Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell's former in-law speaks out for gay rights
RICHMOND -- Robyn Deane, dressed in a red raincoat, jeans and heels, glanced at her handwritten notes before peering at the crowd gathered outside Virginia's Capitol to promote the rights of gay and transgender state workers.
For years, Deane, a man who is in the process of becoming of woman, had considered revealing her lengthy but largely unknown connection to Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R). She had told no one that this would finally be the moment she went public.
"I am father to three of the present governor's nephews and nieces," she announced to the more than 100 people trying to shield themselves from the rain.
"Whoa," someone muttered.
"I'm also uncle to five of his children, so that puts me kind of close," Deane continued. "He is my former brother-in-law. . . . He witnessed the impact that all of this coming out can have on one's life. He had a front-row-center seat."
Deane's declaration was the first step in her second coming out, this time as an activist attempting to leverage her past association to McDonnell to promote a cause that has become dear to her: the advancement of gay and transgender rights. In particular, Deane wants Virginia and national lawmakers to pass legislation that prevents discrimination in the workplace on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. She also wants to persuade McDonnell to speak publicly about how people should accept those who are gay or transgender.
Deane said she decided to announce her relationship to McDonnell on April 21 because she feels that her situation hardened some of his views on sexual orientation. The governor opposes same-sex marriage and has not backed measures that protect gay state workers from discrimination.
"Maybe I sealed an anger in him toward people like us," she said at the rally.
Deane also believes their past relationship makes her the most qualified person to persuade the governor to change his views, even though the last time they saw each other was at a family Christmas gathering more than a decade ago, just before Deane divorced a younger sister of McDonnell's wife, Maureen, in 1999 after 17 years.
"He should be able to see what social intolerance does," she said. "He's in a position that he can talk about it."
An 'awkward position'
Though Deane has not spoken to McDonnell in more than a decade, her activities threaten to become a nuisance and embarrassment to the governor and could cause trouble with social conservatives if he were to engage Deane.
"It puts the governor in a very awkward position," said Mark Rozell, a political scientist at George Mason University. "It could inflame activists who don't want their leader to try so hard to be liked by everyone.''