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Pro-LGBTQ Bills Strike A Positive Note at the Start of the 2018 General Assembly

We couldn't find a single anti-LGBTQ bill in all the legislation introduced... so far.

Marilyn Drew Necci | January 12, 2018

It’s General Assembly time, traditionally a busy season for GayRVA. However, searches through Virginia’s Legislative Information System (LIS) have revealed a curious thing; unlike previous years, including this past year — which brought us bills attempting to deny transgender people the right to use the bathroom in public and allow faith-based organizations to discriminate against married same-sex couples — this year’s crop of bills and resolutions dealing with LGBTQ issues are all on the right side of issues that affect our community.

Even with the notorious Bob Marshall gone, this is a bit of a surprise. After all, it was 30th District Delegate Nicholas J. Freitas who brought forth 2017′s HB 2025, the House version of the bill allowing discrimination against same-sex married couples; this year, while he does have a bill hoping to abolish Daylight Savings Time in Virginia, he hasn’t made a peep thus far about anything related to LGBTQ Virginians. Then again, for Freitas, it’s an election year — he is currently in the running to be the Republican that faces off against Senator Tim Kaine in 2018. Maybe that’s got something to do with it.

By contrast, there are quite a few bills that would have positive results for Virginia’s LGBTQ population, were they to pass into law. I won’t deny that I may have missed a few — after all, the LIS is not the most user-friendly system for regular people to use. However, right now it appears that 27 bills and resolutions relating to LGBTQ issues have been filed in the Senate and House Of Delegates. These mainly fall into three categories.

Adding sexual orientation and gender identity to current hate crime statutes. There are four bills that have been introduced in the House (HB 10, 32, 266, and 718) and one in the Senate (SB 112) that add sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as gender and disability in most cases, to the categories of victims whose intentional targeting in a crime will result in a higher sentence for the perpetrator. Over the course of the session, these bills will go through the usual process of combining, streamlining, and reconciliation that results in a single piece of legislation being handed to the governor — assuming, of course, that they make it that far.

One of the House bills was introduced by 36th District Delegate Kenneth R. Plum, who also introduced a resolution (HJ 85) calling for a study by the Virginia State Crime Commission of the prevalence of hate crimes and the effectiveness of Virginia’s laws in addressing these crimes, compared with similar laws in other states. As with a lot of the bills and resolutions we’re going to talk about today, this is long overdue legislation, but it’s at least good to see it being dealt with now.

Delegate Mark Levine

Prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. This is a big one. Virginia is one of six states in which state employees are the only people in the state protected from being fired on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Of course, in that respect, we are still doing better than the 16 states with no employment-based protections at all for LGBTQ workers. But that’s thin comfort for a trans woman who can’t get a job at KFC due to her gender identity. There are other ways in which discrimination on basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is also currently permitted under the law — for example, as it stands, those who are denied housing on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity have no legal recourse.

Thankfully, several bills have been introduced that will tackle some aspect of this problem. Del. Mark Levine’s HB 401 is the big one here — it prohibits “discrimination in employment, public accommodation, public contracting, apprenticeship programs, housing, banking, and insurance on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.” This is a broad, sweeping piece of legislation that tackles all facets of a problem that some other bills only address small parts of. It does not currently have a Senate counterpart. We’ll be speaking to Del. Levine to learn some more details about this bill in the coming days — look for that story next week on GayRVA.

86th District Delegate Jennifer B. Boysko has introduced the Virginia Equal Pay Act (HB 1089), which would forbid private employers from varying pay between employees on the basis of “ race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, marital status, veteran status, disability, or age.” Even though this list unfortunately doesn’t include gender identity, this is a significant piece of legislation in its own right for a lot of different marginalized populations within Virginia, and would definitely benefit the LGBTQ community were it to pass.

HB 971, introduced by brand new 31st District Delegate Elizabeth R. Guzman, would amend the Virginia Fair Housing Law to add gender identity as a category of people against which housing discrimination is legally prohibited. Meanwhile, SB 423, introduced by 33rd District Senator Jennifer T. Wexton, would add both sexual orientation and gender identity to the Virginia Fair Housing Law’s list of protected classes. And of course, both should be on that list.

Removal of sex-based classifications in laws relating to marriage and parenting. Several bills have been introduced that will amend with gender-neutral terms a variety of laws that currently describe couples as being made up of one man and one woman. These are basically procedural in nature; they simply recognize in legal language the reality that already exists in our state. However, their passage is important in making clear Virginia’s commitment to recognizing and welcoming same-sex couples. Situations these bills deal with include the property rights of married, ahem, people (HB 410), assisted conception (HB 411), adoption (HB 413), and even marriage-related criminal laws (HB 412), which, yes, have to be made applicable to same-sex couples too.

There are a few other noteworthy issues our legislators have chosen to focus on this year. Bills to ban conversion therapy, aka “ex-gay” therapy, have been introduced in both the House and Senate. 47th District Delegate Patrick A. Hope’s HB 363 prohibits health care providers and counselors from engaging in what the bill calls “sexual orientation change efforts” with anyone under the age of 18.

Senator Scott Surovell. Photo via Facebook

Alternately, 44th District Senator Scott A. Surovell’s SB 245, which also specifically protects those under 18, refers to the practice as “conversion therapy,” a slightly more expansive term defined within the language of the bill as “any practice or treatment that seeks to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity.” HB 363 does reference gender identity as well as sexual orientation, but the two are only given equal focus in SB 245, so hopefully SB 245′s language is what is eventually adopted across both houses.

A bill has also been introduced to require the state employee health plan to provide coverage for gender transition services. HB 1267, introduced by 43rd District Delegate Mark Sickles, does not have a Senate counterpart, and therefore may be less likely to make the trip to the Governor’s desk. What’s more, it’s another LGBTQ-related protection that would only extend to state employees. However, despite its limited scope and possibly slim chance of getting passed into law, it’s still a positive step and an encouraging thing to see being introduced.

Bills and resolutions proposing the repeal of the Marshall-Newman Amendment, the 2006 state Constitutional amendment defining marriage as “only a union between one man and one woman,” have been introduced in both the House and Senate. HB 414, introduced by 53rd District Delegate Marcus Simon, and SB 603, introduced by 30th District Senator Adam Ebbin, both seek to repeal prohibitions against same-sex marriages that still remain encoded into law, despite the fact that the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges made such prohibitions invalid.

Meanwhile, SJ 1, introduced by Ebbin, and HJ 7, introduced by 38th District Delegate Kaye Kory, both propose the repeal of the 2006 state constitutional amendment that defined marriage as “only a union between one man and one woman.” This is something people have been trying to get done in the General Assembly for a while, and is certainly important, since Supreme Court decisions only set precedent rather than rewriting laws. A different Supreme Court decision somewhere down the road could eliminate federal protections for same-sex marriages at some point in the future, and if Virginia’s state law is still on the books at that point, it could be bad news for every LGBTQ person either currently in a same-sex marriage or hoping to enter into one at some point.

Basically, this amendment needs to go.

And… that’s it! No bathroom bills, no anti-LGBTQ bills masquerading as “religious freedom” legislation… none of that. So far — it’s very important to note that while the prefiling deadline was 10 AM today, the final deadline for filing bills and resolutions isn’t until January 19. Someone still might sneak something gross in at the last minute. We’ll be watching, and if anything like that takes place, we’ll let you know. But the fact that we’ve gotten this far without any of that sort of thing rearing its ugly head is a good sign in and of itself. Take heart, Virginia! We will survive.