Virginia has elected anti-LGBTQ+ Republican Glenn Youngkin as its next governor.
It surprised many political observers that Youngkin ran such a close race with Democrat Terry McAuliffe, who was governor from 2014 to 2018. But McAuliffe made what were considered missteps in the campaign, such as saying parents shouldn’t be telling schools what to teach. And some pundits viewed support for the Republican as a symptom of dissatisfaction with President Joe Biden. In any case, late Tuesday, Youngkin was declared the winner of the election to succeed pro-LGBTQ+ Democrat Ralph Northam (in Virginia, governors cannot serve consecutive terms).
In an October 21 interview with the Washington Blade, McAuliffe called Youngkin the “most homophobic” candidate ever in Virginia. “I ran against Ken Cuccinelli. That’s saying something,” McAuliffe said, referring to the former Virginia attorney general who was McAuliffe’s opponent in the 2013 gubernatorial race and was well-known for his anti-LGBTQ+ views.
Youngkin, a businessman new to politics, has expressed opposition to marriage equality, although he called it “legally acceptable” in Virginia and said he would support equal marriage rights as settled law if he became governor. He also opposes letting transgender young people play on the sports teams consistent with their gender identity and has voiced support for a Virginia public school teacher who said he would not use trans students’ preferred pronouns because of his religious beliefs. The teacher, Tanner Cross, was suspended but eventually reinstated.
Youngkin was endorsed by Family Research Council Action, the political action arm of the intensely anti-LGBTQ+ Family Research Council (classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center), while McAuliffe was endorsed by the political action committees of the Human Rights Campaign and Equality Virginia, both LGBTQ+ rights groups,
Youngkin’s campaign was marked by what some saw as racist dog whistles as well. He vowed to ban the teaching of critical race theory in Virginia, and he claimed it was taught in all the state’s public schools. Critical race theory is “a broad set of ideas about systemic bias and privilege,” notes PolitiFact, which found little evidence that it informs public school curricula. The theory is much discussed by academic scholars.
He also ran a campaign ad featuring a woman who said her son was deeply disturbed by reading Toni Morrison’s classic novel Beloved as a high school senior, so she sought to have the book banned by the Fairfax County School Board. The ad and the woman, Laura Murphy, came in for much criticism.
“Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel has sex, violence, mention of bestiality,” Christine Emba wrote in The Washington Post. “It centers on the story of a mother who kills her own child, desperate to ensure the infant won’t have to experience the horrors of slavery as she did. It’s visceral, and haunting, and deeply sad. But then again, imagine how enslaved people must have felt to live it.”
In another closely watched gubernatorial contest — in New Jersey — the race between Democratic incumbent Phil Murphy and Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli remained too close to call early Wednesday.