March 13, 2018 at 7:27 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Va. legislative session a mixed bag for activists

Virginia, gay news, Washington Blade

The 2018 legislative session in Virginia proved a mixed bag for the state’s LGBT rights advocates and their supporters. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Virginia General Assembly’s 2018 legislative session that ended on March 10 proved a mixed bag for the state’s LGBT rights advocates and their supporters.

The Virginia Senate in Jan. 26 approved state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria)’s Senate Bill 202, which would have banned discrimination against public employees based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and state Sen. Jennifer Wexton (D-Loudoun County)’s Senate Bill 423, which would have added LGBT-specific protections to Virginia’s Fair Housing Law.

A Virginia House of Delegates subcommittee on Feb. 8 killed both measures. The same lawmakers also killed state Del. Mark Levine (D-Alexandria)’s House Bill 401 — which would have banned discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, public accommodation, housing, banking, insurance, public contracting and apprenticeships — and state Del. Marcus Simon (D-Falls Church)’s House Bill 1547 that was identical to SB 423.

Another House subcommittee last month tabled state Del. Debra Rodman (D-Henrico County)’s bill that would have banned health insurance providers from discriminating against transgender policyholders in Virginia.

The Senate Courts of Justice Committee on Feb. 5 killed Ebbin’s Senate Bill 3 that sought to rescind a state law that bans same-sex couples from entering into marriages or civil unions. The Republican-controlled House a few weeks later killed a proposed amendment to the House budget bill that would have added sexual orientation and gender identity to its nondiscrimination provision.

“After passing the Virginia Senate on a bipartisan 29-10 vote, House GOP members voted in a block to defeat my bill to protect LGBT public employees from discrimination,” Ebbin told the Washington Blade on Monday in a statement. “I was disappointed that the House GOP subcommittee members chose table the bills to shield their members from a vote on equality rather than shield thousands of LGBT state and local employees from discrimination.”

“I was extremely disappointed that my bill to remove the prohibitions on gay marriage in the Virginia code failed in the Senate — all people of our commonwealth deserve dignity and the people of Virginia need to know that when they read the code, that they are reading the accurate law of the land,” he added.

Equality Virginia Executive Director James Parrish told the Blade his organization “was proud to work with both Democrats and Republicans on two bills this session that would advance protections for LGBT people.”

“Equality Virginia has always valued its pragmatic reputation, and our approach involves finding consensus from both parties to pass common-sense legislation,” he added. “We were proud to help garner bipartisan support for both SB 202 and SB 423 before they successfully moved out of the state Senate for the third year in a row.”

“Unfortunately, it’s clear that not everyone in Richmond got the message from November’s historic elections,” Parrish told the Blade. “Support for policies that protect LGBT people from discrimination crosses party lines and is on the rise in the commonwealth. Despite all of this, House Speaker Kirk Cox and his colleagues Delegate Tim Hugo and Delegate Todd Gilbert recently killed a number of bills that would have ensured LGBT people were treated fairly and equitably under our laws.”

Roem, Adams sworn in as members of General Assembly

The 2018 legislative session began days before Gov. Ralph Northam was sworn into office.

The first executive order that Northam signed bans discrimination against state employees based on factors that include sexual orientation and gender identity. State Del. Danica Roem (D-Manassas), who is the first openly trans person seated in any state legislature in the U.S., and state Del. Dawn Adams (D-Richmond), who is the first out lesbian elected to the General Assembly, are among the new legislators who took office at the beginning of the session.

“Unfortunately, party politics got in the way at the legislature of taking care of our LGBTQ constituents as every pro-equality bill and resolution ended up either dying on party-line votes or never had a hearing in the first place,” Roem told the Blade on Monday in an email.

Virginia state Del. Dawn Adams (D-Richmond) (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Roem last November defeated Bob Marshall, a Republican from Prince William County who was among the General Assembly’s most prominent opponents of LGBT rights. Roem on Monday noted 2018 is the first year “in as long as I can remember when no legislators introduced any anti-LGBTQ bills, a direct result of the 2017 election producing so many pro-equality elected officials in Richmond.”

Roem noted the Manassas Park City School Board on Feb. 26 voted unanimously to add sexual orientation and gender identity to its nondiscrimination policy. The Prince William County School Board last year approved identical protections.

“When our leaders in Congress and state legislatures won’t lead on equality, then it’s important for us to work for equality at home,” said Roem.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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