Metro Weekly

Virginia Gov. safeguards LGBTQ state workers while Republicans block statewide protections

Bill to prohibit anti-LGBTQ discrimination faces delays and hurdles in Republican-controlled House of Delegates

Ralph Northam – Photo: Northam for Governor campaign.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has signed an executive order prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQ state employees.

Part of his campaign promise to the LGBTQ community, he signed the order not long after being sworn in last Saturday. Northam follows in the footsteps of his predecessor, Terry McAuliffe, who also supported LGBTQ rights.

Northam’s order also partially sidesteps Republicans in the Virginia General Assembly, who have delayed or killed bills that would extend protections to every LGBTQ Virginian.

The order directs state agencies to comply with its provisions, which means ensuring that LGBTQ people or LGBTQ-run businesses are not denied licenses, state contracts, or opportunities to serve as vendors of state services.

That means LGBTQ state employees and would-be vendors will be protected from employment discrimination for the next four years, as long as Northam remains in office.

Del. Danica Roem (D-Manassas Park) tweeted her thanks to Northam for his actions, which were also praised by LGBTQ rights organization Equality Virginia.

Even though Northam has rightly gotten praise for his actions, the protections are temporary. Once sworn into office in January 2022, Northam’s successor would have to issue a separate nondiscrimination order, unless the Virginia General Assembly takes action this year to make them permanent.

That’s a dicey proposition so long as Virginia Republicans control the House of Delegates. While the GOP-run state Senate has long had a number of Republicans who have supported nondiscrimination protections in both state and public employment, bipartisan bills have been killed with glee in House subcommittees.

LGBTQ advocates hope that changes this year, now that the GOP only holds a two-seat edge in both chambers.

Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) has introduced the bill to prohibit discrimination in public employment, which had been scheduled to be brought up in the Senate General Laws and Technology Committee. However, the committee postponed debate on the bill, along with another bill patroned by Sen. Jennifer Wexton (D-Leesburg) aiming to prohibit anti-LGBTQ discrimination in housing.

For tactical reasons, advocates have asked House members not to introduce nondiscrimination bills on public employment, hoping that success in the Senate will apply pressure to House lawmakers when the bill “crosses over” to the lower chamber for consideration. 

Del. Mark Levine (D-Alexandria) has introduced a comprehensive nondiscrimination bill that is essentially a “wish list” for LGBTQ advocates. Instead of merely state or public employment, it would prohibit discrimination, even by private employers, as well as in housing and public accommodations, based on a person’s sexual orientation and gender identity.

However, because the scope of the bill is much broader, it is unlikely to gain enough support from either the full House or the Senate.

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