LGBTQ Records of Candidates for Virginia Governor

By |
July 7, 2021

Virginia is one of two states to elect a governor in 2021, and could be a critical bellwether for pro-equality candidates and voters heading into the midterm elections in 2022.

309,000 LGBTQ people live in Virginia, 40% of whom are LGBTQ people of color. 26% of LGBTQ Virginians are raising children.

LGBTQ voters turned out in record numbers and provided the winning edge in battleground states across the country in the 2020 election.

Equality Virginia, the leading LGBTQ advocacy organization in Virginia, and GLAAD, the world’s largest LGBTQ media advocacy organization, are releasing research on the LGBTQ records of the two major party candidates for Governor of Virginia, Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin.

McAuliffe served as governor of Virginia from 2014 to 2018. Virginia law limits governor’s to one term of service but can run again nonconsecutively.

Republican nominee Glenn Youngkin is a former private equity executive and first-time candidate for public office.

Youngkin has been endorsed by several anti-LGBTQ politicians, most notably former President Donald Trump, who announced his support for the candidate ahead of the GOP primary. He has also been endorsed by Sen. Ted Cruz, Gov. Kevin Stitt, Rep. Bob Good, and Rep. Morgan Griffith. Youngkin was endorsed by the anti-LGBTQ group Family Research Council Action, which criticized McAuliffe's platform to protect LGBTQ communities and students. FRC is identified as an LGBTQ hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which notes its long history of spreading harmful lies and misinformation about LGBTQ people. Youngkin appeared at a gala hosted by the so-called Family Foundation, which filed a lawsuit challenging Virginia state policy protecting transgender students, and which has supported discredited and dangerous "therapy" that falsely claims people can change their sexual orientation or gender identity. The anti-LGBTQ legal group Alliance Defending Freedom was a sponsor of the gala where Youngkin appeared.

In his brief time in public life, campaigning for the Republican nomination for governor of Virginia, Youngkin has:

  • Refused to say he supports marriage equality, in interview with the Associated Press, which has been legal nationwide for more than six years and is supported by 70% of Americans, a record-high
  • Spoke out during the second gubernatorial debate to support two parents who criticized LGBTQ-inclusive books at Fairfax High School libraries as "homoerotic." Youngkin called the books, written for 12-18 year olds, "sexually explicit."
  • "What we’ve seen over the last twenty months is our school systems refusing to engage with parents," Youngkin said, inaccurately, as school boards have in fact been hearing from parents who support transgender students and policies to protect their safety in schools, in addition to people from outside the districts who oppose such policies. Youngkin continued, "In Fairfax County this past week, we watched parents so upset because there was sexually explicit material in the library, they had never seen, it was shocking.” The books in question have been questioned by are Lawn Boy and Gender Queer. Both books feature LGBTQ characters and were recently honored by the American Library Association for their appeal to young adults ages 12 through 18. 
    1.2 million Americans identify as nonbinary, according to UCLA’s Williams Institute, about 11% of the LGBTQ population, the majority under age 29. The majority of nonbinary adults use queer, bisexual, pansexual, or asexual to describe their sexual orientation. Gallup research shows nearly 16% of all Gen Z Americans (ages 19-24) identify as LGBTQ. 
  • Supported a Loudoun County public school teacher who is refusing to recognize pronouns of transgender students, falsely claiming the teacher’s views are “in the best interest of the children.” Research shows that trans and nonbinary youth who reported having pronouns respected attempted suicide at half the rate of those who did not have their pronouns respected. LGBTQ youth who had access to spaces that affirmed their sexual orientation and gender identity reported lower rates of attempting suicide. The teacher is being legally represented by anti-LGBTQ activist group Alliance Defending Freedom, which has filed false claims in lawsuits against transgender students, supported criminalizing LGBTQ people, misrepresented, misgendered and targeted transgender students and is listed as a an anti-LGBTQ hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
  • Refused to say whether he supports marriage equality, which was legalized nationwide six years ago. A record high 70% of Americans, including a majority of Republicans, approve of marriage equality.
  • Said he does not support allowing transgender children to play on sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity, on a radio interview with Trump supporter John Fredericks.
  • Told a mother he is opposed to allowing transgender students to participate in sports in alignment with their true identity, claiming: “Biological males should not be allowed to play sports in girls sports. It's just not fair.”
  • Helped fuel Donald Trump’s “big lie” about so-called “election fraud” by refusing to say that President Joe Biden won the 2020 election. Youngkin’s first major policy proposal was the launch of an “Election Integrity Task Force.” Youngkin is calling for a number of changes, including requiring voters to show ID in order to cast a vote. Voter ID laws have been shown to disproportionately impact people of color, as well as the transgender community.   
  • Said during a Breitbart interview that he regretted that the civil rights organization the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) was included in an initiative by the Carlyle Group—where he was co-CEO at the time—in which the company would match employee donations to select nonprofits following George Floyd’s death. Youngkin noted that he removed Black Lives Matter (BLM) from the list, and said leaving the SPLC on was an oversight and a mistake he wouldn’t repeat today. 
  • Expressed support for religious exemption laws that allow provide a license to discriminate against the LGBTQ community. He criticized a tweet by Gov. Terry McAuliffe—who vetoed anti-LGBTQ exemption laws in both 2016 and 2017—which condemned such laws and called to “expand protections for LGBTQ+ Virginians, not dismantle them.”
  • Pledged to use “every ounce of authority I have” if elected to “protect Virginians' First Amendment right to freely live out their faith.” Anti-LGBTQ activists have used religious beliefs to argue for the right to discriminate. Polls show 76% of Americans support laws protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination, including support from Americans of all faith groups, ages and races. GLAAD research shows up to 91% of Americans believe it should be illegal to discriminate against LGBTQ people. 70% of Americans oppose allowing religiously affiliated agencies receiving taxpayer funding to refuse to accept qualified same-sex couples seeking to adopt or foster a child.

