Opinion: We Have A Blue Virginia. What Will We Do With It?

by | Nov 7, 2019 | QUEER RVA

GayRVA Editor-In-Chief Marilyn Drew Necci has an extensive wish list for our new Democratic General Assembly, one that starts with LGBTQ civil rights and goes a lot farther from there.

Well, it’s finally happened — no matter how your mom or your Trump-loving former high school classmates feel about it, Virginia has become a blue state. Our governor is a Democrat, our Congressional representatives are mostly Democrats, and on Tuesday, we voted to give Democrats control of both houses of the Virginia General Assembly. This might change at some point in the future, but at least for the next two years, Democrats are in the driver’s seat when it comes to making the laws in Virginia.

Tuesday brought us all sorts of progressive election results. All five of Virginia’s LGBTQ representatives in the General Assembly were re-elected, which makes Danica Roem, as of two years ago the first transgender person elected to statewide office, now the first transgender person to be RE-elected to statewide office. Her fellow Delegate Dawn Adams also became the first lesbian to be re-elected in the General Assembly.

Farther down the ballot, openly LGBTQ candidate Karl Frisch won a seat on the Fairfax County School Board, defeating an opponent who used anti-LGBTQ rhetoric throughout the campaigning process. In Virginia Beach, former Hampton Roads Pride President Michael Berlucchi was elected to the vacant City Council seat he’d previously been appointed to last May.

Meanwhile, in the West End, Ghazala Hashmi defeated Glen Sturtevant and his “Save Our Neighborhood Schools” campaign to become the first Muslim woman to serve on Virginia’s state Senate. Hashmi is one of two new female state Senators, who along with four new female Delegates pushes the total of female General Assembly members to 41 out of 140 — the highest it’s ever been.

In the House Of Delegates, four new African American delegates, only one of whom is succeeding a previous African American representative, swelled the membership of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus to 23. Of the four Democrats who have already announced their candidacy for the next session’s Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, only one is a white man, while two are black and two are women. Since the position has only ever been held by white men, there will likely be more history made when the coming session’s Speaker of the House is sworn in.

It’s easy to get bogged down in the horse race when discussing elections like these, especially when they go your way. But of course, getting representation is only half the battle. What must come next is major progress on a variety of issues that affect LGBTQ Virginians and other underrepresented minorities in our state.

For years, Equality Virginia has been pushing the General Assembly to pass a variety of much-needed LGBTQ civil rights bills, and the Republican leadership in the House Of Delegates has consistently stood in the way. Here’s a list of reforms attempted in past years, some of which passed in the Senate, none of which were ever allowed to reach a floor vote in the House Of Delegates:

  • Adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected classes covered by hate crime laws
  • Prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in employment (currently public employees enjoy this protection, but employees of private businesses do not)
  • Prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in housing
  • Modernization of the process through which transgender people can change the gender markers on legal documents including birth certificates
  • Prohibiting health care companies from withholding trans-related health care from their transgender clients
  • Removing the Marshall-Newman amendment to the Virginia State Constitution, added in 2006, that defines marriage within Virginia as solely between one man and one woman (this may not seem important now, but with Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court, one legal decision on SCOTUS’ part could easily make it all too relevant again)

Two years ago, I wrote an admittedly fiery editorial in which I blamed the entire situation on gerrymandering that prevented the will of a majority of Virginians from being reflected in our state’s legislature. I was angry at the time, but based on what’s happened in the two years since that editorial, it seems I was also right — court decisions over the course of 2018 and 2019 paved the way for a redrawn district map that commentators widely agree was crucial in bringing Democrats back to legislative power.

Now that the changes have been made and the votes have been counted, it’s time for our legislature to bring more good news to Virginia’s LGBTQ community. As Equality Virginia’s Executive Director, James Parrish, stated in response to the Democrats’ electoral victory, “Virginia’s voters were loud and clear and elected a pro-equality majority in the House and Senate. We look forward to working with the 2020 General Assembly to pass nondiscrimination protections for LGBT Virginians in employment, housing, and public spaces like stores or restaurants.” In that sentiment, Parrish speaks for us here at GayRVA as well.

Newly re-elected Delegate Danica Roem, for one, stands ready to make sure that these protections come to Virginia at long last. “We have a mandate from the people to pass nondiscrimination (bills) that are comprehensive and inclusive of all our LGBTQ constituents,” Roem told the Washington Blade. “We will be getting that done.”

But there are a good many more progressive issues that we’d all like to see taken up by our new Democratic legislative majority. Governor Northam brought up several of them in a post-election cabinet meeting on Wednesday. He began with guns, a hot-button topic that has had particular relevance in Virginia over the past year due to the Virginia Beach municipal building shooting and the still-lingering fallout of Unite The Right in Charlottesville. The Republican-controlled General Assembly closed a special session called for by Northam this summer to focus on gun legislation after 90 minutes, infuriating many Virginians who want to see action taken on the issue of gun violence.

During the cabinet meeting yesterday, Northam listed a number of legislative items he’d like to see passed in the General Assembly this year. Among them were universal background checks for gun buyers, reinstating the one-handgun-a-month rule, requiring reporting of lost or stolen guns within 24 hours of their disappearance, and a ban on weapons with high-capacity magazines and bump stocks. “They’re pieces of legislation that will save lives, they’re also pieces of legislation that Virginians agree with,” Northam said, according to the Virginia Mercury. “We’ll at least start with those.”

Northam also said that he wanted to give local governments the chance to decide what to do with their Confederate monuments, an issue with relevance in Richmond (the statues on Monument Avenue are currently under state control) as well as Charlottesville and Norfolk. Northam also stated that he wants to increase Virginia’s minimum wage, and work to decriminalize marijuana.

Here at GayRVA (and RVA Magazine), we’d love to see all of those things happen. Indeed, to truly fulfill the promise our newly Democratic state legislature brings to us, these things need to happen. For Virginia’s LGBTQ population and for many other marginalized communities, they will make a significant difference to our quality of life here in the Commonwealth. Let’s get it done.

Top Photo via VCU-CNS

Marilyn Drew Necci

Marilyn Drew Necci

Former GayRVA editor-in-chief, RVA Magazine editor for print and web. Anxiety expert, proud trans woman, happily married.

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