Activist state

Youngkin Addresses State’s LGBTQ+ Board of Directors; the president steps down

Governor Glenn Youngkin addressed the Virginia LGBTQ+ Advisory Council at a Wednesday meeting in Richmond and condemned the harassment its members have recently faced.

During a virtual committee meeting on May 16, the council was interrupted by a group of people flooding the chat with racist and homophobic messages and images. And while the 21-person LGBTQ+ group is the newest of the Governor’s Advisory Councils, it has gone through three leadership teams since then-Gov. Ralph Northam launched the panel in April 2021.

Lisa Turner, who stepped down as chair of the board on Wednesday, said officials told her she would not be considered for re-election when her term ends later this month. Advisory Board members are permitted to re-apply for a second term, but may not serve more than two consecutive terms; Turner said she did not seek a second term.

Four other council members also said Wednesday they would not be returning for additional time on the council.

In a statement to VPM News, Macaulay Porter, a spokesperson for Youngkin, denied that Turner was told her candidacy would not be considered.

“That’s wrong, nobody ever said that,” Porter wrote in an email to VPM News. “You must reapply to be considered for a position. None of the members submitted a new candidacy.

After Youngkin spoke on Wednesday, a number of board members, including Turner, said they still did not feel supported by Youngkin’s administration at a time when anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric is used for political purposes.

Ahead of Pride Month in June, Turner said officials informed her that the administration was unlikely to issue a proclamation marking the month-long recognition of the Stonewall Rebellion in 1969, who helped advance the gay rights movement. Turner said she only knew about the events last week.

“It just adds to the low morale. And that’s not good when you’re already a marginalized community,” Turner said at the meeting.

“The governor hosted a pride luncheon last week and attended the advisory board meeting today,” Porter said. “The governor wants to lead for all Virginians and in his remarks this morning condemned individuals who recently disrupted their advisory council meeting with racist symbols.”

Kyle Mason voluntarily stepped down as president earlier this year — along with then-vice president Aurora Higgs.

“It wasn’t because we felt like we couldn’t do it; it wasn’t because we felt like the community didn’t deserve; it wasn’t because we didn’t have time. It was none of that,” Mason said during the reunion.

Mason, who is black and non-binary, said they had hoped their departure would open a line of communication between the panel and the administration.

Outside of the board meeting, a coalition of LGBTQ+ advocacy groups — including Equality Virginia, Virginia Pride, Minority Veterans of America and He She Ze And We — released a statement criticizing Youngkin’s record on work with their community. They called plans for an invitation-only reception at the State Capitol on Wednesday to mark Pride Month “performative.”

Several council members announced at Wednesday’s meeting that they would not attend the Capitol reception; at least one member said he would represent his community.

On Wednesday, however, the board elected Joanna Keller — a Shenandoah activist, transgender woman and retired air traffic controller — as its new president. Stephanie Merlo, an Army veteran and former Virginia Pride board member, was elected vice president. Both have served on the board since its inception.