Anti-discrimination bill advances in Senate

Sabrina Barekzai

Capital News Service

In a narrow vote along party lines, a Senate committee has endorsed a bill to protect state employees against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

The Senate General Laws and Technology Committee voted 8-7 in favor of Senate Bill 747, sponsored by Sen. A. Donald McEachin, D-Richmond. All of the Democrats on the panel voted for the bill; all of the Republicans voted against it.

Wednesday’s vote clears the bill for consideration by the full Senate this week.

State law already forbids discrimination on the basis of race, religion, political affiliation, age, national origin and sex.

McEachin’s bill would add sexual orientation to the list.

The Senate committee heard testimony from 11 individuals in support of SB 747.

Lisa Furr, a project coordinator at VCU, addressed the 15 senators and a room full of witnesses at the Capitol. She said discrimination against state employees who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender not only is unjust, but also creates a bad work environment.

“If there is less discrimination in the workforce, more individuals can be open about who they are and can be better role models for young GLBT folks. I do worry about the atmosphere that discrimination can foster,” said Furr, who has worked at VCU for five years.

Furr said VCU has been a supportive employer, but many workplaces are not as accommodating.

Another speaker in support of the bill was former Army officer Anthony Woods of Arlington, Va. He was fired from the Army in 2003 because of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

Also on Wednesday, the Senate General Laws and Technology Committee considered SB 797, sponsored by Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton. It sought to add sexual orientation to the Virginia Human Rights Act – thus outlawing such discrimination in public accommodation, schools, real estate transactions, employment and other areas.

The committee deadlocked 7-7 on a motion to approve SB 797. Because of the tie, the motion failed.

Sen. Charles Colgan, D-Manassas, was present and voted for McEachin’s SB 747. But he did not vote on Locke’s SB 797, according to the Legislative Information Service, the General Assembly’s record-keeping arm.

Jeff Caruso, executive director of the Virginia Catholic Conference, spoke against SB 797.

“The Catholic Church’s teaching on marriage permeates the mission of its institutions and agencies. In a pluralistic society, religious organizations should be able to make decisions in employment and housing, for example, that accord with their mission and values,” Caruso said. “This is a matter of religious freedom and freedom of conscience. SB 797 would be an unjust restriction on religious freedom.”

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