Local elected officials often have a significant amount of influence over how welcoming their communities are for the LGBT community and other groups who face discrimination. They not only help govern the locality, but can help promote a certain set of values that places an emphasis on ensuring everyone has an equal opportunity to thrive. It’s therefore very disappointing a mayoral candidate in Hampton, VA has posted a series of social media comments that channel anti-trans rhetoric used by the extreme right.
Richelle Wallace, who’s running for mayor this year after losing a race for city council back in 2018, wrote a post on Facebook expressing opposition to legislation introduced by Sen. Jennifer Boysko. The bill would make it easier for a transgender person to update their birth certificate and would help limit the discrimination people might face due to their gender identity while doing activities that require identification documents (starting a new job, getting a driver’s or business license, etc). The mayoral candidate from Hampton, however, refused to acknowledge the tremendous amount of good the bill would do and simply suggested it was a way for transgender women to play in female sports.
There’s been a fair amount of discussion about how society should address the transgender athletes participating in athletics and it’s likely to continue. And considering how it’s a relatively new topic of discussion, it’s understandable that it’s one people would want to weigh in on. Several people, including myself, however, left comments on her post letting her know that her tying the issue of sports into a basic step towards equality like being able to update a birth certificate seemed to echo a lot of the rhetoric used by the extreme right.
During the lead up to last year’s school board elections in Fairfax County, for instance, the extremely conservative and proudly anti-LGBT Elizabeth Schultz hosted a meeting with senior staff members of a designated hate group that promotes an anti-trans agenda. Throughout the 90 minute meeting that was filled with hatred directed towards the transgender community, one of the designated hate group’s major talking points was how they claimed transgender people are trying to erase womanhood and are using sports as one of their ways to do so. It’s this type of rhetoric that Richelle Wallace is legitimizing by echoing their talking points.
Considering how Wallace claims to be a Democrat who supports basic civil rights, there was a thought that highlighting this might result in her changing her tune. In sharp contrast to that desire, however, it appeared as though she almost doubled down on using rhetoric that diminished the trans community and anyone who supported them.
Wallace immediately refused to take responsibility for echoing the transphobic talking points that some on the extreme right have a history of promoting. Instead of engaging on trying to figure out why so many people thought her remarks were offensive, for instance, she told one person “what you think is implied is not my responsibility.” That is a strange remark coming from someone who you’d think would realize that rhetoric matters and has spoken out against the type of rhetoric Donald Trump uses.
But as the controversy surrounding her remarks grew, it became clear this wasn’t just a matter of her echoing some right wing talking points in a misguided attempt to defend the integrity of female sports. Richelle quickly moved beyond just raising concerns about girls sports and proceeded to spew all sorts of anti-trans rhetoric.
In an exchange with a male who commented about the birth certificate legislation, Richelle said she’s “worried about someone being deceived into marrying someone that is biologically not who they thought they were marrying and it being legal.” To further drive home how she thought being transgender is actually worse than lying about an affair, she then added “this bill’s letting transwomen change their birth certificates from male to female. That’s not like lying about an affair.”
This comment was made after she created a story out of thin air about how transwomen would supposedly use their updated birth certificate to marry a man without him ever knowing that she was transgender. Following this twisted line of thinking she was promoting, Richelle went on to claim that would result in the woman lying to husband about why they couldn’t get pregnant.
Apparently still looking for ways to describe how horrible she thinks it’d be to marry someone who’s trans, she suggested someone who married a transwoman would then have “to live with knowing his wife was born a man. Nevermind the psychological impact this has on the husband and the questioning he will do as far as his masculinity.”
“They need the birth certificate to obtain a marriage license,” Richelle also offered up while trying to further her attempt to prove the government would be participating in deceit by allowing a birth certificate to have a person’s gender identity updated. “The fact that [the partner of a transgender person] was not only deceived during the relationship but the person was allowed to keep deceiving because the law allowed the deception by allowing the birth certificate to be changed, lies the problem.”
