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Historic breakthrough for the South as Virginia votes to protect LGBT+ people

Historic breakthrough for the South as Virginia votes to protect LGBT+ people

  • Virginia’s new law will protect 250,000 LGBT+ people but could be even more significant for southern US states.
Campaigners and supporters at the Virginia General Assembly.

Both houses in Virginia have now passed comprehensive nondiscrimination protections for LGBT+ people across the state.

Virginia will become the 21st state, plus Washington DC, to provide the protections. But it is the first in the South.

Now campaigners are urging the lawmakers to reconcile the Senate and House versions of the bill. After that, it will go to Governor Ralph Northam to be signed into law.

Rev Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, executive director of the Campaign for Southern Equality, celebrated the vote:

‘Today’s vote in Virginia is a breakthrough for LGBTQ Southerners, the first time a legislative body in our region has taken decisive statewide action to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination.

‘The Virginia Values Act sends a powerful message that no one should face discrimination because of who they are or who they love, and it charts a hopeful pathway forward for all LGBTQ Southerners.’

What does the Virginia Values Act say?

Researchers estimate there are 250,000 LGBT+ adults in Virginia.

And 18% of same-sex couples in the state are raising children.

Polls have found that 78% of people in Virginia believe think that LGBTQ people experience discrimination in the state. And 68% of Virginians say they support protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination, according to Public Religion Research Institute. 

Even a majority of Republican voters support it.

The new Virginia Values Act will protect people from discrimination. It means LGBT+ Virginians can’t be fired, evicted or denied service in restaurants or stores.

It will apply to employers with six or more staff. Meanwhile, it will also update Virginia’s Fair Housing Act to protect LGBT+ people from discrimination.

The Virginia Senate had passed similar bills several times but the House of Delegates has blocked them. However, yesterday the House passed the bill 59 yes to 35 no. Meanwhile the Senate’s version of the bill passed 30 yes to 9 No.

The remaining votes are mostly just procedural – the House and Senate need to reconcile the bills. Campaigners expect this to go smoothly but it may take a few weeks.

After that, the bill will go to Governor Northam. However, supports the legislation and is expected to sign. If both of those steps go as expected, the protections will become law by the spring.

Meanwhile, Virginia has also been looking at legislation to protect minors from dangerous and useless ‘conversion therapy’ or so-called ‘gay cures’.

Moreover, the Virginia General Assembly is considering a bill to protect transgender people from discrimination in healthcare.

Will historic vote spread across the South?

The Virginia Values Act victory is thanks to the work of campaigners led by The Virginia Values Coalition.

Vee Lamneck, executive director of Equality Virginia, a coalition member, said:

‘Our organization has been advocating for bills that would protect LGBT people for years.

‘We’re very proud that this legislation also includes protections for people who live at the intersection of multiple marginalized identities, including people of color, women, veterans, and people with disabilities.’

And Alfonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, a coalition member, described the vote as historic.

Rev Beach-Ferrara added: ‘For years we’ve been seeing public support for the inherent dignity of LGBTQ people grow among Southerners.

‘In 2020, we’re seeing that support for LGTBQ equality show up as a political force across the South.

‘The vote in Virginia builds on the regional momentum of legislation protecting minors from ‘conversion therapy’ advancing in Kentucky and Republican elected leaders in West Virginia and Georgia publicly opposing anti-LGBTQ discrimination.’

Meanwhile campaigners across the US are calling on the United States Senate to pass LGBT+ protections at the federal level. The Equality Act has already passed in the House of Representatives.