The 5th District GOP Tears Itself Apart: An Odyssey

by | Sep 16, 2019 | QUEER RVA

Months later, Republicans of Virginia’s 5th Congressional District remain uproariously divided over Congressman Denver Riggleman’s officiation of a gay wedding.

Things are getting downright volatile in Virginia’s 5th Congressional District, y’all — specifically, within that district’s Republican Party. It all started back in July, when 5th District Republican Congressman Denver Riggleman officiated a wedding between two men who’d volunteered for his 2018 Congressional campaign, Alex Pisciarino and Anthony LeCounte.

At the time, Riggleman made clear to the Washington Post that he believed in marriage equality. “My real belief is that government shouldn’t be involved in marriage at all, but if it is, everybody has to be treated equally before the law,” he said in an interview with the Post at the time.

He also went on to voice his personal support for the wedding. “It also comes down to love is love,” he told the Post. “I’m happy to join two people together who obviously love each other.”

As we previously reported, this fact shocked the members of the 5th Congressional District Republican Committee, some of whom attempted to censure him at a July meeting of the committee, on the basis that Riggleman had failed to uphold the plank of the Republican party platform that stated “marriage is between one man and one woman.”

At the time, the name Melvin Adams figured in the story, but only in a minor way. Adams, the chairman of the committee, ultimately ruled the motion to censure Riggleman out of order, and the motion failed. Adams later released a statement saying that “The fifth district Republican committee is absolutely committed to inclusiveness,” and that the Republican party “do[es] not discriminate against anyone, and all are welcome to join us to promote our party platform and support our candidates.”

That said, Adams went on to state that he still doesn’t endorse marriage equality, stating, “[We] do not accept the Supreme Court’s redefinition of marriage and we urge its reversal, whether through judicial reconsideration or a constitutional amendment returning control over marriage to the states.”

All pretty standard right-wing political talking points so far, right? That should have been the end of it. But in this age of social media, no cause for outrage ever truly ends. And when Melvin Adams chose to dive into a Facebook group discussion about Riggleman’s support for marriage equality, he found himself in much hotter water.

The conversation took place on a Facebook group called “Virginia’s 5th Congressional District GOP Voters.” While the original post does not survive in a publicly-visible place, screenshots did preserve Adams’ comments. Responding to a comment by Larry Bethea that read, “Very few People, even today will admit the truth about when lured to Homosexuality while I would guess many were Children led by the hand of an older Man. Normalizing homosexuality also helps normalize pedophilia and articles within the Research Community have already written about it.” [sic]

Adams, who is apparently a group administrator based on the screenshot, responded: “Larry Bethea I absolutely agree with this statement. In my experience and working with people for years, the vast majority who are trapped or enamored by the homosexual lifestyle are for the following reasons: 1. Abused by men when they were children 2. Had Extremely dominant mothers 3. Were severely bullied by others and learned coping mechanism of quiet compliance. What is so shocking and sad to me is that this behavior is now being normalized and even experimentation is being encouraged… right in our schools. This is clearly an agenda driven issue by the left to destroy the traditional family, one of the principle pillars of society.”

Wow, right? Such a homophobic hodgepodge of unscientific, long-discredited beliefs is rare to encounter in the wild. But apparently people out there still believe this stuff, and some of them run Virginia branches of political parties.

That said, this did not sit well with the young Republicans of the 5th Congressional District, and the College Republicans at University of Virginia and Longwood University released a joint letter condemning Adams’s statement. “We, the undersigned, strongly condemn the recent comments made by 5th District Republican Committee chairman Melvin Adams equating homosexuality with pedophilia,” the letter read in part. “This statement reduces the LGBTQ+ community to non-autonomous victims, instead of the citizens they are.”

They went on to call for his resignation in strong terms. “In light of these developments, we have no confidence in Chairman Adams’ ability to lead this committee in the future, nd therefore demand his resignation,” the letter went on. “As the youth of the party, we refuse to allow the values we hold to be so wildly misrepresented.” The College Republican Federation of Virginia joined with the call, releasing a statement of its own calling for either a public apology or Adams’ resignation. “The LGBTQIA+ community is welcome in College Republicans in Virginia,” the letter stated in bold print.

Adams later stated in a private post on his Facebook page that his comments were in response to a person who had been abused as a child, and were intended in support of that person. “However, some didn’t see that and only saw what they considered an attack on the LGBT community,” he wrote, according to Virginia Public Media. “That was not my intention. To those who were offended, I’m sorry.”

This apology did not satisfy College Republican Federation of Virginia chair Courtney Britt, a University of Richmond student, who told Virginia Public Media she “expressed disappointment in the substance because it didn’t acknowledge the agreement with a comment that suggests similarities between homosexuality and pedophilia, or the way the comment victimized the LGBTQ+ community.”

On Tuesday, September 10, Adams followed up with an email to the leadership of the 5th Congressional District Republican Committee and the leaders of the Republican Party of Virginia. The email was reprinted in full on the conservative website Bearing Drift, and reads in part: “This is a coordinated effort and specifically “agenda” driven. Our District is being targeted based on recent events and because of our conservative nature. My position – I have no intention of stepping down under this pressure. That would create even more attacks against Virginia’s conservative leaders and our voters. I serve Republicans District wide and this Committee. Every voter matters and deserves respect because of the person they are, but our personal and party principles are determined at a higher level.”

Bearing Drift refers to this situation as a “circular firing squad,” and it’s hard to argue with that. It definitely seems that the 5th Congressional District’s Republican Party, and indeed the entire Republican Party of Virginia, is polarized over this issue. And while most (but not all) of us in the LGBTQ community are on the sidelines of this discussion, it is at least encouraging to see that those taking a pro-LGBTQ position are largely younger and closer to the political mainstream.

We’ve still got a long way to go before equal rights are guaranteed to the entire LGBTQ community. However, the fact that it’s not universally acceptable for political figures to take anti-LGBTQ positions even on Virginia’s political right is an encouraging sign. And maybe that’s the lesson here. For now, I find myself in a position I never expected to be in: cheering for Virginia’s College Republicans.

Top photo: Riggleman at the Pisciarino-LeCounte wedding (photo by Christine Riggleman)

Marilyn Drew Necci

Marilyn Drew Necci

Former GayRVA editor-in-chief, RVA Magazine editor for print and web. Anxiety expert, proud trans woman, happily married.

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