd of more then 70 people that such bills will eventually lead to the dissolution of other rights for same-sex couples, such as the ability to recognize one another in wills, contracts and other documents.

“If you live as a gay or lesbian in Virginia, you understand the impact of this legislation from your own life's experience,” he said.

These bills, he added, are political ploys designed to get their authors re-elected in conservative districts.

“Some of the legislators putting out this material are just bad people, but many are just simply ignorant or unaware,” he said. “Cosgrove is just an opportunist, but the others, they may not have ever had much contact with someone who is gay.”

THE GROUP ALSO FOUND support from Gerry Connolly (D-At-large), chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. According to Paula Prettyman, president of Equality Fairfax, gays and lesbians also have some legislation to support during the current session in Richmond. State Sen. Patricia Ticer (D-30th) has put forth a measure to repeal parts of the commonwealth's Crimes Against Nature laws otherwise knows as its sodomy laws. Del. James Scott (D-53rd) is proposing a bill that would prohibit the discrimination of state employees on the basis of race, religion, disability or sexual orientation.

“Time is on our side,” Fisette said. “History is on our side. Equality will happen one day.”

Candy Cox, part of Equality Fairfax's special legislative task force, compared the fight for gay rights in Virginia with the struggles of African Americans during the civil rights movement. She encouraged gays and lesbians to be open about their sexual identities and to support campaigns for their own rights.

“For those of you who can pass, good for you, now stop it,” she said. “You're helping no one. For those of you who have money, good for you, now spend it. Invest in your own liberty. We can change this by refusing to let ourselves get over it. We can change it by recognizing our fear and walking through it. Then and only then can we take our rightful place in this state.”

“What has disturbed us most is this bill that prohibits gay-straight alliances in schools,” said Carla Weeks. “I have an 11-year-old son, and I think its important for him to have a place where he can go and discuss about it (sexual orientation).”