Anya Sczerzenie, Contributing Writer
Bills prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQ Virginians in employment, housing and public accommodations are garnering support from VCU students, who call it a step in the right direction and say “other states should follow in our footsteps.”
Two proposals to grant more protections for LGBTQ people in Virginia are advancing through the General Assembly and have each passed one chamber of the legislature.
“I feel it’s applicable to the demographics of the U.S. right now, especially with the transgender community,” said broadcast journalism senior Adoja Henderson, who identifies as bisexual. “I feel like this is a good stepping stone, and other states should follow in our footsteps.”
The Virginia Values Act, which includes Senate Bill 868 — sponsored by Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria — and House Bill 1663 — sponsored by Del. Mark Sickles, D-Fairfax — adds new protections and strengthens those already in place. It adds discrimination by sexual orientation or gender identity to the list of unlawful housing practices.
“Watching politics at work can make one feel nauseous; however, observing this year’s General Assembly is almost like living a dream,” Bill Harrison, president and executive director of local advocacy group Diversity Richmond, said in a news release. “For years, we have asked to simply be treated like everyone else … not to fear being fired or denied housing or public accommodations due to who we are.”
The bills prohibit gender and sexual orientation discrimination in employment and credit applications. They also prevent people from being discriminated against in public accommodations — meaning someone can’t be kicked out of a business or restaurant for being LGBTQ.
Many VCU students, both those who identify as LGBTQ and those who do not, were happy to hear about this legislation.
“I’m quite pleased with this,” said mass communications student Shane Emory. “Sexual orientation discrimination should be just as illegal as racial and class discrimination.”
The House bill passed its chamber with a vote of 59-35, and the Senate version passed 30-9. Each of the bills is expected to pass in the opposite house now that Democrats control both chambers.
According to a news release by the Virginia Values Coalition, Gov. Ralph Northam, House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, and Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax, have all promised to pass protections for LGBTQ Virginians in 2020.
The Virginia Values Act would make Virginia the first Southern state to pass extensive LGBTQ protections, according to the Virginia Values Coalition, which lobbied for the bills to pass.
Some students said that this act is a step in the right direction, although it won’t completely fix the issues that LGBTQ Virginians face.
“Even if it’s not enough to make a complete change, it’s still a step in the right direction, and I’m all for it,” said political science graduate student Sara Ghandour.
Freshman political science major Genevieve Bashore says that public opinion needs to change along with the laws.
“Honestly, there probably won’t be an immediate effect, but if laws change, it will probably change people’s mindsets,” said Bashore, who identifies as bisexual. “Changing policies shapes public opinion. I know that a lot of younger people are okay with being gay, but making it acceptable in the eyes of the law helps people be more accepting. Older generations didn’t have that.”