There are signs of friction between Youngkin and his LGBTQ+ Advisory Board
Signs of friction between Governor Glenn Youngkin and an executive board of advisors on LGBTQ+ issues were on display at the board’s meeting Wednesday.
Youngkin paid a surprise visit to the LGBTQ+ advisory board in order to reassure the board after it’s last meeting saw racist and homophobic imagery in it's chat. Youngkin said he condemned using hateful speech and called it terrible.
The response from the board though, was tepid.
“You don't have to call me by my first name, you don’t have to call me by my last name…but you at least have to let me know that you're talking to me,” said Bryan Price, a board member of Equality Virginia. “I heard a very generic speech that could be given to any advisory council, anywhere, at any time.”
Board members expressed frustration that Youngkin didn’t use the words “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, or Queer” in his remarks. The board advises Youngkin on issues relevant to Virginians in those communities, but all were appointed by former Governor Ralph Northam and serve on staggered terms.
Many board members expressed doubts that Youngkin’s administration was sincerely engaging with those issues and with a wide variety of identities within the LGBTQ+ communities. Youngkin hosted a lunch at the executive mansion with the Log Cabin Republicans the previous week, but a Pride reception board members were invited to was in the Capitol Rotunda.
“We on the advisory board were not made aware of any previous events that were happening, and were made aware in extremely short order of the Pride Reception. It's important to have diversity of thought and engage with all sides to move the Commonwealth forward together,” said N. Mckeller Crosby, the owner of Green Vibes, a Richmond house plant shop and small business advocate, in an interview Thursday.
Youngkin had another event with Log Cabin Republicans in Virginia Beach on Thursday.
Others members like Charley Burton, the National Program Director for Black Transmen Inc, pointed to uncertainty surrounding board members’ reappointment, making continuity of their work and electing leadership difficult.
“We have allowed that administration and those who believe that administration, whether you are part of the board or you're not to come in and bring chaos,” he said.
At Wednesday’s board meeting, members elected Joanna Keller of Verona as it's new chair.
"50% of me is here. 50% is not, but damn, I just can't give up the fight," said Keller, 66, a transgender woman, earlier in the meeting, before voting was on the agenda. "As you all well know, back in the seventies, it was hell and I made it through.
I'm proud of who I am, and I want to make sure that the next generation has the same opportunity to be better and be able to come out and be themselves without having to wait until they're 50 years old."
Keller replaces Kyle Mason who in March resigned, saying it was an uphill battle for them and another chair to run the board as people of color.
A lack of communication from the administration had also been an issue, said Mason, a health psychology doctoral student at Virginia Commonwealth University in an interview Thursday. They said that while they didn’t expect to hear from the administration immediately, messages from them and another chair regarding setting up meetings went unanswered long enough for the issue to be raised with the board’s counsel, so they could meet their obligations to meet regularly.
Most board members said they wouldn’t attend the Pride Reception hosted by Youngkin held nearby just after the meeting. Macaulay Porter, a spokesperson for the governor, said that he mingled with attendees and discussed shared priorities.
Michael Berlucchi, a board member from Virginia Beach, was the only member to attend. He said that his choice to attend shouldn’t be construed as not supporting the LGBTQ+ community. He said in an interview Thursday that he understood that other board members saw attendance as such, in light of their conceptions of Youngkin’s policy preferences.
Advocates for LGBTQ+ Virginians also announced they wouldn’t attend the reception in a joint press release.
“The Governor spent months campaigning on a platform of homophobia and transphobia, attacking some of the most marginalized members of our community– transgender and non-binary youth. His Pride event does not erase his words and only gaslights our community,” said Narissa Rahaman, Executive Director of Equality Virginia Advocates.
They also pointed to Secretary of the Commonwealth's Kay Coles James tenure at the heritage foundation and Youngkins’ Virginia’s Assistant Superintendent of Public Instruction as holding Transphobic views.
About 50 people attended the reception said Berlucchi, who had attended events under the previous administrations of Northam and his predecessor Terry McAulife. He said that it had fewer people than those events but they were “a diverse reflection of Virginians, and the administration was well represented.” The event was closed to press.
He said this is the first such function under a Republican governor and bridging historical divides was one of the reasons why people elected Youngkin.
Berlucchi served two terms as the president of Hampton Roads Pride and is on Virginia Beach’s City Council. While that is a nonpartisan position, Berlucchi did contribute to Youngkin’s inaugural committee, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.
“It's vitally important that we build and maintain relationships as public servants, as volunteers, and those involved in public policy matters.“It's vitally important and responsible that we maintain and build relationships,” he said. He thought the response to the governor’s remarks at the board meeting were unfair and unreasonable and related to partisanship.
Mason said that mistrust of the administration is historical.
“When you have division and major gaps between LGBTQ constituents and this adminstartion, or administrations generally, the distrust that this community has with administrations and policy makers isn’t partisan,” they said.
In response to the issues board members raised, Porter, the governor’s spokesperson, said “The Governor is committed to leading on behalf of all Virginians. We are one Virginia and engagements like the board meeting help strengthen our communities and the spirit of Virginia.”