As voters head to the polls in Virginia’s 10th Congressional District head to the polls, there are a lot of important issues that will influence their votes. But as the Trump Administration has continually escalated its efforts to allow discrimination against the LGBT community by changing established regulations and policies, it’s become even more important to send candidates who support equality to Congress. While Barbara Comstock has stood with Trump in his anti-equality efforts, Jennifer Wexton has proven she’ll be a champion for equality.
Not only does Wexton have a history of standing up for the LGBT community, but she’s made it clear this is a decision made for personal reasons and not one she’s taken to score political points. I’ve heard Jennifer speak on several occasions, for instance, about how the sister of her college boyfriend came out as transgender back in the 1980’s. This was a time when the trans community wasn’t as visible as it is now (though polls show there’s still a lot of work to do in terms of visibility), but the experience helped show her that transgender people can thrive when they’re supported and absolutely shouldn’t be discriminated against.
In a couple stump speeches, Jennifer also mentioned that her niece has recently come out as transgender. Scholarly studies have shown that people who have close friends or family members who are transgender are more likely to support and advocate for transgender equality. It therefore makes sense that Wexton personally wants to see her niece receive support from friends and family and to have full equality under the law.
This personal passion for LGBT equality has carried over to her work in the General Assembly. Throughout her years in the state senate, Wexton has been a leading supporter of legislation to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in housing and cosponsored bills that prohibited discrimination in public employment. Despite seeing these bills die in committee when she first introduced them back in 2015, she was able to help get bipartisan support for SB 423 (which prohibited housing discrimination) and it passed by a 29 to 10 margin in the Senate. Similar bills, however, have repeatedly come up short in the House of Delegates due to the Republican leadership in that chamber.
Removing the ban on same-sex marriage in the Virginia Constitution, adding the LGBT community to Virginia’s hate crimes law, preventing professionals with a state license to use their license while accepting money to conduct conversion therapy, and allowing localities and school boards to establish their own non-discrimination policies are just a few of the other LGBT friendly causes Jennifer has back. I know the last one is extremely important to Loudoun County residents as I’m part of a broad coalition working to get the Loudoun County School Board to add sexual orientation and gender identity to its non-discrimination policy.
Barbara Comstock, on the other hand, has not had a good legislative record when it comes to protecting LGBT students. She refused to support the Safe Schools Improvement Act (HR 1957), which would have updated the Elementary and Secretary Education Act (ESEA) to require school systems that receive ESEA funds to update their policies to specifically prohibit bullying and harassment based on sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity. The measure received 188 co-sponsors (172 Democrats and 16 Republicans), but Comstock refused to step forward and protect students from harassment.
The two candidates also drastically differ in how they responded after reports surfaced that the Trump Administration was planning to narrow the definition of the word sex as it relates to Title IX. Wexton was quickly express disappointment because she saw how the Administration was simply trying to erase the transgender community in the eyes of the federal government by claiming sex was unchangeable and based upon the genitalia a person was assigned at birth. By erasing the community in the eyes of the government, the Trump Administration was also allowing discrimination against trans people to be legal.
“This is a cruel policy and another attempt from this administration to take our country backwards,” Jennifer tweeted. “We need to elect a pro-equality Congress this November to stop these attacks.”
While she put out that tweet in response to a specific policy proposal, the Senator has also proven she understands the Trump Administration has been constantly promoting an anti-equality agenda. Back in June, for example, she said she realizes the importance of standing up for equality.
“With the recent attacks on civil liberties emanating from the White House, it’s more important than ever that we rededicate ourselves to ensuring equality for all people under the law.”
In sharp contrast to Wexton, Barbara Comstock remained completely silent on Trump’s anti-equality proposals. This is despite a series of tweets she sent out over the weekend bragging about a resolution she supported calling on the Department of Justice to improve hate crime reporting. These tweets are especially noteworthy because she specifically highlighted religion and race, but made no mention of sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity.
Even after the Congresswoman was called out for not speaking out against the Trump Administration’s plans to make changes to regulations that would allow discrimination, she remained silent on the issue. Since she had just talked about hate crimes against other groups and has been trying to cast herself as a moderate recently, her refusal to oppose Trump’s moves suggest she condones discrimination against the LGBT community.
Comstock’s score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Congressional Scorecard also suggest she’s not a supporter of basic equality for the LGBT community. During her first term in the House of Representatives, the Congresswoman earned a 0 from HRC — a score that indicates you’re making a point of not support LGBT rights. She did fair a little better in her second term, however, as she scored a 40.
Her score in the second term can be a little misleading, however, because HRC gave her credit for voting against the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. For the purpose of the scorecard, HRC looked at the vote on May 4, 2017 on HR 1628. The bill ended up passing the House by a 217-213 margin with 20 Republicans opposing it and one abstaining (all the Democrats opposed it). Comstock was one of those 20 Republicans, so HRC liked her vote on this bill but the score ignore the six different occasions she voted to repeal Obamacare.
Rep. Comstock does serve credit for voting against an amendment offered by Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO) to the defense authorization bill in July of 2017 that would have banned access to transition related health care for members of the military and their families. The amendment was defeated and Comstock was one of 24 Republicans who broke with her party to oppose it. According to a study by the Williams Institute, there are approximately 8,800 people who are transgender and current active duty military. On top of that, there are 6,700 transgender people serving in the National Guard or Reserves and 134,000 transgender veterans which illustrates the awesome impact Hartzler’s amendment could have had on the military community.
Despite her good vote on the Hartzler amendment, however, Rep. Comstock has fairly dismal record on LGBT rights. One of the easiest ways to give an olive branch to the community would be to support banning discrimination against LGBT people when it comes to housing. A recent poll put out by a group here in Virginia actually showed that 54% of active Republican voters, including those that vote in GOP primaries, would support efforts to ban discrimination based sexual orientation and gender identity when it comes to housing. Nonetheless, Comstock refused to support the Fair and Equal Housing Act (HR 1447), which would amend the Fair Housing Act to include protections for actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity. The measure had 104 co-sponsors (86 Democrats and 18 Republicans).
Another bill Comstock refused to support despite the potential for bipartisan support was the Customer Non-Discrimination Act (HR 3520). The legislation would have updated Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to explicitly ban discrimination in accessing public spaces and services based on sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity. There was some debate about this legislation because it also updated public spaces and services to include retail stores and services such as banks, legal services, healthcare providers, and transportation services. In other words, it meant a baker had to bake someone a cake even if they were gay and a cab driver couldn’t deny a trans woman a ride to the airport. Polling has shown the Republican base really doesn’t like this concept (at least when it comes to private businesses), so the move potentially made it harder to gain Republican support. With all that in mind, the bill still received 80 co-sponsors, but all of them were Democrats.
Since Comstock refused to support the “smaller asks” from the LGBT community like supporting safer schools or preventing discrimination in housing, it shouldn’t be surprising that she also opposed the Equality Act (HR 2282). This bill would provide non-discrimination protects for the LGBT community in areas like employment, housing, credit, education, public spaces and services, federally funded programs, and jury service. This bill had 199 co-sponsors and its counterpart in the Senate had 48, but Comstock still refused to support it. As an interesting side note, however, Scott Taylor from Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District was one of only two Republicans who co-sponsored it.
What this all means is Jennifer Wexton has a proven history of supporting the LGBT community both in her personal life and her career as a public official while Barbara Comstock has an extremely poor record when it comes to supporting basic equality. As a result, equality voters in Virginia’s 10th Congressional District should vote to send Jennifer Wexton to Congress.