January 11, 2019 at 12:25 pm EST | by James Wellemeyer
Equality Virginia launches LGBT rights campaign

Equality Virginia Executive Director James Parrish says many people “are surprised to learn” the state’s nondiscrimination law does not include sexual orientation or gender identity. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Equality Virginia on Friday launched a new month-long messaging campaign to raise awareness of the fact that one can be fired in Virginia because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The campaign will come in the form of a series of billboards that read, “Someone you know is gay . . . They can be fired for who they are.”

The messaging echoes the “Someone You Know Is Gay” billboards positioned around Richmond in the 1980s. Organized by Guy Kinman and the Richmond Gay Alliance, the billboards emphasized the ability of human connection to decrease prejudice toward LGBT people.

There are currently no statewide protections for LGBT people in housing or employment in Virginia. For the past three years, the Virginia Senate has passed bills that would establish protections in both of these areas. However, none of these bills have been approved by the House of Delegates.

A majority of delegates support LGBT equality, but Republican leadership has resisted allowing a vote on protections for LGBT people.

In the 2018 legislative session, House Speaker Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) prevented a vote on nondiscrimination legislation that would have passed with bipartisan support.

“Many people are surprised to learn that it is still legal under our state’s laws to fire a hardworking employee, deny them an apartment, and otherwise discriminate against people simply because they’re gay or transgender,” Equality Virginia Executive Director James Parrish said.

The new campaign is part of the organization’s latest push to pass this legislation in the Virginia House of Delegates. In addition to the “Someone you know is gay” signs, the campaign will include billboards with quotes from LGBT Virginians on the difficulties they have face as a result of the lack of protections in employment and housing.

“The goal of this year’s campaign is to increase understanding of the lack of legal protections these communities face and demonstrate the toll discrimination takes on LGBT Virginians and their families,” Parrish said.

Equality Virginia is working with Attorney General Mark Herring to pass protections this year in both the Senate and the House. The organization remains optimistic about this possibility.

“The good news is, support for equality has grown by leaps and bounds and people from all walks of life have come to understand that we all have LGBT loved ones, coworkers, and friends,” Parrish concluded.

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