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Equality Virginia CEO's Road to Commonwealth Helps Map Journey Ahead

GayRVA Staff | May 15, 2009

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles featuring GayRVA’s interview with Equality Virginia CEO Jon Blair.

Kevin Clay

Jon Blair, Equality Virginia's New Cheif Executive Officer

Jon Blair, Equality Virginia's New Cheif Executive Officer

For Christmas, Jon Blair got the new job he applied for in August and kicked off the New Year as the new chief executive officer for Equality Virginia – an organization advocating equal rights for GLBTQ Virginians. What brought Blair here?

“First, it’s just the right thing to do, but more than that, this is a critical time,” he said.

After building a career in political campaigns with a solid track record of wins, he was looking for something with more consistency.

“I got to the point where a number of years in a row, I got to the end of the race and we won, and it was great, but that was it,” Blair said. “I wanted to work on something that I cared about where I could plan for the longer term. Where I could work on multi-year plans. Where there could be multiple successes. Where we could build something up and get a victory. And then build on that victory to the next victory.”

Amidst a 2008 congressional campaign he was running in New Mexico for Martin Heinrich, the Indiana native sought EV out directly hoping a position would be available. Blair has worked on two prior campaigns in the Commonwealth and enjoyed his time in the state. After finding the position had opened through the website, he spoke with a friend that had worked closely with EV and expressed interest. His work begun even before the job offer was made.

Blair knew current board members and met other EV supporters and prominent community leaders over his next several months of consideration. During this time period, he interviewed twenty people on their thoughts about the organization.

“We talked about the biggest strengths, the biggest weaknesses, and the more I found out, the more interested I was,” Blair said.

He found a lot of different things. For one, they wanted EV to be legislatively successful.

“We’ve had some successes and obviously, with the marriage amendment some losses, so I think you would argue that campaign was very close considering the continuation of faith at the time,” he said.

He said in his conversations people wanted more folks energized and involved. They wanted to ensure that EV has a greater state-wide presence with great media coverage and that the issues talked about are relevant.

“If you look at it, at the time, EV was 19 years old, had only had paid staff for five and a half years and for the first number of those, it was really only Dyana [Mason, former executive director],” Blair said. “The sheer grit of one woman has built this up to something really successful and something that people really respect. Everyone really wants to see things taken to the next level.”

Last year, during his campaign in New Mexico, he stepped in for a campaign manager who had been let go midstream. Blair, as he said, had to step it up. In November, they were able to claim Democrat Heinrich a seat that had a 40-year history of being held by a Republican. He said a campaign doing just a good job wasn’t going to get the job done and related this to the work at EV.

“[In New Mexico], it had to be superior at all levels to get there. I think that’s what everyone at EV wants,” Blair said. “I think what everyone is looking for is to step it up to the next level, so really that’s what we’ve been working on to the best of my and everyone’s ability.”

Equality Virginia is on the web at www.equalityvirginia.org.