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After Youngkin addresses LGBTQ+ board, members criticize administration outreach

Lisa Turner speaks during a meeting of the LGBTQ+ Advisory Board.
After Gov. Glenn Youngkin spoke Wednesday at a meeting of the Virginia LGBTQ+ Advisory Board, a number of board members — including chairperson Lisa Turner, who's shown here at the meeting — said that they consistently have felt unsupported by the administration at a time when anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric is being used for political gain. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Gov. Glenn Youngkin addressed the Virginia LGBTQ+ Advisory Board at a Wednesday meeting in Richmond and condemned the harassment its members recently experienced.

During a virtual May 16 committee meeting, the board was interrupted by a group of people flooding the chat with racist and homophobic messages and imagery. After Youngkin spoke Wednesday, a number of board members — including chairperson Lisa Turner — said that they consistently have felt unsupported by his administration at a time when anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric is being used for political gain.

Leading up to Pride Month in June, Turner said officials informed her the administration likely would not issue a proclamation marking the monthlong recognition of the Stonewall rebellion in 1969, which was instrumental in advancing the gay rights movement. Turner said she wasn’t aware of planned events until last week.

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

Macaulay Porter, a Youngkin spokesperson, detailed the governor’s plans for marking Pride Month. 

“The governor hosted a pride lunch last week and attended the advisory board meeting today,” Porter wrote in a Wednesday email to VPM News. “The governor wants to lead for all Virginians and in his remarks this morning, condemned individuals that disrupted their advisory board meeting recently with racist symbols.”

Kyle Mason voluntarily stepped down from the chairperson role earlier this year — along with then-vice chairperson Aurora Higgs.

“It wasn’t because we felt like we couldn’t do it; it wasn’t because we felt like the community wasn’t deserving; it wasn’t because we don’t have time. It wasn’t any of that,” Mason said at the meeting.

Mason, who is multiracial and nonbinary, said they had hoped their departure would open up a line of communication between the panel and the administration. They said their presence, and Higgs' as a Black transwoman, "distracted" the board from making progress.

“If my identities were a distraction, then I was willing to remove myself from board leadership to ensure that equity could flow in,” Mason said. “But that equity still isn’t flowing in from the administration to the board.”

While the 21-person LGBTQ+ group is the newest of the governor’s advisory boards, it’s been through three leadership votes since then-Gov. Ralph Northam initiated the panel in April 2021.

Turner, who was elected chairperson after Mason stepped down, said officials told her she wouldn’t be considered for reappointment when her term ends later this month.

Four other board members also said Wednesday that they were not invited to return to the board.

In the Wednesday statement to VPM News, Porter denied that Turner was told she would not be considered for a second term. 

“This is false, no one was ever told this,” Porter wrote in an email. “You need to reapply to be considered for a position. None of the members reapplied.”

On Thursday, in a followup email, Porter reiterated that the outgoing board members were told they’d be considered for a second term, but did not clarify the process for reappointment.

Turner and vice chairperson Michael Thorne-Begland, also an outgoing member, disputed Porter’s claim.

Both said they were informed by a state official serving the advisory boards that at most, they should supply an informal letter of interest regarding reappointment. The pair also said they expressed interest in serving another term on behalf of two other outgoing members.

Turner said she was later informed that replacements for the outgoing members were identified, and that she and the others would not be considered for reappointment.

Virginia law indicates that “[a]ll members may be reappointed.” No reapplication requirements for sitting board members are described in the statute.

Suzanne Holland, the special assistant for advisory board administration, did not respond to a request for clarification around the board appointment and reappointment processes by the end of Thursday.

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 track record working with their community. They called plans for an invite-only reception at the state Capitol on Wednesday to mark Pride Month “performative.” 

Several board members announced during Wednesday’s meeting they would not be attending the Capitol reception; at least one member said they’d go to represent their community.

The board on Wednesday, however, did elect Joanna Keller — a Shenandoah activist, transgender woman and retired air traffic controller — as its new chairperson. Stephanie Merlo, an Army veteran and former board member at Virginia Pride, was elected vice chairperson. Both have served on the board since its inception, and their terms are set to begin July 1.

Update (7:45 p.m. June 9): This story has been updated with further context from Lisa Turner, Michael Thorne-Begland and Macaulay Porter. When additional responses from state officials are received, their comments will be added. 

Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified Kyle Mason. VPM News regrets the error