January 4, 2016 at 10:31 am EST | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Sweeping LGBT rights legislation coming to Va.
LGBT discrimination, Mark Levine, gay news, Washington Blade

Gay Virginia Del.-Elect Mark Levine (D-Alexandria) seeks to prohibit anti-LGBT discrimination. (Photo courtesy Facebook)

Gay Virginia Del.-Elect Mark Levine (D-Alexandria) says he plans to introduce legislation during the week he takes office on Jan. 13 calling for prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the areas of employment, housing and public accommodations.

Levine won election in November to the Virginia House of Delegates 45th District, which includes the city of Alexandria and parts of Arlington and Fairfax counties.

He said he’s in the final stage of drafting his LGBT rights legislation and will soon decide whether the non-discrimination protections covering employment, housing and public accommodations should be combined in one bill or divided into two separate bills.

“It’s a very technical question and I want to do it right,” said Levine, an attorney and past legislative counsel to former U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.). “But I’m definitely introducing it.”

Under current Virginia law it’s legal for private employers to fire or refuse to hire someone solely because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. It’s also legal for landlords to evict or refuse to rent an apartment to someone based on their sexual orientation or gender identity and for a restaurant or other business to refuse service to people because they’re LGBT.

Levine told the Washington Blade in a Jan. 2 interview that he understands it’s not likely that his legislation – along with as many as 19 other progressive-oriented bills he plans to introduce — will pass this year under Virginia’s Republican-controlled House of Delegates and Senate.

“Maybe they all won’t pass,” he said. “But what I’m trying to do is set the standard to say what I stand for and what my community stands for. And I’m more than willing to work with anyone on any of these bills to do some tweaking to get more support.”

Pointing to how same-sex marriage was thought to be unattainable in most parts of the country up until last year, Levine said introducing a more ambitious LGBT rights bill in Virginia will lay the groundwork for its eventual passage.

“I don’t think you withhold introducing something because you don’t think it will pass,” he said. “You introduce it, push for it. If it doesn’t pass this year you reintroduce it next year.”

Virginia State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria), who became the first openly gay member of the Virginia Legislature in 2004, said he would consider introducing a companion version of Levine’s bill in the Senate.

“I’m happy to consider good ideas like Mark’s if he would like a Senate version of the bill – absolutely,” said Ebbin.

Ebbin notes that he has introduced nearly every year since he first won election to the House of Delegates in 2003 and since winning election to the State Senate in 2011 a bill that would ban LGBT-related employment discrimination in state government jobs. He said the bill has twice passed in the Senate but was killed in the House of Delegates each year.

At least three Virginia governors, including current Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), have issued executive orders banning sexual orientation discrimination in employment in state government agencies. Ebbin and others point out that enacting those orders into legislation is needed to ensure that a future governor won’t rescind the executive order.

“I’ve done it as a first step toward broader employment non-discrimination protections,” Ebbin said in referring to his decision to introduce a more limited bill.

Ebbin also points to LGBT non-discrimination bills in the area of housing and public accommodations that he and others in the Virginia Legislature have introduced over the past several years. All have died in committee.

Equality Virginia, a statewide LGBT rights organization, states on its website that it is currently promoting a program to persuade private employers in the state to voluntarily adopt policies of non-discrimination for LGBT employees. Although the group says its eventual goal is for the State Legislature to pass an LGBT non-discrimination law, it has not specifically called on lawmakers to introduce such a bill.

The group’s executive director, James Parrish, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment on whether he and the group will publicly endorse the LGBT rights measure Levine plans to introduce.

Levine said he planned to release details of his LGBT rights legislation along with the other bills he plans to introduce at a town hall meeting Tuesday night, Jan. 5, at the Alexandria Democratic Party headquarters at 618 N. Washington St. between 7-8:30 p.m.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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