On Saturday, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam signed the Virginia Values Act, a piece of sweeping legislation that makes it illegal to discriminate against LGBTQ individuals in the Commonwealth.
Under the new law, which is set to go into effect on July 1, it will be illegal to discriminate against a person in public and private employment, housing, credit, and public accommodations based on that person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
The bill also extends protections in private employment and public accommodations to other groups not currently covered by Virginia’s civil rights laws, including pregnant people, people with disabilities, and veterans.
“This legislation sends a strong, clear message — Virginia is a place where all people are welcome to live, work, visit, and raise a family,” Northam said in a statement. “We are building an inclusive Commonwealth where there is opportunity for everyone, and everyone is treated fairly. No longer will LGBTQ Virginians have to fear being fired, evicted, or denied service in public places because of who they are.”
“We’re grateful for the lawmakers, faith leaders, allies, parents, law enforcement officers and people of all political ideologies who worked together to ensure we passed these protections for LGBTQ people in the Commonwealth,” added James Parrish, the director of the Virginia Values Coalition, which advocated on behalf of the bill.
While similar pro-LGBTQ bills have been introduced in previous sessions, it was the 2019 elections, which put Democrats in charge of the House of Delegates, that ensured its passage in that chamber for the first time.
Advocates note that Northam’s signature into law also makes Virginia the first state in the South to adopt LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination protections, the first state in over a decade to add both sexual orientation and gender identity to an existing nondiscrimination law, and the first state since 1993 to add a prohibition on discrimination in public accommodations where none existed before.
“Equality Virginia has been working with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle for years to create a safer and more welcoming commonwealth for LGBTQ people,” Vee Lamneck, the executive director of Equality Virginia, said in a statement. “This law will have a transformative and positive impact on the lives of LGBTQ Virginians and bring Virginia into alignment with its voters.”
National LGBTQ groups also praised the newly-signed legislation.
“When this law goes into effect on July 1, LGBTQ people in Virginia — and people of color, people of faith, immigrants, women and more — are at last protected from discrimination at work and in their communities,” Alphonso David, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement. “No one should be discriminated against simply because of who they are or whom they love.”
Kasey Suffredini, the CEO and national campaign director for Freedom for All Americans, said in a statement that the bill will provide some measure of comfort for LGBTQ people who are struggling with a great deal of uncertainty in their lives due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“This law will send a message that everyone in the Commonwealth deserves fairness and freedom, and will provide much-needed recourse for anyone who faces discrimination,” Suffredini said. “Virginia now joins more than 20 other states and an overwhelming supermajority of Americans calling on Congress to finish the job: America needs the Equality Act now to update our federal law and ensure comprehensive nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people.”
“I am grateful to Governor Northam for signing the Virginia Values Act, which represents years of dedicated work by activists, legislators, and progressive members of our business community to ensure full protection for every Virginian under the law,” Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria), the Senate sponsor, said in a statement. “Sadly, during times of crisis like these, discrimination rises, and its effects become more apparent. When jobs are scarce and housing unaffordable, the reality of who you are must be an additional hurdle to putting food on the table or providing shelter for your family. This law provides important new protections.”
House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn called the bill signing a “tremendous victory,” adding: “It is now the law of the land that every Virginian can work hard, earn a living wage, and live their lives without fear of discrimination based on who they are or who they love.”
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