LGBTQ bill on child abuse sparks uproar in Virginia and beyond

RICHMOND — A Northern Virginia lawmaker has found herself at the center of a national LGBTQ culture war after she said she would reintroduce a bill that barely made a splash when it was first introduced two years ago.

measures proposed by Del. Elizabeth R. Guzman (D-Prince William) will expand the definition of child abuse to include “physical or mental harm” to a child because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. Democrats repealed the bill in 2020 on the grounds that it was redundant; for whatever reason, child abuse was already illegal in the state code.

The bill was drawn contrastingly on Thursday in a television report that said Guzman wanted parents to face criminal charges if they “did not confirm a child’s sexual orientation and gender identity.”

Guzman called the characterization inaccurate, leading to objections from both Republicans and Democrats. Some Republicans believe the use of “affirmative” in television coverage means that parents who refuse gender-affirming medical care for their children will be guilty of child abuse — which is not in the bill.

Guzman and other Virginia Democrats “want to police you and charge you with a felony if you refuse to give your child puberty blockers and irreversible sex change surgery,” Virginia Republican tweet.

Guzman’s measures dealt only with physical or emotional abuse of children. While some Republicans said parents could be charged with emotional abuse if they didn’t support their children’s LGBTQ status, there was no mention of gender-affirming medical care.

The GOP proposition made waves three weeks before congressional midterm elections, as many GOP candidates emphasized the theme of helping governors’ parental rights. Glenn Youngkin (R) won the Executive Building last year. The issue has reached a boiling point amid Youngkin’s efforts to dismantle transgender rights in K-12 schools.

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Republicans in Virginia and across the country slammed Guzman. Her Democratic colleagues in the legislature and elsewhere say they are not on board. The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia issued a statement opposing what it called the “Proposed Gender-Affirming Care Act.”

“It’s horrible,” the senator said. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) announced on twitter“These fanatics think they are the parents of your child and if you don’t agree, they will put you in jail.”

Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) said she opposes the bill in the state’s redistricted 7th district in a tight re-election bid against Republican Yesli Vega.

“I do not support this legislation, which has no way forward in the General Assembly,” Spanberger said in a written statement. “It’s unclear how this proposed legislation is intended to actually help transgender children and their families, and that’s what we should be focusing on.”

Guzman did not respond to a request for an interview, but defended himself on Twitter on Friday, saying Nick Minock, a reporter for WJLA-TV in Washington, had misrepresented the legislation in his news coverage.

“The 2020 Act is a Child Safety Act to protect children from ‘physical or mental harm based on a child’s gender identity or sexual orientation,'” she said tweet“The way the bill is presented in the article is clearly wrong.”

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A WJLA representative responded to a message asking Minock for comment but declined to comment on behalf of the station. Minock did not immediately respond to a message sent via Twitter.

On Friday night, the station posted about 20 minutes of unedited video of Guzman’s entire interview with Minok on its website. It shows an exchange not shown in the original report, in which Guzman flatly refuted the idea that a parent’s refusal to “confirm” their child’s LGBTQ status could be grounds for prosecution.

“You mean that if parents don’t affirm their gender identity or sexual orientation, they’re abusing their children?” Minock asked.

“No,” Guzmán said, “that’s not what I said.”

Minock used the word “affirmatively” several times when referring to the bill, and Guzman never pointed out that the word was not in the bill. But she made no mention of seeking criminal charges for anything other than the physical or emotional abuse described in the original bill.

“So this law tells you, ‘Don’t abuse your kids just because they’re LGBTQ,'” she said at one point.

House Republican leadership spokesman Garren Shipley disputed the suggestion that Guzman’s bill or remarks had been misrepresented.

“If the bill was misrepresented, then she misrepresented it when she spoke to this reporter,” he said, noting that she did not correct Minok when he repeatedly used the word “affirmatively.”

House Minority Leader Don L. Scott Jr. (D-Portsmouth) said he had spoken to Guzman, and she assured him she had no intention of introducing the bill.

“She said her comments were taken out of context and she didn’t want to criminalize any parents,” Scott said. “She assured me that the bill would not be introduced.”

He added that if such a bill was introduced, “it would be dead on arrival.”

Scott said state law already protects children from abuse; no further legislation is needed.

Scott noted that Guzman’s 2020 bill died in a House subcommittee at a time when Democrats took control of the House, Senate and executive building.

“I don’t remember,” Del said. Mark D. Sickles (D-Fairfax), who chaired the Committee on Health Benefits and Institutions when the bill was introduced in 2020. “It never made it to the whole committee, so it didn’t make much of a splash.”

“Obviously, it’s a rich target that our Republican friends can exploit,” Hicks said of the bill.

Scott accused Republicans of misrepresenting Guzman’s position and using the topic to try to sow division because “they have nothing else to talk about.”

“Anyone who’s trying to use these kids as fodder in a culture war — that’s wrong, either side,” Scott said. “It pisses me off that we put our most vulnerable children at the target of our culture wars. Shameful, pathetic.”

Megan Flynn contributed to this report. This article has been updated to include the station’s release of the full 20-minute video of Friday night’s unedited Guzman interview.

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