    Former Governor Terry McAuliffe’s LGBTQ record includes:
  • Featuring a lesbian couple in a campaign ad, at whose wedding he had officiated, becoming the first governor of a southern state to officiate a same-sex wedding

  • Reiterating support for protections against discrimination, noting his first executive order as governor after taking office in 2014 banned discrimination against LGBTQ state employees

  • During the second gubernatorial debate, defended Virginia law requiring the state Department of Education to implement policies to protect transgender students: “I like locals having input obviously on such an important issue, but the state will always issue guidance as we do from the Department of Education. But I have said this before, these children are going through very stressful situations. Why people want to continually demonize children, I just don’t understand. I want every child in Virginia to get a quality education. I put a record billion dollars into education the last time I was governor. No matter the color of your skin or whom you love, I believe you should get a great quality education.”
    Virginia’s Department of Education model policy, developed according to Virginia law passed last year, states in part: “Every Virginia student, regardless of their gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation, has a right to learn free from discrimination and harassment... All students are entitled to have access to restrooms, locker rooms, and changing facilities that are sanitary, safe, and adequate, so that they can comfortably and fully engage in their school programs and activities. Access to facilities such as restrooms and locker rooms that correspond to a student’s gender identity shall be available to all students... When a student asserts that they have a name and/or pronoun affirming their gender identity, school staff should abide by the student’s wishes as to how to address the student. All school employees shall treat all students with respect and dignity.”  

  • Releasing a plan for improving LGBTQ rights in his gubernatorial campaign that prioritizes enacting an "anti-bullying law to protect LGBTQ+ students and implement the Virginia Department of Education's model policy to protect transgender students." The plan also calls for expanding mental health resources for LGBTQ youth, data collection to support LGBTQ+ communities and people of color to "better direct resources to meet their unique needs." The platform also calls for a repeal on a clause allowing religious-based adoption agencies to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • Voicing opposition in 2009 to a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and civil unions. McAuliffe also said he supported civil unions for same-sex couples, while arguing the state was unlikely to accept marriage equality. 
  • Supporting marriage equality during his second run for governor in 2013, pledging to sign a bill to legalize it in Virginia if one were to reach his desk. He also criticized his Republican opponent in that race, Ken Cuccinelli, for his anti-LGBTQ record, including his letter to state universities urging them to remove language from their non-discrimination policies offering protections on the basis of sexual orientation.
  • Upon taking office in 2014, McAuliffe issued his first executive order as governor banning anti-LGBTQ discrimination against state workers.
  • That same year, in June, he became the state’s first governor to issue a proclamation for Pride month
  • Also that year, in October, McAuliffe ordered all state agencies to comply with legalized same-sex marriage in the state, became the first Virginia governor to officiate a same-sex wedding, and announced in a bulletin to the state’s Department of Social Services that same-sex couples could now legally adopt.  
  • McAuliffe launched a task force to promote LGBTQ tourism to Virginia, which, in 2016, resulted in a rebranding of the “Virginia is for Lovers” tourism slogan to the inclusive “Virginia is for all Lovers.”  
  • McAuliffe vetoed a religious exemption bill, SB 41, in 2016, that would have created a license to discriminate against LGBTQ people.
  • The following year, in 2017, McAuliffe vetoed two more so-called “religious freedom” bills that would have allowed for discrimination against the LGBTQ community: HB 2025 and SB 1324.
  • That same year, McAuliffe signed an executive order banning state contracts with firms that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • McAuliffe released an LGBTQ platform in April 2021 which includes a call to repeal the state’s so-called “conscience clause” that allows adoption and foster agencies to discriminate against LGBTQ individuals if they have stated objections based on religious or moral grounds. Additionally, the platform calls for leveraging data collection to direct resources “to better support LGBTQ+ communities and effectively direct resources to end disparities,” improve enforcement of hate crime laws, address housing instability by investing in LGBTQ-inclusive shelters, and requiring health care and public safety professionals to take cultural competency training. 

GLAAD and Equality Virginia will continue to monitor the LGBTQ policies, rhetoric and statements from the two candidates for governor.