Meet the former dancer-turned-politician running for Virginia Senate

“Because I grew up in purity culture, I thought, 'Well, ‘I'm broken,'" she said.

March 10, 2023, 4:00 PM

Virginia state Senate candidate Monica Gary is open about her past. National outlets have already picked up her story because of her background as a former dancer at strip clubs.

But Gary says her backstory also includes growing up in poverty in Stafford County, having a premature baby at 17, leaving an abusive partner and eventually turning to a life of ministry and public service.

As for her time in clubs, she said it came about after her son’s biological father came back into the picture.

“Because I grew up in purity culture, I thought, 'Well, ‘I'm broken, so no one's ever gonna want me. I'll just be with this guy who's already awful to me because maybe he'll want me.'“ Gary said. “That continued into more of a domestic trafficking situation. He suggested strongly that I would dance at the clubs where I had gone to just waitress, and that just kind of snowballed.”

State Senate hopeful Monica Gary smiles at a dinner table.
Courtesy of Monica Gary for State Senate

Now, Gary has seven kids -- two of whom are active duty in the military -- and she has been married to her husband, Peter, for 14 years. They met when Gary, who was in an abusive relationship, was still working at clubs, she said.

“He just was a friend to me,” Gary said. “He treated me with so much dignity.”

Gary, who has a theology degree, has worked in ministry for years, and she started New Wine Community Church in Stafford in 2019. The former dancer has also served on the Stafford County Board of Supervisors since 2022, representing the Aquia District.

State Senate hopeful Monica Gary, who founded a ministry, poses before a podium.
Courtesy of Monica Gary for State Senate

The current Virginia General Assembly has no independent members, and partisan control of the legislature is split, with a 21-18 Democratic majority in the Senate and a 52-48 Republican majority in the House of Delegates. State Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel (R-Clarke County) currently represents the 27th District, which Gary is running for, though its borders are now different due to redistricting. Vogel is not seeking reelection.

The newly drawn 27th District covers parts of Stafford and Spotsylvania counties and Fredericksburg city. In the 2020 presidential election, Stafford County -- which makes up about 60% of the 27th District -- voted for Biden 51%-47%. Spotsylvania County -- the next largest chunk of the district -- voted for Trump 52%-46%. Biden carried the smallest chunk, Fredericksburg, 66%-31%.

Gary said she filed as an independent because she doesn't want to alienate voters.

"If I put a letter next to my name, immediately half of the population is going to say, 'You're not going to work for me. You're not going to help me and even worse, you're going to hurt me,'" Gary said. "That's not acceptable to me."

Gary highlights three issues on her campaign website: transportation, reproductive rights and education.

The state Senate hopeful touted her tenure on the Fredericksburg Area Metropolitan Planning Organization Policy Board as evidence that she's prepared to tackle the problem of congestion, saying the issue requires nuance because the district has both urban and rural areas.

"We have a very diverse district, the new 27th, which I guess technically there's no incumbent because it's a brand new district. It's very diverse. So we have very rural roads that need improvements and maintenance and then we also have very urban areas like in Fredericksburg," she said.

State Senate hopeful Monica Gary pets a horse.
Courtesy of Monica Gary for State Senate

When it comes to education, Virginia is one of the centers for the battle over school choice, or a policy that allows parents to send their children to private schools and have the costs covered, at least in part, by publicly funded vouchers. Proponents of school choice believe it gives parents a better say over their children’s education and allows some students to leave under-performing schools. Opponents believe it takes funding away from public schools and leaves many students behind.

Gary’s position against school choice is influenced by her time as a public school student and as a mother who, aside from a brief period of homeschooling her children during COVID-19, sends them to public schools.

“This is not going to open up opportunities for most families who may want to utilize those vouchers. It's not going to cover the whole tuition,” Gary said. “So now you already have folks who probably already afford private school funding, but now they’re getting a discount.”

As for the issue of reproductive rights, Gary also invokes her personal experiences.

“I am very open about this: I have had abortions,” Gary said.

After her procedure, she said she “overcorrected” and was anti-abortion, then looked back on how her life would have gone without access to abortions.

“It would have meant staying in a very abusive relationship,” Gary said. “It would have meant ... a lot of awful things continued in my life.”

While her support for abortion rights puts her to the left of many Republicans' perspective, her belief on when life starts differ from the view held by most liberals.

“I'm Christian, and I believe that personhood happens even before conception, right? I believe that God knew me even before I was here and he had a purpose for my life,” Gary said. “But that doesn't mean that I go in and say I believe a, b, and c so you have to do all of these things.”

The primary election for the 27th District is June 20, but because Gary isn't participating in a political primary, her name will not appear on Virginians' ballots until the general election on Nov. 7.

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