GayRVA’s Editor testifies against Virginia’s proposed “religious freedom” laws
I now have a new appreciation for folks who testify before the General Assembly. With sweaty palms and nervous ticks, I spoke before Thursday’s House General Laws Committee against Del. Todd Gilbert’s proposed “religious freedom” bill.
Aptly named the “Government Nondiscrimination Act,” Gilbert’s bill does anything but stop discrimination, but rather codifies it into Commonwealth Law. His arguments dealt with out-of-state businesses being forced to pay fines for refusing to serve same-sex couples – in his mind, this is the Government discriminating against a business owner, but to any logical human being and a majority of Virginians, this discrimination against LGBTQs in every way.
The bill actually passed and is now headed for a full floor vote where it will probably pass again – you can read more about the hearing here.
Below is video of my testimony, in all its terrifying glory. Text from my speech is available below that.
If you’re as mad about this bill as I am, please head over to Equality Virginia’s website and contact your legislator and tell them not to support HB 773.
Delegates and representatives, thank you so much for allowing me to speak today.
My name is Brad Kutner, I’m the editor of GayRVA, and LGBTQ news and arts publication based here in Richmond.
I’m taking off my journalist hat here to speak with you as a life-long Virginia citizen and an openly gay man. My job puts me in a unique position to have exhaustive records of the issues this bill deals with and I thought it was time I spoke up and said something.
On feb 12, 2013, almost 3 years ago to the day, I sat in a similar committee hearing where SB701, a bill which passed the senate, aimed to provide protections for LGBTQ state employees.
“There has not been a single example of someone who has been discriminated against in public employment… other than that abstract fear we’ve heard testified to today,” said Del. Todd Gilbert, author of the bill you’re about to vote on today. He was the only committee member to speak against the bill.
Chris Freund, from the Family Foundation, echoed Gilbert’s concerns saying “We usually pass laws when problems need to be solved, and there hasn’t been a problem (with discrimination) in Virginia.”
So I’m here to ask you today, and if I could address the delegate I’d ask him again, where is the problem? I asked Del. Gilbert if he had any examples of discrimination against religious people here in Virginia the other day and he failed to provide me or anyone else any thing, but rather he spat out “abstract fears”
We’ll I’m here today to give you some examples on the other side of this – LGBTQ folks who have been targeted because of who they love.
John Murphy, 64, moved to Richmond to work at a local adult care facility, Saint Francis Home, and was fired two days after getting hired because he was in a same-sex relationship – his duties had nothing to do with faith-based services and everything to do with administrative work of caring for sick people. The board members of St. Francis were so disgusted by their church’s need to fire Murphy, they refused to take the action and clergy from the archdiocese themselves had to go to Murphy’s house to tell him he was fired because he was married to a man.
Murphy is currently pursuing legal action through the EEOC in the hopes of finding justice.
CT, a Chesterfield resident in his 20’s who’s remained nameless because he continues to fear for his safety, was brutally beaten last May because he was gay. The man who hit him, a fellow Amazon Shipping facility employee, said “I hit him cause he was gay” — he said this to Chesterfield police who then sought federal hate crime charges because Virginia does not include sexual orientation in its list of hate crime protections.
It took eight months for federal charges to be brought against the attacker, 8 months with the attacker on the streets and the victim fearing for his safety.
A 2015 Study of Housing Discrimination Against Same-Sex Couples in Virginia aimed to find out if there was discrimination in Housing here in the Commonwealth. They sent out emails pretending to be a straight couple and another set pretending to be a same-sex couple. Sure enough, they found 45 percent of female couples experienced negative responses and 50 percent of male couples experienced negative.
Finally, Gavin Grimm, a transgender 16-year-old, was using the boy’s restroom just fine until “concerned parents” stepped in and now the kid has to use a a converted broom closet when he has to pee. Some of you met Andrew Wilson the other day, he’s been lucky to have supportive educators and administrators and continues to use the male facilities without issue.
These three examples are not “abstract” like Del. Gilbert said so many years ago — and I hope he realizes these are only the stories that could be told because the people involved were fortunate enough to be out and open about themselves. There are many many more cases — kids flipping burgers getting called a faggot by their boss, adults cleaning bowling shoes who have to lie about their significant others, who face discrimination but are too afraid to lose their jobs or their houses to speak up.
But beyond Virignia’s LGBTQ population, the rest of Virginia doesn’t agree with this law. A Christopher Newport University study released today found 57 percent of respondents said they oppose such a religious freedom laws, with moderates and independents both showing opposition above 62 percent. As you can imagine conservatives shifted the total percentage down some.
Meanwhile, after Indiana tried to pass a similar law in spring of last year, the state’s tourism commission estimated the hoosier state lost “more than $60 million in future convention business as a result of the RFRA controversy.”
Sixty million in tourism…in Indiana…which has no beaches, no Blue Ridge Mountains, no James River.
Finally, I plead with you as a gay man and a lifelong Virginian, realize the message you send with a vote of support for this bill. You’re telling LGBTQ Virginians and citizens around the country that they are not welcome here – their money is no good, their taxes are no good, and their equal treatment is not a priority…all because of who they love.
I’ll be putting my journalist hat back on now — and I’ll be reporting on how you vote on this bill today — and you’ll forever be marked as someone who sided with fear and misinformation instead of reason and sound judgement.
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