LGBT Rights in Virginia: Taking a Leap Backwards?

Like it or not, the future of LGBT rights in Virginia is inexorably intertwined with the chaos that has reigned in Virginia’s political leadership, particularly on the Democrat side of the aisle. It has been difficult to keep up with the situation that seems to be changing minute by minute and which recently caught up the Virginia Senate’s Republican majority leader, Tommy Norment, who was editor of the now-infamous VMI yearbook filled with black face and material offensive to many black voters, who make up roughly 20% of the state’s population. The current political crisis was ignited by Republican operatives at Big League Politicsand turned into a raging conflagration by missteps by many Virginia Democrats who I believe have been played by the GOP with phenomenally exquisite skill.

 

Before launching into my analysis of the future of LGBT rights in Virginia, I believe some background information from which I draw my analysis is in order. 

 

I am a former Republican who held a city committee position for eight years, worked on many campaigns, and held a Republican gubernatorial appointment to a state board. A former law partner was a previous Republican Attorney General. I know the Republican Party well, including the ruthlessness of far right operatives who don’t flinch at engaging in tactics of personal destruction and believe that the ends justify any means necessary. 

 

Since “coming out” in mid-life, I have been a Democrat-aligned independent. I have authored a LGBT/political blog, contributed to a national LGBT blog, written a monthly LGBT/political column for a local Norfolk, Virginia, publication and been honored as an “Outstanding Virginian” by Equality Virginia, Virginia’s LGBT lobbying and advocacy organization. I count Governor Ralph Northam and his wife as personal friends, and my husband and I have hosted a fundraiser in our home for Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring. 

 

In short, I know Virginia’s Democrats equally well as the Republicans at this time of political chaos.

 

The current status of LGBT rights in Virginia can be best described as an absence of almost any legal protections save:

  • the right of same sex to marry, which came to Virginia the October before the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell in June of 2015

  • limited protections for LGBT state employees put in place by Governor Northam’s Executive Order 1, sign immediately after his inauguration.

 

Virginia remains one of 29 states where LGBT citizens have no non-discrimination protections in the areas of employment – even state employees have no statutory non-discrimination protections – housing or public accommodation. For years now, bills have been introduced in the Virginia General Assembly to change this situation only to be killed by Republicans who hold the majority in both the Virginia Senate and the Virginia House of Delegates. Republican hostility towards the LGBT community is so entrenched that efforts to remove Virginia’s sodomy statute which was ruled unconstitutional by the case of Lawrence v. Texas have consistently been killed, including this year. Bewilderingly, the Republican intransigence to change flies in the face the views of a significant majority of Virginian who support non-discrimination protections for LGBT citizens.

In 2018 as well as the current session of the Virginia General Assembly, every pro-LGBT bill was killed in the House of Delegates by Speaker M. Kirkland Cox through arcane rules. What ought to be frightening to LGBT Virginians is the reality that, if the Virginia Democrats continue in their self-immolation (or mutual suicide pact as some have described it), is that Cox could end up as governor should Northam, Herring, and Fairfax all be forced to resign from office. A Governor Cox would be a catastrophe for LGBT Virginians and other minorities as well. For Black Virginians, the Republican killing of decriminalization of simple marijuana possession – long used disproportionately against blacks – is but one example of what would likely continue under a Cox administration. For now, the calls for Democrat resignations have lessened and Northam finds himself with 58% of black voters against him being forced to resign.

Where do LGBT rights go from here?  

A month ago, I would have said that Democrats were more than likely to win control of both the Virginia Senate and the House of Delegates in the November 2019 elections. Once that happened, pro-LGBT legislation and the decriminalization of marijuana possession would have been finally enacted into law in 2020. In my view, this reality explains the timing of the staggered bombshells released by Big League Politics,first against Northam in an effort to turn the Legislative Black Caucus and black voters against him, and then later against Justin Fairfax to deprive Northam opponents of an easy substitute. 

 

To me, all of this was very calculated and likely served two far right goals:

  • Harm those supporting a woman’s choice

  • Fragment the Democrats

The Republicans’ only meaningful hope of avoiding a wipe out in November was to fragment and divide the Virginia Democrats, many of whom are united in the animus towards Donald Trump, and Trump’s supporters among elected officials in Virginia. 

Everything is up in the air, and far too many Democrats have lost sight to the reality that politics is all about having your team – flawed or not – in control of the state executive branch of government, especially if you do not hold control of the legislature. However, the divisions go beyond an effort at mutual destruction among Democrats. In my view, this GOP’s contrived firestorm has now spread to various LGBT advocacy groups around Virginia, many of which, in my opinion, foolishly took anti-Northam positions despite strong elements of support for Northam among their own financial donor base. 

A prime example is Equality Virginia, which took a position where none was needed save for appearing politically correct and on board with the Democrats’ suicidal “no tolerance, no forgiveness ever” policy. I for one have ceased my financial support to Equality Virginia and have advised another LGBT organization that donations are going to cease short of a retraction.  I suspect that my husband and I will not be alone in this action.

How will all of this end? Candidly, I do not know. 

Personally, I hope none of the top Democrats resign because, knowing Northam and Herring as I do and their efforts in public office have confirmed, they are not racists. Secondly, there is no other easy solution, especially with the sustained media frenzy against Lt. Governor Fairfax.

 

Yes, the Democrats may be weakened going into the 2019 Virginia elections, but the alternative of a Governor Cox for three years should be far more disturbing to LGBT Virginians and voters of color. Whatever the end result, I believe that pro-LGBT Democrats will likely be weakened and our Republican opponents likely be strengthened. Meanwhile, LGBT advocacy groups will be weakened due to their unforced error of intervening where there was no reason for them to get involved. Unless the Democrats win control of the Virginia General Assembly in November 2019, expect progress on LGBT rights to stagnant.

 

Although increasingly unlikely, should Mr. Cox become governor, expect LGBT rights to take a number of steps backward.