After passing Senate, bill protecting Virginia’s LGBT public employees killed in House subcommittee

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – February 12, 2015

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

RICHMOND – On Thursday, Senate Bill 785, a bill to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender public employees from workplace discrimination, was tabled in the House General Laws subcommittee 4, effectively killing it for the remainder of this session.

“It is shameful that this subcommittee can’t come together in support of a commonsense bill that reflects the beliefs held by the majority of Virginians,” said James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia.   “Ideology should not stand in the way of achieving fairness and equality – something that would benefit all Virginians.”

The bill, introduced by Senator Donald McEachin, with an identical version filed by Senator Adam Ebbin, extends protections for sexual orientation and gender identity for Virginia’s public employees.  It passed the Senate with bipartisan support after Lt. Governor Ralph Northam issued a tie-breaking vote. Earlier this session, Republican Ron Villanueva and Democrat Ken Plum introduced similar bills that were also tabled in the same House subcommittee.

Shortly after his inauguration, Governor Terry McAuliffe signed Executive Order One that bans discrimination against LGBT state employees.  SB 785 would have made those protections permanent and expanded such protections to all public employees.

When polled, a clear majority of Virginians voice their belief that LGBT Virginians should have the right to work without facing discrimination.

“Virginians want to live in a commonwealth that is welcoming and inclusive. Today, the subcommittee members missed an opportunity to give LGBT Virginians equal chance for fairness and job security.  Public employees must now go yet another year without workplace protections,” said Parrish.

Even as the anti-equality majority in the House of Delegates once again has stalled progress toward equality and fairness, Equality Virginia has been working closely with members of the business community that are supportive of workplace diversity and are committed to making Virginia’s business climate conducive to economic success.

In January of 2015, Equality Virginia awarded five Richmond based Fortune 500 companies – Altria, Capital One, CarMax, Dominion, and Genworth – with Virginia Fairness Accreditation for their policies that clearly welcome LGBT employees.  The majority of Fortune 500 companies have policies in place to protect their LGBT employees. Also in January, together with equality groups from North Carolina and South Carolina, Equality Virginia launched Equality Means Business, a program that recognizes storefront business that have non-discrimination policies in place and have pledged to welcome LGBT customers and clients.

“These companies know that policies welcoming diversity and inclusion are not only good for business, but are the right thing to do.  It’s time for the Commonwealth of Virginia catch up to the business community,” said Parrish.

2/21/2015: This Week at the General Assembly

Session 2015 wrap-up

It’s hard to believe that the 2015 General Assembly session is shortly coming to a close.  Over the last month and a half, we met with dozens of lawmakers, testified at committee hearings, ensured our issues were covered in the press, and worked with folks like you to send thousands of action alerts to our legislators.  In many ways, the effort we all put in paid off:

  • The horrible bill that would have allowed professionals and businesses to blatantly discriminate against LGBT individuals was killed in a House subcommittee
  • Senator McEachin’s workplace non-discrimination bill passed out of the Senate
  • Senator Ebbin’s bill to revise language in the code to reflect the rights and responsibilities of married couples passed out of the Senate
  • A number of our bills received bi-partisan support in the House and in the Senate

However, similar to previous years, despite all our hard work, it’s disappointing – but not surprising –  to see the House of Delegates stand in the way to creating a welcoming and inclusive Virginia. Click here to learn the fate of this year’s LGBT bills.

Take one of our priority bills, for example.  The majority of Virginians, Virginia’s business community, the Virginia Senate, and media outlets across the commonwealth believe in workplace non-discrimination. But, going against the mainstream opinion of the day, the majority in the House of Delegates remains unwilling to budge on their outdated, backwards, and discriminatory stance.

Those lawmakers are not the only ones looking backwards – whether it was a bill to ban damaging gay conversion therapy against LGBT youth, to ensure more children have access to two legal parents, or to end discrimination in employment, the Family Foundation, the Virginia Assembly of Independent Baptists, and the Virginia Catholic Conference were always the only groups present to testify against any bill that would ensure LGBT Virginians are seen and treated equally under the law.

