Legislators for Equality: Senator Ebbin

By Senator Adam EbbinAE Senate Headshot

In February of this year, US District Court Judge Arenda Wright Allen ruled that Virginia’s ban on marriage equality – also known as the “Marshall-Newman Amendment” – was unconstitutional. The case was appealed and stayed, leaving the fate of marriage equality in flux for eight months. So on October 6, when the US Supreme Court effectively legalized same-sex marriage in the Commonwealth and its neighboring states by declining to review this case, it took a while to sink in.

As the first openly gay member of the Virginia General Assembly, I have fought over the last 11 years for LGBT equality. In my first years in the House of Delegates I worked hard against the Marshall-Newman Amendment and watched in sadness as it was passed and added to our state’s constitution. I have introduced and supported legislation to reverse this decision, but each time faced stiff opposition.

The Supreme Court’s decision legalized same-sex marriage in the Commonwealth, but it does not automatically erase the discriminatory Marshall-Newman language that had been added to the Virginia constitution. Right now, our state’s code and constitution both still contain inoperative language that restricts marriage to straight couples and prohibits recognition of same-sex marriages performed outside of Virginia. We need to strike these provisions from our code and constitution, which is why I have introduced SJ214 and SB682 to accomplish exactly that. The constitution and Code of Virginia must accurately reflect the rule of law, and attorneys and citizens need to have confidence and clarity when reading them.

Today, Virginia has a proud distinction of being one of the best states in the country to raise a family or locate a business. Yet, outright segregation, the poll tax to prevent African-Americans from voting, and “Massive Resistance” to integrated schools are all shameful reminders of a Commonwealth where prejudice and discrimination were rampant. Interracial marriage was a criminal offense, even until 1967.

While marriage equality has arrived in the Commonwealth, it’s also important to remember that our commitment to LGBT equality does not end with marriage. It is still perfectly legal for employers to discriminate against or even fire their employees simply for being LGBT. Hate crimes still occur, and it is hard for many LGBT people to be truly and fully accepted in our society. Governor Terry McAuliffe has been a key ally in our cause, signing an executive order on his first day in office that provides employment protections for public employees, but this can be easily reversed by a future governor. We need to enact these protections into state law so that it won’t be up to the whim of one individual whether to allow or disallow discrimination in employment. I am committed to these causes just as I have been for marriage equality and I am optimistic that our recent trend toward full equality and fairness for all will continue in 2015 and beyond.

Legislators for Equality: Delegate Simon

By Delegate Marcus Simon

0ac6d43It’s been my honor to succeed my mentor and good friend James M. “Jim” Scott in the House of Delegates in 2014.  I want to take this opportunity to once again thank Jim for his support, not just during my campaign, but as a fresh-out-of-college, enthusiastic, and very inexperienced legislative aide when he gave me my first job in 1992.

I learned so much from Jim in that first job, but no lesson was more important than one that I continue to apply in my work and as a legislator today. Figure out what’s important to you, what matters most, and work hard at it. It’s easy to get distracted by the topic or controversy of the day, but Jim made it clear that unless the issue was one that he was especially passionate about or especially expert at, we didn’t need to try and take the lead.

On those core issues, though, the ones that mattered most, Jim was an extraordinarily effective leader.  One such issue was Housing.  Jim was always a passionate activist for affordable housing and housing non-discrimination.  Perhaps it’s not surprising then, that even after I left work with Jim to go on to work for the Chairman of the Board of Supervisors, and later off to law school, I returned to housing and real estate law as my chosen profession.

At least every biennium, if not more frequently, Jim Scott would introduce a bill to expand Virginia’s Fair Housing law to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.  I was pleased to continue that tradition last year, my first in the legislature, with the introduction of HB418. I plan to spearhead a bi-partisan effort to make more headway on that bill in 2015.

Beyond being the right thing to do, I think it’s important to Virginia’s business climate and to our Realtor community that this change be implemented in Virginia.  The National Association of Realtor’s Code of Ethics already prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation by its members.  I think Virginia should hold all of its real estate licensees, whether they choose to join their realtor association or not, to the same standard.

Continuing to reject such a mainstream change to our Fair Housing law is harmful to Virginia’s reputation as a great place to do business, particularly in the science and technology communities.  While Apple Computer CEO Tim Cook only recently went public with his sexual orientation, it’s been well known for years that the hi-tech companies want to do business in places where they have access to a well-educated, capable, and enlightened workforce open to new ideas.  Places where people and talent are judged on their merits and abilities, not the color of their skin, their national origin, or their sexual orientation.

Federal Courts have made Virginia a much better place for same sex couples to live and raise their families.  It’s time for the General Assembly to take a small step in that direction — and if the step is still too big in 2015, we’ll try again. Because this is an issue that matters.

