January 23, 2019 at 12:03 pm EST | by James Wellemeyer
Majority of Va. Republicans back LGBT nondiscrimination protections
Jill Holtzman Vogel, gay news, Washington Blade
Virginia state Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel (R-Fauquier County) (Photo by YngSupervisor; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

A new poll finds a majority of Virginia Republicans support efforts to ban anti-LGBT discrimination.

Mason-Dixon Polling between Jan. 7-9 asked Republicans voters in Virginia whether they supported protections for LGBT individuals in housing and public employment. The survey found 53 percent of Republicans would support “legislation at the General Assembly this year that would update Virginia’s nondiscrimination laws to protect gay and transgender people from discrimination in housing.” And 63 percent would support similar legislation in public employment.

Thirty-eight percent opposed the housing bill, and 30 percent opposed the public employment legislation.

These results come 11 months after The Tarrance Group, a Republican polling firm, conducted a similar survey.

The February 2018 survey found 55 percent of Republican voters believed discrimination against gay and transgender people in housing should be illegal and 59 percent believed similar discrimination in public employment should be forbidden. The poll also found support for these protections among a variety of sub-groups of Republican voters; including Trump backers, National Rifle Association supporters, individuals classified as “very” or “extremely” conservative, anti-abortion voters and individuals who have participated in all of the four most recent Republican primary elections.

These results may appear surprising.

The Republican Party of Virginia’s 2016 platform makes no mention of LGBT people or protections. It explicitly opposes same-sex marriage and “condemns” the U.S. Supreme Court rulings in the Windsor and Obergefell cases that paved the way for same-sex marriage across the nation. And in its discussion of religious liberty, it implies that businesses should be able to discriminate against LGBT people.

The idea that a majority of Republican voters in any state would support nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people would be ludicrous based on this document alone, but many are saying they expected these survey results.

“This is a trend we’re seeing across the country. Voters simply have no appetite for discrimination and want to be sure that their friends and neighbors are protected the same way they are,” said Human Rights Campaign Senior Vice President for Policy and Political Affairs JoDee Winterhof. “The ground really has shifted on these issues of discrimination against the LGBTQ community. There is much more support for these anti-discrimination efforts.”

Winterhof noted legislation in most states hasn’t caught up to this new level of public support.

Virginia is one of 31 states that lacks protections for LGBT people in housing and public employment. “The ground has shifted, but lawmakers … didn’t get that memo, and we’re certainly trying to educate and share more of that information,” said Winterhof.

Equality Virginia Executive Director James Parrish also told the Washington Blade he anticipated the results from the polls. He emphasized a majority of lawmakers in the Virginia Senate and the Virginia House of Delegates — both of which are controlled by the GOP — support protections for LGBT individuals.

Parrish said Republican support for LGBT equality has lagged behind that of the general public but that “support for LGBT issues among all Americans has been inching up for decades.” In Virginia specifically, Parrish pointed to two instances from the past five years that he believes led to a shift in attitudes toward LGBT issues.

In Bostic v. Schaefer, a U.S. district court ruled the Marshall-Newman Amendment in Virginia’s Constitution that defines marriage as between a man and a woman was unconstitutional. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the 2014 decision, and in October of that same year, the Supreme Court refused to take up the case. Bostic v. Schaefer legalized same-sex marriage in Virginia before it was permitted in much of the rest of the country.

Danica Roem, the first openly transgender member of the state House of Delegates, in 2017 defeated consistently anti-LGBT Bob Marshall who Parrish noted introduced “quite a number of bills to harm our community.”

“That also brought change,” said Parrish.

Equality Virginia has focused some of its recent efforts on gathering favor for LGBT protections among Republicans.

Its Virginia Beach for Fairness campaign aims to pick up that support in one of the most conservative areas of the state. Parrish hopes increased reception to LGBT issues among conservatives will help nondiscrimination proposals in housing and public employment get past the House of Delegates this year. The laws have passed in the state Senate for the past four sessions with an increasing number of Republican supporters over the years.

Some Republican lawmakers in Virginia are now coming out in favor of LGBT protections. Others, like state Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel (R-Fauquier County), have long supported them

A Trump supporter, Vogel doesn’t fit the archetype of an LGBT ally. But she made her support of nondiscrimination policies a central aspect of her lieutenant gubernatorial campaign, according to Evan Draim, an openly gay man who ran the LGBT Virginians for Vogel Coalition.

“I worked with the Vogel campaign to talk with LGBT voters throughout the commonwealth about Jill Vogel’s record,” Draim told the Blade. “Jill came with us to attend various Pride festivals around Virginia.”

Vogel eventually lost the race to Lieutenant Gov. Justin Fairfax, but in many ways she is a manifestation of the results from the Mason Dixon and Tarrance Group polls. Vogel backs Trump, holds an A+ rating from the NRA and has stood against the Affordable Care Act for years. She also supports nondiscrimination legislation for LGBT people.

Vogel’s profile suggests LGBT protections may soon no longer be a dividing issue between Republicans and Democrats in Virginia or elsewhere in the country.

Draim, who now serves as the 10th District Representative for Young Republicans in Virginia, emphasized that while tides are turning, there is still much work to be done.

President Trump has banned transgender individuals from serving in the military, and Vice President Pence recently defended his wife’s decision to take a job at a school that forbids LGBT employees and students. As an entity, the GOP remains staunchly opposed to any legislation that would advance LGBT equality. Individual politicians may be changing their tune, but the Republican Party’s official stance looks to be set in stone for at least the next two years and likely longer.

“We still have a lot of work to do to get the party to a place where the LGBT community feels like we are 100 percent where we need to be on LGBT equality. But I think we’ve made a lot of progress,” said Draim.

The Blade has reached out to Vogel for comment.

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