Odd numbered years are relatively quiet for elections, but there’s one race this year that is saying a lot about the future of the Republican Party. The race for governor in Virginia has become a template for the GOP’s plan to secure victory across the country by promising to trample the rights of LGBTQ people in general, and transgender people in particular.
The most recent proof is Republican gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin’s appearance this month at a gala hosted by the Family Foundation of Virginia. The Family Foundation has a long history of anti-LGBTQ activism.
In 2012, it pressured legislators to block the nomination of Tracy Thorne-Begland as a prosecutor in Richmond because he had come out as gay while he served as a fighter pilot in the Navy. “It’s about a pattern of behavior that is just notorious for homosexual advocacy,” one Republican representative said at the time.
Since then, the Family Foundation has been deeply involved in all kinds of far-right activism. It opposes nondiscrimination protections because it insists “no evidence of discrimination exists.” The group has been a driving force in the state in the attacks on trans youth, calling transgenderism “a false ideology.”
This is the type of extremist group that Youngkin has aligned himself with in order to win votes. Among the supporters listed on the gala program was Alliance Defending Freedom, another group which has made attacking LGBTQ rights its mission. The keynote speaker at the event was Trump’s former White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, who once proclaimed that the man who banned trans military personnel had “a great record when it comes to LGBT issues.”
Youngkin fit right in with the group. He has himself maligned trans female students, calling them “biological males.” Indeed, he has thrown over his earlier persona as a business-focused Republican to go all in on the culture wars waging in Virginia.
The state has become a hot spot of anti-trans actions at local school boards. A far right has been plowing the ground for Youngkin’s campaign by organizing protests at school boards around the state.
Youngkin has been quick to capitalize on this opportunity by portraying himself as the savior of parents attacked by LGBTQ and Black Lives Matter advocates. He’s launched an effort called “Parents Matter” to fuel the anger already seething in the state.
Youngkim’s whole campaign now is based around the concept that conservative parents have the right to tell schools to teach only the version of reality they like to tell themselves.
Youngkim’s Democratic opponent, former governor Terry McAuliffe, previously looked like a shoo-in in the race, but recent polls show that Youngkin’s assault on LGBTQ people is paying off. McAuliffe is still in the lead, but it’s been shrinking to single digits.
Virginia has been increasingly safe for Democrats over the past several elections, but Youngkin’s campaign shows that hatred still resonates. Even if Youngkin loses, he will have proven that attacking LGBTQ people motivates voters.
That’s a message that other Republicans will hear loud and clear for future elections.