The new law added sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s existing civil rights laws, banning discrimination.
Virginia became the first state in the South to pass a law that protects the LGBTQ+ community from discrimination. The Virginia Values Act was signed by Governor Ralph Northam on Friday after it was passed by the state legislature earlier this year. “This legislation sends a strong, clear message — Virginia is a place where all people are welcome to live, work, visit, and raise a family,” said Northam, in a statement. Virginia's new bill expands non-discrimination protections on public employment, housing, and credit on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or race, reports The Hill. The civil rights law will go into effect from July 1.
“We are building an inclusive Commonwealth where there is an opportunity for everyone, and everyone is treated fairly. No longer will LGBTQ Virginians have to fear being fired, evicted, or denied service in public places because of who they are,” said Governor Ralph Northam after signing the bill into law. The non-discrimination is being passed at a time when the Supreme Court is considering whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits employment discrimination over “sex,” covers gender identity and sexual orientation. The Trump administration has claimed that Title VII did not cover gay, lesbian, or trans employees.
As of Saturday, Virginia is the first Southern state to forbid employers from firing LGBT Americans for their identity. This is a long-overdue moment, but momentous: finally, no one here can be legally fired for who they love.— John Lesinski for Congress (@johnforva) April 13, 2020
What a wonderful milestone for our Commonwealth!
"In 1964, the ordinary public meaning of ‘sex’ was biological sex. It did not encompass transgender status,” Solicitor General Noel J. Francisco and Department of Justice attorneys wrote in a SCOTUS brief. They further elaborated that the act was put in place to primarily stop discrimination by race. “In the particular context of Title VII — legislation originally designed to eliminate employment discrimination against racial and other minorities — it was especially clear that the prohibition on discrimination because of ‘sex’ referred to unequal treatment of men and women in the workplace," they added.
This comes not long after the state banned conversion therapy for minors in Virginia, with conversion therapy being defined as the practice of attempting to change a person's sexual orientation or gender identity and is opposed by mental health organizations. Conversion therapy “sends the harmful message that there is something wrong with who you are,” said Northam, while signing the bill.
Virginia Democrats have been actively working to pass laws to protect the LGBTQ+ community since taking control of the State senate and house in November 2019. It was the first time in 26 years that Democrats had control of the Virginia state legislature. This has helped Democrats to pass laws that were often blocked by Republican lawmakers over the years. It also represents a significant shift in the political landscape of the state. “It’s a gigantic change,” said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Centre for Politics, reported The Independent. “There really is no precedent. There is no period like this. Virginia has never had a liberal period.”
LGBTQ+ advocacy groups hailed the move to make it illegal to discriminate against the community. “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,” said Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), in a statement. “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.” Human Rights Campaign has spent $250,000 to help elect pro-LGBTQ+ candidates across Virginia.
On Saturday, Virginia became the first Southern state to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, protecting an estimated 308,000 LGBT Virginians (13+). pic.twitter.com/hKSjWAhA5L— Williams Institute (@WilliamsPolicy) April 13, 2020
Virginia also has more pro-LGBTQ+ bills in the pipeline, with some being passed in the Senate earlier this year. One such bill would require schools to provide the proper ID cards for transgender students and allow them to use a bathroom of their choice. Another bill makes it easier for transgender residents to change their names and correct the gender marker on their birth certificates. Along with the non-discrimination bill, the Governor also signed bills to increase gun background checks and another deciding there would be no jail time for simple marijuana possession.