Family-values conservatives turned up the pressure on Virginia Republican lawmakers Thursday over a controversial transgender bathroom bill, holding a news conference at the Capitol to call for an up-or-down vote.
The Virginia First Foundation, a group that proclaims to uphold “Judeo-Christian culture,” organized the hourlong event in support of Del. Robert G. Marshall’s proposal to require schools and government facilities to bar transgender people from entering bathrooms corresponding to their gender identity rather than their birth sex.
Supporters of the bill, which LGBT advocates and Democrats denounce as discriminatory, unnecessary and bad for business, said it would protect against male predators posing as transgender women and ensure equal opportunity for girls in schools.
“If you pardon the pun, it’s time for men to be men. And protect women and children,” said Terry Beatley, president of the Hosea Initiative, who aimed her comments specifically at House Speaker William J. Howell, R-Stafford, and other Republicans queasy about the bill.
“Feeling black does not make a person black,” said Judith Reisman, a research professor at Liberty University who said she has studied “sexual radicalism.”
After the fallout over a similar bill in North Carolina, Virginia’s version of the bathroom bill, House Bill 1612, has brought early fireworks to the 2017 session, but the spectacle may be outpacing political realities. The bill is unlikely to pass out of the Republican General Assembly. Even if it did, Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, would surely veto it.
Still, Thursday’s event proved Marshall, a Prince William County Republican known for pushing hot-button legislation, won’t be standing alone. Marshall said he hopes a public pressure campaign will force Republican leaders to take up the bill rather than burying it in committee.
Among Marshall’s allies Thursday was Cynthia Dunbar, Virginia’s Republican National Committeewoman who was elected to that post at a party convention last year. Dunbar said the Republican platform takes a clear position against President Barack Obama’s directive to schools to allow transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice.
“If you don’t know what is in the platform, I encourage you to please read it and to know what the expectations of your Republican constituents are,” said Dunbar, who beat out Suzanne Obenshain, the wife of Sen. Mark D. Obenshain, R-Rockingham, for the RNC role.
Marshall’s bill goes further than similar legislation in other states by requiring principals to notify the parents of any students who requests accommodations for being transgender.
Marshall accused Howell of wanting to quietly send the bill to “a star chamber for execution.”
In an interview, Howell denied having such sweeping powers and said he had already assigned the bill to a committee.
“I think it’ll get a fair hearing,” Howell said. “I said it before. It’s just Bob being Bob.”
Howell said the bill probably wouldn’t survive the Senate, let alone the governor.
“We have a lot of important things that we’re doing right now, whether it be job creation, higher education, whatever,” Howell said. “And this is just a distraction.”
A civil-liberties lawsuit arising from a Virginia transgender student’s battle with the Gloucester County School Board may settle the legal question nationwide. The U.S. Supreme Court has taken up the case and is expected to hear oral arguments in March.
Marshall said Republicans shouldn’t use the lawsuit as an excuse for inaction and pointed to previous examples where the legislature acted in areas with pending legal cases.
“For all the Republicans who want to hide and pretend they don’t have to deal with it, I’m going to see if you voted for these bills and others like it,” Marshall said. “Because your reasons are spurious.”
Some supporters of Marshall’s bill called the transgender bathroom issue the latest battle in a long-running culture war spanning the sexual revolution, abortion rights movement and acceptance of gay marriage. Others pleaded for a more civil discussion of what they see as a pressing public policy issue for parents that is often scoffed at as unserious or fueled by hate.
Elizabeth Schultz, a member of the Fairfax County School Board, said the issue is particularly problematic for students from other countries, particularly those from Arabic cultures.
“There are real issues of moral clarity for some people in our school systems that have to do with cultural norms, that have to do with religious norms,” Schultz said.
“Good policy has to be rooted in reality. In this case, biological reality, “ said David A. LaRock, R-Loudoun, who said he will co-patron Marshall’s bill. “I could not introduce myself as a 6-year-old Asian female without provoking a reaction.”
Several LGBT-rights groups attended the event, and things went off script when Theodore Kahn, a 32-year-old transgender man from Richmond, stood up and pointedly asked where the bill’s proponents felt he should go to the bathroom.
“Not here,” Marshall replied.
Travis Witt of the Virginia First Foundation answered by saying there should be a third bathroom option that could be a place for families.
“I’m not a family,” Kahn interjected.
“Excuse me, sir,” Witt said.
“You called me sir!” Kahn said.