Legislators submit inclusive LGBTQ bills during 2017 session despite history of push back
The 2017 General Assembly is underway and along with it are a sizable number of bills aiming to hold back or undo LGBTQ progress, but it’s not all bad.
The supprtive proposed House and Senate bills focus on anti-discrimination when it comes to employment and housing, as well as building safe communities.
One of the proposed pieces of legislation is HB1702, which seeks to redefine what constitutes a hate crime by adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the law’s list of protected classes. It also requires reporting of all hate crimes to state police.
The bill is proposed by Delegate Richard “Rip” Sullivan, of the 48th district.
“It’s a sad fact that hate crimes of all sorts have been on the rise, not just recently, but frankly over the last several years,” said Del. Sullivan, who stressed reporting of hate crimes should be part and parcel of police work. “They forward that information to the FBI. This should be codified in statutes, and to my way of thinking, would be an important recognition of an unfortunate and growing problem in Virginia and around the country.”
What started and currently exists as a federal system of increased punishment for hate-motivated crimes does not actually require reporting by police departments. In 2015, only 17% of Virginia’s police departments reported hate crimes to federal agencies. While the FBI releases national and state level statistics annually, they are considering incomplete because of this under reporting.
This is the third time the bill has been proposed by Sullivan, but he remains hopeful that it will be put through this session. He said that good ideas sometimes take a while to gain traction and stressed the importance of perseverance on the issue.
In May, 2015 an openly gay employee at the Chesterfield Amazon shipping facility was attacked. Because Virginia doesn’t include sexual orientation in it’s hate crime law, federal agencies had to step in and the case has floundered. Bills like Del. Sullivan’s can help prosecute instances like this and codify what defines these acts.
Del. Sullivan also praised Attorney General Mark Herring, who has spoken out against the state’s lackluster hate crime law.
“I want every Virginian to know that I will always stand up for them and their right to live, work, worship, and love without fear, harassment, or discrimination,” AG. Herring said in an event at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society Center (ADAMS) last week.
Meanwhile, Del. Sullivan has reached out to other members of the General Assembly for discussions about his proposed bill. He claimed the response has not been particularly receptive, but that he understands why.
“Unfortunately, there is an all too familiar view from too many people on the other side, that my piece of legislation or others like it would represent a sort of stamp of approval by the General Assembly of a particular kind of lifestyle,” Del. Sullivan said. “From their point of view is the reason they oppose this and so many other -in my view- good pieces of legislation. It’s an unfortunate sort of knee-jerk reaction.”
Another proposed piece of legislation hoping to protect the Commonwealth’s LGBTQs is SB822, otherwise known as the Virginia Fair Housing Law. It seeks to add sexual orientation and gender identity to housing nondiscrimination laws. Senator Jennifer Wexton has partnered with the non-profit organization Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME), as she has in the past, to work on the law.
According to a 2013 nationwide study by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, same-sex couples experienced discrimination 16 percent of the time when seeking rental housing.
The HUD study found adverse treatment is found primarily in the form of same-sex couples receiving fewer responses to the e-mail inquiry than heterosexual couples, and while “no clearcut pattern exists in the magnitude of adverse treatment by metropolitan market size,” discrimination exists in all metropolitan areas.
The National Center for Transgender Equality found that one in five transgender people in the U.S. have been refused housing, and more than one in ten have been evicted because of their gender identity.
A 2014 HOME study echoed these concerns.
Sadly, Wexton’s bill is also no stranger to the General Assembly. Previous efforts had shown the bill dying in committee once it reaches the GOP-dominated House.
“I have proudly championed this legislation for the last three years. It was great to see it pass the Senate last session, and I hope the House will follow suit this year,” said Sen. Wexton. “This is not only an issue of fundamental fairness but also of economic viability. What business will ever want to come to Virginia when their employees can be denied housing because of whom they love?”
While Wexton and Sullivan’s bills might not fans at the state legislature, the public has shown broad support to adding protections for LGBTQs.
A study released last summer showed Americans’ views toward LGBTQ nondiscrimination laws have changed dramatically.
According to the study, a whopping 72% of Americans say they support measures that protect LGBT people from being discriminated against in housing, jobs, and public accommodations.
To break that down even further, 61% of Republicans support non-discrimination laws, along with 78% of Democrats.
GayRVA will track these bills as they move through the Senate and House, we’ll keep you informed best we can in the coming weeks.
“I’m not letting his misogyny define me, define my daughter or define my community.”April 21, 2017
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