The Virginia General Assembly’s 2020 legislative session on Wednesday began with hopes that lawmakers will pass a comprehensive LGBTQ nondiscrimination bill.
Democrats last November regained control of the General Assembly for the first time in more than two decades. Virginia House of Delegates Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax County) said during a Dec. 19 press conference in Richmond with LGBTQ activists that Virginia “needs comprehensive protections for our LGBTQ brothers, sisters, friends, co-workers.”
“In 2020, I’m here to tell you we will deliver them,” she added.
James Parrish, director of the Virginia Values Coalition, which supports the bill, echoed Filler-Corn.
“Discrimination is wrong,” Parrish told the Washington Blade on Tuesday in a statement. “No one should be fired from their job, evicted from their home, or kicked out of a store just for being who they are.”
Parrish added the bill would “bring the commonwealth into the 21st century by modernizing existing laws, while sending a message that Virginia welcomes all people to live, work and raise a family.” Vee Lamneck, executive director of Equality Virginia, which is part of the coalition alongside the Human Rights Campaign and other national LGBTQ advocacy groups, agreed.
“Under current Virginia law, LGBTQ people are not explicitly protected from discrimination, which means they can be fired, evicted, or denied service in restaurants or stores,” they told the Blade. “Equality Virginia is proud to partner with Virginia Values Coalition members to advocate for nondiscrimination protections that ensure LGBTQ people have the freedom to go about their daily lives without the fear of discrimination or violence.”
Filler-Corn during last month’s press conference noted Virginia is among the more than two dozen states “where members of the LGBTQ community are not explicitly protected from discrimination.” Both Maryland and D.C. explicitly ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Lamneck noted there are other legislative priorities this year that include adding sexual orientation and gender identity to Virginia’s hate crimes law and banning so-called conversion therapy in the state. Lamneck said creating safer schools for LGBTQ students is an additional goal for this legislative session.
“We have an important opportunity during this year’s General Assembly to create a more equal Virginia for the LGBTQ community,” they told the Blade.
State Del. Danica Roem (D-Manassas) has introduced bills that would allow local governments to include sexual orientation and gender identity in their nondiscrimination ordinances and require health insurance companies that offer policies in Virginia to cover transition-related care for transgender policy holders. Roem — the first openly transgender person seated in a state legislature in the U.S. — also told the Blade she will file a resolution that would designate Nov. 20 as the Transgender Day of Remembrance in Virginia.
State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) on Tuesday told the Blade he will once again push for the repeal of Virginia’s statutory ban on same-sex marriage.
Ebbin, who is the only openly LGBTQ member of the Virginia Senate, said the decriminalization of marijuana and the reduction of e-cigarette and tobacco product use among young people are among his additional legislative priorities.
“When I first arrived in Richmond as an advocate 25 years ago we were fighting to end taxpayer-funded discrimination,” he told the Blade in a statement. “Even that proposition was dismissed out of hand by the legislature. Today, at the dawn of a new decade in Virginia, I am prepared to pass comprehensive bans on discrimination, and remove the stain that is the ban on LGBT marriage in the Virginia code.”
“The legislature has finally caught up to the electorate,” added Ebbin. “It’s now time for our laws to do the same.”
Filler-Corn on Wednesday reaffirmed this message in her speech on the House floor after her colleagues formally elected her speaker.
“Virginia gave the nation and the world a vision of equality and democracy,” she said. “As we all know, it was a Virginian who laid it out in the Declaration of Independence.”
“We will continue our work to make this vision a reality for everyone, no matter where you come from, the color of your skin, the language you speak, the religion you practice or not, or who you love,” added Filler-Corn.
Md. General Assembly has new leadership
The Maryland General Assembly’s 2020 legislative session also began on Wednesday with new leadership.
House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne Jones (D-Baltimore County) succeeds Michael Busch, an Anne Arundel County Democrat who died last April. State Del. Maggie McIntosh (D-Baltimore City), who is among the openly LGBTQ members of the General Assembly, failed to secure enough votes to become speaker.
Jones is the first African American and the first female House speaker.
Maryland Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller (D-Prince George’s and Calvert Counties) last fall announced he plans to step down from leadership after more than 30 years. State Sen. Mary Washington (D-Baltimore City), who is the first openly LGBTQ person of color elected to the Senate, in November announced she is running to for mayor of Baltimore.
The Baltimore Sun notes education reform funding, restricting vaping, a potential referendum on sports betting, protecting the Affordable Care Act and addressing crime in Baltimore City are among the key issues that lawmakers will face this year.
Mark Procopio, executive director of FreeState Justice, Maryland’s largest LGBTQ advocacy group, previously noted to the Blade there were five “significant victories” in last year’s legislative session. These include the passage of a bill that allows Marylanders to obtain a gender-neutral state ID.
Maryland in 2019 increased funding for homeless youth, moved to develop LGBTQ-specific curricula in public schools, extended additional legal protections to LGBTQ families and expanded HIV prevention and treatment options for minors.