richmond TIMES-DISPATCH file

Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, presents a bill dealing with discrimination relating to public employment in January.

RICHMOND — State Sen. Bryce Reeves, R-Spotsylvania, cited a colleague’s sexual orientation while criticizing him during an NRA town hall meeting in Fredericksburg.

Speaking to a crowd of NRA members about the November elections, Reeves rattled off negatives about Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, in a monologue about why voters shouldn’t give control of the legislature to Democrats.

Reeves said Ebbin wants to “radically change Virginia,” is from Northern Virginia and “really liberal,” and “he’s one of the openly gay, uh, senators in our, uh, Senate.”

Ebbin is the only openly gay state senator in Virginia.

The June 26 town hall was closed to the media, but the Democratic Party of Virginia obtained a recording of Reeves’ comments and provided it to the Richmond Times-Dispatch on Wednesday. His comments were first reported by The Washington Post.

Ebbin said in an interview that he recalled Reeves once lamenting the lack of bipartisanship in the Senate, and said the two have worked together. But learning of Reeves’ comments to the NRA, Ebbin said, “makes me think twice.”

Ebbin said many constituents reached out to him Wednesday offering support, and one constituent on social media tweeted to the senator that he didn’t know Ebbin was gay.

Gays and lesbians “are your neighbors and co-workers and often your family members,” Ebbin said when asked what he would say to voters who think someone’s sexual orientation is a negative. “Though we may not be out, I hope that you will judge people on their merit and qualities rather than who they love.”

Reeves, an insurance company president, is running for re-election in Senate District 17 against Democrat Amy Laufer, a former teacher and Charlottesville School Board member.

Reeves declined to be interviewed for this story but provided a statement via a campaign aide: “Senator Ebbin is a friend and someone I respect deeply in the Senate. We bring different perspectives to issues and have worked on many bills together, and I certainly meant no disrespect to him or anyone in the LGBTQ community.”

In 2017, Reeves attacked state Sen. Jill Vogel, one of his GOP primary opponents in the race for lieutenant governor, because she voted for a gay judge.

A Reeves mail piece said Vogel “voted to approve the first openly gay judge in Virginia” and is the “only Republican to vote for special rights for gays and transgenders.” The mail piece was referring to Judge Tracy W.J. Thorne-Begland of Richmond General District Court.

James Parrish, executive director of the LGBTQ rights group Equality Virginia, said Reeves singling out Ebbin’s sexuality is “a particular dog whistle to rally what he thinks is cause for people to rally around him.”

The comments are not surprising, said Parrish, noting that Reeves has opposed bills to protect the LGBTQ community from discrimination in housing and public employment. Research done by Equality Virginia shows a majority of Republican voters support such protections, Parrish said.

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