House Subcommittee kills anti-transgender bills and bill to protect Virginia’s LGBTQs, passes “religious freedom” bill
Editor’s note: this is an updated and long form version of several breaking stories from last week.
Four pieces of legislation that affected the LGBT community were addressed in a subcommittee at the Virginia General Assembly last week. Three died, and one passed through the subcommittee. GayRVA.com has been providing coverage of this 2017 session, and below is a breakdown of what exactly went down in the room where it happens…
To start, there’s the two bills authored by Manassas Republican Delegate Bob Marshall (top image, left), that had made headlines in the wake of similar bills causing economic and social fallout for North Carolina.
Marshall’s HB 1612 would have required people to use public restrooms and facilities that correspond with their “biological gender” that appears on their birth certificate.
Legislators have been developing language to control trans bathroom use as trans folks work through the complicated and expensive process of changing their gender markers on state IDs and birth certificates.
“How you would you, as a loving dad react, if you saw a grown man follow your nine-year old daughter into a bathroom at the state park?” Del. Marshall asked the subcommittee as part of his opening statement to defend his bill. “Do parents want their 14-year old daughters on the school swim team taking showers with 17-year old biological males in public school locker rooms? Do women feel safe at an interstate rest stop, knowing that biological males could use the women’s bathroom. How could a woman distinguish between a transgender individual who means no harm, from a male who does intend harm?”
When the audience was allowed to speak in support or opposition of the bill, Diana Shores approached the podium on behalf of the Virginia First Foundation, to speak about how students will be affected and to offer her support of the Personal Privacy Act.
“Students have the fundamental right to bodily privacy,” Shores said. “That right is violated when students, including kindergarteners-as young as five years old- are forced into situations where members of the opposite sex may view their partially or fully unclothed bodies.”
Marshall, repeating his argument from last week’s press conference, threatened the NCAA if they tried to boycott Virginia over the proposed bill, mocked criticism of North Carolina’s HB2, and warned of the dangers of letting a “biological male” into a women’s restroom.
Opposition toward the bill was present, including a familiar face from Marshall’s past, Theo Kahn, the transman who confronted him during last week’s press conference. Today, Kahn told the subcommittee that, as a transgender man, Del. Marshall’s bill would directly affect him.
“Currently I use the men’s room, where I just go to the bathroom. That’s it. There’s nothing else to do in the bathroom other than go to the bathroom…behind a stall,” Kahn said. “Nobody is seeing you. It’s private. So for the physical privacy that this act pretends to protect, my privacy is already protected. If this bill were to pass, it would make it so that I am forced to use the women’s room. Can you imagine me in the women’s room? I would have the police called on me. Please don’t make my state discriminate against me.”
Also in the line of opposing speakers was Amy Adams, the mother of three children, one of whom is a 12 year old transgender girl.
“She deserves to be protected just like every single person in this room, as much as every one of your children do,” Adams said.
The subcommittee voted by voice to leave the bill on the table, killing it for the season.
After the vote to kill the bill, Marshall pleaded with the committee to let there be a recorded vote, but he was silenced by committee Chair Delegate M. Keith Hodges (R-98). Marshall complained that not enough time was allotted for consideration, despite the fact that the Personal Privacy Act received nearly 30 minutes of attention, more than other proposed legislation in the subcommittee.
HB2011, Marshall’s second bill of the day, dealt with an issue he tried to get involved in last year, limiting school boards from passing inclusive non-discrimination policies. State law protects against “race, color, religion, sex, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, national origin, age, marital status, or disability” and, under the Dillon Rule, according to Marshall, they shouldn’t be allowed to add sexual orientation or gender identity.
This bill was similarly laid on the table for the session by voice vote, effectively killing it.
“Defend your oath, vote for this bill,” pleaded Marshall. “I’m gonna pray you all get courage.”
When Marshall first submitted these bills, Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe told GayRVA he would veto any legislation that constrains the rights of Virginians “based on sexual orientation or gender identity.”
“As we saw in North Carolina, these bills don’t just hamper civil rights – they kill jobs. The Governor is hopeful that Republicans in the General Assembly will drop these counterproductive bills and turn their focus toward building a stronger and more equal Virginia economy,” said a spokesperson for McAuliffe.
House Speaker William Howell, the Republican leader of the Virginia House, told the Washington Post Marshall’s bills were “bob being bob,” and shrugged off most of the controversial and support LGBTQ bills.
