Nice Time: Virginia Secedes From Anti-Gay Union, Passes LGBTQ Nondiscrimination Bill
Virginia continued its march toward the promised land when lawmakers passed legislation Thursday protecting people from discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. That's right: We don't care if Mike Pence is the vice president. You can't deny LGBTQ Virginians employment, housing, or otherwise exclude them from public accommodations. This is 2020, y'all.
If the measures become law, as expected, Virginia will become the first Southern state to treat the LGBTQ community like human beings. Virginia's civil right protections would now extend to restaurants and stores. Racial minorities, women, and members of religious groups (all of whom include queer folk) would also enjoy these protections.
State Sen. Adam P. Ebbin from Alexandria said the Virginia Values Act "sends a message that the commonwealth is a safe and welcoming place for all people." Ebbin is the first openly gay person elected to the Virginia House of Delegates, where he served from 2004 to 2012. He made history again when he was elected to the Virginia Senate in 2012. Ebbin described lobbying the Virginia General Assembly for his human rights 30 years ago and how those appeals fell on deaf (and bigoted) ears.
"Very few lawmakers came out of their offices to meet with us, and I don't think it made a difference — at least at that time," he said. "Now we have five members of the LGBT caucus, which would have been unthinkable a few years ago."
One of the five members is the awesome (and transgender) Danica A. Roem. She unseated a Republican incumbent who insisted on misgendering her. He's probably not happy today -- good.
The Virginia Senate had passed a less ambitious version of this legislation, but Republican House leaders repeatedly killed those efforts in committee. Republicans are not big on "equality for all" -- yes, even the ones who vote to remove corrupt presidents. Everything changed when Democrats won majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly last year. They've passed the ERA. They buried Lee-Jackson Day and created a state holiday for Election Day. They're even coming for the guns: Last week, unbowed by silly boys in military gear, the House passed eight gun control measures.
House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn describe the historic vote Thursday as "long overdue."
FILLER-CORN: We need to end discrimination for our LGBTQ friends and family and co-workers. There's nothing more important than that.
The Human Rights Campaign dropped the mic in its statement about the Values Act:
For years, the Human Rights Campaign has worked with Equality Virginia and others to expand Virginia's non-discrimination protections to include LGBTQ people. However, despite majorities in both the House and Senate supporting the legislation, former Speaker Kirk Cox refused to bring the legislation up for a vote. Cox and former House Majority Leader Tim Hugo not only acted counter to members of their own caucus and the Virginia public, but also counter to the desires of their own base. According to polling, LGBTQ non-discrimination protections have overwhelming support among Virginians, including a majority of Virginia Republicans. Over the past several elections, HRC has successfully elected pro-equality champions at every level of Virginia's state government.
The HRC heavily invested in pro-equality candidates (or "Democrats" for short). The organization helped mobilize voters in a non-sexy election year, and its efforts are paying off not just for the LGBTQ community but all Virginians. No one benefits from continued injustice against others, even if certain religious and political leaders insist otherwise.
Gov. Ralph Northam requested the legislation, so he's expected to sign the bills into law. He is behaving himself much better this Black History Month than last year's. Virginia demonstrates that the main obstacles to progress are Republicans in control of anything. No matter what issues we might have with other Democrats now, let's all agree to put them aside come November and put more Democrats in office, period.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He's on the board of the Portland Playhouse theater and writes for the immersive theater Cafe Nordo in Seattle. Tickets are on sale now for his latest Nordo collaboration, "Curiouser and Curiouser," an adaptation of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass." It promises to feel like an actual evening with SER (for good or for ill).