Standing with Virginia’s Women
I'm an emergency department nurse, which means I'm not squeamish when it comes to talking about women's issues. But that doesn't just mean I don't bat an eye when the topic of endometrial linings, menstrual cycles, or cervical mucus comes up— it means unapologetically stating that the most persistent obstacles to gender equality are centered squarely around women's health and economic issues, and the restrictions, both legal and societal, that are unjustly placed on them.
As Lieutenant Governor, I intend to campaign relentlessly on a platform of economic security that brings prosperity to all working class Virginians. That will guarantees benefits that allow workers to spend time with their families, as well as preserve and expand choice; expand access to reproductive rights; and keep the government out of the space and choices made between a woman and her doctor. I will fight unapologetically to ensure equal pay for equal work, support and reward the labor of women on the job, and invest in education, so women in every corner of the Commonwealth have a fair shot at success.
We must work to ensure we can provide every family in the Commonwealth with the resources they need: maternal care, reproductive care, prenatal care, health care, pediatric care, while making sure it's affordable care.
Because the bottom line is this: when we improve these issues for women, we improve them for everyone in the Commonwealth.
PASS THE ERA, NOW
It’s time to pass the Equal Rights Amendment. I was hoping I wouldn’t have to put this on my list of issues because it would have already been done before I had a chance to run for office. Listen, there’s no need for a big preamble here; there’s no good reason not to pass the ERA.
Sorry. Brevity is not one of my strong suits, but that’s the bottom line. Enough said; let’s get it done. No gaslighting. No excuses.
Commonwealth mothers are dying at a startling rate while giving birth. Virginia ranks 25th nationally in this statistic, and while “middle of the road” might be enough for some people, I won’t settle for anything less than making the maternal death rate the lowest in the country.
But we know the populations who’re being disproportionately affected. Rural women- particularly African American women- who live in “healthcare deserts” and can’t access the prenatal and OB/GYN care they need. Dr. Jennifer Lee, director of the Department of Medical Assistance Services, noted that “there remain stark racial disparities for African American mothers and their babies rooted in generations of racism and historical barriers to quality health care for people of color.”
We need to ensure that Virginia women don’t have to worry their zip code or skin color doesn’t affect the care they’re able to access and receive. This will take an enormous, multi-faceted effort- but this is a statistic we can, and must, do whatever it takes to improve.
Birth control has a 91% approval rating in the United States of America. That's because almost 80% of women will use birth control at some point in their lives. Birth control is not only highly effective at giving women the power to control their own body, after the Affordable Care Act's stipulations making birth control more available nationally, we saw a precipitous drop in the rate of unintended pregnancies nationally, a rise in the average age of first pregnancy, and a dramatic decrease in the rate of abortions.
If all of those statistics make you happy, then I'm sure you can't help but agree the right (and only!) course of action is to make birth control as free and available as we can to all Virginians, including over-the-counter after a consultation with a pharmacist, as is the case in California and a half-dozen other states. Particularly long-acting reversible contraceptives, like IUDs, which work particularly well for busy young women— graduate students, working professionals, moms, women who live in "primary care deserts" (such as in rural Virginia), women who are working multiple jobs, etc. For them, taking a birth control pill or getting a shot every three months is a tougher option, so we need to help them however we can.
All of these programs will impact Virginia women positively, but it will disproportionately affect those who live in underserved zip codes. It's easy to access these services if you live in Henrico or Arlington or Charlottesville— but what about South Boston, Petersburg, Big Stone Gap, or Luray? We need to make sure your zip code doesn't determine the kind of care you're able to receive, and that Virginia women can find these services where they live.
If I told you how many adult Virginians right now just "know" that you absolutely cannot get pregnant on your period, or that the "rhythm method" is 100% effective for pregnancy prevention, or that if you get an STD once you’re immune and can't get it again, you'd be aghast. And before you judge, I’ve heard those things uttered by people from all walks of life— rich, poor, young, old, no diploma, graduate degree, etc.— which means it’s we, as a society, that aren’t doing our job to provide these people with a robust health education.
Education, in fact, is the #1 control factor for a number of issues. You want to dramatically lower the rate of unintended pregnancies and STDs? You want to improve health outcomes across the board for everyone? Personal finances? Quality of living? It all starts with education.
We need robust reproductive and family health education in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Abstinence-only education has to go, replaced with medically and scientifically accurate programs that actually address the issues we outlined above. That's not just sexual education, either; that's got to be about drugs, first aid, alcohol, as well as healthy relationships, consent, and safe dating.
Look, I’m a parent, too. I get it. You want to impart your values on your kids. That’s fine. But we need to prepare and equip Virginians to face the challenges that await them in the real world— and the more prepared they are, the better we ALL are. Let’s empower medical professionals to provide medically accurate, comprehensive education about sexual health, reproduction, risks, assault, exploitation and sexuality. If we don’t do so, all we’re really doing is fueling a public health crisis of enormous magnitude.
Require established medical science to be used for medical laws
Right now, Virginia law requires women seeking an abortion to undergo a mandatory ultrasound, submit to biased counseling, wait 24 hours before completing the procedure, and allows crisis pregnancy centers to disseminate woefully medically inaccurate information.
Now, this may shock you, but none of these requirements are grounded in medical science whatsoever. None.
