Little change expected for LGBTQ rights in Virginia as GA 2016 hits mid point
It’s been an exciting General Assembly session with highs and lows for Virginia’s LGBTQ community and now that we’ve hit the midpoint here’s a rundown of what we’ve got left to look forward to… or protest against.
By far the most news-worthy event so far this year was the failure of HB HB 781 which aimed to force transgender students and citizens to use restrooms aligned with their birth gender in public buildings and schools. Powerful testimony from from 17-year-old transgender Appomattox student Andrew Wilson (pictured center, below) helped push the issue into the spotlight.
“If House Bill 781 was implemented, I’d be forced to use the women’s facilities and locker rooms,” said the soccer team member at the bill’s subcommittee hearing. “This would impact me if I was at away games if people did not know I was trans.”
The bill did pass subcommittee, but it ran into problems at its full committee hearing when the delegates realized there was a current court case dealing with the issue. Evidently it is procedure for the GA not to make laws dealing with active court cases incase it sways the final judgement.
Two bills, HB 397 sponsored by Delegate Dave A. LaRock and HB 385 by Del. Bob Marshall (pictured below), aimed to roll back protections added for LGBTQ students and employees which were enacted by local school boards. AG Mark Herring gave them the go-ahead to add protections despite protests from the likes of Del. Marshall and LaRock. This lead to Fairfax County, Virginia Beach, Richmond, and a number of other school districts passing supportive policies, protecting 1/4 of the teachers in the Commonwealth.
LaRock’s bill was killed along side a number of pro-LGBTQ bills by a weird procedural vote (which we’ll go into in a bit) and Marshall’s bill died in full committee after delegates questioned the bill’s necessity as it seemed to re-state Virginia’s Dillon rule which denies localities from making any laws not authorized by the GA.
“If your bill is just the Dillon rule, how can you make a law that is already a law?” asked Republican Del. Albo.
Albo pointed out that Marshall singled out cases of discrimination as opposed to “every other thing a local government might try to do,” which might lead localities into thinking their only way to violate the Dillon rule would be to add protections.
“I don’t follow or stalk Mr. Herring 24/7, but his action here really violated this rule of construction… I’m trying to address the problem we see in front of us,” Marshall rebutted. “I don’t see these other problems, if they’re there either myself or the chairmen of courts would put in a bill to do the same thing.”
Despite Marshall’s protests, the committee then voted with a result of 12 to 10, killing the bill.
A mess of pro-LGBTQ House bills (protections for public and private employment, housing, banning ex-gay therapy on minors, etc.) were all killed in one sub committee meeting (along side LaRock’s anti-LGBTQ bill) as well. We called it a weird procedural vote, but Clair Gastanaga from the VA ACLU said she’d seen it used before, in the 80′s when the VA legislature didn’t want to address the HIV/AIDS crisis.
“Sometimes you’ll see them refers a bunch of bills to the housing commission, [etc]… it’s not unusual for them to use bodies like this,” she said.
In this case, these bills were referred to the Codes Commission which meets in the summer.
“They made a decision about what bills they wanted to put on the floor and they made an architecture to do that,” Gastanaga said.
Another set of bills which faced daunting opposition dealt with banning conversion therapy on minors. Both Senate Bills, the subcommittee hearing featuring testimony on both bills turned into a passionate mess as the head of the meeting allowed for an unprecedented amount of banter between committee members and those testifying for and against the bill.
Mathew Shurka and Josh Bryan Sanders (pictured below), both survivors of ex-gay therapy, spoke of how the treatment did more harm than good, if not only harm. Meanwhile an active practitioner of ex-gay therapy and a self-described success story, John Linder, spoke of how well the treatment worked on him before admitting he still “suffers from same-sex attraction” which you would think means he wasn’t cured, but whatever.
The meeting did leave room for one of the 2016 GA’s most disgusting anti-gay comments when Senator Charles Carrico (we’ll hear more from him towards the bottom of this write up) compared being gay to having cancer and ex-gay therapy was like chemo:
“If I have a child who has cancer, there’s a chance we can cure that cancer with chemo therapy rather than watch that child suffer… it is a form of therapy, the chemo therapy, and to know it goes in remission and find out the child has cancer again, that is a parents decision to try and help the child”
Both bills were killed in the same sub-committee hearing.
There’s good news that doesn’t involve bills being killed too; two bills which would add protections for LGBTQ Virginians in housing and in the public work place both passed a full Senate vote and are heading to a House subcommittee in the coming weeks.
“Thank you for your support and for contacting your legislators on the issues that matter,” wrote Equality Virginia on their facebook page following the vote which took place back in late January. “Your advocacy and voice are helping to change hearts and mind in the General Assembly.”
Sadly, similar bills have passed the Senate in the past and they usually die in House subcommittees – however testimony will be heard before they are voted upon, and GayRVA will let you all know when and where that happens so stay tuned.
But it wouldn’t be the Virginia General Assembly without a few bills targeting sexual minorities managed to make it to a the Republican-controlled Senate and House floors and sure enough we’ve got two bills dealing with similar issues: so called “religious freedom.”
The idea behind these laws is private companies and citizens should be able to deny services to same-sex couples because their marriage goes against their deeply held religious beliefs. Virginia is also one of the few states which already has religious freedom laws on the books – you can be denied an adoption or services from a genetic counselor because you’re LGBTQ – so we don’t have much of a leg to stand on precedent-wise.
Todd Gilbert, a leading conservative in the House, promised to patron a bill like HB 773 last summer and sure enough he did. Despite protest over the bill (including from GayRVA’s Editor/me) it managed to pass both a subcommittee and full committee vote in the same day, and then flew through a full House vote earlier this week. It now heads to a Senate subcommittee where testimony will be allowed, but there’s little doubt it will fail. Luckily Gov. Terry McAuliffe has promised to specifically veto this bill if it makes it to his desk, so we’ll see.
As for the SB, Sen. Carrico (from the cancer comparison above) introduced SB 41 and managed to get it passed in the Senate despite some pretty powerful arguments from Sen. Adam Ebbin, VA’s only openly LGBTQ Senator:
“These are public people we’re allowing to discriminate based on their privately held religious beliefs,” Ebbin said, going off before the entire Senate floor. “It’s a solution in search of a problem. We are the birthplace of the statute of religious freedom… it is core to who we are as a Commonwealth. Proposals like these, licenses like these, desecrate the very thing they claim to protect.”
SB 41 is now headed to the House where it is pretty much guaranteed to pass and end up on McAuliffe’s desk along side Gilbert’s bill to also receive the VETO stamp.
We’ve only got a few weeks left, and from what we’ve seen so far and what we’ve seen in the past we don’t expect any sweeping changes to happen this time around. That might seem pessimistic, but considering some of the negative bills Virginia’s LGBTQ community was looking at, we came out on top, of bottom, whatever your preference is.
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