The legislation passed by the General Assembly goes beyond anti-discrimination laws, banning conversion “therapy” and officially striking the defunct state ban on gay marriage.
After years of delay, the past few months have seen a whirlwind of new LGBTQ protections pass Virginia’s General Assembly. Just last week, both the House and Senate approved historic legislation banning discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations. The news got national attention, as the Commonwealth the first state in the south to implement these protections.
In addition to the anti-discrimination laws, the General Assembly has approved bills that would officially ban conversion therapy for minors in the state. Another would officially strike Virginia’s (already invalidated) gay marriage ban from the books. There was also major legislation expanding protections for trans community, including bills creating guidelines for schools to create more inclusive learning environments for their transgender students, and another making it easier for people to change their gender on their birth certificates.
None of these pieces of legislation are officially law yet, some need to pass the other chamber and all need to be signed by Gov. Ralph Northam. But the governor has voiced support for much of the legislation and is expected to sign most if not all.
“This legislation is going to have a profoundly positive impact on the LGBTQ community in Virginia,” Vee Lamneck, the executive director of Equality Virginia, a group that advocates for LGBTQ equality, said in an interview with The Dogwood.
Lamneck says that in their discussions with Virginians they found many people are surprised that LGBTQ protections do not already exist in the state.
“The majority of people believe these protections should be in place, that LGBT people should not be discriminated against in housing and employment and in public spaces, and when they’re accessing public services. We know there is broad support across the Commonwealth for these protections, and the time is now for them to be implemented,” Lamenck said.
While all the legislation was passed over the span of just a few months, the success comes after years of work. LGBT groups had been pushing for much of this legislation in previous sessions but faced obstruction from the Republican-controlled General Assembly. For four years, the Senate advanced legislation banning the discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity, only to be blocked by the House. The decision was all the more confounding given that polling showed the majority of Virginia Republicans supported LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections.
After these successes, Lamneck says that there is still much to accomplish in the Commonwealth. Future plans include expanded advocacy efforts to focus on marginalized communities.
“When I think about, for example, HIV criminalization, housing instability, and the school to prison pipeline, we can clearly see that LGBTQ youth and LGBTQ people of color disproportionately experience higher rates of discrimination, and this is unacceptable,” Lamneck sad.