In a pair of historic wins on Tuesday, Virginia Democrats flipped both the House of Delegates and Senate, gaining control of the full General Assembly for the first time in two decades.
As a result, after years of Republicans stonewalling any pro-LGBTQ legislation, a path has now been opened for Democrats to enshrine protections for LGBTQ residents into Virginia law.
In total, Democrats flipped two seats in the Senate, taking control of the chamber 21-19, and flipped at least five House seats to definitively win 53 of the chamber’s 100 seats as of press time, with Republicans on 44. Three other House contests could head to recounts, potentially increasing the Democrats’ margins in the House, but control of the House is secured nonetheless.
Del. Danica Roem (D-Manassas), the first openly transgender lawmaker elected to a state legislature, made history again when she became the first openly transgender person re-elected to a state lawmaking office. Supporters of Roem’s opponent, anti-LGBTQ Republican Kelly McGinn, ran ads attacking Roem by invoking her transgender identity and attempting to cast her as too “extreme” for Virginia, but Roem ultimately bested McGinn by a more than 12-point margin.
In addition, the four other LGBTQ members of the General Assembly — Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria), Del. Mark Levine (D-Alexandria), Del. Mark Sickles (D-Franconia), and Del. Dawn Adams (D-Richmond) — were all re-elected.
Those victories were particularly celebrated by the Human Rights Campaign, which invested $250,000 on resources and staff in the state to assist Democrats in flipping the legislature and ensuring a pro-equality majority in the House of Delegates. In total, the organization endorsed 27 candidates for the House of Delegates or Senate, and embedded staffers in a number of priority campaigns to help identify and turn out so-called “equality voters” — those motivated, in part, to vote because of their support for pro-LGBTQ measures.
“[Tuesday’s] election results send a powerful message that Virginians support a bold, progressive vision for the future of the Commonwealth,” HRC President Alphonso David said in a statement. “For far too long, anti-LGBTQ politicians have held a chokehold on Virginia’s legislative process and blocked efforts to pass statewide LGBTQ non-discrimination protections, sowing hate and division while putting the lives and livelihoods of LGBTQ Virginians at risk.
“The Human Rights Campaign worked tirelessly to turn out the 1.2 million Equality Voters in Virginia, and tonight we elected new leadership in Richmond that will put Virginians first,” David concluded. “We look forward to working with the new majority to ensure these critically important protections are finally passed into law.”
HRC noted in a news release that — whether at the General Assembly or local level in Virginia, as well as in Kentucky, where pro-equality Democrat Steve Beshear won the governor’s race over anti-LGBTQ Republican Gov. Matt Bevin — attempts by some candidates to use anti-transgender messaging failed on Tuesday.
“For months, anti-equality activists have utilized an outdated playbook attempting to paint LGBTQ equality as a wedge issue,” HRC said in a statement. “But in reality, they have failed to realize the ground has shifted underneath them across the country. The results in Virginia and Kentucky prove that equality wins, and that voters have no appetite for anti-equality extremism.”
Tuesday’s victories mean that there are a number of possibilities for Democrats when it comes to setting the legislative agenda. Specifically, Democrats have promised action on a number of longstanding priorities, including gun reform, passing the Equal Rights Amendment, fixing transportation issues, protecting reproductive rights, and passing a comprehensive nondiscrimination bill to protect LGBTQ people. Bills dealing with all of those issues have been brought up in each legislative session, only to be shot down by Republicans.
Indeed, some voters noted that they had grown frustrated with the antics of Republicans in Richmond, who, this past summer, held a special legislative session at the request of Gov. Ralph Northam (D) following a mass shooting that killed 12 in Virginia Beach, only to adjourn after 90 minutes without considering any of several proposed gun reform measures.
Evan Jacob Chevalier, 25, a gay Virginia Beach resident who works for the U.S. Navy and who lives in both a House district and a Senate district that were competitive this year, says he normally skews conservative, especially on fiscal issues, but voted for Democrats this year, largely because of Republican inaction on responding to gun violence.
“I’m a hunter. I grew up having guns,” Chevalier, who hails from western Pennsylvania, told Metro Weekly. “There is a difference from being able to have a shotgun or a rifle and being able to have an AR-15…. I don’t see why anyone would need a gun like that. I can see how you would want one. I have plenty of friends who would just like to go to a shooting range. But waiting periods, increased scrutiny on who’s buying them, is common-sense to me, and seems like it should be a bipartisan, no thought required thing.