That’s one of the reasons why we needed your support and involvement during session – thank you for taking EV’s actions, joining us for our Day of Action (see photos here), getting your friends and family members involved, and also for your financial support.  We know that our lawmakers are incessantly hearing from those on the other side of this issue.  But, the more we all come together, the stronger our message will become.

Together we will create a Virginia where everybody is treated equally regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.  With session coming to a close, the staff at Equality Virginia will continue our important work of educating Virginians and changing hearts and minds.  Our work is far from over, but with your involvement and support, we will get there.   Click here to support our work.

For a complete review of the bills we followed this session, see our General Assembly page.

Thanks again for your participation during General Assembly 2015.  Even as we hit road blocks at the General Assembly, the truth is we still have a lot to celebrate.  I hope you can join us for our 12th Annual Commonwealth Dinner this year (in Richmond on April 18th), where we will be recognizing our OUTstanding Virginians, celebrating the freedom to marry, and more!

2/14/2015: This Week at the General Assembly

After bringing you good news two weeks in a row, this week we were harshly reminded of the reality we face at Virginia’s General Assembly.  Even the pro-LGBT bills that passed the Senate last week were swiftly killed when they reached a House subcommittee.  While it is shameful and discouraging that the anti-LGBT majority can so quickly vote to keep discrimination alive, this bad news only invigorates us to continue to fight for LGBT equality.  Here’s a breakdown of this week:

  • On Wednesday, Senator Ebbin’s bill (SB 1211) to add gender-neutral language to Virginia’s marriage laws, died in a House Courts subcommittee.  We agree with Senator Ebbin, that “we owe the Virginians who are legally married couples recognition under the law.”  A year ago we all celebrated the decision of Judge Arenda Wright Allen, and four months ago we finally gained the freedom to marry.  But, our laws are still outdated – our work is not yet done.
  • On Thursday afternoon, we turned our attention to workplace fairness.  As the House debated the budget, Delegate Scott Surovell introduced a floor amendment that would protect LGBT state employees from discrimination.  While it didn’t come close to passing, it did receive support from both sides of the aisle, showing that some lawmakers are ready to move Virginia forward.
  • Photo credit: GayRVA (

    On Thursday evening, Senator McEachin’s workplace non-discrimination bill (SB 785) was heard in a House General Laws subcommittee.  We were there to remind the committee that workplace discrimination against LGBT people does exist, and that the majority of Virginians and Virginia’s top employers believe in workplace fairness.  Our statistics and facts fell on deaf ears.  Instead, the majority of the subcommittee was more receptive to the Family Foundation’s (false) argument that “this is a solution looking for a problem.”  We were grateful that Delegate Delores McQuinn stood up against the majority of the subcommittee and stated for the record that “at some point, this General Assembly is going to have to advance the cause and make sure that discrimination anywhere is wrong, against anyone.”  Arguing against the bill was Delegate Ramadan, who said that as a minority he has also faced discrimination, but even though there is “no room for discrimination,” adding to the code is not the answer. Respectfully, we disagree.

Despite these losses, each year we get a step closer to accomplishing equality for LGBT Virginians.  At this time last year, we were nervously waiting for a decision on marriage equality.  Now it has become a reality.  My hope is that a few years down the road, we will look back on these bills as a challenge that we finally were able to accomplish.  It will take time, advocacy, voting, funding, education, and hard work – but we will get there.  As Senator McEachin said, “we’ll keep pushing until we get…to the other side.”
Next Saturday, we’ll give you a recap of the 2015 General Assembly session. In the meantime, we still have a lot of work to do as we continue to move Equality Forward. Stay tuned.

2/7/2015: This Week at the General Assembly

Our hard work paid off!

With your help, Equality Virginia has been working hard to pass two important bills through the Senate.  On Tuesday, we succeeded!  Bills that protect LGBT public employees from workplace discrimination (SB 785) and modernize the Code of Virginia to reflect marriage equality (SB 1211) passed through the Senate with bi-partisan support.  Before  discussing the fate of these bills in the House of Delegates, and how you can help, we’d like to thank a few of the elected officials who were instrumental in making this happen.

