RICHMOND — Theodore Kahn, a visitor to Virginia’s State Capitol sporting whiskers and a buzz cut, asked where he could go to the bathroom.
“Not here,” Del. Robert G. Marshall told Kahn, who, contrary to appearances, was born a girl.
The exchange capped an hour-long news conference that the Prince William County Republican held to rally support for his bill to regulate transgender people’s use of restrooms in schools and other government buildings. He wants to require people to use the restroom that corresponds with the gender on their original birth certificates.
Marshall held the event not to sway opponents like Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), who has vowed to veto the proposal. Instead, he was trying to put pressure on fellow Republicans who, looking to avoid controversy, might be inclined to quietly kill the bill.
“If during the Revolutionary War, if we had legislators that were so timid that they won’t even keep a firm stand on keeping high school guys out of the girls’ locker room when they’re taking showers, we would still be singing ‘Hail, Britannia!’ ” Marshall said.
Marshall did not make his case alone. He brought along Cynthia Dunbar of the Republican National Committee, a pastor, a therapist-mom, two Liberty University officials, Fairfax County School Board member Elizabeth Schultz and an antiabortion activist.
“If you pardon the pun, it’s time for men to be men and protect women and children,” said Terry Beatley, the activist.
One of the four Republicans running for governor this year also voiced support, though from afar.
“I share Delegate Marshall’s frustration with other Republican members of the General Assembly who will never take hard stands on difficult issues like this one,” Corey Stewart, chairman of the Prince William Board of Supervisors, said later in a phone interview. “They’re afraid and I think that’s not leadership.”
He added: “I’ll bet you a beer that no other Republican candidate for governor will touch it.”
Matt Moran, a spokesman for Ed Gillespie, the front-runner in the Republican primary race, said, “Ed doesn’t think girls should be compelled to share a locker room shower or hotel room on an overnight band trip with boys.” Gillespie believes that parents and local school boards should “enact common-sense policies to protect the safety and privacy of our children” — not the state or federal government, Moran said.
Denver Riggleman, a Republican brewery owner who joined the governor’s race this week, said there were parts of Marshall’s bill he liked and disliked, but wanted to consider the legislation more before commenting.
State Sen. Frank Wagner (R-Virginia Beach), who is also vying for the GOP nomination, said, “The issue needs to be addressed, but I don’t think Bob Marshall’s bill is the way to go about it.” He declined to elaborate.
Chris West, spokesman for House Speaker William Howell (R-Stafford), dismissed the bill as he had in an interview last week “That’s just Bob being Bob,” he said.
The two Democrats running for governor, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam and former congressman Tom Perriello, did not hold back. Northam vowed to fight “this job-killing, prejudicial bill.” Perriello called the legislation “morally indefensible.”
Marshall’s Physical Privacy Act also requires schools to notify parents if their child asks to be recognized as a member of the opposite sex. The bill does not prohibit a government entity from providing “an accommodation, including the use of a single-occupancy restroom.”
Marshall’s event also drew opponents, including two Democrats vying for the chance to oppose him in November’s general election. Danica Roem, one of the two, is transgender. She said Marshall has neglected what she considers more pressing issues, such as the clogged, dangerous Route 28, while pushing doomed social legislation.
“I am tired of Route 28 . . . being clogged and one of the most dangerous areas in Northern Virginia,” she said. “And yet Del. Marshall comes down here to focus on a bill that is destined to die, once again.”
“It’s absolutely appalling that Bob Marshall keeps on attacking our sisters and brothers in the LGBT community,” said Mansimran S. Kahlon, the other Democrat hoping to unseat Marshall.
Jeannie Lowder of Prince William came to support Marshall, but made a plea for finding common ground on the issue. She thought offering more “non-gender specific” restrooms in public buildings might satisfy everyone.
“I’m not this crazy, right-wing extremist,” Lowder said. “I’m a mom. I’m a regular joe. I want my children to be safe . . . We need to discuss this civilly, kindly.”
Toward the end of the gathering, Kahn rose to ask, “I’d like to ask you guys where you’d like me to go to the bathroom.”
Marshall later said he was kidding when he responded, “Not here.” But he also acknowledged that Kahn might raise more eyebrows in a ladies’ room than in a men’s room.
“Obviously people who are transgender use the bathroom,” Marshall said. “No one’s going to do a below-the-belt check if they’re in a bathroom . . . They can pass and so I guess that’s what they do.”
Kahn, who lives in Richmond and works as a theatrical stagehand, said later he did just that. “I walked right out of the room and used the men’s room,” he said, “and nobody cared.”
Fenit Nirappil contributed to this report.