“Unfortunately, as it is right now, Republicans aren’t even willing to compromise on anything. So I would rather have someone who’s willing to go a little bit above and beyond,” Chevalier added. “It’s gotten to the point where there’s a shooting every week, and that’s ridiculous.”
Del.-elect Shelly Simonds (D-Newport News), who lost two years ago after her opponent’s name was drawn from a bowl because they had received the same number of votes, felt the level of engagement and excitement among voters this year was much higher than in 2017, when Democrats swept all three statewide elected offices and picked up 15 seats in the House.
“I’m just blown away that, in an ‘off-off-year’ we had turnout close to the level we had in ’17 is just amazing to me,” she told Metro Weekly. “I think people realized that every vote does count, and that if you want real social change, you’re going to have to get out and vote, and drag your friends and family to vote…and this is the way we make progress. It’s a wonderful thing about democracy: there’s always another election to make it right.
“There’s a lot we can get done. A lot of really good, sensible initiatives have been bottled up in the Republican-controlled legislature,” Simonds added. “I think we need to look at discrimination in our laws. We still have laws that allow LGBTQ discrimination against our neighbors in housing and in public employment. I think that’s something where there’s consensus among Democrats. Of course, the ERA is a priority, and increasing the minimum wage is something we can get done, and [marijuana] decriminalization.”
The commonwealth’s top LGBTQ organization, Equality Virginia, celebrated the importance of Democratic control of both chambers, saying it provides “further opportunity” after years of introducing piecemeal bills prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQ Virginians in public employment or housing.
James Parrish, Equality Virginia’s executive director, noted the significance of Democrats winning the House, where, under the leadership of Speaker Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights), pro-LGBTQ bills were regularly killed. But he noted that shifts in both chambers would now allow the organization to tackle its goal of passing a broader, comprehensive bill to prohibit all types of anti-LGBTQ discrimination in the commonealth, extending protections in private employment, credit, lending, and public accommodations as well.
“This allows us to be more aggressive in what we expect for LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections,” Parrish told Metro Weekly. He also praised the out LGBTQ legislative candidates who were re-elected, saying that Virginia “has shown it’s a state where all people are welcome to run and be elected” to office.
Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax Station), the House Minority Leader who is potentially poised to become the first female Speaker of the House, said “Virginians spoke loud and clear” about the priorities they want lawmakers to tackle next January by electing more Democrats.
Filler-Corn had seen, weeks prior to Election Day, an intense amount of enthusiasm among voters to turn out and punish Republicans for their inaction on a number of key issues.
“People just said, ‘We’ve had it, enough is enough,'” Filler-Corn said. “We’ve been introducing these bills year after year, and this session was no different. They killed every single one of them. People were energized and mobilized themselves to ensure we could win the majority and focus on the issues Virginians want us to focus on, and actually achieve some good legislation.”
Democrats’ victories were not limited to the state legislature, particularly in Northern Virginia, where Democrats took flipped three seats to take a 6-3 majority on the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, and a 5-3 majority on the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, as well as picking up a seat on the Board of Supervisors in Democratic-leaning Fairfax County, resulting in a 9-1 edge.
The Democratic “wave” also extended to School Board seats, with Democratic-endorsed candidates sweeping all 12 seats on the Fairfax County School Board despite attempts by Republican-endorsed candidates to invoke fears of busing by attacking the school system’s “One Fairfax” policy, their decision to criticize the current board for pursuing a “social agenda,” including its support of nondiscrimination protections for transgender students.
At least two of the Republican-endorsed school board candidates for three at-large seats invoked the specter of transgender females gaining an unfair competitive advantage over cisgender females in sports. Both went down to defeat, as did incumbent School Board members Tom Wilson (Sully) and Elizabeth Schultz (Springfield), the latter a darling of the anti-LGBTQ Family Research Council who has consistently been the board’s most vocal opponent of pro-LGBTQ policies and initiatives that range from its now four-year-old nondiscrimination policies for students and employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity to its comprehensive sexual education and Family Life Education curricula.
The new school board will also have its first out LGBTQ member as Karl Frisch, a Democratic activist and advocate with the consumer watchdog organization Allied Progress, won an open seat for the Providence District.