His sweeping new bill, HB 401, will prohibit all forms of discrimination on basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. But will it pass?
Marilyn Drew Necci | January 15, 2018
Anti-LGBTQ discrimination has been a major subject in Virginia’s political arena for quite a while now. Over the weekend, we saw newly inaugurated Governor Ralph Northam sign an Executive Order prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity within state employment, carrying on a McAuliffe administration policy that had also been enforced through Executive Order.
But up until now, these policies have had to be enforced through Executive Order due to their inability to pass through the General Assembly. What’s more, neither Northam’s current Executive Order nor previous similar orders put in place during the McAuliffe and Kaine administrations protected the vast majority of Virginia’s LGBTQ community who were employed in the private sector.
Delegate Mark Levine wants to change all that. Levine represents the 45th District, which covers Alexandria along with parts of Arlington and Fairfax Counties. He has introduced a bill into the current General Assembly session that seeks to end all forms of discrimination that can plague our community. HB 401 “prohibits discrimination in employment, public accommodation, public contracting, apprenticeship programs, housing, banking, and insurance on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.”
“It was designed to be comprehensive,” said Levine when we caught up with him on Friday. “If there’s anything that isn’t included, you let me know, and I’ll amend it, but I really tried to include every single place in the code that I could think of.”
Levine, an openly gay man, has been pushing for this sort of legislation since he took office at the beginning of 2016. His previous versions of this bill, introduced in 2016 and 2017, covered employment, housing, and public accommodations. “But then this year, as I was preparing to introduce the same bill, I started looking through the code and found all kinds of things that weren’t included. Like public contracting, or apprenticeship programs, or banking, or insurance,” said Levine. “I would say that my last bill would have solved 90% of the problems, and this time I’m aiming for 100%.”
But of course, the big question is whether or not there’s a realistic chance of the bill passing. Previously, while Levine continued to introduce a similar bill in each new General Assembly session, he didn’t realistically expect it to make it into law. “I would say the last couple years it was a message,” he explained. “It’s something that I support, obviously, my constituents support, as a gay man I want to see. But it was a bill that — last year, the year before, I knew its time had not yet come. I knew they would kill the bill. But I felt it was important to make it clear that my constituents support complete non-discrimination.”
However, with the big shift in General Assembly membership that took place after the 2017 election, Levine has new hope. “It went from a zero chance to a significant chance,” he said. “I’m not going to tell you it will pass this year, but I think it may pass this year. I never said that before.”
Levine will still need help to get HB 401 passed, not only from his own party but also from at least a few General Assembly members across the aisle. “I think I’m going to get a solid Democratic vote on this. I think all 49 of us will support this,” he said. “So we only need two Republicans in the House; we only need one Republican in the Senate. We have had Republican delegates and senators cross over on non-discrimination for the rainbow community before, and I think they can do it again.”
Most importantly, Levine will need the help of his fellow Virginians that are part of or allied with the LGBTQ community. “If people want to help me, help you, help Virginia, the best way is to contact your Delegate and Senator,” said Levine. “It’s fine to do it for the Democrats — it’s great, we want to make sure they stay on board. But honestly, if you are in a Republican district, you can really make a difference.”
Levine wants to encourage members of the LGBTQ community who live in Republican districts to engage with their representatives face-to-face. “If you’re in a Republican district, visit your delegate, visit your senator,” he says. “Come down to Richmond. See them at home if you can’t come to Richmond. Go when they’re home doing a town hall. Make yourself heard, let them know your personal story, tell what happened to you. Whether it was a hospital, or a job, you were denied something… tell them about prejudice, because I don’t know that they necessarily know it exists.”
And if the Republican members of the General Assembly aren’t willing to cross the aisles in support of the LGBTQ community, Levine plans to hold them accountable. “If it does happen this year, and we get two more delegates and one more senator, I’m very confident that under Democratic hands, it will become law,” he said. “So let’s see if Republicans actually are bipartisan about non-discrimination, or not. And if they’re not, then we need to run on this in 2019.”
HB 401 will make its first step towards becoming the law of the land by being referred to committee. “I suspect we’ll know what committee it goes to possibly Monday, Tuesday at the latest,” Levine said last Friday. “And then we’ll know who to lobby and you’ll know who’s on the committee.” We’ll be keeping a close eye on this legislation here at GayRVA, and we’ll update you on its progress. In the meantime, you can find contact information for your representatives in the General Assembly by going to Who’s My Legislator, at whosmy.virginiageneralassembly.gov.
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