Senate bill to add protections for Virginia’s LGBTQ public employees passes first hurdle
Senator Adam Ebbin (top image), Virginia’s only openly gay Senator, is hoping to protect those like him who work for the state, and today’s Senate vote was the first step in that process this session.
In a 13-3 vote, the measure passed with Republicans breaking tradition in supporting it.
A long time advocate for LGBTQ rights in both the House and Senate, Ebbin’s new bill, SB 783, hopes to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity against state and municipal employees.
“It’s past time to codify protections for Virginia’s government workforce,” said Ebbin in a statement sent out ahead of today’s hearing. “No employee or applicant should be judged for anything but their talents and abilities. We’re not North Carolina, everyone is welcome here.”
Ebbin presented the bill as a creator of balance. “While you can be fired under Virginia law as a private employee based on sexual orientation or gender identity, this [bill] would codify the governor’s current executive order that we had, I believe, under three out of the four last governors,” said Ebbin. “It keeps us in line with the private sector as well as other organizations.”
Josh Hetzler, legislative counsel for the Family Foundation opposed the bill on the grounds that it was unnecessary.
“Since July of 2009 in Virginia, the Department of Human Resource management…has only collected 12 total complaints based on sexual orientation and none that I’m aware of based on gender identity, and that means less than 2 on average per year are made, so we know that it’s really not an issue at all,” said Hetzler. “I think it’s important that we remember why we have categories on discrimination policies.”
Hetzler went on to tell the board that he felt this bill was part of a greater pattern of encroachment on religious liberty, citing a 2015 case in Georgia where a fire chief was terminated after city investigations found his self-published book, where he compared “homosexuality” and “lesbianism” to “pederasty” and “bestiality.”
“A vote for this bill is a vote against religious liberty,” Hetzler said.
Before the votes were cast, Republican Senator Jill Holtzman Vogel made a final remark in response this claim.
“I personally feel very strongly about religious liberty as a founding principle of this nation… [but] I don’t believe that religious liberty is necessarily mutually exclusive to the vote that some of us cast here who just frankly don’t believe in discrimination,” Vogel said. “Fundamentally the question is, are you qualified for the job. The question is not, who do you sleep with.”
Attempts to further bills like these have been grueling, and similar proposals struggle to make it past the GA sessions. Virginia is a Dillon Rule state, which means localities can not extend protections not offered by the GA. This means that until the state-wide body approves the law, there’s little protections for sexual minority state employees.For these reasons, the city of Richmond consistently holds low scores in annual Human Rights Campaign Municipal Equality Index reports.
Currently, state employees are protected from such discrimination thanks to an Executive Order signed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe. Senator Tim Kaine signed a similar EO when he took office, but Republican Governor Bob McDonnell removed the language when he entered office, removing the protections during his tenure as well.
If the bill makes it pass a full Senate vote, it faces guaranteed opposition in House where a similar bill was killed in subcommittee last week.
Here is how the Senate General Laws and Technology Committee voted on SB 783 (“Public employment; prohibits discrimination on basis of sexual orientation or gender identity”).
01/23/17 Senate: Reported from General Laws and Technology (12-Y 3-N)
YEAS – Locke, Barker, Vogel, Ebbin, Wexton, Surovell, DeSteph, McPike, Suetterlein, Dunnavant, Sturtevant, Mason – 12.
NAYS – Ruff, Black, Reeves – 3.
“I’m not letting his misogyny define me, define my daughter or define my community.”April 21, 2017
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