Metro Weekly

Virginia Democrats Block 12 Anti-LGBTQ Bills

The Virginia Senate was a firewall between culture-war legislation passed by the House and the pen of Gov. Glenn Youngkin.

Photo: Famartin, via Wikimedia

At least a dozen anti-LGBTQ bills that gained traction in the Virginia General Assembly in this year’s now-concluded legislative session ultimately failed to become law after the House and Senate split along partisan lines when it came to backing or defeating said bills.

Republicans, who control the majority in the House of Delegates, pushed a number of bills seeking to restrict LGBTQ rights or limit LGBTQ individuals’ freedom of expression; proposing bills to “out” transgender-identifying students to their parents; bar transgender athletes from competing in sports that match their gender identity; and ban gender-affirming care, not only for minors, but some legally recognized adults in their twenties.

Narissa Rahaman, the executive director of Equality Virginia, told Metro Weekly that some of the “forced outing” bills were especially pernicious.

One measure would have required school administrators to out students to their parents, regardless of whether trans-identifying students have discussed their identities with their parents or whether they may be living in a home with parents who are not supportive of LGBTQ identity.

“There was one forced outing bill that would require a court order for a student to be able to update their name in their school record,” Rahaman said.  “And not just their official school record, like a roster, but just any sort of school document, like a library card reflecting their correct gender, would have required a court order.”

Rahaman said the organization’s priority this year was primarily aimed at defeating such bills, although Equality Virginia was monitoring other pro-LGBTQ measures that were introduced, including three bills — one introduced by Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria), one introduced by Del. Kelly Convirs-Fowler (D-Virginia Beach), and another introduced by Del. Tim Anderson (R-Virginia Beach) — that sought to remove the Marshall-Newman Amendment, which prohibits marriages or marriage-like unions for same-sex couples, from the state constitution.

The Marshall-Newman Amendment is currently invalid due to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex nuptials nationwide.

But advocates have argued that the amendment stands as a hateful reminder of how many Virginians once viewed their fellow residents as inferior and undeserving of protection. Additionally, should the Supreme Court’s conservative majority reverse its finding in Obergefell, the constitutional amendment would immediately become enforceable.

While the Democratic-led Senate voted to start the lengthy-multi-year process of removing the prohibition from the constitution by approving Ebbin’s bills, the Republican-led House failed to even schedule hearings on Anderson’s or Fowler’s bills, and a subcommittee of the House Rules Committee voted to lay Ebbin’s bill on the table, killing it for the session.

“Obviously we are very disappointed once again that the constitutional amendment to remove the ban on same-sex marriage failed yet again,” Rahaman said. “We saw the Virginia Senate move and pass that bill out, which shows which side of history they’re willing to be on. But, as a whole, House leadership really showed that they had no interest in advancing legislation that would better the lives of anyone in Virginia.”

The reverse of what happened with the marriage amendment bills occurred with the anti-LGBTQ and anti-transgender legislation, with the Republican House pushing through such bills and the Democratic-led Senate voting to block the measures.

The Democratic caucus in the Senate served as a “firewall” of sorts, preventing anti-LGBTQ bills from reaching the desk of Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a Republican rumored to have presidential ambitions, who eagerly would have signed them into law. 

“This year we saw an unprecedented number of not just anti-LGBTQ bills introduced in the General Assembly, but a record number of anti-trans bills introduced, and specifically bills that were on targeting trans and nonbinary K-through-12 students and their ability to play sports, you know, their ability to have to show up as their authentic selves in school,” Rahaman said. “And this was really disappointing to see, especially since Virginians, in more recent years, have really been a leader for LGBTQ equality when compared to other states.”

Rahaman wasn’t shocked at the sheer number of anti-LGBTQ bills that were introduced, noting that — for Virginia lawmakers — 2023 is an election year, when all 140 seats in the Senate and House of Delegates are up for re-election.

She accused anti-equality lawmakers of trying to use the lives and livelihoods of LGBTQ people as a wedge issue in order to court socially conservative voters and raise their political profiles.

“Those bills, had they passed and made it to the governor’s desk, would absolutely be devastating for the lives of LGBTQ youth here in Virginia,” she said. “But just the introduction of them, just lawmakers piling them on it, just their movement through committee hearings and floor debates, that alone has a devastating impact on the mental health of already marginalized youth.”

She cited a survey by The Trevor Project, the nation’s top suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ youth, in which 86% of trans and nonbinary youth reported that recent debates over state laws seeking to impose restrictions on transgender visibility or civil rights have negatively impacted their mental health, with more than half of trans youth saying it impacted their mental health “very negatively.”

“We are watching the debates that are playing out in state legislatures, specifically around these anti-trans bills, in real time. So you can only imagine what it must be like as a kid to watch lawmakers who have no understanding of who you are or your lived experience, debating whether or not you have the right to be who you are at school or play on a sports team,” Rahaman said.

When asked what the impetus of such measures is, Rahaman said the issue is twofold: that some politicians who don’t support LGBTQ equality believe ranting about transgender issues is an issue that riles up conservative voters and motivates them to the polls, allowing them to win elections; and that many people are still unfamiliar with what transgender means and unaware of the issues that transgender individuals face in their daily lives.

“I think there’s an opportunity for the lawmakers to better understand who we are,” Rahaman said. “And there is some fear and misinformation, as well as just a lack of understanding and care of who we are, which is further fueling that fear and that stigmatization.

“We don’t need to understand everything about each other to treat each other with dignity and respect,” she noted. “And so, my hope for lawmakers that even though you may not understand everything about who we are as people, you would hopefully have the maturity to at least respect us and allow us to live our lives.”

Keeping the Democratic firewall in the Senate, and hopefully electing a pro-equality majority in the House will be key to ensuring identical versions of anti-LGBTQ legislation do not become law next year. Rahaman is hopeful that lawmakers will see that fear-mongering over transgender issues is not as successful a strategy as some politicians believe, noting that polling shows transgender sports bans and culture-war disagreements are not motivators when it comes to the issues voters prioritize. 

“In this upcoming election, I think we will see people running on trans issues,” she said. “I think you’ll see lawmakers attacking trans people on the campaign trail, but it is not going to get them the votes that they think it will.”

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