Four pieces of General Assembly legislation aimed at protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender public employees from workplace discrimination have failed to make it out of the House of Delegates this year. It’s an embarrassing situation that suggests Virginia still has some catching up to do in the modern world.
James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia, sums it up this way: “Ideology should not stand in the way of achieving fairness and equality—something that would benefit all Virginians.”
Members of the LGBT community who are state government employees do have protection thanks to the executive order Gov. Terry McAuliffe issued early in his administration.
The initiatives before the General Assembly would have expanded the language of the executive order to include all public employees in Virginia, whether they work for the state or any locality. There is no attempt—yet—to protect private-sector employees as well, though five states, including Maryland, and many large companies, already do.
With the legislation’s demise, Virginia will again fail to join dozens of other states that offer codified state employment discrimination protection to at least gay and lesbian workers. Virginia could have been the 17th state to include gender identity as well as sexual orientation bias protection.
Is there at least any progress on the issue in the General Assembly? It depends on how you look at it. The two Senate bills introduced by Sens. Donald McEachin (D–Richmond) and Adam Ebbin (D–Alexandria) were combined into McEachin’s SB785, which passed in the Senate thanks to two Republican crossover votes and a tie-breaking vote by Democratic Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam.
The bill was then tabled—killed—by a House subcommittee.
And even though one of the two House bills was introduced by a Republican, Del. Ronald Villanueva of Virginia Beach, it and the companion legislation were both passed over—killed—by the same House General Laws subcommittee.
Republicans on that subcommittee outnumber Democrats 6–2, so the chances of such measures getting to the full committee, let alone the full House, are slim and none.
There is nothing about being gay, or lesbian, or transgender that disqualifies one from being a person, or an American or a Virginian. Ending discrimination in any form, against any group, is as important as any responsibility that our lawmakers in Richmond have. So far, it’s one they are shirking.
The times are changing. Fact is, 37 states—including Virginia—now recognize same-sex marriage. Indications from the U.S. Supreme Court are that it will rule those unions constitutional later this year. Clearly, there has been an incredibly swift and widespread change of heart on the issue.
In many states, that momentum is carrying through to protection from sexual orientation and identification discrimination in the public-sector workplace. But not in Virginia.
Virginians shouldn’t have to rely on the governor’s order, which could be undone by the state’s next chief executive. The General Assembly needs to pass a law.
Maybe next year.