On Thursday, Republican leaders in the Virginia House of Delegates yanked three pro-LGBTQ bills off the docket in order to stop them from passing out of committee and advancing to the floor of the House for a vote.
Two of the bills would have prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in public employment and housing. A third — which was much less likely to pass given the conservative bent of the General Assembly — would have provided more expansive protections for LGBTQ people in many more areas, such as public accommodations, credit, and public contracting.
The bills had originally been scheduled to be heard in the House Committee on General Laws on Thursday, but were removed from the docket by Republican leaders, who might have feared passage.
The General Laws committee is stacked 12-10 in favor of Republicans, and Del. Glenn Davis (R-Virginia Beach) was already on record as supporting nondiscrimination protections, meaning one additional vote would have allowed the bill to pass out of committee and to the floor.
LGBTQ advocates slammed the decision by Republican leaders, casting blame specifically on House Speaker Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) and Majority Caucus Chairman Tim Hugo (R-Clifton) for exerting pressure on members of their caucus — including General Laws Chairman Chris Peace (R-Mechanicsville) and Todd Gilbert (R-Woodstock), the Republican Majority Leader, who also sits on the committee.
“It’s shameful that Speaker Cox, Majority Caucus Chairman Tim Hugo and leaders in the House of Delegates continue to use every political trick in the book to kill these crucial, commonsense non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ Virginians,” said Marty Rouse, the national field director for the Human Rights Campaign, which has been on the ground participating in rallies and demonstrations urging Republicans to allow a vote on the public employment and fair housing bills.
“Let’s be clear: Cox is using LGBTQ people as political pawns,” Rouse added. “This fall, voters in Virginia will head to the polls to elect their state representatives. If current leaders cowardly refuse to protect all Virginians, then voters will elect lawmakers who will. We will remember this in November.”
At least eight Republicans, including Cox, Appropriations Chairman S. Chris Jones (R-Suffolk), and General Laws Committee members Gordon Helsel (R-Poquoson) and Barry Knight (R-Virginia Beach), have seen their districts take on more Democratic voters under a court-ordered redistricting plan.
As a result, Democrats are narrowly favored to take control of the House of Delegates in November, and many Republicans may be eager to avoid votes that might otherwise alienate parts of their base in a general election.
The House of Delegates has consistently been the one hurdle that LGBTQ advocates have been unable to overcome in their quest for achieving nominal equality under the law.
In contrast, bipartisan majorities in the Virginia Senate have approved bills that extend legal protections to LGBTQ residents in recent years.
Additionally, polling has shown majorities of self-identified Republicans in Virginia, including self-described “conservatives,” are in favor of prohibiting discrimination against the LGBTQ community — meaning General Assembly leaders are out-of-step with their constituents, even in some of the most Republican-friendly areas of the state.
“Equality is not a partisan issue, but a human issue — and it’s a shame when legislators who don’t yet realize that fundamental truth have the power to thwart commonsense, bipartisan bills to protect their constituents,” Masen Davis, the CEO of Freedom for All Americans, said in a statement.
On Friday morning, the organization wrote on its Facebook page that there is one more chance to demand a floor vote on both pro-LGBTQ bills, and urged Virginians to call Cox’s Richmond office at (804) 698-1066 and register their complaints with his staff.
Once again Republican leadership has denied LGBT anti-discrimination bills a fair hearing in the House of Delegates. We…
Equality Virginia also promised to continue to introduce similar bills in subsequent legislative sessions until protections for LGBTQ individuals become the law in the commonwealth.