Lawmakers pass 'Virginia Values Act' to prohibit LGBTQ discrimination

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RICHMOND, Va. (WHSV/CNS) — Virginia lawmakers have passed a bill to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the commonwealth's anti-discrimination law.

Photo: MGN Online/torbakhopper / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

The bill, known was the 'Virginia Values Act,' passed in the Senate on a 30-9 vote on Thursday and in the House of Delegates on a 59-35 vote. While support was bipartisan, the only votes cast against the bills were by Republicans.

The respective measures from each chamber, SB 868 and HB 1663, have the same basic effect.

Each would make sexual orientation and gender identity protected classes when it comes to discrimination related to housing, employment and public accommodations.

The bills also give the attorney general's office the power to take action against anyone “engaged in a pattern or practice of resistance" to the rights guaranteed by the new law.

The ACLU and other human rights groups lauded the bill's passage on Thursday as a historic win that makes Virginia the first state in the South to enact such protections.

However, it's not the law of the commonwealth yet — each bill has to next advance through the other chamber (the Senate bill in the House of Delegates and vice-versa) and then be signed into law by Governor Ralph Northam.

Those steps are all but guaranteed by each chamber passing their own version of the bill though.

Vee Lamneck, executive director of Equality Virginia, was “cautiously optimistic” at the start of the legislative session but said Tuesday during the organization’s annual lobby event that there is much to celebrate.

Lamneck noted that most of the bills supported by Equality Virginia, a group that advocates on behalf of the LGBTQ community, are still alive and advancing. Last session most of those bills failed to pass from Republican-led subcommittees.

“This legislation will ensure that people are not discriminated against in housing, employment, public spaces and credit,” Lamneck said.

Some of the legislation that has advanced in the General Assembly — mostly with bipartisan support — includes two bills introduced by Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax. Senate Bill 657 would make it easier to change a person’s name and gender on a birth certificate. SB 161 would make the Department of Education create and implement policies concerning the treatment of transgender students in public schools; a duplicate bill in the House also passed.

The Senate also passed SB 245, introduced by Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, which would ban the practice of conversion therapy in Virginia on patients under age 18. A similar bill introduced by Del. Patrick Hope, D-Arlington, recently passed the House. On Tuesday, the House passed a health care bill introduced by Del. Danica Roem, D-Prince William, that prohibits discrimination based on gender identity or status as a transgender individual.

“We speak with many individuals from across the Commonwealth who have shared with us their experiences of discrimination,” Lamneck said. “And not just that, but the fact that they live in fear, day to day experiencing discrimination and so the Virginia Values Act will have a profoundly positive impact on the community.”

Two House bills that add gender, disability, gender identity, and sexual orientation as reportable hate crimes and a House bill replacing terms such as “husband and wife” with gender- neutral terms have yet to advance through their respective committees prior to crossover day on Feb. 11.