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State LGBTQ+ board concerned over meeting disruption, remote security

Lisa Turner smiles into the camera
Lisa Turner, the chairperson of the Virginia LGBTQ+ Advisory Board, said she has not been updated by the state on security for remote public meetings since the board was interrupted by racist and homophobic messages in May. (Courtesy Lisa Turner)

A virtual committee meeting of the Virginia LGBTQ+ Advisory Board in May was interrupted by a group of people flooding the chat with racist and homophobic messages and imagery.

Recent negative rhetoric around the LGBTQ+ community, particularly targeting transgender people and queer educators, has led people from activists to President Joe Biden to warn of the violence that can result from targeting minority or marginalized groups. 

Given that political environment, board chairperson Lisa Turner told VPM News she wants to see public support from Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration following the incident in May.

“We were conducting business on behalf of the administration,” she said. 

The LGBTQ+ advisory board is one of five boards recognized by Virginia law, which also sets up the African American, Latino and Asian advisory boards, as well as the Council on Women. Each provides the governor’s office with recommendations on policy and effective engagement with the public; the LGBTQ+ board is the most recent to be formed.

Turner said she met with the leadership of the other boards and learned that this was the first such interruption of an advisory board’s virtual public meeting. She said all chairpeople agreed to request a commitment from Commonwealth Secretary Kay Coles James' office to review and update policies around remote public meetings.

It’s reasonable to ask “for beefed-up security, safety measures on these sort[s] of platforms, as well as [for] in-person meetings, considering the political environment we live in today,” Turner said.

She said the disruptive group of about five people on the May 16 public call used profile photos depicting clowns and swastikas. They managed to mute board members and use the voice chat, before a moderator removed them. Still, Turner said, the same accounts continued attempting to log in throughout the rest of the meeting.

Turner said James did send word promising a review of security policies, as well as a discussion of the issue with all five advisory boards. But Turner said she hasn’t been updated on the process or notified of any additional security measures ahead of upcoming meetings.

It wasn’t her only request: Turner also called for a public condemnation.

“In terms of speaking out against, you know, hate symbols, hate speech, interruptions, not being able to conduct business on behalf of the administration or the state — there has been no acknowledgement to date [from the governor’s office],” Turner said.

In a statement to VPM News, Macaulay Porter, Youngkin’s spokesperson, said the governor condemned the interruptions: 

“The governor was appalled by the actions of these individuals during the Advisory Board's public meeting. Hate speech will not be tolerated. The Secretary has committed to improving security measures online and in person, to protect the free assembly and public service mission of the Advisory Board. The administration remains committed to ensuring that the public can continually participate in meetings as dictated by Virginia code, both in-person and virtually, and that these meetings are protected.”

The LGBTQ+ advisory board’s next full meeting, which includes a virtual option, is set for Wednesday in Richmond.

“I will be addressing [the interruptions] there,” Turner said.

Youngkin has not made a proclamation recognizing June as Pride Month but will host a private reception at the state capitol on Wednesday. Porter said Youngkin and James will be attending other Pride Month events, but did not provide details.

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated Gov. Youngkin's plans around Pride Month events. VPM News received an email with details about an event he plans to host following publication of this piece. We regret the error.

Patrick Larsen is VPM News' environment and energy reporter, and fill-in host.
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