Virginia General Assembly legislators overall earned higher pro-gay rankings on an annual legislative scorecard published by Equality Virginia Advocates Monday, due largely in part to the presence of an anti-bullying bill that did not specifically address LGBT students but allows individual school districts, particularly more progressive ones, to set forth their own standards and procedures regarding bullying.
Yet despite the progress made since last year’s scorecard was issued, two-thirds of the members of the House of Delegates and nearly half the state senators are still considered to have anti-gay or, at best, mixed records on LGBT issues. The scorecard from Equality Virginia Advocates also reflects stark regional and partisan divides among members of the General Assembly, a pattern that was evident among the scores released two weeks ago by the anti-gay Family Foundation of Virginia on its annual legislative report card.
Equality Virginia Advocates graded legislators on four issues considered during this year’s legislative session: SB701, a nondiscrimination bill to extend workplace protections to LGBT state employees; HB1871, a bill establishing guidelines and model policies to aid in combating bullying in schools; a bill to allow student groups at public universities and colleges to discriminate in their membership based on religious or political beliefs; and the nomination of Tracy Thorne-Begland, Virginia’s first openly gay judge.
While SB701 was never considered by the full House, despite passing the Senate earlier, Equality Virginia Advocates rewarded those legislators who signed on as co-patrons of the measure. The organization recommended that legislators support Thorne-Begland's nomination, SB701 and HB1871; and oppose the student-groups bill.
Eighteen delegates and 18 senators received perfect "100" scores for the 2013 legislative session, with all returning members either retaining their perfect scores from 2012 or improving substantially on their LGBT records, including two Senate Republicans: Majority Leader Thomas Norment (R-Hampton, Poquoson, New Kent, Gloucester, King and Queen, King William, Isle of Wight, James City, York, Surry and Suffolk counties) and Sen. John Watkins (R-Richmond, Powhatan and Chesterfield counties).
The remaining 16 senators with perfect scores comprise 80 percent of the Democratic caucus in the upper chamber, with almost half from Northern Virginia. Among the 18 House members with perfect scores, all Democrats, all but one – House Minority Leader David Toscano (D-Charlottesville, Albemarle Co.) – hailed from Northern Virginia, the greater Richmond metropolitan area, and the Norfolk/Hampton Roads metropolitan area, three liberal-leaning areas that often provide the bulk of support for Democrats in statewide races.
Six additional senators, mostly from Northern Virginia, and 15 House members, including three Republicans, received scores of 75. Among the senators, all six were docked points for voting in favor of the student-groups bill, including George Barker (D-Alexandria, Fairfax and Prince William counties), the only senator of either party whose rating dropped from 2012 to 2013; Democrats Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax City, Fairfax Co.), Chuck Colgan (D-Manassas, Manassas Park, Prince William Co.), and Phil Puckett (D-Radford, Norton, Tazewell, Bland, Buchanan, Dickenson, Smyth, Wise, Pulaski and Montgomery counties); and moderate Republicans Jill Holtzman Vogel (R-Loudoun, Fauquier, Stafford, Culpeper, Clarke, Frederick counties, and Winchester) and Frank Wagner (R-Virginia Beach, Norfolk).
Among the House members receiving scores of 75 were six Democrats – five from Northern Virginia – who were the only delegates to receive lower ratings from Equality Virginia advocates. Dels. David Bulova (D-Fairfax City, Fairfax Co.), Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax Co.), Mark Keam (D-Fairfax Co.), Vivian Watts (D-Fairfax Co.) and Charniele Herring (D-Alexandria) were docked points for supporting the student-groups bill, while Del. Jeion Ward (D-Hampton) was penalized for failing to vote on the nomination of Thorne-Begland. The six other Democrats and Republicans Tom Rust (R-Fairfax, Loudoun counties), R. Lee Ware (R-Chesterfield, Powhatan, Goochland and Fluvanna counties) and Joseph Yost (R-Radford, Giles, Montgomery and Pulaski counties) were also penalized for voting for the student-groups bill.
Four other senators and 31 delegates, all Republicans, received a rating of 50 – indicating a mixed record – for opposing or failing to sponsor SB701 and for voting for the student-groups bill. But nearly all of them saw increases over their 2012 ratings largely due to their support of the non-LGBT-specific bullying bill.
A similar increase was seen among legislators earning a score of 25, including nine Republican senators, 26 Republican delegates and Democratic Delegates Johnny Joannou (D-Norfolk, Portsmouth) and Joseph Johnson (D-Dickenson, Russell, Washington, and Wise counties), for their support of the bullying bill. Three other members earning 25 voted against the bullying bill, but voted for Thorne-Begland's nomination.
Twelve of the 14 Northern Virginia Republican House delegates, including McLean's Barbara Comstock (R-Fairfax, Loudoun counties), Springfield's David Albo (R-Fairfax Co.), Potomac Falls resident Thomas “Tag” Greason (R-Loudoun Co.), Chantilly's James LeMunyon (D-Fairfax, Loudoun counties) and vocal anti-gay opponent Bob Marshall (R-Manassas Park, Prince William Co.) earned scores of either 50 or 25.
The three remaining senators – including Marshall’s Senate counterpart and a vehement opponent of LGBT rights Dick Black (D-Loudoun, Prince William counties), who was the only Northern Virginia senator with a score below 75 – and five delegates, including Centreville's Tim Hugo (D-Fairfax, Prince William counties), earned zero ratings for opposing every one of Equality Virginia’s policy recommendations.
Equality Virginia Advocates is hoping that the release of ratings will help better inform voters of where the members of the legislature stand on LGBT-related issues, particularly members of the House, all 100 of whom will be up for re-election in November.
[Photo 1: Del. Barbara Comstock, a McLean Republican, earned a 50 from Equality Virginia Advocates, indicating a mixed record on LGBT issues.
Photo 2: Del. Alfonso Lopez, an Arlington Democrat, was one of 36 legislators in the General Assembly with a perfect score of 100 from Equality Virginia Advocates.
Photo 3: Del. Tim Hugo, a Centreville Republican, earned a zero rating from Equality Virginia Advocates.]