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Herring defending legal protections for LGBTQ+ Virginians in federal court

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A Northern Virginia photographer is challenging the expanded legal protections for LGBTQ+ Virginians in the Virginia Values Act.

Plaintiff Robert Updegrove, in a suit filed in federal court in Alexandria, said he cannot accept requests to create wedding photography for same-sex couples, because doing so “would promote activities contrary to his beliefs, express messages contradicting his beliefs, and express messages contradicting messages that (he) wants to and does promote elsewhere.”

Attorney General Mark Herring on Tuesday filed an opposition to the preliminary injunction requested by Updegrove, and a separate memorandum in support of a motion to dismiss the case, Updegrove v. Herring.

“The passage of the Virginia Values Act was a truly historic moment for the Commonwealth, when Virginia became the first southern state to pass such important protections,” Herring said. “We are all Virginians and we all deserve to live in this Commonwealth without the fear of being discriminated against because of what we look like, who we love, where we come from, or how we worship. I will do everything in my power to defend the Virginia Values Act and make sure that it continues to protect Virginia’s LGBTQ community.”

The law, signed by Gov. Ralph Northam in April, prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in housing, public and private employment, public accommodations, and access to credit.

It also extends protections to Virginians on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, age, marital status, disability, and status as a veteran.

Pre-Virginia Values Act, LGBTQ+ adults in Virginia were at risk of being fired, evicted or denied service in restaurants or stores.

Virginia was one of only five states without protections in public accommodations for any protected class.

Herring, in his court filings, details the importance of the Virginia Values Act in protecting against discrimination based on sexual orientation, noting a 2016 national survey showing that one in four LGTBQ+ people had experienced discrimination, and that 68.5 percent of those who had experienced discrimination reported that it had “at least somewhat negatively affected their psychological well-being.”

“Virginia’s record is no better,” Herring noted in his filing. “Although the Commonwealth has more than 300,000 LGBT residents, an analysis from January 2020 – before the Virginia Values Act was enacted – concluded that Virginia ranked 24th in the nation in terms of ‘[s]ocial acceptance of LGB people’ and that ‘historical anti-LGBT laws likely have lingering negatives effects on the social climate for LGBT people.’ A study from 2014 that examined the prevalence of discrimination in housing in Richmond showed that opposite-sex couples were treated more favorably than same-sex couples 44 percent of the time.”

Story by Chris Graham