Victory in Virginia as governor signs LGBT+ protections into law

Victory in Virginia as governor signs LGBT+ protections into law

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Campaigners and supporters at the Virginia General Assembly.

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam has signed vital LGBT+ protections into law, in an historic breakthrough for the South.

It makes Virginia the 21st state, plus Washington DC, to provide comprehensive nondiscrimination protections for LGBT+ people. But it is the first in the South.

When the new law comes into force on 1 July, it will mark the end of a long battle in the state.

Similar legislation passed through the Virginia Senate several times in recent years. But anti-equality lawmakers in the House of Delegates blocked the moves.

However, in the 2019 election, voters elected pro-equality majorities to both houses of the General Assembly, making the new law possible.

On 6 February this year the House of Delegates passed the bill with a vote of 59 yes to 35 no. Meanwhile the Senate’s version of the bill passed 30 yes to nine no.

Since then, lawmakers have reconciled the bills to prepare them for Governor Northam’s signature.

Overwhelming public support in Virginia

Researchers estimate there are 250,000 LGBT+ adults in Virginia.

And 18% of same-sex couples in the state are raising children.

Polls have found that 78% of people in Virginia believe think that LGBTQ people experience discrimination in the state. And 68% of Virginians say they support protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination, according to Public Religion Research Institute. 

Even a majority of Republican voters support it.

The new Virginia Values Act will protect people from discrimination. It means LGBT+ Virginians can’t be fired, evicted or denied service in restaurants or stores.

It will apply to employers with six or more staff. Meanwhile, it will also update Virginia’s Fair Housing Act to protect LGBT+ people from discrimination.

‘Powerful message’ to the South

Rev Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, executive director of the Campaign for Southern Equality, said it is a ‘breakthrough for LGBTQ Southerners’:

‘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.’

Meanwhile Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, also welcomed the new law.

In August 2019, HRC endorsed 27 candidates and invested over $250,000 to elect pro-equality candidates across Virginia. The elections helped pave the way for the act to go through the General Assembly.

David said: ‘No one should be discriminated against simply because of who they are or whom they love.

‘Right now, as the country and the world deals with an unprecedented pandemic, it is more important than ever to ensure that leaders are looking out for all of us.

‘In this period of uncertainty, it is vital that we are all protected from bias as we earn a living, access housing and healthcare, and seek goods and services.’

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Author: Tris Reid-Smith