Senators A. Donald McEachin (D-Richmond, Henrico, Hanover, Charles City counties) and Adam Ebbin (D-Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax counties), the chief co-patrons of SB701, the bill that protects state employees from discrimination based on their sexual orientation and gender identity or expression, announced Thursday they had garnered support from 43 other members of the General Assembly for their bill.
Twenty-eight of 32 Democrats in the House of Delegates and 17 of 20 Senate Democrats have signed on as co-patrons of SB701. That tally includes five legislators who either refused or failed to sign a statement attesting that they do not discriminate in hiring based on a person's gender identity or sexual orientation, after being asked to do so by LGBT rights group Equality Virginia in 2012. No Republicans have signed on as co-patrons of SB701.
The only seven Democrats who have not signed on as co-patrons are Sens. Louis Lucas (D-Portsmouth, Suffolk, Emporia, Surry, Sussex, Brunswick, Chesapeake counties), Chuck Colgan (D-Manassas, Manassas Park, Prince William Co.) and Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax Co.) and Dels. Algie Howell, Jr. (D-Norfolk, Virginia Beach), Matthew James (D-Norfolk, Chesapeake, Suffolk, Portsmouth), Johnny Joannou (D-Norfolk, Portsmouth) and Joseph Johnson (D-Dickenson, Russell, Washington, Wise counties). Of those, Petersen, Colgan and Howell, signed a nondiscrimination in hiring statement that included sexual orientation and gender identity. Lucas, Joannou and Johnson signed a statement that did not specifically reference sexual orientation or gender identity, and James refused to sign any nondiscrimination statement.
"This is about fairness," McEachin said in a statement. "Employment and advancement should be solely dependent on job performance. No one should be subject to discrimination on the job, including sexual orientation or gender identity."
"All Virginians deserve equal opportunity, fairness and justice," Ebbin said in a statement. "The Commonwealth must remain competitive and now is the time to move forward and protect our state workers."
Despite overwhelming support from Democrats, the fate of the bill will depend on the actions of Republicans, who control both chambers of the General Assembly. In expectation of resistance from GOP legislators, Equality Virginia and 10 other organizations supporting SB701, including but not limited to ProgressVA, People of Faith for Equality in Virginia, the local American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) chapter and Roanoke Pride, Inc., have been trying to rally constituents with Republican representatives to lean on their legislators to pass the bill. The organizations traveled around the state in the months when the legislature was not in session to educate Virginians about the lack of workplace protections for LGBT people.
According to Equality Virginia, the General Assembly has received more than 11,235 constituent messages in support of SB701. The organization has previously said it has polling showing that 90 percent of Virginians believe gays and lesbians should have the right to work for the government without discrimination.
"This is an amazing response we’ve seen from Virginians in favor of protecting our state employees," James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia, said in a statement. "We hope every senator and delegate is listening to their constituents on this issue."
Currently, 80 percent of Virginia's top 25 private employers already have policies on their books that protect discrimination based on sexual orientation and 60 percent protect discrimination based on gender identity or expression, meaning the private sector is well ahead of the public sector on this issue.
"This shows the state should do for its employees what these businesses do for theirs," Ebbin said.
SB701 is expected to receive a vote in the Senate's General Laws and Technology Committee, which Republicans control 8-7, on Jan. 21. Supporters hope they can flip at least one Republican on the committee to agree to send the bill to the floor for a vote by the full chamber.
[Photo: Adam Ebbin]