Of course, that's a feature, not a bug. If you ask proponents of the above things about it, they'll readily agree that there's no medical reason to enact those laws... they just don't care. See, they’ve got political points to score, and even though they’ll admit those are bad ideas, if they don’t toe the line, they’ll for sure get primaried on their next election.
I'm a nurse. Peer-reviewed, evidence based practice is the grounding for everything we do. If I engaged in the sort of behavior the General Assembly has displayed as a nurse, I'd not only lose my job, the Department of Health Professions would yank my nursing license so fast I'd get vertigo. As well they should!
The people of the Commonwealth of Virginia should expect us to hold our elected officials to no less of a standard than that. And I agree to abide and support whatever evidence-based research says in regards to the laws we write.
Ensuring Family Leave and Guaranteed Medical Leave
The United States is the only advanced economy in the world that doesn’t guarantee its workers paid family or medical leave.
In June 2018, in a laudatory move, Governor Northam signed an executive order offering paid time off for all state employees after the birth or adoption of a child, providing eight weeks of leave at full pay to mothers and fathers alike. Workers who become parents through adoption or through foster placement are also eligible. Great news, but it's only a start.
Let's be frank: our deficiencies in this area disproportionately impacts women, who are often the primary caregiver for a newborn, aging parent, or ill family member. It also disproportionately affects small businesses; those of you who own or work at small businesses know how many “hats” everyone has to wear to get things done. The biggest fear is often work stoppage, if an employee is gone for an extended period of time.
We must recognize the realities that “sandwich generations” have placed on our society, and lead a push to guarantee workers up to eight weeks of leave at two-thirds of their pay so they can care for a new child or an ill family member. This would also provide guaranteed medical leave so that workers can take the time they need to get healthy and back on the job. Best of all, this would give Virginians the flexibility to raise families and take care of themselves in times of hardship without worrying about losing their jobs. We also need to push to ensure that small businesses with workers on paid leave are specifically rewarded and supported through measures like temporary hiring subsidies or appropriate tax credits so these small businesses can keep growing their local economies.
If we want to say that the Commonwealth of Virginia stands up to fight for working Virginia families, then we need to include robust parental leave guarantees as a part of that commitment.
Combat Rape, Sexual Assault, and Human Trafficking
In Virginia, there are more than 5,000 rapes and sexual assaults each year. This is completely unacceptable. We need to work with every part of the system to prevent sexual violence, protect survivors, prosecute perpetrators, and support law enforcement, campus officials, and medical professionals to end the sexual assault epidemic.
As alluded to above, this also means starting with education efforts earlier, with middle and high school education on healthy relationships and safe dating, as well as bystander intervention training for bartenders, peers, and campus RAs, increasing the number of SANE Nurses across our state, and training law enforcement, judges, and prosecutors in trauma-centric approaches so that survivors are supported throughout the criminal justice process and violent abusers are brought to justice.
We also must promote policies to reduce and eliminate gender-based violence. That means fighting to keep guns out of the hands of intimate partner abusers, prioritize funding for trauma-informed services for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, and ensuring that all victims of these crimes have access to respectful and equal treatment. We also need to amend the statute of limitations on sexual assault cases in Virginia, so that when survivors stand up to come forward, they can seek the justice they deserve.
On top of that, we need to do everything in our power to stop modern slavery. One of the most eye-opening trainings I've ever had to to as an emergency department nurse is on human trafficking. As stomach-wrenching as it was, it was absolutely necessary: emergency services workers are on the front lines of this fight.
Last year, 148 human trafficking cases were reported in Virginia — an average of nearly one every other day. We need a dedicated a task force composed of law enforcement, prosecutors, educators, and community advocates from every corner of Virginia that will provide recommendations on how best to target perpetrators that exploit children and vulnerable populations, traffickers, promote education efforts, improve survivor recovery programs, and prioritize solutions in the state budget. There will be no simple answers, but working together I’m confident we can eliminate human trafficking in our state.
Either eliminate the ‘Tampon Tax’ in Virginia- or enact a Modest Alternative Proposal
Virginia currently provides sales tax exemptions for hearing aids, eyeglasses, and non-prescription drugs, but continues to tax women for feminine hygiene products. We made some progress in 2019, by passing a law to slash them in half. But why have one at all?
Some people want to argue that rescinding the tampon tax might make the boundaries of what is or isn’t tax-exempt too slippery— which, fine, I understand— but I retort most of these people don't require those products in the first place.
But if that's truly what's holding up its passage, then I will agree to not fight to rescind the "Tampon Tax" in Virginia... as long as every male Virginia state legislator is required to, once a year, watch "The Story of Menstruation", a ten-minute long animated film produced in 1946 by Disney. With a group of their constituents who are nurses, preferably from OB/GYN or Labor and Delivery fields. And there’s a written test afterwards.
Infrastructure and support for women, families, and freedom
When we look at fixing Virginia’s aging infrastructure, any program we invest in should not just be in big-ticket items like dams and bridges, but also small, local businesses, rural schools, libraries, and health clinics, as well as high-speed broadband.
There’s no better way to help provide for women and families than ensuring they can access high-quality healthcare in their community; that we’re supporting small businesses, particularly the enormous number that are owned and operated by Virginia’s women; that the state stays out of the space between a women and her doctor; and that we build a Commonwealth that has the transportation, education, and utility infrastructure to stand behind them.