The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

LGBTQ bill on child abuse creates uproar in Virginia and beyond

Del. Elizabeth R. Guzman (D-Prince William) says a news report that said she wanted parents to face criminal charges if “they do not affirm their child’s sexual orientation and gender identity” was not accurate. (Steve Helber/AP)
6 min

RICHMOND — A Northern Virginia legislator found herself at the center of the nation’s LGBTQ culture wars after saying she would reintroduce a bill that barely made a stir when she first submitted it two years ago.

The measure proposed by Del. Elizabeth R. Guzman (D-Prince William) would expand the definition of child abuse to include inflicting “physical or mental injury” on children due to their gender identity or sexual orientation. Democrats scrapped the bill in 2020 on grounds that it was redundant; child abuse was already illegal in state code for any reason.

The bill got a very different description Thursday in a TV report, which said Guzman wanted parents to face criminal charges if “they do not affirm their child’s sexual orientation and gender identity.”

That description, which Guzman called inaccurate, led Republicans and Democrats alike to object. Some Republicans took the TV report’s use of “affirm” to mean parents who deny gender-affirming medical treatments to their children would be guilty of child abuse — something that is not in the bill.

Guzman and other Virginia Democrats “want to set the POLICE on you and charge you with a FELONY if you refuse to give your kids puberty blockers and irreversible sex change surgery,” the Republican Party of Virginia tweeted.

Guzman’s measure speaks only to physical or mental abuse inflicted on a child. There is no mention of gender-affirming medical treatments, although some Republicans suggested that parents might be accused of inflicting emotional abuse if they are not supportive of their child’s LGBTQ identity.

The Republican claims caught fire just over three weeks before midterm congressional elections, as many Republican candidates stress the parental-rights theme that helped Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) win the Executive Mansion last year. The issue was already at a boiling point, amid efforts by Youngkin to roll back transgender rights in K-12 schools.

Virginia policy latest attempt to restrict rights of transgender students

Republicans in Virginia and across the country lambasted Guzman. Her fellow Democrats in the legislature and beyond made it known they were not on board. And the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia issued a statement against what it described as “the proposed gender affirming care bill.”

“Utterly horrifying,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) declared on Twitter. “These zealots think they are your children’s parents, and they’ll put you in jail if you disagree.”

Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.), in a tight reelection campaign against Republican Yesli Vega in the state’s redrawn 7th District, said she opposed the bill.

“I don’t support this legislation, and it does not have a path forward in the General Assembly,” Spanberger said in a written statement. “It’s unclear how this proposed legislation intends to actually help transgender children and their families, which is what we should focus on.”

Guzman did not respond to an interview request but defended herself on Twitter Friday, saying reporter Nick Minock of WJLA-TV in Washington misrepresented the legislation in his news report.

“The 2020 bill was a child safety bill that would have simply protected children from ‘physical or mental injury on the basis of the child’s gender identity or sexual orientation,’ ” she tweeted. “The way the bill was presented in the article was patently wrong.”

Gov. Youngkin, who ran on culture wars, takes cautious approach to Pride

A WJLA representative returned a message seeking comment from Minock, declining to comment on behalf of the station. Minock did not immediately respond to a message sent through Twitter.

On Friday night, the station posted Guzman’s entire interview with Minock on its website, about 20 minutes of unedited video. It shows one exchange, not shown in the original report, in which Guzman flatly disputes the notion that a parent’s refusal to “affirm” a child’s LGBTQ identity could be grounds for prosecution.

“Are you saying non-affirming parents are committing abuse against their children if they don’t affirm their gender identity or sexual orientation?” Minock asked.

“No,” Guzman said, “I’m not saying that.”

Minock used the word “affirm” several times when referring to the bill, and Guzman never pointed out that the word is not in the bill. But she said nothing about seeking criminal charges for anything other than the physical or mental abuse described in her original bill.

“So this law is telling you, ‘Do not abuse your children because they are LGBTQ,’ ” she said at one point.

Garren Shipley, spokesman for the House GOP leadership, disputed the idea that Guzman’s bill or words had been misrepresented.

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

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

“She said her comments were taken out of context and that she does not want to criminalize any parents,” Scott said. “She has assured me that that bill will not be introduced.”

If such a bill were introduced, he added, “it would be dead on arrival.”

State law already protects children against abuse, Scott said; there’s no need for further legislation.

Scott pointed out that the bill Guzman introduced in 2020 died in a House subcommittee at a time when Democrats controlled the House, Senate and Executive Mansion.

“I don’t remember it,” said Del. Mark D. Sickles (D-Fairfax), who was chairman of the Health Welfare and Institutions Committee in 2020 when the bill was introduced. “It never made it to the full committee so that’s not much of a splash.”

“Obviously this is a rich target for our Republican friends to exploit,” Sickles said of the bill.

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

“Anyone trying to use these kids as fodder in culture wars — it’s wrong, on either side,” Scott said. “It angers me that we’re putting the most vulnerable kids in the crosshairs for our culture wars. It’s shameful, it’s sad.”

Meagan Flynn contributed to this report. This article was updated to include that the station had posted the entire 20-minute video of the unedited Guzman interview Friday night.