Members of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors (Photo: LoudounCounty.gov)
On Tuesday, July 5, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors defeated a proclamation that would have named June 2016 as LGBT Pride Month and brought Loudoun in line with several of its neighboring jurisdictions that have previously recognized Pride Month and the contributions of the LGBT community. The proclamation has been pushed for several years by Northern VA Pride and other LGBT organizations, including local PFLAG chapters, but 2016 marks the first time the board has even responded to such requests.
Brought by Supervisor Kristen Umstattd (D-Leesburg), the proclamation would have recognized the LGBT community’s struggle for civil rights and called upon Loudoun residents to respect diversity and foster a “culture of inclusiveness and acceptance.” The resolution even included a line reading, “everyone should be able to live without fear of prejudice, discrimination, violence or hatred based on gender identity or sexual orientation.”
Even though supporters — including an LGBT teen from Dominion High School — outnumbered opponents of the measure at Tuesday’s meeting, the Republican-dominated board chose to instead endorse a substitute measure that names July “Love Loudoun Month.”
That resolution references the existence of LGBT residents within the larger, more diverse Loudoun County community, but does not designate any recognition of Pride Month. It also says the residents of Loudoun County “stand in solidarity with the victims of the Orlando terrorist attack,” which “was based on hatred, attacking American freedom and diversity” and “sought to divide Americans and the world against each other.”
Supervisor Ron Meyer (R-Broad Run) proposed the substitute motion in response to outcry on social media and from religious conservatives who oppose homosexuality and believe that any reference to the LGBT community violates their own freedom of religion. Some also accused Umstattd and supporters of Pride Month of attempting to sow divisions among the community, claiming that LGBT Pride Month as a concept was exclusive of and discriminatory towards heterosexuals.
Other opponents, including Will Estrada, the chair of the Loudoun County Republican Committee (who ran against Umstattd last year), argued that the proclamation “injects partisan politics” into local county issues, offends people of faith who oppose homosexuality, and was outside the scope of the Board of Supervisors.
Most of the board’s Republican members agreed that it should concern itself only with local issues like taxes, roads, transportation, schools and economic development. As such, Meyer was also going to make a motion to eliminate any and all proclamations issued by the board for all future years.
Supervisors Suzanne Volpe (R-Algonkian) and Geary Higgins (R-Catoctin) agreed, arguing that it was not the board’s prerogative to issue such proclamations. Both also sought to insulate themselves from charges of anti-LGBT bigotry, with Higgins claiming he has friends and coworkers who are LGBT, and Volpe acknowledging she has a gay brother and a lesbian cousin, but that “these are personal things, and shouldn’t be debated in public in the first place.”
“We cannot legislate hatred out of someone’s heart,” said Volpe. “The only thing we can do is pray that God changes people’s hearts and minds.”
But Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D) said that the argument that the board should not concern itself with anything beyond fiscal issues was a “red herring,” as supervisors were able to deal with both fiscal issues and foster “civil discussions” around issues like LGBT rights, for example.
“I can say that, as an African-American, I look forward to the day that we no longer need African-American History Month,” she said, drawing a comparison to Umstattd’s LGBT Pride Month proclamation. “But if everybody in this room can tell me who Benjamin Franklin is, but can’t tell me who Benjamin Banneker is, I can tell you we still need African-American History Month.”
Randall also countered assertions by Republicans in the audience and on the board that the new board was pursuing a more divisive agenda than the all-Republican board that existed prior to the November 2015 elections. She pointed out that the reason there was no “controversy” as there was this year was because when organizations like Northern VA Pride had asked the board in past years for a proclamation, their requests were completely ignored, and, as a result, were never raised at any meetings.
On a personal note, Randall also told of how her niece, Angela, came out to her.
“I’m not proud of Angela for being gay. That would be stupid,” Randall said. “I’m proud of Angela for finally coming to terms to say that to her family. And I can’t imagine going through my whole life feeling so scared to say things even to your loving family, because of how you feel somebody will react, let alone how the community will react.”
In the end, the board voted to adopt Meyer’s “Love Loudoun Month” resolution by a 5-4 vote, with Umstattd, Randall, Volpe and Higgins voting against. Besides Umstattd and Randall, Supervisor Koran Saines (D-Sterling) was the only other member of the board to support the underlying LGBT Pride Month resolution, but voted with the four other Republicans on the committee to approve the “Love Loudoun Month” substitute proclamation when it became apparent that the former would not garner enough votes to pass.