If the University of Richmond law student is elected, he’ll be the second openly gay state Senator in Virginia — as well as one of the youngest.
Zachary Brown is your average 23-year old first year law student, except in one way — he’s also running for Virginia State Senate.
“Oh my gosh, it is exactly what you would imagine,” Brown laughed. “It’s very long days, but the adrenaline of being in a campaign kind of keeps you going day after day.”
The University of Richmond law student has found a network of support for his campaign in the law students around him — all of whom are just as busy as he is. “I have this amazing support system behind me of other law students who are also dedicating 80 hour weeks on the campaign,” Brown said. “We’ve all become this one big happy family that’s trudging through law school, and also we’re excited to be a part of this state Senate campaign.”
Brown is running against incumbent Senator Glen Sturtevant in the 10th state Senate District, which encompasses parts of Richmond City, Chesterfield, and Powhatan.
“I decided to run because the current incumbent Republican Senator increasingly does not reflect the values of this district, and the values of Virginia more broadly,” Brown said. “We thought we would step up and challenge his seat.”
Brown would be the second openly gay Senator in Virginia’s Senate. While his being elected would be a great step in terms of LGBTQ representation, he doesn’t think that sexual orientation matters to his campaign as much as it once would have.
“We have new generation of people, [where] that’s like… the third or fourth thing that they learn about me,” said Brown. “It’s not even really on their radar, in terms of something to be concerned about.”
Regardless of the more accepting attitudes he’s encountered as a young, politically-involved gay man, Brown recognizes that he couldn’t be where he is today without the work of advocates who came before him. “It’s important to remember that there were a lot of people who came before me that made it possible for me to run right now,” he said. “There were people who weren’t able to do this, and fought really hard to make sure that I’m able to do it. I’m really grateful for that.”
LGBTQ equality and dignity is a key part of Brown’s platform.
“There’s definitely that barrier you have to break, I think, with some people who might be skeptical,” he said. “Especially people who think that the LGBTQ community are single issue voters, that they only care about their own issues. Of course we care about equality and making sure people have the same rights as everybody else, but we also care about infrastructure and the economy.”
Sturtevant, who was elected to office in 2015, has had a mixed record on LGBTQ issues. During the 2019 General Assembly legislative session, he voted against a bill — which died in committee — that would have added gender, disability, gender identity, and sexual orientation to the list of protected groups that can be classified as victims of hate crimes.
“Virginia is moving in the direction of becoming a beacon of equality and justice, and equal protection under the law,” Brown said. “We need to make sure we’re putting people in the Senate, and also the House of Delegates, that reflect this pursuit towards a more equal and just Virginia. And that’s what I intend to do.”
Brown says his top policy goal is to provide universal, affordable access to quality healthcare.
“Right now in Virginia, there’s lot of people who are not only uninsured but are underinsured,” he said. “So they’re afraid to go to the emergency room, or to see a primary care physician, because they cannot pay either their premium or the deductible or copay.”
Brown, a California native, said he attended “excellent public schools” growing up, and hopes to provide that same opportunity to Virginia students.
“At the current stage, your ZIP code is determining quality of your public education,” he said. “[The situation is] affecting predominantly communities of color.”
His plans for education include ensuring teacher retention through pay raises, as well supporting legislation that would grant a tuition-free college education at in-state public universities for families making $85,000 a year or less.
“Neither of my parents went to college, but they worked really hard to make sure that I was able to go to college,” he said. “Now it’s my turn to make sure other people’s lives are easier, getting other people the same opportunities I was given.”
He also hopes to raise the state minimum wage from its current $7.25, and to reduce income inequality, in part through a progressive tax rate.
“Right now there’s a lot of people that have to work two to three jobs, not to have a little extra cash, to but to just make their rent payment, to make their mortgage payment, put a little gas in the car,” Brown said. “We want to make sure that the minimum wage is a living wage. We also want to make sure that we’re closing the growing wealth gap that is happening in Virginia, where those at top are becoming more wealthy while those at the bottom are getting less and less, even though they’re working just as hard.”
Brown said he’s part of a larger national movement of young people running for office.
“Whether it’s the high school students in Parkland, who created the march for our lives, or it’s Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, the bartender in Queens who decided to step up and run for Congress, there’s this inclination among young people to step up and throw their hat in the ring.”
This year in Virginia’s 10th Senate district, Zachary Brown is taking advantage of his opportunity to do the same.
Photos via Zachary for Virginia/Facebook