A Virginia Republican congressional candidate is facing intense criticism for embracing anti-transgender tropes and his opposition to LGBTQ rights more generally, even sparking a protest outside the spot of a planned campaign event.
Bob Good, a former athletic department official at Liberty University who describes himself as a “biblical conservative and constitutional conservative,” is the Republican nominee in Virginia’s 5th Congressional District. Recently, his campaign has been trying to rally clergy members around the commonwealth by holding a series of “Virginia Liberty Summits for Pastors” in three cities.
At those meetings, Good’s campaign has signaled its intent to talk about the Virginia Values Act, a newly passed state law that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, which Good has characterized as an attack on religious freedom.
“Religious liberty in America is under assault like never before,” an Eventbrite posting for a scheduled Tuesday summit in Charlottesville, reads. “Failure to act in its defense is concession, and if we fail to act religious freedom in America will be lost, not just for our generation, but for the next.”
An invitation to one of the summits, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times, read: “Bob Good, candidate for Congress, is interested in preserving religious liberties as defined in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. He is extremely concerned about the recent changes that now affect both large and small churches.”
The invitations, which were sent to clergy members and Republican county officials in the district, also invoked the well-worn “bathroom panic” trope that allowing transgender people to access public accommodations will lead to assaults or harassment of cisgender women or children in restrooms.
“What happens when a male member of your congregation goes on vacation and returns four weeks later as a female?” the invitation read. “What do your church bylaws state regarding a man dressed as a woman who attends a church function and expects to use the women’s restroom?”
The invitation was signed by Travis Witt, a former Virginia Tea Party official who is identified as the Faith Coalition leader for Good’s campaign. The subject heading for the emailed invitation reads: “Re: when a man becomes a woman.”
Good previously won the Republican nomination in a drive-by convention in June, unseating incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Denver Riggleman in the process. Prior to the convention, Good had attacked Riggleman, who adopts a more libertarian view on social issues, for being insufficiently conservative, citing, in part, his decision to officiate the wedding of two gay campaign volunteers.
In addition to touting his opposition to marriage equality on his website, which Good notes is part of the Republican Party’s official platform — which he argues Riggleman promised to defend when he was first elected — Good has also published a letter from supporters on his website that states, “Homosexuality is a very complex subject that medical science has confirmed is psychological moreso than genetic.”
When Good served on the Campbell County Board of Supervisors in 2015, he signed a resolution declaring the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing marriage equality “lawless,” and voted for another in 2016 that urged state and federal governments not to recognize gender identity as a protected class, and to either pass legislation, or allow the county to pass its own, that would bar transgender people from public restrooms that don’t match their gender identity.
Even thought the 5th District generally leans six points more Republican than the nation as a whole, Democrats in Washington believe Good’s social conservatism may be a detriment, particularly in a presidential year when Democratic turnout, especially in the southern parts of the district, which contain high numbers of Black voters, is expected to be higher than usual.
Following the primary victory of Democratic nominee Cameron Webb, a physician who teaches at the University of Virginia, which is in the district, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee added Webb to its list of “Red to Blue” program candidates — a designation usually reserved for Democrats who have a strong chance of flipping Republican-held seats.
The Virginia Democratic Party blasted Good’s invitation to the summit, trying to cast him as extreme.
“We’re in the middle of a pandemic that has infected over 100,00 Virginians and a recession that has put millions across the country out of work, but all Bob Good wants to focus on is same-sex marriages,” Grant Fox, a spokesman for the Virginia Democratic Party, said in a statement. “Virginians need help, and Bob Good is spending his time convening church officials to figure out how to best discriminate against the LGBTQ community.”
The Good campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
A spokesperson for the Republican Party of Virginia also did not respond to requests for comment.
On Tuesday, protesters lined up across the street from the church where Good’s Charlottesville summit was to be held, holding Pride flags and signs expressing support for the LGBTQ community and criticizing Good’s stance on LGBTQ issues, according to Charlottesville-area NBC affiliate WVIR. Good ended up not showing up at the church.
“We’re here to oppose Bob Good’s bigotry today and he’s chickened out on facing us,” David Singerman, an organizer of the protest affiliated with Indivisible Charlottesville, said. “He’s also chickened out on debating his opponent, so that tells you something about where Bob Good stands on things like moral courage.”
The 5th District Republican Committee, however, says that Good did not cancel or back out of the event due to the presence of protesters. Rather, the committee says, Good chose to merge the Charlottesville event with another summit taking place in the town of Madison later in the day.
But Indivisible members say they want their Good to hear their message: that they don’t appreciate him using the LGBTQ community as political fodder.
“We don’t want homophobes and bigots in the 5th District of Virginia,” activist Kathryn Laughon told WVIR. “We want our elected officials to represent everyone and that includes the queer community.”
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