In 1997, Jay Fisette became the first openly LGBTQ+ person elected to office in the state of Virginia when he won a seat on the Arlington County Board.
Fisette served for six terms on the Board, from 1998 to 2017, and served as Board Chair five times, including in his final year on the Board.
Oral histories are used to understand historical events, actors, and movements from the point of view of real people’s personal experiences.
Fisette focused on numerous issues during his tenure, including strong environmental policies, local affordable housing, and urban planning. He also has held leadership positions in organizations such as the Metropolitan Council of Governments, the Virginia Housing Development Authority, and the Arlington Gay and Lesbian Alliance.
In his work with the Alliance, which was founded in 1981 as a local branch of the Virginia Gay Alliance, the group successfully advocated for the inclusion of sexual orientation protections in the County’s human rights ordinance.
Prior to being elected to the Board, Fisette worked as a Government Accountability Office auditor, and as director of the Whitman-Walker Clinic of Northern Virginia, which focuses on helping patients with HIV/AIDS.
Reflecting on his career in Arlington, Fisette said in an announcement stating he would not run for re-election that the County “embraced me as a gay man long before such an endorsement could be presumed, long before it became the norm.”
From left to right: Long Bridge Park Design Advisory Committee vice-chairman Carrie Johnson, County Board Chairman Jay Fisette, and Committee Chairman Tobin Smith at the groundbreaking ceremony for Long Bridge Park, April 10, 2010. From RG 199.
In this oral history interview from the Smart Growth documentary series, Jay Fisette discusses his time on the County Board, as well as development in the County.
Narrator: Jay Fisette
Interviewer: Mary Curtius
Date: April 12, 2008
Note: The audio for this interview is currently unavailable.
Mary Curtius: So Jay, what I want to know is what made you run for the board in the first place?
Jay Fisette: That’s a good question. You know I’d always been interested in studying public policy and always thought about it. When I went to California and came out it was possible there. But as a gay man, it just didn’t seem feasible honestly.
MC: Didn’t seem feasible here in Virginia?
JF: To be elected. You know most places in the country you take it off the list. It’s just not practical. But after living here for five years or so, six years, seven years, and getting to know the community it just sort of crept back into my consciousness as something that in a community like this was really feasible and I had a real connection to what I understood to be the values here and the character of this community and sort of just woke up.
This interview is available at the Center for History, and issues of the Sun and Northern Virginia Sun are available online through the CLH Community Archives and through Virginia Chronicle.
The goal of the Arlington Voices project is to showcase the Center for Local History’s oral history collection in a publicly accessible and shareable way.
The Arlington Public Library began collecting oral histories of long-time residents in the 1970s, and since then the scope of the collection has expanded to capture the diverse voices of Arlington’s community. In 2016, staff members and volunteers recorded many additional hours of interviews, building the collection to 575 catalogued oral histories.
To browse our list of narrators indexed by interview subject, check out our community archive. To read a full transcript of an interview, visit the Center for Local History located at Central Library.