State Sen. Bryce Reeves (R-Spotsylvania) found himself mired in controversy last week after he invoked the sexual orientation of openly gay state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) and tried to depict him as being “really liberal” and wanting to “radically change Virginia.” 

In audio obtained by the Washington Post, Reeves said Ebbin is “from Northern Virginia. He’s really liberal left; he’s . . . the [only] openly gay senator in our Senate.”

Reeves made the comments during an NRA town hall meeting in Fredericksburg, where he also misrepresented Ebbin’s stance on raising the minimum wage. Reeves said he heard Ebbin talking about raising it to $20 or $25 per hour, and falsely stated that Ebbin’s agenda meant “infanticide is coming.” 

Reeves later clarified to the Post that he did not intend to say Ebbin personally advocated a minimum wage above $15, only that he’s heard Democrats broadly support the idea. He also said he didn’t mean to offend Ebbin by mentioning his sexual orientation and that he simply wanted to highlight their differing beliefs. 

When asked by the Post about Reeves’ remarks, Ebbin said he never made any of the statements attributed to him, adding “Apparently I’m a radical homosexual who’s misquoted.”

Ebbin also criticized Reeves’ comments as “divisive, dog-whistle politics.”

“I’ve never talked to him about radically changing the course of Virginia,” Ebbin said. “I’ve never heard any Democrat in Virginia or elsewhere that I recall talking about a minimum wage over $15.”

Ebbin, who is the only openly gay senator in Virginia, told the Post that he was “offended” and “hurt” by Reeves invoking his sexual orientation.  

“He’s invited me to dinner. We’ve had lunch. I thought that I wasn’t the boogeyman to him, but apparently I’m the boogeyman at election time if it helps him get a few more votes.” 

This is not the first time Reeves has caused a stir due to remarks about the LGBTQ community. In 2017, Reeves attacked fellow state Sen. Jill Vogel (R-Upperville), one of his primary opponents in the lieutenant governor’s race, because she voted for a gay judge. 

According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Reeves mailed out flyers that 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.”

Reeves’ comments about Ebbin’s sexuality also earned the criticism of LGBTQ rights groups. James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia, told the Times-Dispatch that Reeves’ comments were “a particular dog whistle to rally what he thinks is cause for people to rally around him.”

Parrish noted that he wasn’t surprised by Reeves’ comments, since he voted against legislation to protect the LGBTQ community from discrimination in housing and public employment.

In a statement to the Times-Dispatch, Reeves said that he “certainly meant no disrespect to him [Ebbin] or anyone in the LGBTQ community.”

Reeves is running for re-election in the 17th district against Democrat Amy Laufer, a former middle school teacher and Charlottesville School Board member who said Reeves was “building a culture of intolerance” with his comments.