HISTORY: Virginia Values Act Passes, Extending Critical Protections to LGBTQ Virginians

by Nick Morrow

Virginia becomes the first state in decades -- and first Southern state -- to pass comprehensive non-discrimination protections from scratch, after years of legislative stalemates

HRC celebrated the passage of the Virginia Values Act through both chambers of the Virginia General Assembly, a bill that will grant non-discrimination protections to Virginians on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and several other characteristics. Similar legislation passed through the Virginia Senate several times in recent years, but was blocked by anti-equality lawmakers in the House of Delegates. In the 2019 election, voters in the commonwealth elected pro-equality majorities to both houses of the General Assembly, making this victory possible. The legislation must now go through a few more procedural votes before heading to the governor’s desk. 

In addition to sexual orientation and gender identity, the bill also extends protections to Virginians 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 will be the first state in the South to have non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people, the first state in over a decade to add 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.

“Today, history was made in Virginia, and LGBTQ Virginians are one step closer to being protected from discrimination. No one should be discriminated against simply because of who they are or whom they love,” said HRC President Alphonso David. “This day would not have been possible without the years and years of tireless work from advocates across the commonwealth, or the voters in Virginia that filled the halls of the General Assembly with pro-equality champions who fulfilled their promises. HRC is proud to have worked to elect pro-equality lawmakers across Virginia in 2019, and we are thrilled to see that effort culminate in this important victory today. We’re especially grateful for the leadership of Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw, Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, Senator Adam Ebbin, and Delegate Mark Sickles, each of whom made this day possible. We also thank the patrons in each chamber, Sens. Jennifer Boysko and Jennifer McClellan in the Senate and Dels. Mark Levine and Delores McQuinn in the House.”

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

The bill requires private employers with six or more employees to comply with the new protections. In addition, all state government employees and school board employees will be covered under the law. It will also update Virginia's Fair Housing Act to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination. 

For years, the Human Rights Campaign has worked with Equality Virginia and others to expand Virginia’s non-discrimination protections to include LGBTQ people. However, despite majorities in both the House and Senate supporting the legislation, former Speaker Kirk Cox refused to bring the legislation up for a vote. Cox and former House Majority Leader Tim Hugo not only acted counter to members of their own caucus and the Virginia public, but also counter to the desires of their own base. According to polling, LGBTQ non-discrimination protections have overwhelming support among Virginians, including a majority of Virginia Republicans. 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 committed to invest 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.