Metro Weekly

Human Rights Campaign PAC endorses Democrats in Virginia’s statewide races

Nation's top LGBTQ organization backing Terry McAuliffe, Hala Ayala, and Mark Herring for their pro-equality records.

(From left to right) Gubernatorial nominee Terry McAuliffe, lieutenant governor nominee Hala Ayala, and Attorney General nominee Mark Herring. – Photos: Facebook.

The Human Rights Campaign has endorsed all three Democrats running for major statewide office in Virginia this November, as well as several candidates in competitive races for the House of Delegates.

While not surprising, HRC’s endorsement of former Gov. Terry McAuliffe for governor, Del. Hala Ayala (D-Woodbridge) for lieutenant governor, and Attorney General Mark Herring, who is seeking a third term is a way for the political arm of the nation’s top LGBTQ rights organization to reward its allies for pro-equality legislation, litigation, or executive orders that have expanded LGBTQ rights in the commonwealth. Early voting for the Nov. 2 election begins on Friday, Sept. 17.

“All Virginians deserve leaders who will fight for their rights to achieve health and success regardless of who they are or who they love,” JoDee Winterhof, the senior vice president of policy and political affairs at HRC, said in a statement. “The Human Rights Campaign is proud to endorse incredible champions who have spent their careers delivering on that promise of equality.

“Governor Terry McAuliffe has fought tirelessly to ensure LGBTQ+ Virginians are afforded equal protection under the law. His plan calls for an economy that remains open and welcoming to all, ensuring the Commonwealth remains a top place in the nation to do business, attract talent, and raise a family,” Winterhof said.

“Delegate Hala Ayala’s story is the story of everyday Virginians. She knows firsthand how hard work and opportunity can be the path to the middle class, and she has fought for every Virginians’ right to that opportunity” she added. “Ayala is the clear choice for voters who believe that every family and every child, regardless of who they are, should have a shot at their dream.

“Attorney General Mark Herring has been a forceful champion for fairness and equality under the law,” Winterhof said. “From fighting the discriminatory ban on marriage equality, to protecting LGBTQ+ youth in public schools, to ensuring all Virginians can live and work free from harm and discrimination, Mark Herring is a results-driven fighter focused on the Commonwealth’s continued safety, security, and prosperity.”

Republicans for statewide office, most notably GOP gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin and Del. Jason Miyares (R-Virginia Beach), who is challenging Herring, have opposed pieces of pro-LGBTQ legislation like the Virginia Values Act, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, a ban on conversion therapy, policies that allow transgender people to change their names and gender markers on state IDs, and a ban on the LGBTQ “panic” defense.

Youngkin has seized upon transgender rights — along with his opposition to so-called “critical race theory” allegedly being taught in schools — as a key issue ahead of November, supporting social conservatives who have mobbed school board meetings throughout the commonwealth to protest the adoption of transgender-affirming policies. A 2020 bill approved by Democrats gives school districts leeway to adopt their own specific policies, so long as they conform with so-called “model policies” developed by the Virginia Department of Education earlier this year.

Related: Equality Virginia PAC to donate $50,000 to House Democrats ahead of November’s election

During his time as governor, from 2014 to 2018, McAuliffe vetoed a number of anti-LGBTQ bills passed by the General Assembly, which at that time was under Republican control. His first action in office was signing an executive order prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQ individuals in state employment.

When marriage equality became legally recognized in Virginia, McAuliffe issues another executive order directing state agencies to comply with the court ruling so there would be no room for misinterpretation. Five days after the legal recognition of marriage equality, he even presided over a same-sex wedding, only the third governor to do so and the first in the South. 

“Every human being deserves to be treated equally, live free from fear, and thrive regardless of who they are or who they love,” McAuliffe said in a statement. “That’s why I fought to protect LGBTQ+ rights from right-wing attacks that would have hurt Virginians and crippled our economy.

“Our Commonwealth can only thrive if we work every single day to be the most open and welcoming state in the nation. Glenn Youngkin will roll back that progress, and we cannot let that happen,” McAuliffe added. “I am grateful for the support of the Human Rights Campaign, and together we will continue to ensure Virginia remains open and welcoming to all.”

Virginia State Capitol — Photo: Skip Plitt/Wikimedia Commons.

Ayala, who was first elected in the 2019 election, co-sponsored and voted in support of a number of pieces of pro-LGBTQ legislation, including the Virginia Values Act. Before serving in the House of Delegates, she was a member of Equality Prince William, a local pro-equality organization.

“I am so honored to be endorsed by the Human Rights Campaign. Throughout my time as an activist and Delegate, I have stood up as an ally for the LGBTQ+ community time and time again,” Ayala said in a statement. “Our fight for equality is far from done and I look forward to continuing our partnership as Lieutenant Governor.”

Herring, the first state attorney general to successfully argue that his own state’s ban on marriage equality was unconstitutional, has long supported LGBTQ issues dating back to his time in the Virginia Senate. In 2017, he joined 18 other state attorneys general in calling on Congress to block former President Trump’s proposed ban on transgender service members in the U.S. military. In 2021, Herring created an Office of Civil Rights dedicated to investigating allegations of discrimination in policing, housing and employment that are found to violate provisions contained in the Virginia Values Act. 

“I am committed to continuing that fight every single day to make sure that LGBTQ+ families and individuals in Virginia and all across the nation have the freedom to live their lives freely and with equality under the law,” Herring said in a statement. “We have made so much progress in our Commonwealth but we cannot let it stop there, we must vote Democrat up and down the ballot this November.”

In addition to the three statewide Democrats, Equality Virginia has also endorsed 18 incumbent Democrats seeking re-election to the House of Delegates, including House Speaker Eileen Filler Corn (D-Fairfax Station), openly gay Del. Mark Sickles (D-Franconia), out lesbian Del. Dawn Adams (D-Richmond), and Del. Danica Roem (D-Manassas), the first out transgender official elected in the commonwealth and the first-ever elected to a lower chamber of a state legislature. 

HRC has also endorsed the Democratic nominees in the open-seat races to replace Ayala and outgoing Del. Lee Carter (D-Manassas), who unsuccessfully ran for governor against McAuliffe, and Katie Sponsler, who is running for the open seat being vacated by former House Speaker Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights), who lost the Republican nomination for governor to Youngkin.

See also:

Republican lawmaker who allegedly kicked student in balls during anti-gay tirade avoids jail time

LGBTQ ally Gov. Gavin Newsom defeats recall attempt in California

Republican Senate candidate J.D. Vance questions the existence of two-spirit people

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