As it does every four years, the Virginia governor’s race has tightened to a dead heat. With less than a week to go before the election on Nov. 7, Republican Ed Gillespie, the former head of the Republican National Committee, and Democrat Ralph Northam, an Army veteran and pediatrician, are trying to encourage as many as possible to flock to the polls. For Northam, that includes LGBTQ voters.
Throughout his political career, Northam has consistently supported LGBTQ rights. He hopes to draw a contrast between himself and Gillespie on the issue, as part of a strategy of painting the Republican as a crusading social warrior in disguise.
Gillespie has seemingly achieved an impressive balance between courting suburban moderates (by vowing not to sign a bill restricting transgender people’s access to public restrooms) and throwing red meat to the GOP base (his TV commercials invoking the dangerous MS-13 gang and slamming Northam’s alleged support for sanctuary cities). It could be enough to motivate the party’s most fervent backers to cast their ballots for him.
Northam doesn’t understand why Gillespie has earned praise for promising not to sign a “bathroom bill” into law, which he sees as simply doing the right thing. More importantly, Northam argues, he doesn’t trust Gillespie.
“We can’t take any chances, because there are legislators in both the House and the Senate that will continue to propose discriminatory legislation such as the bathroom bill,” Northam says during a phone conversation one recent afternoon. The implication is that Gillespie will eventually cave to the more extreme voices in the GOP. “I don’t know if you can take him at his word.”
From Northam’s perspective, giving Republicans complete control over all branches of government in Virginia is playing with fire, even if they have gotten better at hiding their anti-LGBTQ animus.
“I would ask all the voters to be very, very careful, and look at our track record, look at our resume, versus what they have done. Again, the legislation that discriminates against the LGBT community will continue to come out of the Republican Party, and any attempts that we make to move forward and to get rid of the discrimination will be blocked by them. It’s just that simple.”
A request for comment from the Gillespie campaign was not returned as of press time.
Northam feels the only reliable security blanket for LGBTQ people is to ensure that discriminatory legislation never sees the light of day — by electing more Democrats to office.
“I remind people all the time that I try to work with people from both sides of the aisle,” Northam says. “There are times when you can’t change people’s minds, and when you can’t change their minds, you have to change their seats. That’s what we’re really focusing on this year and this election. We’d like to get our majority back in the House of Delegates so we can finally go back on offense and stop playing so much defense.”
Northam’s most important priority as governor is growing Virginia’s economy and attracting business opportunities, which he argues go hand-in-hand with LGBTQ-inclusive policies.
“We need to continue to keep Virginia inclusive and make sure that we welcome people, make sure everybody understands that we live in a diverse society,” he says. “And that means it shouldn’t matter one’s sexual orientation, the color of their skin, the country that they come from, or the religion that they practice.
“We want to make sure that everybody in Virginia has a good, high-paying job. We will continue to promote economic opportunities for all Virginians, no matter who you are, no matter where you are. We’re going to make sure that all Virginians have access to affordable and quality healthcare. We’re going to make sure that we live in a clean environment where the air and water are clean, and that we live in communities that are safe, where there are not guns on every street corner.
“That’s what I will continue to work on as governor. That’s what I believe in, and that’s what the Democratic Party believes in.”
Follow Ralph Northam on Twitter at @ralphnortham or visit ralphnortham.com.