Words by By Tom Perriello
We set the bar far too low for political courage. Luckily, a Virginia transgender teenager has reminded us what it looks like. Two weeks ago, after Donald Trump rolled back protections for transgender students, Gavin Grimm joined activists outside the White House to protest. In the sea of advocates, some may not have noticed the unassuming 17- year old from Hampton Roads, but in so many ways, he has displayed leadership and sacrifice that too many fail to show over a lifetime. Because of his courage to tell his story and stand up against injustice, he is now leading a movement of people from all across the country who believe ours is an inclusive nation. I am proud to be one of them, and I am proud to #StandwithGavin.
Gavin’s case is about much more than who gets to use which bathroom. Lives are at stake. Transgender youth are one of the highest risk demographics for suicide, with 40 percent having attempted it at least once. Trans teens need and deserve love and support, not sucker punches from the president as he rolls back hard-won LGBTQ protections under the Obama Administration.
The day after President Trump took us backwards, I met with parents of trans teens from across Virginia to discuss how we can ensure that our Commonwealth remains a supportive and loving community for every student. As the Supreme Court decided not to hear Gavin’s case and Trump’s Justice Department has signaled that it will not actively protect trans students against discrimination, we will have to step up here in Virginia. As Governor, I will take on that fight. I was proud to support the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in Congress and marriage equality at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. As Governor, I will veto discriminatory legislation and resist any attempts to reverse the progress we’ve made toward full equality. I will protect the civil liberties that President Trump continues to assault. His decision on trans youth, along with his Muslim bans, reveals his ignorance and disdain for our civil rights and Constitution. We need to show him that hate and discrimination are not Virginia values, and that all are equal under the law.
Virginia has come a long way in advancing LGBTQ rights, but sadly, our work is not complete. Under Virginia law, employers and landlords can still discriminate based on sexual orientation. A gay couple could marry on Sunday but lose their jobs or apartment on Monday. As Governor, I will push for legislation codifying non-discrimination in housing and employment.
For those of us who lived through Will & Grace but not the Stonewall riots, it is easy to become complacent about the false inevitability of progress marching towards equality. It’s not enough to just protect the rights of our LGBTQ community. We need to ensure those in need receive better support, especially LGBTQ youth. A few years ago, when Gavin needed help, his parents drove him fifty miles from Gloucester to Richmond for meetings with a support group. Help shouldn’t be fifty miles away. We need every community to be inclusive, welcoming, and supportive for all kids. The responsibility of each generation of Virginians and Americans is to expand civil rights to reach ever closer to our ideals of equality and dignity for all. In Virginia – the former capital of the Confederacy but also the first state to elect a Black governor and the home of the Lovings – we recognize the importance of this work and how much ground we have left to cover.
My campaign is committed to tackling this discrimination in pursuit of a better, more equal Virginia. For some, this equality means the freedom to build a life here, no matter where you come from or what religion you practice. For others, it means the simple dignity of equal access to bathrooms and other public spaces.
Virginia is a place where you build your dreams – of family, business, and community no matter what you look like, where you’re from, or who you love. That’s the Virginia I know and the one I fight for. Inspired by fighters like Gavin, we will lead Virginia to live up to its highest ideals of justice, equality, and the pursuit of happiness for all.
Perriello is a former Congressman VA-5 and Democratic candidate for governor of Virginia. He is holding a Town Hall event tonight (3/15) at Diversity Richmond starting at 5:30 - find out more about that event here.