The Virginia House of Delegates passed an LGBTQ nondiscrimination bill Wednesday after a fiery speech in which the state’s first openly transgender lawmaker blasted the “discriminatory politicians” who would oppose it.
The legislation, which passed the House 55-39, adds sexual orientation and gender identity to existing nondiscrimination laws covering employment, housing, public accommodations, banking and insurance. The Virginia Values Act, a more sweeping LGBTQ nondiscrimination bill, is pending in both the House and the Senate and could pass later this week.
Prior to Wednesday’s vote, Del. Danica Roem, D-Prince William, who unseated one of Virginia’s most socially conservatives delegates in 2017 on her way to becoming the first transgender member of the General Assembly, shot back at a Republican lawmaker who claimed the bill threatens religious liberty and asked his colleagues to vote it down.
“No person in the Commonwealth of Virginia should ever be afraid to be who they are and to thrive in this commonwealth because of who they are, not despite it and not for what discriminatory politicians tell them they’re supposed to be,” Roem said. “Let’s pass this bill.”
Roem spoke after Del. Dave LaRock, R-Loudoun, told the story of a Virginia teacher, Peter Vlaming, who was fired by the West Point School Board for refusing to use a transgender student’s new pronouns. LaRock said LGBTQ nondiscrimination laws may sound innocuous, but can be “weaponized against people.”
“These policies are being used to punish anyone who does not agree with the ideology of the day,” LaRock said.
In response, Roem said she had met the student involved in the West Point case, whom she identified only as James. Roem said she also met a transgender girl from Stafford County, whom Roem identified as Morgan, who was left in a hallway during middle school lockdown drill because school officials weren’t sure if she should go into the boys’ or girls’ locker room.
“Some members of this body might not be able to empathize with the plight of a young man like James or a young woman like Morgan. But I can. I was too afraid to be them,” Roem said. “I was too afraid to tell anyone who I was. Because that stigma and that fear is so real. You have no idea what it’s like to be Morgan or what it’s like to be James. You don’t know until you have lived it.”
In other action Wednesday, the Senate passed a bill that would create a non-binary gender option on state-issued driver’s licenses.