Legislators for Equality: Delegate Surovell

By Delegate Scott Surovellsurovell headshot

In October, the United States Supreme Court refused an appeal of Bostic v. Rainey from Virginia’s 4th Circuit, ending years of struggle to bring marriage equality to Virginia. This gigantic leap forward for equality finally allowed all couples the dignity to marry the person they love.

For nearly two months, same sex marriages have been carried out throughout the Commonwealth. However, discriminatory and ugly anti-marriage equality laws still remain on Virginia’s books. Keeping this part of the legal code creates legal ambiguity and uncertainty for families, continuing to undermine our reputation as a welcoming and tolerant state.

State law has expressly banned gay marriage since 1975 after a Clerk in the State of Colorado began recognizing same sex marriages.  The Code of Virginia has prohibited recognition of out-of-state gay marriages since 1997 and civil unions since 2004. On top of this, Virginia passed a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in 2006.  The constitutional amendment didn’t change the Virginia law – it just made it significantly harder to make changes.

Public opinion has moved significantly and rapidly since the constitutional amendment passed. As of 2013, 65% of Virginians support marriage equality and civil unions and thirty-five states now grant gay marriages. It’s critical that we take this back to the voters so that we can send a strong message to the General Assembly that Virginians oppose these laws and want the amendment repealed.

It’s time we move past this part of our history and remove state sanctioned discrimination from Virginia’s books. That’s why Senator Ebbin and I have introduced three bills to strike all parts of the code that threaten marriage equality:

  • Article 1, Section 15-A of the Constitution of Virginia passed in 2006 prohibiting same sex marriages and recognition of civil unions must be repealed.
  • 20-45.2 of the Code of Virginia passed in 1975 and amended in 1997 prohibiting same sex marriage or recognition of out of state marriage must be repealed.​
  • 20-45.3 of the Code of Virginia passed in 2004 prohibiting recognition of civil unions or recognition of contacts or contractual rights relating to same sex individuals must be repealed.​

I am hopeful that these legislative changes move forward so that no ambiguity exists about where Virginia stands.

Our Commonwealth is the home state of the Declaration of Rights.  We cannot continue to insult our history by keeping this in the Code. It has been a huge year for marriage equality in the Commonwealth, but it’s critical that we continue with our progress.

Equality Virginia Disappointed with Gloucester County School Board Vote on Discriminatory Policy

Contact: Kirsten Bokenkamp, [email protected], 804-643-4816

On December 9, the Gloucester County School Board voted for a policy that will allow for blatant discrimination against transgender students. Below is a response from James Parrish, executive director with Equality Virginia.

December 9, 2014 – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – “Equality Virginia is disappointed that the Gloucester County School Board voted on a policy that not only discriminates against transgender students, but one that we believe to be illegal under Title IX of the Educational Amendments Act of 1972. With this vote, the school board has failed to ensure that all students in Gloucester County Public Schools have equal access to public accommodations, including restrooms, locker rooms, or changing facilities, upon the basis of their gender identity.

Equality Virginia provided resources and best practices to the school board on November 11 – well in advance of this vote – and it is unfortunate that they failed to take seriously the impact that this policy can have on transgender students as well as the whole student body. Our schools should be creating caring, respectful, and diverse environments, and this policy does the opposite. Equality Virginia held a public meeting on December 2 in Gloucester to educate community members about this important issue, and we will continue to educate teachers, parents, and community members, as well as state level leaders, until all transgender students in Virginia are protected at school.

This issue is not isolated to Gloucester – there are transgender students living in all parts of the state, and attending most public schools. To ensure that all of Virginia’s students are protected regardless of where they attend school, the Commonwealth of Virginia needs to provide clear and uniform guidance to all Virginia public schools. Currently, the patchwork of different policies across Virginia is confusing and leaves many transgender students without protections that may be offered in another district or school.”

Legislators for Equality: Delegate Krupicka

By Delegate Rob Krupicka

Rob2013HighRes (2)Over the past few years, more states have embraced marriage equality for consenting adults. Virginians similarly have moved toward supporting the right of individuals, not the state, to decide whether love should lead them to marry.

Now, Virginia’s own law defining marriage as between one man and one woman has been struck down as contrary to the U.S. Constitution. Some may say that is enough. I don’t think so. In the upcoming legislative session, many are pushing to remove the terrible Marshall-Newman language from the constitution.  While I support the goals of that effort, I think we should take this opportunity to think more broadly about freedom and what our constitution says about marriage. That is why I have submitted HJ 492, a constitutional amendment that, instead of just removing Marshall-Newman, would replace it with language protecting marriage freedom for consenting adults.

Virginia has a long history of using marriage law as a way to suppress and control adults for a range of reasons, whether due to race, faith, medical conditions, or sexuality. The best known restriction in Virginia’s history was Virginia’s ban on intermarriage between races, first enacted in 1691. The Racial Integrity Act of 1924 was overturned by Loving v. Virginia in 1967. If you have never read the Racial Integrity Act text, it’s horrific.

