Meet some Virginians who would be effected by nine proposed anti-LGBTQ bills currently before the GA
This year’s legislative session is set to be the most anti-LGBTQ in Virginia’s history. Sure, past bills have looked to target gays and lesbians, and then there was the voter-approved same-sex marriage ban back in 2006. But by sheer volume, conservative law makers have made a laundry list of legislation targeting some of the most vulnerable populations in the Commonwealth.
Submitted bills include refusing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, discrimination against gay and lesbian couples based on their marriage under the guise of religious freedom, stigmatizing trans children in schools, narrowly defining sex and gender to exclude trans and gay people from discrimination laws, preventing transgender people from accessing documents they need, and removing protections already in place for LGBT teachers.
“This year we have an onslaught of anti-LGBT bills facing us,” said James Parrish, Executive Director of Equality Virginia. He also stressed the impact similar legislation had on places like Indiana where so-called religious freedom bills lead to boycotts from organizations like the NBA as well as corporations. “He we were hoping Virginia was moving forward but as we can see that’s not true.”
Parrish then introduced a number of speakers who had would be personally impacted by the passage of any of the possible bills the group is fighting against. First on the roster was openly gay Fairfax County Public Schools teacher Robert Rigby.
FCPS made headlines last year when it became one of the first school districts in the Commonwealth to pass a policy protecting LGBT teachers and students from discrimination. Despite public outcry and zoo-like school board meetings, the policy paved the way for other counties to follow suit.
But a bill from famed anti-LGBTQ delegate Bob Marshall would undo that progress and force school districts to only protect classes currently listed in the state’s nondiscrimination policy which does not include sexual orientation or gender identity.
“Members of the LGBTQ community in Fairfax, my community, have found new acceptance in our schools as a result of these policies,” said Rigby who feared removing such policies would keep talented educators, as well as families, away from Virginia.
Rigby also commented on a bill from Del. Mark Cole which would require students, and all adults, to use bathrooms in state buildings (like schools) aligned with their “anatomical sex” rather than their gender identity. Violators would be charged a $50 fine issued by a police officers.
Cole is from Stafford County, one of two school districts which have passed policies similar to what he’s proposed.
“As teachers, we wonder if we’ll be called upon to enforce this law,” he said. “It brings worry and anxiety, not just to transgender and gender nonconforming stakeholders, but to anyone who does not meet some users concept of masculinity or femininity.”
Amy, a mother of a transgender student, also spoke about the concerns she faces as a parent of someone targeted by this bill.
“This is not a trivial situation,” she said. “Going to school everyday is an act of courage by my daughter.”
Amy said her daughter is currently using a separate bathroom connected to a closet when she has to use the restroom during school hours.
“In a school setting, these bills will set the stage for intolerance. It turns peers into potty police,” she said.
Attacks on LGBTQ youth and students stood out among speakers, and while youth weren’t in attendance at today’s event, advocates for them, including ROSMY Board Vice President Michael Thorne-Begland, where there to share their concerns.
Since 1991, ROSMY has been Richmond’s leading support group for LGBTQ youth, and Thorne-Begland was worried about the message kids would get if these bills were to pass.
“They say a trans child’s need to use a bathroom appropriate to their gender places other youth at risk, fabricating deranged scenarios using a bathroom appropriate creates a risk for others,” he said. “That is a lie, passionately preached by some and eagerly repeated by the small minded.”
Beyond the Commonwealth’s LGBTQ kids, concerns over Virginia’s image as business and travel destination was also a priority for today’s speakers.
“Indianapolis had a major public relations debacle on its hands, One that cost it millions of dollars.” said Phil Crosby, Artistic Director of The Richmond Triangle Players, the only LGBTQ theater in the mid-Atlantic. “No one would want to see that happening in Roanoke, in Norfolk or in Richmond.”
Crosby was worried, if this legislation were to pass, it could endanger businesses like his which rely on LGBTQ people being willing and interested in visiting the area.
“Passage of this legislation described here today not only says you’re not only welcome here to LGBT visitors, but also makes families and their friends feel unwelcome,” Ebbin said. “This is of huge economic importance. It’s not just LGBT people, it’s people from all over this country and all over this commonwealth.”
As terrible as much of this legislation is, Ebbin, Virginia’s first openly gay elected official, said he was confident much of it wouldn’t pass, let alone get out of committees and onto the House or Senate floor.
“When I first got here, these bills would have passed without much fanfare, [now] there going to be challenged every step of the way,” the Senator said looking back on his more than 10 years in office. “We’ll be fighting them, and most of these bills will be disposed of in committee.”
Of the bills which could make it to the Governor’s desk, it’s Del. Todd Gilbert’s Government Nondiscrimination Act. This ironically named bill aims to allow a business to deny services if it violates someone’s “sincerely held religious belief that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman.”
Gilbert’s standing in the House carries clout and power, which means it could survive a full House vote. Ebbin said of the possible anti-LGBTQ bills, it could survive cross over and end up on the senate floor where he promised he’d take action against it. “I think we have to get out the word for what it really stands for,” he said “He’s cleverly marketing this hatred.”
“… we need to protect our police but we certainly need to protect people who are unarmed and are extremely threatened and more likely to be attacked.”October 24, 2016
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