Special thanks to Senators Donald McEachin and Adam Ebbin for introducing these important bills and for their long-time support of Virginia’s LGBT community.  Also, we are thankful for Senator Barbara Favola who spoke in favor of SB 785 on the Senate Floor and urged her fellow Senators to support it.  You can watch a video of her remarks here.  As you’ve probably already seen in the news, Lt. Governor Ralph Northam broke the tie vote on SB 785!  In his words: “I got to do something I was really proud of…I cast the first tie-breaking vote of the 2015 General Assembly, and it was a big one.” At Equality Virginia, we are so grateful that we have a supportive Lt. Governor, and that he was able to play a pivotal role in getting this legislation out of the Senate.

Most of all, we are thankful for all of you and for your participation in the political process. Tuesday (Feb 3) was our Day of Action, where we were happy to have so many of you join us.  After a day of lobbying and attending great workshops, the evening celebration began! Together with more than 30 legislators, Attorney General Herring, Lt. Governor Northam, and Governor McAulliffe, we celebrated our success on Tuesday evening at our Legislative Reception. Thank you to all of you who were able to join us, or who took action from home! Click here to check out some pics from the Day of Action and Legislative Reception.

Getting these two bills out of the Senate is huge.  It means that we are on the right track.  But, we have a much larger fight when these bills make it over to the House of Delegates.  If you haven’t already, TAKE ACTION, and tell your Delegate that we need their support.

As we celebrate being one step closer to gaining LGBT equality, the Family Foundation rallied their base this week (mainly in regard to SB 1211). They sent an email out that said “with the help of radical left-wing legislators, activists pushed their homosexual agenda into a committee where they hoped no one would notice” and called the passage of SB 1211 an “attack on our democracy.” Actually, here’s the truth: The Senate Clerk assigned the committee, and we had no role whatsoever in that decision. We also enjoyed support from Republican Senators Norment, Stosch, and Watkins on that bill – hardly “radical left-wing legislators.”  No links from their email went to anything substantive, but instead re-directed the reader to donate to the Family Foundation.  They have also sent out emails asking their supporters to stand against workplace fairness.

Unfortunately we are up against a very well-funded and influential group.  But, with your involvement and financial support, I have no doubt that equality and fairness will come to Virginia.  We will not give up until it does! This week at the General Assembly gave us all some needed momentum to keep up this fight.  Our hard work paid off. We have a few weeks left before the 2015 General Assembly session comes to a close – please choose at least two ways to be involved this coming week:

We’ve lost some and won some – but two weeks in a row, we’ve been able to report good news!  Last week was a big win with Delegate Marshall’s license to discriminate bill failing to get out of subcommittee, and this week we passed two important bills in the Senate! Thanks for sticking with us through the good and the bad!


Two bills important to the LGBT community pass the Virginia Senate

Bi-partisan support in the Senate signals progress for Virginia’s LGBT community

For immediate release – Feb. 3, 2015

In response to SB 785 (McEachin) and SB 1211 (Ebbin) passing out of the Senate on Tuesday, Feb. 3., the following statement can be attributed to James Parrish, executive director, Equality Virginia. 

“Workplace non-discrimination is a priority issue for Equality Virginia, and we are pleased to see SB 785 pass the Senate with bi-partisan support.  Fairness and inclusion are mainstream values shared by the majority of Virginians and the Commonwealth’s top employers. It is time for the Commonwealth of Virginia to follow the lead of the business community by passing a law to protect LGBT public employees.

SB 1211 is a commonsense bill that ensures the rights and responsibilities of married couples are clear under the law.  Updating the Code of Virginia to reflect marriage equality is the right thing to do, and it clarifies that all legally married spouses are included under Virginia law.

To see these two bills pass out of the Senate with bi-partisan support gives us momentum as we turn to the House of Delegates.  If history tells us anything, the anti-LGBT majority in the House of Delegates will stall any progress we have made when it comes to workplace non-discrimination and relationship recognition, but we cannot – and will not –  give up this important fight.

The majority of Virginians want to see LGBT families and individuals welcomed in Virginia and treated equally under the law.  These bills are about ensuring that Virginia is welcoming to all families and businesses, and if passed will ultimately make the Commonwealth a better place for all of us to live, work, and play.”