Republicans in Virginia have controlled the House of Delegates for almost two decades, since taking control after the 1999 general election.
During that time, though public attitudes around LGBTQ rights have shifted and widespread acceptance of LGBTQ individuals has increased, the Virginia GOP is still partying like it’s 1999, using their power — particularly in the House — to continually halt or kill pro-equality measures.
That remains true even though polls show a majority of Virginians support making it illegal to discriminate against LGBTQ people.
The GOP is even out of step with its own base — a poll earlier this year found that a majority of Virginia Republicans support protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination.
And while the Republican-controlled Senate has gradually become more supportive of LGBTQ rights, the House of Delegates has remained stubbornly opposed to allowing any such legislation to escape to the governor’s desk.
With that in mind — and a general election set for tomorrow, Nov. 5, that could hand control of the House to Democrats — here’s some of the most notable times Republicans have killed progress for the LGBTQ community in Virginia:
In January this year, Republican leaders in the House killed three separate pro-LGBTQ bills. Two of the bills would have prohibited discrimination in public employment and housing, and a third would have provided more expansive protections for LGBTQ people in public accommodations, credit, and public contracting. The bills, as with many before them, were killed by Republican-stacked subcommittees, with advocates blaming Speaker Kirk Cox, alleging that he feared at least two of the bills would have passed a full vote in the House. The HRC called the decision “shameful,” and accused Cox of using LGBTQ “as political pawns.”
In 2018, Cox once again stepped in to ensure that four bills designed to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in housing and employment died in subcommittees — after Cox engineered those committees to heavily favor conservative lawmakers from GOP-leaning districts. This, despite wide support for the bills including from a number of housing, building, and realtor associations. James Parrish, director of Equality Virginia, called it “an alarming effort to vote down basic fairness legislation that has broad support.”
Also in 2018, Republicans voted to allow anti-transgender healthcare discrimination to continue. A Democrat-sponsored bill would have prevented insurance companies from refusing to cover medically necessary treatments or procedures for trans patients, but all GOP members of a House subcommittee rejected it, effectively killing the bill.
Again in 2018, Republicans — this time in a Senate committee — killed a bill that would have prevented licensed therapists and counselors from subjecting LGBTQ minors to conversion therapy. Widely debunked and considered harmful and detrimental to mental health, conversion therapy purports to “change” a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. But rather than vote to protect children from being subjected to methods that include public shaming, forced vomiting, and electroshock therapy, they instead rejected the bill on a party-line vote. (And it’s not the first time. Republicans rejected a similar ban in 2015.)
It really was a busy year for killing pro-LGBTQ legislation, as in 2018 Republicans also shut down attempts to deal with crimes that target LGBTQ people — a decision made even as the number of anti-LGBTQ homicides hit a record high. Republicans opted to kill multiple bills aimed at requiring the reporting of anti-LGBTQ hate crimes, adding harsher penalties for such crimes, and expanded hate crime legislation to include LGBTQ people, among others.
We’ve only highlighted as far back as the start of the 2018 legislative session, but Republicans have killed countless pro-LGBTQ measures over the years, covering a number of LGBTQ issues, from nondiscrimination protections, to legalizing same-sex marriage, to including LGBTQ people in hate crimes protections:
2017: Two pro-equality bills designed to ban discrimination against LGBTQ people in housing and employment passed the Senate before being killed in the House by a Republican-controlled subcommittee.
2016: GOP Delegates killed eight LGBTQ-related bills by punting them to a process that subjects legislation to further review and analysis, effectively tabling them indefinitely. Among those punted were six bills granting protections in public employment, private employment, housing and public accommodations, as well as a measure that would have banned the practice of LGBT conversion therapy on minors. House Republicans then killed two nondiscrimination bills — which had passed the Senate on a bipartisan vote — that would have prohibited discrimination in housing and employment.
2015: Republicans killed multiple attempts at pro-LGBTQ legislation. The first was a hate crimes bill that would have expanded the law to cover sexual orientation and gender identity. Then, three separate bills relating to nondiscrimination protections in employment and housing were shut down — two in the Senate, one in the House.
2014: It was a similar story in 2014, when Republicans in the House steamrolled four pieces of pro-LGBTQ legislation, all dealing with prohibiting discrimination in public employment and in housing — two of which were actually patroned by Republicans. The Virginia Senate also put an end to legislation that would have allowed same-sex couples to jointly adopt by means of second-parent adoption.
2013: Despite President Barack Obama voicing support for same-sex marriage the year before, Republicans balked at legislation that would have repealed a same-sex marriage ban in Virginia, tabling a repeal bill and leaving it to a court to rule the ban unconstitutional the following year. Oh, and for good measure, the GOP killed another nondiscrimination bill.
While Republicans in Virginia were busy voting down, tabling, delaying, or otherwise killing pro-LGBTQ legislation, they were also introducing various bills that actively discriminated against the LGBTQ community, including: a “religious freedom” bill that removed penalties for those who discriminated against LGBTQ people (it was ultimately vetoed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe after passing both the House and Senate); passing an almost identical bill in 2016, which was similarly vetoed; introducing three separate bills in 2017 targeting transgender people in public accommodations, allowing contractors to discriminate against LGBTQ people, and banning trans students from accessing facilities that match their gender identity; and in 2016 threatening nine separate pieces of anti-LGBTQ legislation targeting same-sex marriage and LGBTQ rights.
And again, that’s just in the last few years.
Democrats are arguing that the only hope for progress on LGBTQ rights in Virginia is for voters to flip the House — and the Senate, too — and give Democrats a chance to pass pro-LGBTQ legislation.
As Kathryn Gilley, communications director for the Democratic Party of Virginia, told Metro Weekly last week, “If Republicans were going to do something to help the LGBTQ community, they would have done it by now.”
“They have had a majority in the House of Delegates for 20 years,” she said. “We’ve seen their stance on LGBTQ rights, and it’s not good.”
Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria), who served in the House of Delegates prior to his Senate election, says that he believes Democrats will be victorious in flipping control of both the House and Senate.
Ebbin, who is gay, says that will provide an opportunity to pass the kinds of pro-LGBTQ legislation that Republicans have defeated on an annual basis.
“House Republican leadership has had their heels dug in for years against making any progress on equality for LGBT people, and that would be unlikely to change, or would be surprising if it were to change, under any Republican leadership in the House,” Ebbin told Metro Weekly in a phone interview. “I expect Democratic leadership to be an incredible sea change with limitless possibilities on what will happen for equality for LGBT people in Virginia.”