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LGBT community weighs its influence in gubernatorial race

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Posted at 12:58 PM, Oct 24, 2013
and last updated 2013-10-24 13:12:10-04

EDITOR’S NOTE: This semester WTVR.com has partnered with VCU’s School of Mass Communications “iPadJournos” mobile and social media journalism project. Students from the project reported the following story.

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR.com) – In the race for governor, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in Virginia is putting its political influence to the test. Justin Ayars, president of the LGBT-friendly Richmond Business Alliance, said the views of the leading gubernatorial candidates Ken Cuccinelli and Terry McAuliffe on LGBT rights could sway voters in this year’s election.

Ayars, who also owns 2113 Bistro on East Main Street, said that while the Richmond Business Alliance will not endorse a candidate, he thinks that LGBT rights should be a non-partisan issue and social issues should not divide the state when there are other important issues to tackle.

“We are all working towards the same goal. It’s not as simple as saying black and white. It’s a world of grey,” Ayars said. The Richmond Business Alliance works to support the LGBT community in Richmond by connecting businesses and professionals who want to increase their visibility and create networking opportunities. The organization also works across party lines to facilitate business and economic prosperity.

“We are all Americans. We all want good things for our country, our local, state and national governments,” Ayars said. “No matter what you believe socially, I think most everybody can agree that they want their communities to thrive and their nation to succeed.”

In an interview with the “iPadJournos” project at a campaign event at VCU last month, Democrat Terry McAuliffe agreed with Ayars’ views of a thriving economy. McAuliffe wants an open and diversified state, a view that might help him with the vote of both LGBT supporters and local small business owners. He advocates for marriage equality and the economic growth in Virginia.

“I’m going to do the things that I can get done by issuing executive orders, to make sure everybody feels this is a great place to live and raise your family,” McAuliffe said.

“By excluding diversity, inhibiting qualified candidates from entering the workforce in the state of Virginia you are endangering the business community as a whole. That’s why the Richmond Business Alliance is LGBT friendly,” said Ayers. He added that the Richmond Business Alliance has members who identify as heterosexual, and that they want to continue to keep ties with both sides of the community.

“We want to make sure that we create a very friendly community in which people are comfortable being who they are. And contributing what they can, for the benefit of everyone,” said Ayers.

Richmond resident Arny Beltran is a member of the LGBT community and works as a store manager for American Apparel in Carytown. He said his company is openly LGBT friendly and believes that position has had a positive effect on business.

“With many of our employees and customers identifying as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered, we are a company that is vocal about our support for the protection of gay rights,” said Beltran.

Beltran’s opinion about LGBT equality stands in contrast to Ken Cuccinelli’s views protecting traditional marriage.

Cuccinelli’s campaign didn’t respond to requests for an interview with the “iPadJournos” project on LGBT rights, but he addressed the issue in a recent debate with McAuliffe.

“My personal beliefs about the personal challenges of homosexuality haven’t changed,” Cuccinelli said in the debate, according to Politico “What I want to do as governor is create an environment, including an economic environment, where every Virginian has the opportunity to succeed.”

Cuccinelli criticized McAuliffe for suggesting that his views on social issues could have an impact on businesses in Virginia.

The “notion that this somehow chases businesses out of Virginia would be laughable if it weren’t so utterly offensive,” Cuiccinelli said, according to Politico.

Beltran said despite who wins the gubernatorial election, more businesses will catch on to the LGBT-friendly approach in the future.

“I feel like Richmond is still getting used to the scene, but the gay community is growing and there has definitely been a big improvement in the last two years I’ve lived here,” said Beltran.

And the vote of a more vocal LGBT community in Virginia has the potential for impact in the gubernatorial race this fall.

By Talisha Williams and Samantha Morgan (Special to WTVR.com)

This story was reported by the “iPadJournos” mobile and social media journalism project, a cooperation between WTVR.com and VCU’s School of Mass Communications.