The Human Rights Campaign is going all-in on Virginia this year by making an historic six-figure investment in the commonwealth’s General Assembly elections this November.
In his first major push as president of HRC, Alphonso David announced that the nation’s largest LGBTQ organization would be investing in 27 candidates in both House and Senate races to push the Virginia legislature to a pro-equality majority.
“HRC is proud to endorse these pro-equality champions who will be our partners in achieving long-overdue non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ Virginians,” David said, announcing the new initiative. “Virginia is at a turning point: voters are fed up with politicians who insist on playing politics with the lives of LGBTQ people. Virginians deserve leaders who will fight for them and bring people together, not pit us against each other.
“In the coming months, HRC will work tirelessly to turn out the 1.2 million Equality Voters in Virginia and elect new leadership in Richmond that will put the needs of Virginians ahead of the needs of special interests.”
As part of its investment — the most money HRC has ever spent towards flipping Virginia legislative seats — the organization will spend money on a field operations program, digital campaign ads, and a direct-mail program.
The initiatives are aimed at engaging pro-equality voters and encouraging them to head to the polls during an off-year election when voter turnout is expected to be extremely low.
HRC previously had success in 2018 using sophisticated analytics to identify and mobilize 57 million “equality voters” — those who support LGBTQ rights — and get them to the polls on Election Day.
HRC hopes to replicate that success this November by targeting an estimated 1.2 million “equality voters,” particularly those who live in nine Senate districts and 18 House districts where it has endorsed pro-equality candidates, including 18 women and 10 people of color.
In particular, HRC is targeting Speaker Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights), who has repeatedly blocked pro-LGBTQ legislation.
“Our laser focus is on Speaker Cox,” David told the Washington Post, adding, “There are real people in Virginia who need these protections. Because we have members who are refusing to bring these pieces of legislation to the floor, we are taking affirmative steps to remove them from office.”
Speaking at a Thursday morning event announcing HRC’s new initiative, Del. Danica Roem (D-Manassas), the first openly transgender woman elected to the Virginia state legislature, applauded their efforts and said it was vital to elect a pro-LGBTQ majority to the Virginia House.
“I am here today to help elect a Democratic, pro-equality majority,” Roem said. “We have to have a change in leadership in Richmond. It is absolutely critical, this November 5, that we get this done.”
Roem noted that HRC worked in 2017 to help her flip her Republican seat — making history in the process — as well as 15 other seats across the state.
“When we got that done, we ushered in historic change,” Roem said.
Speaking about healthcare, Roem said that following her election, lawmakers successfully expanded Medicaid to 400,000 Virginians, but that maintaining that expansion was “on the ballot this fall” because Republicans oppose it.
“Healthcare is an equality issue,” Roem said. “Access to healthcare is an equality issue. Enrollment in quality, affordable healthcare is an equality issue. And I can tell you personally, I know what it is like to have an insurance company turn me down for my health insurance coverage that I needed for my transition-related healthcare because it is Virginia law to not mandate it.”
Roem noted that, rather than move to enshrine protections for LGBTQ healthcare in law, Republicans have instead “shot down” bills “designed to protect our LGBTQ constituents.”
“We have to mobilize [this fall], we’ve got to be engaged,” Roem said, “so that we can tell Virginians across the Commonwealth that no matter what you look like, where you come from, how you worship if you do, or who you love, that you should be welcomed, celebrated, respected, and protected here because of who you are, not despite it, and not for what discriminatory politicians tell you you’re supposed to be.
“In our commonwealth we are working to make Virginia more inclusive so that everyone can thrive because of who they are,” she continued. “Our constituents deserve the absolute best from their government and we are here to deliver it.”
For years, LGBTQ advocates in the Old Dominion have attempted to pass legislation prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in state employment and in housing. Each year, the bills have passed the Virginia Senate with bipartisan support, only to be killed in the House of Delegates.
Specifically, the bills are tabled after being assigned to subcommittees stacked with delegates hostile to LGBTQ rights or from extremely conservative districts who might incur a primary challenge should they support an LGBTQ rights measures.
Democrats have frequently criticized Speaker Cox and other Republican leaders for organizing committees in a way that will ensure pro-LGBTQ or other progressive legislation is defeated.
Polling conducted by HRC earlier this year indicates that the employment and housing nondiscrimination bills enjoy support among an overwhelming majority of Virginians, including a majority of Republicans.
As such, many advocates have drawn the conclusion that the only way to advance any LGBTQ rights legislation is to oust Cox and and flip additional seats in order to put Democrats in charge of the House.
Currently, Republicans hold a 51-49 advantage in the House and a 21-19 edge in the Senate. All 100 House seats and all 40 Senate seats are up for election this November.
Adding to the political intrigue this year is the fact that a three-judge panel recently found that 12 of Virginia’s majority-black House districts were racially gerrymandered and ordered them — and surrounding districts, mostly represented by white Republicans, to be redrawn.
As a result, downstate Republicans — including Cox himself, Appropriations Committee Chairman S. Chris Jones (R-Suffolk), Transportation Committee Chairman David Yancey (R-Newport News), Chris Stolle (R-Virginia Beach), the vice chair of the Counties, Cities and Towns Committee; and General Laws Subcommittee Chairman Barry Knight (R-Virginia Beach) — find themselves in Districts that now include more Democratic voters than ever before, setting up competitive races in November.
Among the candidates endorsed by HRC this year are Del. Roem; openly gay State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria); Del. Dawn Adams (D-Richmond), the first out lesbian elected to the General Assembly; six incumbent House members; and three delegates seeking Senate seats.
HRC has also endorsed candidates in key competitive races this year, including Sheila Bynum-Coleman, who is challenging Cox; Clint Jenkins, challenging Jones; Len Myers, who is challenging Knight; Shelly Simonds, who is challenging Yancey; Nancy Guy, who is challenging Stolle; and Dan Helmer, who is challenging Majority Caucus Chairman Tim Hugo (R-Clifton).
Equality Virginia championed the effort to flip the Virginia legislature.
“We as Virginians believe in treating others as they themselves want to be treated,” Equality Virginia Deputy Director Vee Lamneck said in a statement. “For the past six years, the Republican-controlled State Senate has passed legislation to protect LGBT people from discrimination.
“But despite strong support from within his own Republican caucus, House Speaker Kirk Cox has repeatedly killed a number of bills that would have ensured LGBT people were treated fairly and equitably under our laws including common-sense, bipartisan bills that would have provided nondiscrimination protections for LGBT Virginians. Virginia can’t afford to allow discrimination to continue in our commonwealth. We need new leadership that will truly represent Virginia’s values.”
Additional reporting by Rhuaridh Marr.