Gay rights group lobbies for equality

Larisa Robinson
Capital News Service

At least 75 members of Equality Virginia, the state’s most prominent gay rights organization, gathered Wednesday at the Library of Virginia for the group’s annual Lobby Day.

Gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered and heterosexual men and women from all over Virginia participated. The event’s purpose was to get delegates and senators to support legislation advocated by Equality Virginia. James Parrish, the group’s new executive director, had high expectations for participants.

“Our goal is to have all 140 seats visited by at least one of our members today,” Parrish said. “It’s important that every delegate and senator see faces of the GLBT community in his or her part of the state.”

Equality Virginia members lobbied lawmakers regarding about a dozen bills covering various issues:

• Nondiscrimination in public employment: House Bill 2046, sponsored by Delegate Adam Ebbin, D-Arlington; HB 1509 by Delegate Jim Scott, D-Merrifield; and Senate Bill 747 by Sen. A. Donald McEachin, D-Richmond.

• State and local employee benefits: SB 1121 by Sens. Mark Herring, D-Leesburg, and McEachin; and SB 1122 by McEachin.

• Expansion of the Virginia Human Rights Act to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation: SB 797 by Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton; and HB 1755 by Delegate Kenneth Plum, D-Reston.

• Anti-bullying laws: HB 1575 by Delegate David Englin, D-Alexandria; HB 1576 by Ebbin; HB 1748 by Plum; and House Joint Resolution 625 by Delegate Robert Bell, R-Charlottesville.

• The repeal of the state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage: House Joint Resolution 638 by Englin.

Before registered members could lobby at the General Assembly Building, there was a check-in and brief welcome session. Throughout the day, participants also attended workshops, a tour of the Virginia Capitol and a panel discussion forecasting the 2011 elections.

Trudy and Shelton Akandé, a mother-daughter pair, were hoping to get things done during their second year working with Lobby Day. Both were there to support Trudy’s oldest daughter, and a lesbian.

“She’s thinking about being in the Senate,” Trudy said about her gay daughter. “But there’s absolutely no protection when working for the state.”

Shelton Akandé missed a school day to support her sister by lobbying.

“I choose to come here every year,” Shelton said. “I’m always going to accept my sister.”

The last event of Lobby Day was a legislative reception. More than 20 lawmakers accepted Equality Virginia’s invitation to attend. A jazz band played while participants and legislators – such as Delegate Joe Morrissey, D-Highland Springs – mingled and ate refreshments.

“I’m a huge supporter of Equality Virginia,” Morrissey said. “That’s why when bills suggesting gays not be allowed into the military are proposed or letters telling colleges they should leave out sexual orientation in discrimination policies are written, I’m abhorred.”

McEachin, one of Equality Virginia’s strongest advocates in the Senate, was glad to be around colleagues who supported a similar cause.

“It’s good to see old friends and make new ones,” McEachin said. “I hope the tradition continues and that each year Lobby Day sensitizes more and more individuals to support those in the GLBT community.”

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