1967 was in the lifetime of many members of the General Assembly — a jarring reminder of Virginia’s reluctance to accept the civil liberties of minority groups.

Our recent past includes other examples of substantial restrictions on marriage that we now know were wrong. A 1918 law, most of which survived until the 1970s, provided no couple could marry if the woman was younger than 45 and either she or her husband was “a habitual criminal, idiot, imbecile, hereditary epileptic or insane person.” The same law provided no person could marry if “afflicted at the time with any contagious venereal disease.”

These restrictions on marriage were tools of Virginia’s intertwined eugenics and racial purity movements that led to the forced sterilization of thousands of Virginians held in state hospitals. They were used by the state to interfere extensively in the lives of thousands of other Virginians as well. The state re-issued marriage and birth certificates for thousands of members of Virginia’s Indian tribes and reclassified them as “colored” on the basis of folklore and examinations of facial and other physical features that the state determined appeared more African American than Indian – a history which has greatly complicated federal recognition of Virginia’s Indian tribes. Through local clerks of court, local prosecutors, and what is now the state’s Office of Vital Statistics, the state campaigned to reclassify “near whites” as “colored” on their state marriage and birth records and to jail persons of different races who married.

I don’t know what new methods legislators will come up with to use marriage law to restrict the freedoms of consenting adults, but our unfortunate history tells us that gays and lesbians will not be the last group denied recognition of their families. It is time for Virginia to move into the 21st century. It is time for us to update our constitution to make clear that as a state we reject any more efforts to use marriage law as a way to control or marginalize our citizens.

Just like anyone else…

By Kirsten Bokenkamp

From balancing academic requirements with extracurricular activities and a social life, to managing relationships with parents, teachers, and friends — students have a lot on their plates.  One thing they should never have to worry about is where they can find a safe bathroom.  Unfortunately, many transgender students face this very issue.

Gavin Grimm, a transgender student in Gloucester County Public Schools, identifies as male.  Up until now, he has been using the men’s bathroom at school because it aligns with his gender identity.  However, some school board members are trying to pass a motion that would require Gavin to stop using the men’s bathroom and locker room, and instead provide him with an alternative private facility. In the eyes of Equality Virginia such a policy is discriminatory, unacceptable, and illegal under Title IX of the Educational Amendments Act of 1972.

Because so few people personally know a transgender person, it can be hard to understand what it means to be transgender. Transgender is an adjective describing a person whose gender identity is different from that traditionally associated with an assigned sex at birth. At the end of the day, kids like Gavin just want to be seen for who they are.  Like any other student, those who identify as transgender want to go about their lives, socialize with their friends, and use the bathroom like anyone else.

Treating transgender students equally not only shows them that they matter, it also creates the space for a caring, respectful, and diverse school environment. Transgender inclusive policies are good for everyone.  Instead of implementing a policy that needlessly singles out transgender students, the Gloucester County School Board should consider a policy (and there are plenty of model policies to choose from) that fosters an educational environment that is safe and free from discrimination for all students.

This issue matters.  According to the most recent GLSEN School Climate Survey, Virginia schools were not safe for LGBT students.  Being verbally or physically harassed or not feeling safe at school has consequences.  On a national level, 78 percent of transgender students in grades K-12 experience harassment, and 15 percent leave school because that harassment is so severe.  Sadly, more than half of the students who have been harassed, physically or sexually assaulted, or expelled because of their gender identity have attempted suicide.  As this research shows, Virginia school divisions should be doing everything in their power to make their schools more welcoming, not more alienating.

Inclusive policies at our public schools will not make misunderstanding, bullying, or harassment magically disappear. But, it is an important a start.   It is the job of school boards to protect all children.  The motion put in front of the Gloucester County School Board would do the opposite.

In the short term, the board must vote against this discriminatory and counterproductive policy.   In the long term, Gloucester County, and others across the Commonwealth, should implement policies ensuring that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students are treated with respect and dignity.  And, the Virginia Department of Education should issue uniform guidance to help make that happen.

Gavin, and other transgender youth, have dreams to fulfill.  They have their whole lives in front of them – we must do everything we can to lift them up, and help them live their lives to the fullest.

From the ACLU of Virginia – The 2015 Legislative Session and LGBT Equality

by Frank Knaack, Director of Public Policy and Communications, ACLU of Virginia
(Originally posted on ACLU of Virginia’s website)

141118 2015 GA Pre-session Tweetchat memeThe tide is turning. A generation from now, we may look back on 2014 as the turning point in the fight for LGBT equality. But, while 2014 is the year marriage equality came to the Commonwealth, we will not have full equality for LGBT Virginians until we end discrimination in employment, housing, and access to services. That’s right – while lesbian and gay Virginians can finally enjoy marriage equality, they can still be fired from their job after placing a picture of their spouse on their desk at work.   We’ve achieved tremendous progress, but discrimination against LGBT Virginians remains alive and well.

