Despite his apology, a Republican candidate for the Virginia Senate continues to draw criticism for comments he made to a predominantly gay audience at a nonpartisan political forum Oct. 18.
Timothy T. C. McGhee, the GOP candidate for the State Senate District 30 seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Patsy Ticer (D), made the remarks while speaking at a forum hosted by the Arlington Gay & Lesbian Alliance (AGLA).
McGhee has been trying to shape his image as a moderate – while running in one of the state's most Democrat-friendly districts – as part of the state GOP's effort to take control of the Senate, which would give the party complete control over Virginia's legislative and executive branches. The Virginia House of Delegates is expected to remain in Republican hands, and the current governor, Bob McDonnell, is a Republican.
The comments, first reported by the political blog ''Not Larry Sabato,'' were perceived by many in the audience to have an anti-gay slant, as they appeared to compare LGBT people to sinners and seemed to question their religious beliefs.
In a recording of the comments posted on Not Larry Sabato, McGhee told the mostly LGBT audience, ''I'm not here for your vote, I'm here for you.'' He then proceeded to tell the audience, ''You are a group of people who believe it is better to be hated for what one is than loved for what one is not.''
Taking a religious tack, McGhee told the audience: ''Some of you are beyond frustrated with God right now. Some of you refuse to believe in him altogether. You've asked the question – or perhaps given up asking a long time ago – 'Why? Why would God make me who I am and then tell me that's wrong?'
''May I put a question before you tonight? What if that's exactly what God did? What if that's exactly what God had to do to fully demonstrate who he is?''
In his closing remarks, McGhee also quoted some biblical passages, saying ''God delights in mercy,'' and ''God has committed them all to disobedience that he might have mercy on all.''
After receiving blowback from his comments, McGhee, whose opponent is Del. Adam P. Ebbin (D-Arlington), the only openly gay member of the General Assembly, tells Metro Weekly that he never meant to offend people.
McGhee says the phrase, ''It is better to be hated for what one is than loved for what one is not,'' that he quoted in his remarks came from an email signature he had seen on an invitation to speak at the forum sent by AGLA President Daniel Hays. McGhee said he was trying to reach out to the LGBT community and show he did not feel negatively towards them, and had specifically tailored his remarks to address that perception.
''My intent was to be focusing on God's mercy and present that to the group,'' he says. ''My effort at bridging where they are to the direction I was trying to point did break down. I do not believe that all gay people are frustrated with God or are lacking in the area of religion.''
McGhee also says he apologized to Ebbin after it was pointed out to him that some took offense at his comments.
Commenting on the forum, Ebbin says he found it ''shocking'' for a candidate to possibly make presumptions about others' religious beliefs, characterizing McGhee's comments as ''holier-than-thou'' and making ''inappropriate assumptions'' about gay people.
''Personally, I was angry and puzzled as to his attitude and how someone could, in 2011, come to a gay forum and say that,'' says Ebbin. ''While I believe he didn't mean personal offense, his words and characterization were bizarre.''
Ebbin says during his time serving in Richmond – with some politicians vigorously opposed to LGBT equality – he has ''never heard anyone make similar remarks before.''
Ebbin confirms that McGhee reached out to him to apologize, but says McGhee didn't offer a retraction.
''What he meant by his comments is secondary, but he believes what he said,'' says Ebbin.
Some, on the other hand – or party – believe the outcry over the remarks is exaggerated.
David Lampo, a spokesman for the gay Virginia Log Cabin Republicans, says he hadn't heard the comments firsthand, but that the reaction seems a ''hullabaloo about nothing.''
''They should be focusing on the issues,'' says Lampo, referring to candidates for public office.
Lampo says from what he personally knows about McGhee, he seems to be a social moderate. He adds that Log Cabin has not taken an official position on McGhee's candidacy.
Lampo says the Virginia Log Cabin Republicans' political action committee will be speaking to Republican candidates for office, including McGhee, in the next few weeks before the Nov. 8 election to see if candidates are worthy of the group's endorsement.
Tiffany Joslyn, president of the LGBT Democratic group Virginia Partisans, was at the forum and says McGhee's address was ''disturbing.''
''It demonstrates a misguided understanding of the First Amendment and the balance between religious freedom and individual liberties,'' she says.
She was also disappointed by many of McGhee's responses during and after the forum and says he dodged her questions regarding nondiscrimination legislation and whether he supports civil unions or legal recognitions for same-sex couples.
She also believes McGhee is not being held accountable by mainstream press.
''It's fascinating how someone like Tim McGhee can say something like that and still be classified as a moderate,'' Joslyn says, referring to a Washington Post editorial that endorsed Ebbin but referred to McGhee as a moderate. ''If that's a moderate, it just demonstrates how far right the Republican Party has become.
''At the end of the day, if the Democrats lose the State Senate, you will have a Senate full of Tim McGhees,'' Joslyn says.
Even so, Joslyn gives McGhee credit for attending the nonpartisan forum, because some Republicans have historically not attended or even refused to acknowledge LGBT issues, including another Republican who is running for the Virginia Senate in a nearby district.
''Despite what he said, I was glad to see him there and come to the community and start the conversation,'' Joslyn says of McGhee. ''And it's not just me. There are plenty of gay people who are Republicans, and would like to hear from the Republican nominee.''