HISTORIC: Virginia Values Act Goes Into Effect, Extending Critical Protections to LGBTQ Virginians

by Nick Morrow

Virginia is the first Southern state to enact comprehensive non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people

HRC celebrated the first day of the Virginia Values Act being in effect. The law extends existing state non-discrimination protections in public employment, housing and credit to Virginians on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and several other characteristics, and it adds all-new statewide protections from discrimination in employment and places of public accommodations to a large range of protected characteristics. In the 2019 election, voters in the commonwealth elected pro-equality majorities to both houses of the General Assembly, making this victory possible. 

“Today is a day that LGBTQ Virginians – and people of color, people of faith, immigrants, women and more – have been awaiting for decades. Now, they will finally be legally protected from discrimination at work and in their communities,” said Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign. “No one should be discriminated against simply because of who they are or whom they love. HRC was proud to work tirelessly to elect pro-equality lawmakers across Virginia in 2019, and we are thrilled to see that effort culminate with this historic enactment, today. We want to thank all who helped make this day possible, including our bill patrons Senator Adam Ebbin and Delegate Mark Sickles. We’re also grateful for the leadership of the Speaker of the House of Delegates, Eileen Filler Corn. Finally, I want to thank everyday Virginians who have been fighting for equality for decades, and our state and national partners in the Virgina Values Coalition, especially Equality Virginia.”

In addition to expanding existing protections to include sexual orientation and gender identity, the law also creates all-new protections for Virginians in private employment and places of public accommodation on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, age, marital status, disability, and status as a veteran. Virginia is the first state in the South to have non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people, the first state in over a decade to add both sexual orientation and gender identity to existing non-discrimination law, and the first state since 1993 to add a prohibition on discrimination in public accommodations (protecting all Virginians) where none existed before. Prior to the passage of the Virginia Values Act, Virginia was one of only five states not to have any state protections in places of public accommodation. 

Virginia is home to 257,400 LGBTQ adults. Under prior Virginia law, LGBTQ people were not explicitly protected from discrimination, meaning they were at risk of being fired, evicted or denied service in restaurants or stores. Virginia was one of only five states without protections in public accommodations for any protected class. The new law brings Virginia into the 21st century, and into alignment with Virginia voters, by modernizing and expanding existing human rights law.

Last month, the Supreme Court affirmed that discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is prohibited under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. While Bostock v. Clayton County was a historic ruling,it also serves to underscore the ongoing need to continue to pass state non-discrimination laws. State employment non-discrimination laws, including the Virginia Values Act, are often more expansive than federal laws: they often include protected classes beyond what is reflected in Title VII, include more employers, offer better remedies to folks who have experienced discrimination, and are more accessible than filing a federal claim. Further, again as the Virginia Values Act demonstrates, state discrimination laws go beyond employment to prohibit discrimination in in areas such as housing, credit, and places of public accommodation. 

Over the past several elections, HRC has successfully elected pro-equality champions at every level of Virginia’s state government. In August 2019, the Human Rights Campaign endorsed 27 candidates and invested over $250,000 to elect pro-equality candidates across Virginia. The endorsements marked the beginning of HRC’s largest ever field, digital and direct mail program in the Commonwealth of Virginia. From Northern Virginia to Hampton Roads, HRC field organizers were deployed to mobilize 1.2 million Equality Voters across the commonwealth. In 2018, HRC used sophisticated analytics to identify and mobilize 57 million “Equality Voters” nationwide who prioritize LGBTQ-inclusive policies including marriage equality, equitable family law, and laws that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. In Virginia’s 2019 state legislative elections, HRC targeted and turned out these voters in the 27 districts where HRC made an endorsement.

HRC is a proud member of the Virginia Values Coalition. The Virginia Values Coalition was founded on the shared belief that discrimination is wrong and that we are called to treat others as we want to be treated. Members include national and regional organizations, along with faith leaders, parents, law enforcement officers, veterans and people of all political ideologies committed to protecting their LGBTQ neighbors from discrimination.