Virginia State House – Photo: Farragutful, via Wikimedia.
Last Thursday, a Virginia House subcommittee voted 5-1 to approve the Virginia Values Act, the comprehensive bill that would enshrine protections for the LGBTQ community permanently into Virginia law.
The House version of the act, sponsored by Del. Mark Sickles (D-Alexandria), would modernize the commonwealth’s existing human rights laws by prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in a variety of areas, including public and private employment, housing, credit, and public accommodations.
LGBTQ advocates have introduced standalone, piecemeal bills on public employment or housing nondiscrimination in past sessions as part of a strategy intended to slowly chip away at elected Republicans’ resistance to equality, particularly under the leadership of former Speakers Bill Howell, who has since retired, and Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights).
But after Democrats flipped control of both chambers of the General Assembly in last year’s legislative elections, and were seated earlier this year, almost all barriers to equality appear to have disappeared, with several committees taking action to move forward with pro-LGBTQ measures.
“We can all agree that discrimination is wrong and has no place in the Commonwealth,” Sickles said in a statement. “All Virginians deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, including LGBTQ people. I am proud to work with my colleagues to pass the Virginia Values Act and send a message that the Commonwealth is a safe and welcoming place for all people.”
Sickles’ bill passed the House General Laws Housing/Consumer Protection Subcommittee on a party-line vote of 5-1, with two of the subcommittee’s three Republicans not voting.
The bill now heads to the larger General Laws Committee, where Democrats hold a 13-9 edge. The bill is expected to be taken up on Tuesday.
“These protections are long overdue and an important step forward for Virginia’s LGBTQ community,” Vee Lamneck, the executive director of Equality Virginia, said in a statement. “The Virginia Values Act will ensure LGBTQ people are treated fairly and equitably by the laws of the state and have the opportunity to earn a living, access housing and healthcare, and participate fully in society.”
The act has strong support from Democratic leaders, notably House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax Station) and Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw (D-Springfield).
If the Virginia Values Act passes both legislative chambers, as expected, Gov. Ralph Northam, an LGBTQ ally, has promised to sign the protections into law.
A companion Senate bill, sponsored by Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria), is scheduled to be heard by the full Senate General Laws Committee on Wednesday.
“As the bills move through the General Assembly, the Virginia Values Coalition remains confident lawmakers will do the right thing and quickly pass this legislation to protect LGBTQ Virginians from discrimination in employment, housing, and public spaces,” James Parrish, the director of the Virginia Values Coalition, which is pushing for the act’s passage, said in a statement. “Every Virginian deserves to live and work without the fear of harassment, discrimination, or violence.”
“In Virginia, although a gay couple can get married on Sunday, the sad reality is they can get fired on Monday, evicted on Tuesday morning, and denied a hotel room Tuesday night,” Ebbin added. “This isn’t a theoretical issue, discrimination is happening today. Until we shine a light on this issue, until we drive it out of our state, Virginians will continue to suffer psychological, physical, and economic vandalism simply because of who they are or who they love.”
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