Metro Weekly

Virginia Senate passes bills on employment protections and fair housing

Measures head to the House of Delegates, where they've previously been blocked by Republican-run committees

Virginia State Capitol — Photo: Skip Plitt/Wikimedia Commons.

On Friday, the Virginia State Senate overwhelmingly approved two pro-LGBTQ bills that prohibit discrimination in public employment and in housing, giving both measures their largest margin of victory since the Senate first began voting on pro-LGBTQ bills in 2010.

The Senate approved a bill to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in housing by a 33-7 margin, and a bill to prohibit discrimination in public employment by a 28-12 margin. Notably, on the fair housing bill, two-thirds of Senate Republicans voted with all of the chamber’s Democrats, while almost half of all Republicans voted in favor of the employment protections.

The bills now head to the House of Delegates, where they’ve been killed in committee despite passing the Senate with bipartisan support. What’s different this time, however, is that several Republican members of the House of Delegates have spoken out in favor of the bills, and Del. Roxann Robinson (R-Chesterfield), a moderate Republican from a swing district, has introduced her own version of a fair housing bill in the House. 

Of course, the biggest obstacle to passage in the House remains Speaker Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) and some of his most loyal supporters from conservative areas of the state, who have been strategically placed on key subcommittees in an effort to ensure no pro-LGBTQ bills emerge from committee to receive a vote of the full House. Those members have, in past legislative sessions, sided with lobbyists or representatives from organizations that oppose LGBTQ rights, such as the Family Foundation of Virginia, the Virginia Catholic conference, and a group that represents retired Baptist ministers.

“For the fourth year in a row, the Virginia Senate has passed crucial protections for LGBTQ Virginians with bipartisan support,” James Parrish, the executive director for Equality Virginia. “LGBTQ people should be able to work and live free from discrimination.

“Residents of the commonwealth overwhelmingly agree: supporting equality isn’t a Republican or Democratic value — it’s a Virginia value,” he added. “It’s time for the House of Delegates to finally take up and pass these bills. It’s not controversial, it’s common sense.”

“These are basic nondiscrimination protections that LGBTQ Virginians need and deserve, and that will make the commonwealth a more and inclusive place for all Virginians,” Marty Rouse, the national field director for the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement. “Voters in Virginia — who continue to elect more and more pro-equality lawmakers — simply have no appetite for discrimination and want to be sure that their friends and neighbors are protected the same way they are. It’s essential for the future of Virginia that pro-equality legislators in the House act on these nondiscrimination bills and ensure that these long-overdue protections are passed.”

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

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