Virginia is one step closer to passing a pair of landmark bills preventing discrimination against LGBTQ people on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Senate Bill 423, also known as the Virginia Fair Housing Law, sailed through the upper house of the General Assembly on Friday by a robust 29-10 majority. If passed, the legislation would prevent bias against LGBTQ folks when seeking housing. For instance, it is currently legal under Virginia state law for a landlord to reject a gay couple’s application for an apartment simply because of who they are.
Meanwhile, Senate Bill 202 prohibits discrimination against queer and transgender people in “public employment,” meaning government entities at the state and local level.
That bill further strengthens an executive order signed by Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam in January on workplace protections for LGBTQ state employees. Shortly after his inauguration, the first-term governor claimed the directive was necessary to “foster a culture of inclusion, diversity, and mutual respect for all Virginians.”
SB 202 was approved by an identical margin as SB 423. Both bills had received a thumbs up from the Senate General Laws Committee on Monday.
LGBTQ leaders championed Friday’s vote in the General Assembly.
“This vote affirms what Virginians already know to be true: that our state is at its strongest when we’re all free to live our lives without fear of discrimination,” said James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia, in a statement. “This is the latest evidence that Virginia is ready for equal opportunity for all.”
This is the third consecutive year the state Senate has approved nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people, but those proposals have yet to pass the House of Delegates.
Advocates say there’s reason to believe 2018 could be different. Following Danica Roem’s historic election as the state’s first openly transgender legislator, not a single anti-LGBTQ bill has been put forward in the General Assembly. Last year saw the introduction of the Physical Privacy Act, an HB 2-style bathroom bill targeting members of the trans community.
That bill was put forward by Republican Del. Bob Marshall, a self-described homophobe Roem beat by nine points in the November election.
In contrast, eight pieces of legislation have already been filed in support of LGBTQ equality at the time of writing. These include a bill on workplace harassment and two proposals to ban conversion therapy, a discredited practice often likened to torture.
Masen Davis, CEO of Freedom for All Americans, claimed these bills represent a major step forward for the state.
“This is a breakthrough moment for LGBTQ Virginians, and we hope this momentum carries into the newly seated House,” said Davis. “All eyes have been on the Commonwealth in the wake of their recent election, and this moment is ripe with potential.
“The time is now,” he continued. “Virginia is ready for equal opportunity for all.”
Previous surveys have shown Virginians largely support measures preventing LGBTQ people from experiencing bias in their homes and workplaces. Fifty-nine percent of respondents to a 2017 poll conducted by Equality Virginia and Public Policy Polling said they would support a law preventing queer or trans people from being discriminated against while seeking housing.
“[W]hat we all know is that discrimination of any kind is wrong,” Parrish said. “Virginia’s state leadership and newly elected legislature have an opportunity to send a message that Virginia welcomes all people to live, work, and raise a family.”
Virginia is one of 30 statesincluding Georgia and Texaslacking statewide laws preventing LGBTQ people from being fired or denied housing on the basis of their identity.
The state legislature voted down an LGBTQ-inclusive hate crime bill earlier this month.
Image via Equality Virginia