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Welcoming Place for Gay Residents?

In the face of legislation that could limit their rights, gay advocates say that most friends, neighbors and coworkers in Loudoun don't reflect anti-gay rhetoric.

When 11 states passed constitutional amendments defining marriage as between a man and a woman last November, the mood in the Weintraub home was grim.

"It was thoroughly depressing," said Jonathan Weintraub.

"There was a sense of devastation," said David Weintraub. "Why are people doing this?"

The Weintraubs are not legally married, but they refer to each other as if they were. After 21 years together, the Taylorstown couple's relationship may never be recognized by the state. There are currently five different constitutional amendments being considered by the General Assembly that would ban the Weintraubs from marrying in Virginia. One of the amendments is sponsored by two Loudoun delegates: Del. Richard Black (R-32), who represents Sterling, and Del. Robert Marshall (R-13), who represents south-central Loudoun and northern Prince William County.

On Monday, the state Senate passed a resolution to support a ban on same-sex marriage. The measure was before the House of Delegates on Tuesday. In order to become law, a constitutional amendment must be passed in two sessions and go to referendum — in this case, potentially by November 2006.

In addition to the five constitutional amendments, the General Assembly is considering two other bills designed to limit gay rights: a Black-sponsored bill to forbid adoption by gay people (HB 2921), and a bill to forbid "the use of school facilities to distribute literature to any club focused on supporting, assisting or justifying any lifestyle involving unlawful sexual behavior" (HB 2868) — essentially prohibiting schools from forming gay-straight alliance groups.

Black said he's still "ironing out" some difficulties on the Affirmation of Marriage Amendment, but he had high hopes.

"I anticipate that it will pass with a fairly significant margin," he said.

The bill to forbid passing literature containing information on homosexuality in schools passed the House of Delegates unanimously on Tuesday.

"We don't want to have a porno club, we don't want to have a gay and lesbian club," Black said.

Black's bill to prohibit same-sex couples to adopt also passed the House on Monday, although with a slightly less wide margin, with a 71-24.

BLACK HAS A STRONG local ally in Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling), who is executive director of the Public Advocate of the United States, a conservative family values organization.

Delgaudio complained last fall that local schools promoted "the homosexual agenda" by including commenting on a child's apparent sexual orientation in the definition of bullying. A survey distributed to parents of Sterling Middle School students in October was what incensed Delgaudio; it asked parents if they considered a student's commenting on another student's sexual orientation as "bullying."

Delgaudio claimed victory when the School Board announced it never had programs promoting homosexuality in schools. He also encouraged Del. Tim Hugo (R-40) to introduce a bill (HB 2613) banning surveys that ask students or parents about "the sexual behavior and attitudes of the student as well as his family members."

The bill passed the House on Saturday, 83-13.

Delgaudio said he's anticipating a complete ban on same-sex marriage.

"I believe in marriage between a man and a woman," he said. "I'm looking forward to the governor's signature on this legislation, or he can kiss off any plans for public office in this country."

With so many bills pending that could limit gay rights in Virginia, it begs the question: does public policy really reflect the way gay people feel about living in Loudoun? "The Connection" asked some members of Equality Loudoun, the local chapter of state gay advocacy group Equality Virginia, about it last weekend over chicken green curry at Patalla Thai in Sterling.

MOST PEOPLE DO not have strong feelings about gay issues, said David Weintraub, president of Equality Loudoun.

"People don't care," he said. "It's a non-issue."

The Rev. Roberta Finkelstein has been married for more than 30 years — and she was one of the first people to contact Equality Loudoun, which was first formed two years ago. Her church, Unitarian Universalists of Sterling, sometimes hosts Equality Loudoun events.

"There's not a single person in our church who feels their marriages are threatened by someone else's," she said. "Having more people in committed, monogamous marriages doesn't threaten any marriage. It strengthens our community."

Her husband, Barry Finkelstein, agreed.

"My conservative Republican friends don't even think that," he said. "They think these are non-issues the politicians are exploiting."

The Weintraubs have rarely experienced strong anti-gay sentiment since moving to Loudoun in 1998. Instead, it manifests itself in small ways: a coworker hesitating to shake David Weintraub's hand after being introduced as Jonathan Weintraub's partner, for example.

RUSS MUÑOS is ex-New Yorker, ex-Navy, Buddhist and Republican. He talks with his hands in precise movements and wears an unpretentious brown plaid shirt. He has lived in eight states and moved to Ashburn with his partner last fall.

"It's the first state I wanted to move out of when I got here," he said. "It's really weird — I feel like I'm looking over my shoulder."

Muños's partner, Chris "Trey" Sargent, meanwhile, has the gentle demeanor of an artist. He doesn't feel quite as unnerved about his environs, and indeed, neither he nor Muños has experienced any anti-gay sentiment since moving here.

Thanks to the Affirmation of Marriage Act, which was passed by the General Assembly last year and prevented the formation of civil unions between a same-sex couple, however, Muños and Sargent have a problem. If Sargent's 14-year-old daughter were to stay with the couple and be involved in an accident, Muños would not be recognized by the hospital as a family member.

"He'd be on the other side of the glass with no legal recourse," Sargent said.

DAVID WEINTRAUB admits that some gay people leave Virginia rather than stay and advocate.

"I think we're all thinking about leaving Virginia," he said. But the latest attack from politicians — especially the proposed bill to prevent schools from forming gay-straight alliances — has spurred him to stand his ground. He wrote a long open letter to Supervisor Stephen Snow (R-Dulles), who has made combating bullying one his pet projects.

"The kind of support provided by these alliances saves lives," he wrote. "I hate to think this of anyone, but there seem to be some people in our society who are so fanatical in their views, so ignorant and so cruel, that they would rather see some of these kids lost to suicide than to tolerate even the suggestion that acceptance of sexual or gender difference is possible."

"It doesn't have to be this way for the kids," he said.

Snow said he was not yet familiar with the legislation, but was investigating.

For Russ Muños, moving to a red state has put him on the front line for gay rights. At Patalla Thai, he was enthusiastic about the chances for advocacy ahead.

"It's exciting," he said.