State lawmakers in Virginia have approved legislation implementing comprehensive LGBTQ non-discrimination protections, putting the state on the brink of becoming the first in the South to add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes under the law.
Both houses of the Virginia General Assembly passed the bill, called the Virginia Values Act, which covers employment, public accommodations, and housing. The addition of public accommodation protections — the first time any public accommodations are covered for any class in the state — will also be extended to other classes, including race, age, sex, religion, pregnancy, or veteran status, underscoring the far-reaching impact of the legislation.
The bill now faces minor procedural hurdles before it is delivered to Democratic Governor Ralph Northam, who is expected to sign it.
The legislation cleared the State Senate multiple times in years past, but it repeatedly died in the House of Delegates at the hands of anti-LGBTQ legislators. That hurdle was finally cleared this time around thanks to Democrats gaining control of both houses of the State Legislature in the November elections last year.
“Change has come,” tweeted Danica Roem, an out transgender member of the House of Delegates who was first elected in 2017. “Welcome to Virginia.”
Virginia Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw also celebrated the bill’s passage and thanked the Virginia Values Coalition — a statewide group working to protect LGBTQ rights in Virginia — for leading the fight to gain basic queer rights in the state.
“The passage of the Virginia Values Act ensures that LGBTQ Virginians have comprehensive protections in employment, housing, and public spaces,” Saslaw wrote in a tweet.
Reverend Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, who serves as the executive director of the Campaign for Southern Equality, a group focusing on advancing queer causes in the South, hopes the bill’s passage will mark the beginning of a new era for LGBTQ rights in states across that region.
“The Virginia Values Act sends a powerful message that no one should face discrimination because of who they are or who they love, and it charts a hopeful pathway forward for all LGBTQ Southerners,” Beach-Ferrara said in a written statement.
Alphonso David, who spent years working behind the scenes on LGBTQ rights legislation during his time as counsel to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, praised the endurance of those who remained steadfast in their pursuit of equality for years prior to the bill successfully passing both chambers.
“Today, history was made in Virginia, and LGBTQ Virginians are one step closer to being protected from discrimination,” David said in a written statement. “This day would not have been possible without the years and years of tireless work from advocates across the commonwealth, or the voters in Virginia that filled the halls of the General Assembly with pro-equality champions who fulfilled their promises.”
The rejuvenated Democratic-controlled Virginia General Assembly is also moving forward with other LGBTQ rights legislation. A ban on conversion therapy for minors cleared the House of Delegates by a wide 66-27 margin and is now on deck in the State Senate, while upper house recently approved a bill allowing individuals to change the gender marker on their birth certificate. The bill will eventually face a vote in the House of Delegates.