In addition to the line of discussion highlighted in those comments, she also suggested trans women aren’t actually women and trans men aren’t men. It’s a matter of basic decency to acknowledge that people are the gender they identify as, but Richelle made comments implying that a trans woman cannot be female because she doesn’t have a uterus, fallopian tubes, or ovaries. Her additional references to chromosomes and DNA make it clear she doesn’t view trans people as the gender they identify with even though there is plenty of scientific evidence showing transgender people truly are the gender they identify as.
Put all these comments together and it’s very clear she’s saying that transgender people are trying to deceive people when they advocate for identity documents and other legal measures that confirm their true gender. Her claim that someone should be more concerned with the impact a woman’s gender identity might have on a straight, cisgender male’s ego and perceived masculinity than with protecting the basic civil rights perfectly illustrates the disdain in which she holds the trans community.
When you get down to it, the root of the problem for many people was folks were simply trying to have Richelle understand why her comments were offensive to the transgender community, but she blatantly refused to listen and actively demeaned anyone who tried to stand up for basic equality. This tactic left several people with the impression she not only didn’t respect transgender people, but she also wasn’t willing to listen to what the public was telling her.
“You aren’t willing to learn,” one woman who’s a well respected advocate for the transgender community said. “You ask a question, then answer your own question. The article I gave you had a lot of factual information. I learned a lot reading it. You chose not to.”
“The conclusions I am ‘jumping to’ are based on YOUR words through this entire thread and the others,” the woman added. “You have people who are heavily and deeply involved in this community, are A PART of this community, telling you that you are wrong and why, and you show no compassion, no willingness to listen or learn.”
In a prime example of what might have been frustrating some people about the tenor in which Richelle engaged with others, somebody linked to an article published by the Daily Press in 2018 describing how the candidate hadn’t been paying her personal property taxes. The commenter wanted Richelle to explain how the city of Hampton would be able to fund any of her proposals if even she wasn’t paying her taxes.
Despite the highlighted article being published by a reputable media outlet and nobody disputing the facts, Richelle decided it was a good idea to threaten the person for having the audacity to bring up a valid question. “I’m warning you that if you continue, you will be sued for defamation,” Wallace declared.
In other words, she was going to file a frivolous lawsuit against someone who brought up factual information that could be found through a quick google search. This suggested she was willing to go to extraordinaire lengths to silence people who weren’t fully supportive of her campaign and raised significant questions about her willingness to truly engage with the public she hopes to represent. That’s not exact the type of behavior you want from a political candidate.
Of course, she might have begun to realize this when she actually told one commenter that they shouldn’t be associating her anti-trans rhetoric into her mayoral campaign. “Do not attempt to put my running for an elected position into this,” she warned. “You have no knowledge of my abilities as a leader.”
Of course, the entire reason her remarks even drew any attention was because she’s running for office and it’s easy to assume she understood this. That’s likely why, despite her repeated comments demeaning the transgender community and refusal to even listen to the community and its allies, Richelle insisted her use of the pronouns and names transgender people prefer proves she’s actually a supporter of LGBT equality. At one point, after claiming she wasn’t even responsible for her rhetoric being offensive to some people, she actually claimed to be responsible for gay marriage being legal.
“If it wasn’t for me and people like me standing up for the rights of the LGBTQ community and same sex marriage,” Richelle claimed, “it wouldn’t exist.”
In the aftermath of that comment, the old saying that actions speak louder than words comes to mind and the outrageous claim helped provide a clear illustration of what Richelle Wallace and her campaign are all about.
It’s simply laughable that she would try to take credit for making same sex marriage legal after repeatedly making comments demeaning LGBT people and saying it wasn’t her responsibility to care about how much they offended people. It’s this type of ignorance and blatant refusal to actually listen to the public feedback she’s receiving that proves she’s unworthy to serve as mayor of Hampton or have any leadership position in the Democratic Party.