By James Parrish
As Election Day approaches, candidates across the commonwealth are knocking on doors and picking up phones to woo potential voters.
One issue that demands attention from voters is each candidate’s stance on protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Virginia.
Many people are surprised to learn that in this day and age, there are no statewide laws in Virginia that protect LGBT people from discrimination in our daily lives. That means our neighbors can still be fired from their jobs, evicted from their homes, or kicked out of a store just for being who they are. Virginians can’t afford to allow discrimination to continue in our commonwealth.
According to the Williams Institute, 78 percent of Virginia residents believe that LGBT people experience discrimination. What’s more, 80 percent of LGBT people in Virginia report being harassed or mistreated. Forty-four percent say they weren’t hired because of their sexual orientation or gender identity and 26 percent say they lost a job because of who they are.
Virginians need action now. And this election marks a critical juncture to determine whether a candidate’s position on LGBT discrimination is more than a perfunctory campaign talking point.
Support for policies that protect LGBT people from discrimination crosses party lines and has been on the rise, not only across the nation, but also here in Virginia. Over the past six years, for example, the Republican-controlled Senate has passed legislation to protect LGBT people from discrimination. The GOP-controlled House has not.
These were common-sense, bipartisan bills that would have prohibited discrimination against LGBT people in state and local government jobs and updated our state’s Fair Housing Law to include our LGBT neighbors.
Instead, the House supported House Bill No. 2791, a flimsy attempt to amend the Virginia Personnel Act. The bill only referenced “merit and fitness” as qualifications in the language with no mention of sexual orientation or gender identity. The bill also didn’t encompass termination or hiring, and there were extensive exemptions, such as excluding county, city, town and district officers, deputies, assistants and employees from the proposed protections.
It’s infuriating, and for LGBT Virginians, it’s scary.
As executive director of Equality Virginia Advocates, the state’s leading advocacy organization that works with Equality Virginia on behalf of the 220,000 LGBT people who call Virginia home, the toughest calls I take are from gay and transgender people who have been discriminated against. These conversations happen too often. Way too often.
This General Assembly, we have a chance to do better. We need elected leaders who will prioritize common-sense, bipartisan legislation to protect LGBT people.
We are well past the point of window-dressing such an important issue.
James Parrish is executive director at Equality Virginia Advocates, a nonprofit that works with Equality Virginia to advance equal rights for LGBT Virginians through public policy and advocacy.