Protections for Virginian LGBTQ’s in housing and public employment pass senate committee with bi-partisan support
A handful of Virginia Senate Republicans and Democrats agreed on something today – LGBTQ people deserve protections if they work for the state and they shouldn’t be discriminated against when trying to find a place to live.
S.B. 12 would add “sexual orientation and gender identity” to the list of protected classes in state employment. Currently, someone who works for the state could be fired for being gay, or at least could be if Gov. McAuliffe hadn’t signed an executive order providing those protections. But when McAuliffe leaves office, if his successor doesn’t sign a similar EO, that state employee would lose these protections.
“We know that large employers do this, fortune 500 employees do this,” said Sen. Ebbin, one of the bill’s sponsors. “We need to codify it, when people come to Virginia to work, they should know if someone asks if they have a spouse they can just answer the question and not worry about what it might mean.”
Chris Freund, Vice President of Government Relations and Communications for the conservative group The Family Foundation, spoke out against SB12. He insisted there was no proof of anti-gay or anti-transgender discrimination in state employment therefor no requirement for the expanded protections.
“If there were actual cases of discrimination taking place, we’d see them on TV and be reading them in the news,” he said. “Our fear is this legislation would be used to weaponize government to punish people who have a view point that runs contrary to the government on human sexuality.”
“If you pass this legislation, our fear is that state employees that express their beliefs about marriage and sexuality on facebook or a blog, anywhere publicly, could become targeted for punishment,” he said.
Sen. McEachin, SB12′s cosponsor, specifically addressed Freund’s term “weaponized government,” and pointed to protection policies that have been in place for decades and have yielded few, if any, abuses.
“This is still a country that believes that you have the right to say what you want to say and believe what yo u want to believe, but this, legally, ought to be part of Virginia’s public policy,” McEachin said.
The committee then voted in favor of the bill, 9-4 with three abstentions.
Sen. Wexton’s S.B. 67 , which would expand protections in housing for LGBTQ Virginians, was before the same committee for the 9th year in a row. .
Wexton (pictured below) told the committee the bill only applies to multi-unit dwellings of 3 or more and it does not apply to religious organizations. She listed the currently protected classes and noted it’s omission of sexual orientation and gender identity.
“These traits have nothing to do with whether or not someone will be good tenants or if they’ll be able to make rent or mortgage. These are the only factors that should go into these housing decisions,” she said. “As we are seeking to make Virginia more competitive, we need to recognize this is one of the things employers look at when they are looking to expand or relocate to Virginia. If these company’s employees run the risk of not being able to find housing because we, the General Assembly, aren’t going to protect them, they’re going to go elsewhere.”
Again, Family Foundation’s Fruend spoke against the measure.
“If you adopt this law into the housing statute, property owners are going to face the possibility of having to go to court and face claims that have not been proven,” he said. “They can cost thousands. I think it will have a detrimental effect on sustainable housing.”
Heather Crislip, President and CEO of Housing Opportunities Made Equal in Virginia (HOME), spoke in support of the bill saying her non-profit housing organization conducted a study to find out how often LGBTQ folks are discriminated against when looking for a place to live.
According to HOME, same-sex couples experienced some form of discrimination 44% of the time compared to their straight peers.
“The opposite sex couple could have been told about a special when the same-sex couple was not or was encouraged to apply online when that convenience was not extended to the same-sex couple,” Crislip said, stressing national studies mirror their results.
“Home seekers should be evaluated on criteria related to their ability to pay their rent and be good neighbors, not on their sexual orientation,” she said.
The committee, again in a rare move of bipartisanship, voted 10-4 with two abstentions to pass the bill.
Both bills will now head to the Senate for a full floor vote. If they pass the Senate, they’ll head to a house committee which will probably not be as supportive.
Top image of Sen. McEachin (left) and Sen. Ebbin at today’s hearing
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