Legislators discuss equality agenda as Virginia’s 2015 GA session gets underway
Read More: Ebbin, Favola, Hope, House Bill 1385, House Bill 1454, House Bill 1494, McEachin, Parrish, Plum, Senate Bill 1181, Senate Bill 1211, Senate Bill 799, Senate Bill 917, Sickles, Simon, sullivan, surovell, Wexton
A press conference highlighting equality legislation featured numerous General Assembly members this week as the some hope for expanded protections for Virginia’s LGBTQ communities.
James Parrish, executive director at Equality Virginia, said even though same-sex marriage is legal in our state, the LGBTQ community is not considered equal to the rest of Virginia.
Top image: from the left – Hope, Sickles, Surovell, Wexton, Plum, Parrish, Simon, Ebbin, McEachin, Favola, & Sullivan
“The truth is, LGBT Virginians continue to face discrimination as we go about our daily lives,” Parrish said. “For example, many Virginians are surprised to learn that you can still be fired from your job, or not even hired just based on your sexual orientation or your gender identity.”
Several legislators echoed Parrish’s statement, citing specific bills that would fight for equal protection to all citizens of Virginia.
Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria), Virginia’s first openly gay state legislator, introduced two bills that would help end this type of discrimination.
Senate Bill 1181 calls for nondiscrimination in public employment. Gov. Terry McAuliffe issued an executive order banning discrimination within the public workforce, but Virginia has yet to codify these rules into law.
Senate Bill 1211 would revise several lines of Virginia Code to eliminate gender-specific references. Ebbin said it would prevent laws from being used against LGBTQ Virginians.
“It does no harm to make these changes,” said Ebbins. “But we must make them so that accountants and attorneys, when they are reading the code and advising their clients, are clear that same gender couples have the same rights and responsibilities as other couples.”
Sen. Jennifer Wexton’s (D-Leesburg) bill preventing discrimination in public housing was defeated on Monday. Senate Bill 917 added sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of unlawful discriminatory housing practices. Wexton said despite defeat in a 7-7 vote, she is not done with this issue.
“LGBT Virginians deserve better from their state government and elected officials,” Wexton said. “Eighteen states and Washington D.C. have passed bills that would ban this form of discrimination and I promise you that this is not over. As long as I and my colleagues continue to serve, we will continue to fight this fight.”
House Bill 1454, introduced by Del. Marcus Simon (D-Falls Church), is similar to Sen. Wexton’s and is still up for debate in the House. Simon said that in previous years, the committee did think of this bill as a “a solution in search of a problem” because there was no proof of discrimination in public housing based on sexual orientation.
Housing Opportunities Made Equal recently conducted a study in the Richmond area. Simon said they found a differential response at least 31 percent of the time with same-sex couples in search of housing.
Simon said this study is the evidence the state needs to add sexual orientation and gender identity to fair housing laws of Virginia.
“The momentum is on our side. History is on our side,” Simon said. “This is an issue where we’re getting greater acceptance in Virginia that this is a class of folks that are indeed worthy of protection.”
Sen. Barbara Favola (D-Arlington) authored Senate Bill 799, which would have added sexual orientation and gender identity to the definition of hate crimes, but was killed in a senate committee hearing last week. Favola said that 20 percent of hate crimes occur against individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
“We have to reach a point where every Virginian is protected, every Virginian feels safe in the commonwealth, and every Virginian has the support of our government,” Favola said.
Del. Richard “Rip” Sullivan (D-Arlington) introduced House Bill 1494, which would also expand the definition of hate crimes to include sexual orientation and gender identity. Sullivan also said that implementing this law would help defend Virginia as a whole.
“This is a bill that has to do with the protection, not only of the LGBT community, but of our entire commonwealth and our law enforcement people need this data,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan’s bill will be the last chance to update the hate crime law during the 2015 GA session.
The last bill discussed during the press conference would ban conversion therapy for minors. Del. Patrick Hope (D-Arlington) is sponsoring House Bill 1385 which would prohibit “sexual orientation change efforts” for minors in order to protect them from emotional damage. He said the negative impacts of this type of therapy were dangerous and it was the legislature’s duty to prevent it.
“That’s the government’s role, in my view, when to step in when there’s matters that deal with hurting the public, particularly our minors,” Hope said.
Sen. A. Donald McEachin (D-Richmond) said these bills would support the view of our last two Virginia governors and fit with the state’s view on same-sex marriage.
“Now is the time for this general assembly to go on record and put a punctuation mark on what the last two governors have done in this regard. And put it into the code so that we can end this debate and move on to other very important equality issues,” McEachin said.
“It is a no brainer that the Commonwealth and subdivisions should be hiring and evaluating employees on their workplace performance and no other factors.”January 29, 2016
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