Meg Schiffres, Contributing Columnist
The recent landmark Supreme Court decision to federally legalized gay marriage was a significant victory for the LGBT community but the right to marry is not the most important issue that gay and transgender people face today. The transgender community in particular is still a long way from societal and legal equality with the cisgender majority.
Discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is legal in 31 states. It is despicable that in the 21st century, in a country that claims to uphold individual freedom, the persecution of an entire society is not only allowed but ultimately universal. According to the Human Rights Campaign, Virginia is one of these states where homosexual and transgender people can be legally denied work and housing because of their gender and sexuality.
The Constitution protects all citizens from discrimination based on sex, race, color, religion, and national origin. Under the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, federal law also prohibits employment discrimination based on age, disability and genetic information. States that do protect the community from inequality pass anti-LGBT laws or amend their state constitutions to include the right to equal opportunity regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.
There was a time when the only people the law protected were white, land-owning males. Generations of brutal struggle and gradual societal activism have expanded the definition of humanity to include nearly every color and type of human being. But nearly is not nearly enough when an entire society is omitted from protections afforded to the majority. When it is illegal to discriminate against a heterosexual white male, society has a duty to make it just as much a crime to discriminate against a Hispanic homosexual woman.
When discrimination is allowed by law, it becomes socially acceptable to be intolerant. The transgender community in particular has fallen victim to external prejudices that affect their ability to live full and equal lives. LGBT individuals can be legally fired and denied housing by job creators inn power who deem their life-styles inappropriate.
Virginia is an employment-at-will state, which means employers have the right to fire any employee for any reason, or for no reason at all. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 43 states in America operate under the employment-at-will doctrine, but most recognize common-law exceptions that apply to specific cases of intrastate wrongful termination.
Virginia acknowledges public policy exceptions, which means explicitly stated laws that conflict with employment-at-will are grounds for court ordered compensation. Though Virginia Code §40.1-51.2:1 prohibits discrimination on the basis of everything from work-related in-jury to employee social media ac-counts, there is no legal protection for the LGBT community from prejudice-based firings.
Some will claim there are already too many regulations associated with how businesses operate. They will say that the point of Virginia’s employment-at-will status is to protect employers from being unfairly sued for perfectly legitimate reasons. But there are already laws pre-venting discrimination of other minority groups.
Believe it or not, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people also don’t have any protection under the law from being discriminated against in the sale or rental of housing. According to the Human Rights Campaign, the Fair Housing Act protects against housing discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex and family status but once again sexual orientation and gender identity go unmentioned in federal laws designed to protect the populace that end up only acknowledging the heteronormative majority.
Only 21 states protect the homosexual community from housing discrimination and 17 of those also defend transgender housing prejudice. Virginia is once more not among these provinces.
Over time, minority groups have been added to existing laws that protect against employment and housing inequality as successful civil rights movements forced lawmakers to recognize the legitimacy of their claims to injustice. The inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity is long overdue in a society that has historically and systematically persecuted the LGBT community and only recently gave them the supposedly great victory of marriage equality.