Lobbying Legislators in Richmond

Despite Republican control of the legislature, Equality Virginia hopes for small incremental victories on LGBT rights

On the surface, Election Night 2011 looked bad for supporters of LGBT rights in Virginia.

Republicans, many of them social conservatives, picked up two seats in the state senate, leaving the partisan balance of the upper chamber at 20 seats for each party. But with Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling (R) able to cast tie-breaking votes, Republicans essentially control all levels of government, leaving many to speculate that LGBT progress would be stymied.

Yet despite what many in the LGBT community view as an unfriendly state government, the gay rights organization Equality Virginia and its allies are not throwing in the towel. On Jan. 24, the organization held its annual lobby day, when hundreds of Virginian residents and activists converge on Richmond to lobby legislators to support legislation that will protect or benefit LGBT individuals and their families.

With the support of groups like Equality Virginia, first-term Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Arlington), the state’s first openly gay state senator, and Sen. Donald McEachin (D-Richmond) are sponsoring a bill that would forbid discrimination based on actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity in state and local public employment.

The bill, SB 263, is intended to codify in law protections for LGBT residents that were enacted under executive orders issued by former Democratic Governors Mark Warner and Tim Kaine. Current Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) has refused to sign a similar executive order.

Ebbin told Metro Weekly in an interview that he introduced the bill because he did not think that LGBT residents’ rights should be subject to the whims of the governor in office at the time. He had previously introduced similar legislation during his tenure in the House of Delegates. McEachin has sponsored the senate version of the bill for the past two years.

”It is long overdue that all Virginia’s state employees including those that are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender are once again protected from discrimination,” Ebbin said Tuesday in an official press release announcing that the bill would be heard by the Senate Committee on General Laws and Technology on Jan. 30.

Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, legislative counsel for Equality Virginia, said that the bill, one of the organization’s top priorities this year, passed the Senate last year on a 22-18 partisan vote, but was later killed in the House of Delegates. Gastañaga said she hoped the bill would be able to pass the senate again during this session.

Equality Virginia is also lobbying in favor of a bill that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and a number of other characteristics in adoption and foster care by agencies that contract with the state.

Equality Virginia opposes two separate bills regarding adoption that would each allow state-licensed and state-funded placement agencies to discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and another bill that would bar LGBT people from serving in the Virginia National Guard.

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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