Equality Virginia and the Commonwealth’s LGBTQ community continue to lobby state legislators for important LGBTQ protections. Now that Democrats control the General Assembly, they’re having some success.
The day after hundreds lobbied lawmakers on behalf of LGBTQ rights during Equality Virginia’s Day of Action, two significant bills advanced in the General Assembly to further protections for the state’s LGBTQ residents.
The House passed a bill from Del. Mark Levine, D-Alexandria, on Wednesday to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, insurance, and banking.
A Senate bill that adds gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, and disability as reportable hate crimes, introduced by Sen. Barbara Favola, D-Arlington, reported from committee. The bill would also guarantee that victims would be able to bring civil action to recover damages against their offender.
Vee Lamneck, executive director of Equality Virginia, was “cautiously optimistic” at the start of the legislative session, but said Tuesday during the organization’s annual lobby event that there is much to celebrate.
Lamneck noted that most of the bills supported by Equality Virginia, a group that advocates on behalf of the LGBTQ community, are still alive and advancing. Last session, most of those bills failed to pass from Republican-led subcommittees.
“This legislation will ensure that people are not discriminated against in housing, employment, public spaces, and credit,” Lamneck said.
LGBTQ youth showed up to make their voices heard too. Side by Side, a group dedicated to creating supportive communities for LGBTQ youth, helped sponsor the event.
“We want them to see that it’s easy and accessible, and what it’s like to actually be involved in the legislative process,” said Emma Yackso, director of youth programs and services for Side by Side. “A lot of them for many, many reasons don’t feel like they belong in government, don’t feel like their voices are actually ever going to be listened to.”
Groups visited legislators to discuss LGBTQ-related causes such as conversion therapy, housing instability, religious liberty, protection from discrimination, and the vulnerability of African American transgender communities.
“We know that people who live at the intersection of multiple marginalized identities often face the most discrimination, harassment, and, unfortunately, sometimes violence as well,” Lamneck said.
The lobbying event was followed by an afternoon of workshops at the Library of Virginia and a reception to thank lawmakers.
Some of the legislation that has advanced in the General Assembly — mostly with bipartisan support — includes two bills introduced by Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax. Senate Bill 657 would make it easier to change a person’s name and gender on a birth certificate. SB 161 would make the Department of Education create and implement policies concerning the treatment of transgender students in public schools; a duplicate bill in the House also passed.
The Senate also passed SB 245, introduced by Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, which would ban the practice of conversion therapy in Virginia on patients under age 18. A similar bill introduced by Del. Patrick Hope, D-Arlington, recently passed the House. On Tuesday, the House passed a health care bill introduced by Del. Danica Roem, D-Prince William, that prohibits discrimination based on gender identity or status as a transgender individual.
Advocates also celebrated that two bills referred to as the Virginia Values Act have made it to the floors of their respective chambers: SB 868, introduced by Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, and HB 1663, introduced by Del. Mark Sickles, D-Fairfax. Both would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in housing, credit transactions, employment and public spaces.
“We speak with many individuals from across the Commonwealth who have shared with us their experiences of discrimination,” Lamneck said. “And not just that, but the fact that they live in fear, day to day experiencing discrimination. And so the Virginia Values Act will have a profoundly positive impact on the community.”
Gov. Ralph Northam and Speaker of the House Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, attended an evening reception to wrap up the Day of Action.
“This session we are going to ensure it is no longer legal in Virginia to discriminate against someone because of who they love,” Filler-Corn tweeted. Two House bills that add gender, disability, gender identity, and sexual orientation as reportable hate crimes and a House bill replacing terms such as “husband and wife” with gender-neutral terms have yet to advance through their respective committees prior to crossover day on Feb. 11.