Virginia’s incoming House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax Station) promised that her caucus would successfully pass laws prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQ Virginians after Democrats take control of the General Assembly in 2020.
Appearing at a news conference held by the Virginia Values Coalition, Filler-Corn promised to “act and move swiftly” in passing comprehensive nondiscrimination legislation, noting that bills containing legal protections for LGBTQ were frequently tabled or defeated when Republicans controlled the House of Delegates.
Related: Republicans won’t stop killing LGBTQ rights in Virginia
“We are going to act on what [Virginia’s] voters demanded at the polls on Election Day,” she said, referencing polls showing that upwards of two-thirds of Virginians support passing such legislation. “We heard them loud and clear. … We are long overdue in protecting Virginia’s LGBTQ community. It is unacceptable to me, others, and clearly, the voters, that in 2019, a Virginian can be fired, or evicted, or denied service at a restaurant because of who they are and who they love.”
Calling it “unacceptable” that House leadership had scuttled bipartisan bills (which had passed the Senate with unanimous support from Democrats and nearly two-thirds of the GOP Senate caucus) to prohibit anti-LGBTQ discrimination, Filler-Corn promised that “change is coming” in 2020.
Virginia is currently one of 30 states that lack comprehensive nondiscrimination protections based on a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
“Virginia needs comprehensive protections for our LGBTQ brothers, sisters, friends, co-workers. And in 2020, I’m here to tell you, we will deliver them,” Filler-Corn added. “We will ensure that every Virginia can work hard, earn a living wage, and live their lives without fear of discrimination. Much like we celebrated being top of the list as the best state to do business, I look forward to celebrating Virginia dropping off the list of states without complete legal protections for the LGBTQ community.
“Protecting our family, friends, and neighbors from discrimination is not a ‘progressive,’ or ‘Democratic’ concept,” she added. “It really should be, and is the core, of who we are as Virginians. Working for equality, working for civil rights, is at the heart of our mission as public servants. And it is why we do what we do every single day.”
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Although Filler-Corn and her Senate counterpart, Majority Leader-designee Dick Saslaw (D-Springfield), are on record as supporting legislation to institute comprehensive nondiscrimination protections, they will be hearing from the Virginia Values Coalition, a statewide organization, founded earlier this year, that is comprised of faith leaders, law enforcement officers, business leaders, and community members from around the commonwealth whose primary purpose is to advocating for passage of such legislation.
Beginning on Jan. 1, the coalition will be lead by James Parrish, currently serving as the executive director of Equality Virginia. He will be succeeded in that role by Deputy Director Vee Lamneck, who will become Equality Virginia’s fourth executive director since its founding. Both organizations are expected to continue working together, as Equality Virginia is a member of the Virginia Values Coalition.
Democratic leaders will also be under pressure to pass pro-LGBTQ legislation from national groups, specifically the Human Rights Campaign, which made a six-figure investment in this year’s legislative elections to support pro-equality candidates running for the Virginia General Assembly.
Even more importantly, HRC’s investment was intended to ensure that Democrats would seize control of both chambers to ensure that LGBTQ legislation would be prioritized and not subject to the type of arcane procedural maneuvers or behind-the-scenes machinations that have delayed passage under Republican leadership, particularly in the House of Delegates.
“A few weeks ago, voters across the Commonwealth of Virginia turned out in force to vote for change,” HRC President Alphonso David said in his remarks at the press conference. “After years of politicians playing politics with the lives of LGBTQ people and blocking progress in Richmond, the people of Virginia voted for a new direction.
“We must pass this bill for the lesbian couple denied a home simply because of who they are,” added David. “We must pass this bill for the transgender factory worker who faces discrimination on the job. We must pass this bill for the bisexual man who has been denied services in his community. We must pass this bill for the next generation so that they never have to experience discrimination.”
Hannah Willard, the senior director of campaigns at Freedom for All Americans, noted that Virginia’s fight to pass nondiscrimination law could serve as a model for other states and the federal government.
“Across lines of party, demographics, and geography, it’s clear that Virginians are ready to see their LGBTQ neighbors protected from discrimination,” Willard said. “In 2020, Virginia has a golden opportunity to lead the South, as Virginia so often does. A win here in Virginia would energize the LGBTQ movement across the country, and would put pressure on Congress to pass full federal protections for LGBTQ Americans.”
Related: U.S. House passes the Equality Act, a landmark LGBTQ rights bill
Virginia Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria), a sponsor of various bills to protect LGBTQ Virginians from discrimination, expressed confidence that he would finally see his work come to fruition.
“Of all my 16 years in office, I’m finally convinced that nondiscrimination legislation will pass this session,” he said. “Finally, we’re seeing Virginia wake up from a history that hasn’t always been a good one for civil rights and equality.
“Discrimination is a real and urgent problem. It disproportionately impacts the most vulnerable members of our society,” Ebbin added. “We’ve been long looking to the day when parliamentary machinations and shenanigans would end, and that day has ended. Now we have real leadership dedicated to enshrining these protections into the [Virginia] Code.”
Mara Keisling, the executive director of the National Center for Trangender Equality, stressed the sense of “urgency” felt by many transgender and nonbinary Virginians who are waiting for the protections to be passed into law.
Citing statistics from the 2015 U.S. Trans Survey, Keisling noted that nearly one-quarter of 723 transgender Virginians surveyed reported living in poverty, with another 26% experiencing homelessness. The survey’s finding showed that more than one-quarter of trans or nonbinary Virginians reported being mistreated or discriminated against at work; one in every five reported experiencing housing discrimination, and nearly one-third reported facing discrimination when accessing public spaces or services.
“This isn’t about just passing a bill,” Keisling said. “This is about making people’s lives better, protecting people. If you cannot have a job, if you cannot have secure housing, if you cannot participate in public places, you cannot be a full member of society. And that’s what’s happened to transgender Virginians for too long.”
Zakia McKensey, the founder of Nationz Foundation, a Richmond-based trans-led nonprofit organization, says she’s seen the “crisis” facing Virginia’s transgender community upfront through her work.
“I hear stories of discrimination every single day. I’ve personally experienced homelessness because of discrimination. I have lost jobs because I’m transgender, and I’ve had an extremely difficult time finding a new location for our Nationz office because of the community that our organization supports,” she said. “The stakes are even higher for people that are looking for an apartment to get off the street, or folks that move to Virginia and need to find a new home for themselves and their families.
“Living in a place where discrimination is legal causes me great anxiety,” McKensey added. “I’m a homeowner, I’m a business owner, I pay taxes, I contribute to the economy. I serve my community. I just want to be free to be me, and be my best me, and everyone in my community wants the same thing.”
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