LGBTQ rights and protections a must in Virginia

2/14/2020, 6 a.m.
Throughout my career as a public servant, I’ve worked to make sure that Virginia is a welcoming and safe place ...

Throughout my career as a public servant, I’ve worked to make sure that Virginia is a welcoming and safe place for everyone. The law should protect all of us.

Twenty years ago when I was a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, I introduced a bill to ban employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. I fought for that bill and, while it did not pass, what happened with it then is the reason why I am closely watching a set of bills — Senate Bill 868 and House Bill 1663 — at the General Assembly this year, when Virginia has the opportunity to modernize its existing human rights laws with the Virginia Values Act.

Under current law, our LGBTQ friends and neighbors can be fired from their jobs just because of who they are or who they love. They can be evicted from their homes and can be refused service at restaurants, shops and doctors’ offices. No one should be treated unfairly because of who they are. It is time to change that.

The Virginia Values Act will modernize existing state laws to protect LGBTQ Virginians in employment, in housing and in public spaces. This bill will ensure that Virginians will not be denied a job or turned away from services because of who they are.

These bills have the strong support of Gov. Ralph S. Northam, House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn and Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw, who pledged that passing these protections for LGBTQ Virginians would be a top priority in 2020. They also know, as I do, that companies bringing business here want to be sure that Virginia is a safe and welcoming place for their employees to live, work and raise their families.

I know all too well what it’s like to be singled out and treated differently because of who you are. And I also know the importance of supporting each other. As an undergraduate student at the College of William & Mary, I was one of fewer than a dozen black undergraduates. At the time, Virginia was under a court order to desegregate its institutions of higher learning. A lab partner in one of my classes was a young white man who was kind enough to help me navigate the course’s subject matter, while others in my class were not as helpful. We became friends, and he eventually confided in me that he was gay. That was a very different time for LGBTQ individuals, and I was the only person he felt he could share this secret with.

Since then, I have had the opportunity to work side by side with LGBTQ Virginians and their friends and neighbors to improve the Commonwealth for everyone.

Although there has been tremendous progress toward treating LGBTQ people fairly across the country, there is still much work to do. State law must explicitly protect LGBTQ individuals. Passage of the Virginia Values Act will send a clear message that the Commonwealth truly believes in human rights for all and that discrimination has no place in this state.

This year, it is finally time to finish what we set out to do 20 years ago.


The writer is a former member of the Virginia House of Delegates and served as state secretary of administration under former Gov. Tim Kaine.