By Aliviah Jones
Bianca Rey, chair of Capital Trans Pride, understands firsthand the struggle to live with equal protections. The constant worries of being fired from a job or treated differently are thoughts individuals in the LGBTQ community deal with on a regular basis, Rey said. “Is today going to be the day where somebody is going to approach me and tell me, you can’t come to this coffee shop anymore and buy coffee, because you’re trans, or gay, or you’re bi?”
Rey, a Virginia resident, said she feels fortunate to live near the D.C metro area where resources are easily accessible for the LGBTQ community. Still, Virginia is one of 30 states in the country without specific laws to protect LGBTQ residents.
“We’re professionals, we’re teachers, we’re veterans, you know, we work in healthcare, we’re physicians,” Rey said. But, she said, the LGBTQ community worries about access in a way the straight community doesn’t.
“I think, as a state, our top priority is to legalize a policy where LGBTQ Virginians are free to work and not be discriminated for being who they are,” she said.
That is why advocacy group Equality Virginia recently formed the Virginia Values Coalition, which is calling on state lawmakers to establish legal protections for the LGBTQ community from employment and housing to public spaces like stores or restaurants.
“We hope to arrive at the General Assembly with thousands of people behind us,” said James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia.
Last February, the coalition pushed for several bills to end discrimination in work and housing that did not make it past Republican-led House sub-committees:
Senate Bill 998 and House Bill 2067: Both aimed to prohibit employers from discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity. SB 998 passed the Senate but not the House. HB 2067 died in committee.
SB 1109 and HB 2677 both aimed to make discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity an unlawful discriminatory housing practice. SB 1109 passed the Senate but not the House. HB 2677 died in committee.
Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, supported legislation to protect Virginia’s LGBTQ community. McClellan said she plans to reintroduce the housing bill in the upcoming General Assembly session.
“I plan to reintroduce my housing discrimination bill in 2020 and if Sen. [Adam] Ebbin reintroduces his, I will once again be a co-patron,” she said. “Virginia’s LGBTQ citizens have the right to fair housing and fair employment, and if Democrats have the majority, we will finally be able to push the needle forward on many of these protections.”
Over 20 other bills supported by Equality Virginia failed to advance in the 2019 General Assembly session.
Parrish said last year was his 10th session lobbying for a housing bill and the first time the General Assembly had not allowed the coalition’s priority bills to be voted on before the House.
“We had the votes necessary both in the committee and on the floor for the housing bill, and they would not let it come up for votes,” he said.
Republicans hold a slim majority in the state legislature — 51-49 in the House and 21-29 in the Senate. Advocates for a number of causes believe that flipping control of the General Assembly could impact the policies and legislation being passed.
Right now, the Virginia Values Coalition field team is signing up people who support LGBTQ non-discrimination protections. Later in the year, it will host events highlighting individuals and organizations who join the coalition.
The coalition also will host panels across the state to educate people on the challenges transgender people face and how Virginians can support the community.
Equality Virginia also has two programs to get business owners and elected officials to demonstrate their support for LGBTQ nondiscrimination legislation:
Equality Means Business, which allows any small business owner to pledge online that their establishment does not discriminate against employees, customers and clients based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Local Leaders for Fairness, which enables elected officials to state their support of the General Assembly passing nondiscrimination protections for the LGBTQ community related to employment, housing and public spaces.
Currently, 24 districts and 46 elected Virginia officials have signed the online statement.
The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday on three employment discrimination cases. Arguments in the cases asked if Title VII protections extend to gay, lesbian and transgender employees. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 bans discrimination on the “basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin.” The case could be significant because fewer than half of the nation’s 50 states have laws in place that prohibit discrimination based on gender and sexual identities, according to the Human Right’s Campaign.