News (USA)

Virginia anti-discrimination bill aims to put state lawmakers on record

LGBT advocates in Virginia are rallying around an anti-discrimination bill ahead of the state’s 30-day 2013 legislative session that begins on Jan. 9, but Virginia’s history with LGBT rights and the language of the bill has attracted detractors from within the community.

The bill, SB 701, aims to provide state employees in Virginia protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity expression.

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“If you don’t try, you can’t win, so that’s why we’re going forward,” said Senator Don McEachin, one of the authors of the bill. He realizes the chances of this bill getting past both the Senate and the House are slim. But there is a reason for these pushes for equality in the face of such obstacles.

To Equality Virginia, the state’s largest LGBT lobbying group, the realistic goal is not so much passing the legislation as getting legislators on record.

“This is not our end game bill – it’s a step-by-step process, just like marriage equality. This bill passing is what gets us to the next level protecting all LGBT public employees in Virginia,” said James Parrish, Equality Virginia’s Executive Director.

The fight for these protections is not without pushback – even some from within the LGBT community. The complaints are:

  1. The bill lists ‘gender identity and expression’ under the definition of sexual orientation;
  2. The bill only gives protections to state employees

Parrish said he started to hear rumblings from groups who opposed these sections, and it is something he sympathizes with.

“I can understand the transgender community is not excited about the language of the bill,” said Parrish. “Nobody in this day would consider gender identity and expression as part of the definition of sexual orientation.”

But, he said, working with legislators to get this bill out of committee and onto the floor for a vote is a challenge on its own, and fine-tuning the language of the bill is what makes the difference.

“When the bills were written 3-4 years ago, there were delegates and senators who said ‘I want to support this bill but I can’t support this with gender identity expression written in there,’” said Parrish.

The same sentiment applied to including employees of private businesses in the state – that provision would get the bill killed in committee and stop the bill from even reaching the senate, he said.

“A good thing you want to do is use the same bill when you can… this bill has passed twice in the Senate, and this is the only LGBT positive bill to ever pass the Senate or the House,” said Parrish. “So the bill uses the same language every year to help speed it through the Senate, where it then gets a vote in the House.”

Once the bill enters the House, where it’s expected to be defeated by the GOP majority, it creates a voting record for people to examine the next time they enter the polls.

“It’s a way to show who is out of touch, and all these out-of-touch people are making decisions for us,” said Parrish.

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