A candidate for Virginia State Senate with a generally pro-LGBT record may have unwittingly stepped into a controversy regarding the use of separate bathrooms for gay and lesbian people.
Del. Joe Preston (D-Petersburg, Hopewell, Dinwiddie), issued responses to a questionnaire from the Virginia Christian Alliance, a socially conservative Christian organization that espouses public policy in line with Biblical worldviews. They were behind efforts to impeach Attorney General Mark Herring (D) for refusing to defend Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage.
In his responses, Preston indicated that he supports employment nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people, same-sex adoption, health insurance for the same-sex spouses of government employees, and requiring companies that contract with the state to offer benefits to same-sex spouses of employees. Preston was among 30 Democrats and five Republicans who voted for an amendment to the state budget that would have made permanent Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s executive order prohibiting discrimination against LGBT people in state employment.
Preston’s answers, however, also indicated he opposed allowing transgender children to use their chosen bathroom, and he was “undecided” about repealing the ban on same-sex marriage and prohibiting health care providers from engaging in sexual orientation change efforts with those under age 18.
Preston reiterated his commitment to fairness to Metro Weekly, noting he opposes bills that would seek to allow people or businesses to deny services or refrain from doing business with people whose lifestyle they object to based on their religious beliefs.
“If someone shows up at your door to do business, you should treat them as you would any other customer,” Preston said, noting that, as an African-American man, he was offended by the idea that someone might be denied service because of who they are.
He said he is opposed to trying to change someone’s sexuality, but noted that a person shouldn’t be prohibited from engaging in conversion therapy if they so desire. As for minors who wish to engage in the practice, Preston said he preferred to err on the side of caution, noting that minors should have some adult intervention or supervision before deciding to undergo conversion therapy.
He clarified his statement on marriage equality, saying, “I’m in favor of people marrying who they want to. It’s not for me to decide. It’s for those people who have those proclivities to decide.”
But Preston stood firm on his opposition to allowing transgender schoolchildren from using a bathroom opposite from their birth sex.
“I’m against people of different genders sharing bathrooms,” he said. “I actually think that gay people should have their own restrooms.”
Preston elaborated, noting that a straight person might feel uncomfortable using the restroom if they knew the person next to them was gay or lesbian, just as he would feel uncomfortable if he walked into a men’s room and saw a female in there. For Preston, the issue is about what makes people comfortable.
“I really think [gay people] ought to have their own restrooms,” Preston added. “I can’t speak for them, because I’m not part of that community. But I would think they would feel more comfortable.”
When re-asked the question as it pertains to transgender schoolchildren, Preston still opposed mixing genders, regardless of whether a person identifies as a gender different from their birth sex.
“At some point, their genitalia have to dictate who they are,” he said.
However, he also said that he did not have a problem with a business choosing to install intersex or single-stall bathrooms. “That’s good,” he said. “That means it’s open to everybody.”
“It is hard to believe that in 2015 anybody running for state office would suggest that gay people should be using a separate bathroom,” said James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia. “We must continue to move Virginia forward, and that means ensuring equal access to all public accommodations, including for gay or transgender Virginians.”
“I am shocked at such backward thinking,” said Sen. Rosalyn Dance (D-Petersburg, Hopewell, Richmond City), Preston’s opponent in the 16th Senate District. “We are all striving together to ensure that LGBTQ individuals have the same opportunity, fairness and justice as the rest of us. Now, he wants to segregate them by bathrooms. This seems a horrible throwback to ‘separate, but equal.’”
As for the issue of transgender children and restroom use, Dance said, “[A child] should be allowed to use the bathroom where he or she feels most comfortable. We have a responsibility as adults to help children be comfortable and happy.”
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