In addition to our work to end discrimination in employment and housing, we’re also gearing up for the next big battle in the effort to secure true equality for Virginia’s LGBT community – turning the tide on legislation that would permit Virginia-licensed professionals and businesses to discriminate on the basis of the owner or professional’s personal beliefs, even if those actions burden or offend the rights, welfare, or well-being of others.

Using religion to legitimize discrimination is nothing new. In the 1960s we saw institutions object to laws requiring integration in restaurants because of some owners’ beliefs that God wanted the races to be separate. Today, LGBT Virginians are the target of intolerance. Religious freedom in America means that we all have a right to our religious beliefs, but this does not give us the right to use our religion to discriminate against and impose those beliefs on others.

It’s time for Virginians to draw a line in the sand. You’re either against discrimination, or you’re not. It’s that simple. It’s time for the Commonwealth to show that LGBT Virginians are no longer a target of intolerance.

Here are our LGBT rights priorities during the 2015 session:

Protecting Public Employees from Discrimination

We’re supporting Equality Virginia’s work to pass legislation that would protect all public employees from discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, age, marital status, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, or status as a special disabled veteran or other veteran covered by the Veterans Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974. State employees are currently protected by an Executive Order that is subject to revision at any time by the sitting governor and provides no private right of action. Local employees can use grievance procedures to complain of discrimination in some instances, but there is currently no state law prohibiting discrimination in local government workplaces.

The ACLU of Virginia supports legislation that will codify protections against discrimination in state and local government for all employees, including LGBT employees.

Using Religion to Discriminate

The Family Foundation has announced that it will seek the introduction of legislation that would permit businesses and professional services to discriminate based on the moral or religious beliefs of the owner or professional.

The ACLU of Virginia opposes legislation that would permit Virginia-licensed professionals and businesses to discriminate on the basis of the owner or professional’s personal beliefs. The ACLU of Virginia vigorously defends every person’s right to religious freedom, and the right to act on those religious beliefs—unless those actions burden or offend the rights, welfare, or well-being of others.


ACLU of Virginia is a strong coalition partner in our work to bring true equality to LGBT Virginians.  Learn more about the ACLU of Virginia here.  

Legislators for Equality: Senator McEachin

By Senator Donald McEachin

Senator A  Donald McEachinThis year, as I have done repeatedly, I will introduce the State Employment Non-Discrimination Act in the General Assembly. This bill would ensure that Virginians cannot be fired from state jobs, or passed over for promotion, simply because of who they are. It targets discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity as well as many other different kinds of prejudice.

Although, unfortunately, not every time, three times now, the Senate has passed my bill. Every time, the House has killed it, typically, by voice vote, meaning there aren’t even records to show who voted against it.

Democratic Governors Warner, Kaine and McAuliffe have all issued executive orders to prevent state employment discrimination. Unfortunately, as we saw during Gov. McDonnell’s administration, those orders are not permanent. Current protections could disappear with the stroke of a pen. That’s why passing a bill is so important. Discrimination is always wrong, and Virginians shouldn’t have to count on a particular governor or election result to know they’re protected.

Discrimination and inequality have a long sordid history in Virginia. For over two centuries, our Commonwealth allowed some citizens to keep other human beings as slaves. Women couldn’t vote until 1919, and voting was extremely difficult for African-Americans until about sixty years ago. It took rulings by unelected courts to allow interracial and same-sex marriage.

These stains on our history mean that all of us have a special responsibility to stand up for each other. Women should not be the only ones opposing restrictions on their bodies. Latinos should not be the only ones advocating for the DREAM Act and immigration reform. African-Americans should not be alone in fighting voting restrictions. In the same vein, LGBT Virginians must not stand alone in fighting for their right to equal justice, fairness and opportunity.

We are making great strides: we have marriage equality in Virginia! But non-discrimination in the workplace is every bit as important. Every individual needs to know he or she can earn a living, pay his or her bills, take care of his or her family, and have the opportunity to be a contributing member of society. To deprive a person of his livelihood simply because of who he is, is to deprive him of his very chance at well-being. I applaud the demise of the marriage ban — and all of the other progress we have made — but if we cannot even promise individuals that their work status will be based on their performance, then we have left them in a truly compromised position.

Please know I will continue to fight for non-discrimination — and not just in employment. I and my Democratic colleagues will work to repeal the marriage ban in our Constitution; to extend fair housing guarantees to LGBT Virginians; and to pass other bills that move us towards the fairer and more equal Commonwealth to which we all aspire. As Virginians, we should all have confidence that we are being treated fairly and justly and that our opportunities are limited only by our own actions — not by prejudice and bigotry.