Marshall has two other piece of legislation that target LGBTQ Virginians which are set to be heard in the coming weeks.
House Joint resolution 685 (HJ685) asks the legislature to chastise Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring over his refusal to defend the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage which carries Marshall’s name.
HB 1667 hopes to protect Virginia businesses that enter into contracts with the state if they don’t have inclusive LGBTQ protection policies. This bill seems to counter an executive order signed by Gov. McAuliffe earlier this year which expanded those protections in line with a move from the Obama Administration in July 2014.
While the death of those two bills brought cheers from LGBTQ advocates, the following votes were a reminder of where the House really stands.
Next up, a bill aiming to protect religious organizations when they deny services related to a same-sex wedding was passed by a voice in a House subcommittee today.
Submitted by Delegate Nicholas J. Freitas (Top image, middle – R -30, Culpepper), HB2025 offers a shield to any “person” from punishment from the state, civil or otherwise, if they deny services in a same-sex marriage.
Known as a solemnization bill, it defines a person as a “religious organization, organization supervised or controlled by or operated in connection with a religious organization, individual employed by a religious organization while acting in the scope of his paid or volunteer employment, successor, representative, agent, agency, or instrumentality of any of the foregoing or clergy member or minister.”
In layman’s terms, it aimed to protect pastors and other faith leaders in churches from civil or criminal punishment if they denied services to same-sex couples. However the bill was also interpreted by some activists to include other faith-based organizations like church run schools or hospitals, giving them the ability to refuse visitation rights by same-sex couples, or deny the children of same-sex parents in parochial programs.
A similar bill was submitted last year, and was submitted again this year, on the Senate-side by Sen. Charles Carrico, a retired police officer from Galax, VA. Carrico’s version passed the House and Senate but was vetoed by Gov. McAuliffe in the Spring session.
“Any legitimate protections afforded by [Carrico's bill] are duplicative of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States;” wrote McAuliffe in a statement sent out after vetoing the bill in late March 2016. He also pointed to Virginia’s long-held Religious Freedoms Act which already allows religious leaders and orgs like priests and churches to deny services if it violates their beliefs.
Criticism has followed solemnization bills as they often repeat language already present in state’s religious freedom bills, but the steps to slow LGBTQ-progress in ways like this are a priority for the GOP as of their 2016 presidential platform.
But that didn’t stop the bill last year much like this year, and it should face success in the House and Senate forcing McAuliffe’s veto once again.
Lastly, a bill aiming to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s Human Rights act failed in the House subcommittee today.
HB 2129 aims to add the two classes to the list that is already protected in housing, public accommodation and employment. Currently, it is legal to fire or not hire someone because of how they identify or who they love.
“To paraphrase Martin Luther King, we should be judged by the content of our character and not the color of our skin,” Del. Mark Levine, author of the bill, said. “and I daresay Dr. King would agree, nor by religion, sex, pregnancy, national origin, age, sexual orientation and gender identity.”
Del. Levine (top image, right) noted that the proposal of his bill aligns with a growing trend in other states.
“When you employ someone, it should be based on the job that they do. They do a good job, employ them. If they don’t do a good job, fire them,” Del. Levine said. “It should not be based on their race or religion, or their sex, or any of these irrelevant categories. Sexual orientation and gender identity are not relevant in the place of employment.”
But opposition was present for the hearing. Chris Freund, a spokesman for the Family Foundation of Virginia, took to the podium to say, as he has before, that these policies increase the likely hood of lawsuits.
“Unfortunately this policy creates categories of different individuals and puts businesses at risk of firing someone because they’re a bad employee and then getting blamed for another reason,” Freund said. “Should this become law, since there isn’t evidence based on data, that it’s instead going to be used to punish those who don’t have a viewpoint that the government accepts.”
According to a study conducted by The Williams Institute in January 2015, “enforcing sexual orientation and gender identity provisions in non-discrimination laws has only a minimal burden on state agencies. Complaints of sexual orientation discrimination are filed by LGBT people at approximately the same rate as complaints of race and sex discrimination are filed by people of color and women, respectively.”
But, once again, data and a plea from Del. Levine couldn’t save the bill. It was unsurprisingly killed in subcommittee for the rest of 2017.
There’s still plenty of GA news this session, stay tuned to GayRVA for more details.
“I’m not letting his misogyny define me, define my daughter or define my community.”April 21, 2017
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