Lawmakers come together in support of bills to protect LGBT individuals, families

equality virginiaNearly a dozen legislators came together on Tuesday in support of bills that would create a more welcoming and inclusive commonwealth for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Virginians.

“Even as Virginians continue to celebrate the freedom to marry, it is important to remember that LGBT Virginians are still discriminated against every day,” said James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia. “For example, many people are surprised to learn that LGBT Virginians can be fired from their job simply because of who they are.”

More than 20 bills to protect and welcome Virginia’s LGBT community have been filed for the 2015 session.  Such bills include those to protect LGBT public employees from discrimination in the workplace; ensure LGBT individuals are not discriminated against in housing; ensure that the children of LGBT parents have legal access to both of their parents; and protect Virginia’s youth from harmful efforts to change their sexual orientation.  There are also a number of bills that would clean up the Virginia code to accurately reflect the law that same-sex couples can now be married in Virginia.

“Equality Virginia is grateful to have bipartisan support for LGBT equality and is thankful to the legislators who are taking the lead on this issue,” said Parrish.

Next Monday, the Senate Committee on General Laws is slated to hear SB 785 (McEachin D-9) and SB 1211 (Ebbin D-30), identical bills that would end discrimination in the public workplace.    Delegate Ron Villanueva (R-21) and Delegate Ken Plum (D-36) have introduced identical workplace non-discrimination bills in the House.   Those bills have been referred to the Committee on General Laws.

“I am confident that next week we will do the right thing and support the non-discrimination bill when it comes before committee,” said Senator Donald McEachin. “All Virginians deserve equal opportunity, justice and fairness. Employees should be able to be confident that their performance on the job is the only standard by which they evaluated.”

Also next Monday, the Senate Committee on General Laws is expected to hear SB 1211, a bill that Senator Ebbin (D-30) introduced to revise certain gender-specific terms in the Code of Virginia to reflect the rights and responsibilities of same-sex married couples.  There is similar bill in the House of Delegates (HB 1600), introduced by Delegate Marcus Simon (D-53).

“Bills to clean up the code are common sense.  Virginia has gained the freedom to marry, and in order to ensure all married couples know their rights and responsibilities, we must update Virginia’s code,” said Parrish.

Even with marriage equality, second-parent adoption remains an important issue for many families in Virginia.  A second-parent adoption bill (SB 679), introduced by Senator Janet Howell (D-32), has been assigned to the Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee.

“The second-parent adoption bill is simply about doing what best protects our children,” said Parrish. “We need to ensure that every child has legal access to both their parents when it is in the best interest of that child.”

On Monday, a fair housing bill (SB 917), introduced by Senator Jennifer Wexton (D-33) failed to report from Senate General Laws and Technology, with a 7-7 vote.  Delegate Marcus Simon introduced an identical bill (HB 1454) that has been referred to General Laws Committee; and Delegate Ron Villanueva introduced a bill to study discriminatory practices in housing (HJ 648) that has been referred to the Committee on Rules.

Equality Virginia is hopeful that some of the equality bills will pass the Senate, but expects all LGBT equality bills will be blocked by the House of Delegates.

“At the end of the day – you are either for discrimination, or you are against it.  It is unfortunate that many members in the House are so comfortable standing up for discrimination. Even as the majority of Virginians believe in LGBT equality and nondiscrimination, the House of Delegates continues to stand in the way of meaningful change,” said Parrish.

Equality Virginia will monitor LGBT bills through the 2015 General Assembly Session.  A complete list of bills followed by Equality Virginia can be found on Equality Virginia’s website: www.equalityvirginia.org