Mayoral candidate interview: Levar Stoney on LGBTQ issues
Instead of doing comprehensive backgrounds on 2016 Richmond Mayoral candidates, RVAMag and GayRVA will be running Q&A’s with candidates (that respond to our request for interviews) that deal with each publication’s specific issues.
This week’s interview is with Levar Stoney who is the former Secretary of the Commonwealth under Gov. McAuliffe from 2014-16 during which time Virginia saw some great advancements for the LGBTQ community. We met up with him at our office here in the Fan and he provided some insight into his understanding of the local community.
You can read a more in-depth write up on the candidate via the Times-Dispatch here.
If you are running for mayor and haven’t scheduled an interview with us yet, feel free to contact us – firstname.lastname@example.org – and we’ll be glad to get that in the works.
But as for our interest, here’s what Stoney had to say about issues that we face:
What role do you feel a mayor plays in a local LGBTQ community?
I think the Mayor can be the champion for equality. And I think you’ve seen, as with what the Governor’s done at the state level, that the leader, whether it’s the Governor or the Mayor, can be the person who champions a city being a haven for being open and welcoming. And I think, as the next mayor of this city, that I’m going to make sure that all people who want to come to Richmond can come to Richmond and live a superior quality of life. And that means anyone and all. I think that’s what Richmond should be. I’m not into division, I’m not into pushing people out, I’m into bringing people in. And that’s what I’m going to do as the next mayor of this city.
How have you worked with the LGBTQ community in the past?
I have been a champion for equality for a long time. Back in the day when I was student body president at James Madison I was the leader on a student Bill of Rights that featured non-discrimination. As the Secretary of the Commonwealth, I have assisted the Governor in appointing individuals from the LGBT community to boards and commissions.
Additionally, I was the driving force behind the Governor’s LGBT Tourism Task Force. Some individuals from Richmond came to me, talked about the idea, and I ensured that it got done. We populated it with people not only here from Richmond but also from all across the Commonwealth.
How do you think the LGBTQ community here could benefit from having you in office?
Well I think it’s about time that the city have actually a real progressive mayor. And I think you look at my record, I am a true progressive. And I don’t run away from it. And to me it’s a lot more than about quality of life, it’s about being open and welcoming to all. And this city does have its past, but history should not be an anchor, it should be the foundation. And I think when you look at where we can go as a city, this can be a hub for anyone and all to move to.
But additionally, we have to realize that we’ve seen what can go wrong when you don’t have a progressive mayor at the helm when you look at across the border in North Carolina it’s blown up to be basically a national court case. I don’t want to tolerate that here in Richmond. So that’s the sort of mayor I’ll be.
Do you support same-sex marriage?
Marriage equality? Yes I’m definitely a supporter of marriage equality. But you know, it’s a lot more than marriage equality. That’s one fight that we’ve won but how about we have a mayor who doesn’t tolerate LGBT teen bullying in schools? Someone who doesn’t tolerate LGBT homelessness? Someone who doesn’t tolerate discrimination and attacks on the LGBT community? That’s the sort of mayor I want to be.
What do you think you can do as Mayor to actually combat that?
Well you know, there are going to be a lot of ordinances that cross my desk, number one. But number two, I’ve seen the job as Mayor as the person who drives the agenda, drives the narrative, and drives the culture inside and outside of City Hall. And as Mayor, I’m gonna be someone you’re gonna see hands-on, whether it’s at events — I want every community to know that they have a friend in me. And the LGBT community will definitely know that as the next Mayor of the city.
Because of the Dillon Rule, there’s not a whole lot we can do without the folks across the street…
Well you know I got friends over there across the street. Both sides but there’s only one side that’s actually open.
There is an argument from the ACLU, like what Charlotte did, where they said “F*ck the Dillon Rule” and they passed these ordinances anyway. Is that something that you could see yourself getting behind? If somebody were to bring a city-specific non-discrimination ordinance? Is that a fight you’d want to start?
Number one, I’m not the fighter in this race. I’m all about bringing people together. I’ll leave the fighting to someone else.
I’ll have to explore anything that comes across my desk but if it’s about equality, if it’s about non-discrimination, I’m definitely gonna take a serious look at it. Not only is it an economic driver for us, but also it sends a message, not only around the Commonwealth but around the country about what Richmond once was and what Richmond will be.
What’s your knowledge of the HIV/AIDS crisis here in Richmond?
I know about it, I’ve had a conversation with Dr. Danny Avula with the Richmond Health Department about the issue. Number one, it is shocking to hear about it.
It’s a personal issue to me, my uncle died from HIV/AIDS intravenous drug use years and years ago so I saw him suffer through that. And I think we should be doing everything we can to keep the community safe. I’ve learned, what 80 to 100 cases were added a year? That’s a lot for a city of 220,000…
23rd city in the nation for new HIV infections, Virginia’s the 14th state. And you can see in the targeted advertising where the affected populations are. There’s a lot that should be and could be being done but whether or not that’s successful is another fight…
Well I think it goes back to collaboration. Working with the State, working with the City, in terms of how we go about providing awareness and education on the topic. But also, I’ve heard about PrEP — pre-exposure prophylaxis — and how that’s become accessible to Richmonders as well. I think that’s a step in the right direction. But I think they need a mayor who’s letting them know that I have their back as well, who can also talk to the State, but also talk to our partners, whether it’s the Health Brigade, Fan Free Clinic, to help with the cause as well and as the next mayor you’ll have a champion in that.
We’ve got Gavin Grimm out in Gloucester County who is the face of the now-national lawsuit around transgender bathroom use in schools. Where do you see yourself on the transgender bathroom use issue when it comes to schools and public buildings?
I support President Obama on this. And I even have a gender-inclusive bathroom in my campaign office. There’s a sign on it that says that just to make a statement that we’re open and that we’re welcoming. So I back the President on this. I was shocked and disappointed to hear about the case in Texas that kind of put an injunction on what the President’s trying to do. I support him, I stand with him 100%.
And there’s been talk in other cities around a Human Rights Commission within a mayor’s office that helps deal with LGBTQ issues. Is this something you could see yourself pursuing?
Definitely something I would consider. I do believe that we could do a better job in engaging our communities. There is really no community engagement office or liaison within the Mayor’s office and I think we have to put our communities…
Are you talking about LGBT specifically or any broader communities?
LGBT definitely but I’m also thinking about other communities as well. We have a burgeoning Latino community that we have to strengthen our connection with them as well. But without a doubt the LGBT community too. Like I said, if we want to be the open and welcoming city, you have to go down the route and we could do a better job at that.
Any other message for LGBTQ voters as they go to the polls this fall?
My request to the community is to educate yourself on the candidates and if you want a true progressive as the next mayor then I’m your guy. I think my record speaks for itself inside the years of public service I’ve had or working within the Democratic Party. But also I go way back as a student leader at James Madison where I championed equality as a kid. So I ask them to take a look at my campaign. Hopefully I can earn their support.
Transcribed by Jared Foretek
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