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Catching Up With David Nygaard, Virginia Beach’s First Openly Gay City Councilman

Having prevailed over recounts and challenges to finally take his place on the Virginia Beach City Council, David Nygaard is just getting started.

Sydney Lake | February 1, 2019

It took quite a while to be sure, but Tidewater businessman David Nygaard has prevailed in the race for Virginia Beach City Council, in order to become the first openly gay council member in the city’s history. Now the rookie Virginia Beach city councilman has major plans to spread the Oceanfront wealth westward, and bring the fight for LGBTQ civil rights to the city and the state beyond.

Earlier this month, Nygaard’s residency was called into question by former councilman John Uhrin, Nygaard’s opponent in the race. Between his 35 years of business in the city and having lived there off-and-on for 40 years, Nygaard has long-standing connections to the district. However, he had recently moved to the apartments at 509 20th Street Suite B — the residency brought into question by Uhrin’s challenge — and Nygaard said that everything had been cleared with the registrar.

“They were trying to claim that I wasn’t living there at all — in fact they said not even one night, which was absurd,” Nygaard said. “I’ve always said that I would split my time between the individual apartment and the house that I share with my adult kids and my dad.”

Nygaard was married for 20 years, and had six kids before coming out as gay after a heart attack in December 2016.

“It was a wake-up call that I didn’t want to ignore,” Nygaard told GayRVA in July. “It gave me a chance, a new lease on life, to do things differently. So I did. I allowed myself to be open to who I really am.”

As a divorced and openly gay man, Nygaard faced setbacks from his opponents both before and after the election as he sought a position held by a 12-year incumbent who questioned his residency.

“Quite frankly they had written me off and dismissed me, as a candidate, as a potential threat,” Nygaard said. “They were shocked that I won, and so they’re doing this ‘Hail Mary’ kind-of approach with a fairly obscure law.”

Uhrin, who came in second place in the election, recently had his challenging motion dismissed, Nygaard said. Nygaard also had some trouble with other candidates running against him; he described R.K. Kowalewitch, who came in third (out of four) in the election, as extremely homophobic. Kowalewitch referred to Nygaard as a “flaming liberal” and, Nygaard said, made other homophobic remarks. However, despite the homophobic reception Nygaard received from at least one of his opponents, the reaction he had received from residents was nearly the opposite.

“For the most part, people didn’t really seem to care,” Nygaard said. “I didn’t run on a specifically gay agenda. I ran on a fairly progressive agenda.”

Nygaard has taken that same energy to his office already, and used the momentum from the community to fuel his agenda of bringing jobs throughout the city — especially within Virginia Beach’s African American communities. For Nygaard, the feelings he had coming out as gay gave him a firsthand understanding of what it means to be part of a minority group.

“When you come out, you become instantly part of the minority,” Nygaard said. “You learn a great deal of empathy because you kind of join that. I think that’s created a real bond with the African American community.”

Nygaard plans to work with African-American faith-based organizations to close the gap between the excess of jobs on Virginia Beach’s Oceanfront, and the need for employment in the western parts of the city. The communities farther from the beachfront, Nygaard said, could benefit from the jobs available closer to the ocean — but they don’t have reliable transportation to get there.

“One of the troubles we have in the beach is that the benefits of the Oceanfront don’t really make it out to the western parts of the city,” Nygaard said. “It’s time that we bring the whole Beach together, so that everybody benefits.”

Aside from business issues, Nygaard plans to address the war on drugs. He is working to lower the level of misdemeanor classification for marijuana usage to a class 4 or class 5, and also emphasized the gravity of the opioid crisis.

“Obviously we’ve failed with respect to opioids, and the high degree in which the pharmaceutical companies have been marketing them,” Nygaard said. “I appreciate the fact that Virginia has joined in the lawsuits, because they’ve been over-dispensed and under-regulated.”

Most importantly, however, Nygaard champions the expansion of gay rights in the commonwealth. He noted the fact that Virginia Beach’s Minority Business Council does not include LGBTQ businesses, and said that was a shame.

“I’d like to see the LGBTQ community included as a recognized minority within the state mechanism,” Nygaard said.

Although Nygaard plans to work to expand LGBTQ rights in the commonwealth, he recognizes the lengths to which the community’s position has strengthened.

“The fact that I’m sitting in a seat, that people recognize that I’m the first openly gay city councilman, most people don’t make it a big issue,” Nygaard said. “I think that’s a great example of how we really have progressed as a society.”

Top Photo by Eric Hause