Virginia Values Act Legislation Unveiled to Protect LGBTQ Virginians from Discrimination

by Nick Morrow

Legislation also includes comprehensive protections for Virginians in public accommodations and private employment

State Senator Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) introduced the Virginia Values Act, SBxx, a new bill that would modernize Virginia's existing human rights laws and provide nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people in public employment and housing. The bill would also create new nondiscrimination protections in private employment and public accommodations for all Virginians.

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.

“This legislation creates a critical update to Virginia law and sends a clear message that the Commonwealth is a safe and welcoming place for all people,” said James Parrish, Director of the Virginia Values Coalition, a group of statewide and national organizations and individuals pushing for passage of the bill. “It is imperative lawmakers pass the Virginia Values Act in the General Assembly.”

The bill has broad support among lawmakers. Governor Ralph Northam, House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn and Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw have all pledged that passing comprehensive protections for LGBTQ Virginians in employment, housing and public spaces is a top priority in 2020. 

The Virginia Values Act will update existing laws that prohibit discrimination in housing, access to credit, and public employment to include LGBTQ people. The bill will also create new protections in private employment and public accommodations for all Virginians on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, sexual orienation, gender identity, age, marital status, disability, and status as a veteran. 

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. 

“In November 2019 — after one of the largest state legislative electoral investments in the history of the Human Rights Campaign — Virginia voters sent a clear message that they want lawmakers to support fairness and equality for all, including LGBTQ people,” said HRC President Alphonso David. “For years, LGBTQ people living in Virginia have faced discrimination. The Virginia Values Act will not only provide critical protections for LGBTQ Virginians, but expand existing civil rights laws to provide recourse for discrimination on the basis of race, religion, sex, and veteran status. Virginia voters sent pro-equality majorities to Richmond to make this change, and we look forward to working with the House of Delegates and the Senate to pass the Virginia Values Act into law.

“Discrimination is a real and urgent problem that impacts the most vulnerable members of our community,” said Freedom for All Americans CEO and National Campaign Director Kasey Suffredini. “The Virginia Values Act will help ensure LGBTQ people are treated fairly and equitably by the laws of the state and have the opportunity to earn a living, access housing and healthcare, and participate fully in society. We’re proud to partner with Equality Virginia and the Virginia Values Coalition in urging state legislators to get this over the finish line NOW, so LGBTQ Virginians will finally have the fully comprehensive protections they need.”

“The United States Transgender Survey showed that discrimination in all forms is still something transgender Viginians are facing everyday,” said Mara Keisling, Executive Director of the Nationala Center for Transgender Equality. “Passing the Virginia Values Act will go a long way toward addressing this real problem.”

Public accommodations refer to any place that a member of the general public could expect to receive goods and services  including restaurants, stores, doctors’ offices, hospitals, schools and government buildings.

“Nondiscrimination protections are long overdue for Virginia’s LGBTQ community,” said Vee Lamneck, Equality Virginia, Executive Director. “The Virginia Values Act will ensure LGBTQ people are treated fairly and equitably by the laws of the state and have the opportunity to earn a living, access housing and healthcare, and participate fully in society. This bill represents an important step to move our state forward.”