Indiana didn’t get the memo….

…EQUALITY MEANS BUSINESS!

Less than a week ago, Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed into law a bill that would give any person or any business in Indiana a license to discriminate under the guise of religious freedom.  The implications to gay and transgender people is clear. Another thing is clear too – the business community is not having it! Click here to see an info-graph that shows which businesses and other entities (including the states of Connecticut and Washington) are protesting the new discrimination law.

You’ve probably seen the photos of the massive protests, and have wondered, what can I do to stand in solidarity with the people who are protesting this awful law in Indiana? We have the answer – Ask your favorite businesses to join Equality Means Business!

Equality Means Business is a program that we have created in partnership with Equality North Carolina and South Carolina Equality.  Businesses that welcome LGBT employees and customers can join for free, and are highlighted on our online directory! 

While our situation is not as dire as it is in Indiana, Virginia doesn’t do much to protect LGBT people either.  For example, we have no law that says places of public accommodation (restaurants, shops, bars, hotels, theaters, pharmacies, doctor’s offices…the list goes on) must serve LGBT people.  We have no law to ensure that those who are LGBT are not fired just because of who they are. That’s why we need businesses in the commonwealth to stand up for fairness and equality here at home!

Governor Terry McAuliffe, who earlier this week wrote a letter to Indiana’s businesses, inviting them to come set up shop in Virginia, has been nothing but supportive of the LGBT community, but the majority in the General Assembly have continuously voted to keep discrimination against LGBT Virginians alive and well. With that in mind – it is time for the business community to take the lead.

If you are a community member or business owner who wants to make sure that Virginia’s businesses are welcome to LGBT people, check out our Equality Means Business page to see how you can be involved!

Equality Means Business for Housing Providers

Housing Opportunities Should Be Based on Qualifications not Orientation or Gender Identity

For Immediate Release

March 31, 2015

Contact:
Kirsten Bokenkamp, Equality Virginia, (804) 643-4816, [email protected]
Mike Burnette, Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia, Inc. (HOME). (804) 354-0641 x118, [email protected]

RICHMOND, VA  – To celebrate fair housing month in April, Equality Virginia and Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME) are encouraging housing professionals and companies to join the new multistate campaign “Equality Means Business” designed to showcase businesses that know how vital LGBT customers and employees are to their success in a modern economy. Joining this free campaign is simple. Realtors, builders, mortgage brokers, rental managements companies, home insurance businesses, and other housing professionals complete the membership form at www.virginiafairness.org/equality-means-business which guarantees that their LGBT employees and clients will not be denied employment or service because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Participating individuals and businesses will be listed in the Equality Means Business online directory and will receive marketing materials that will signal their support of inclusiveness.

James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia said, “Businesses that welcome LGBT customers and clients and take a stand for workplace non-discrimination deserve to be recognized for moving Virginia, the region, and indeed the whole country in the right direction.”

Heather Crislip, president and CEO of HOME stated that, “Housing Providers are often the first contact that families have with their new location. It is vital for the housing industry to not discriminate in order to create diverse and thriving communities that are welcoming to all individuals. Housing opportunities should be based on someone’s ability to qualify, not on their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

In 2014, HOME conducted a study into the prevalence of housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the Richmond rental market. HOME’s research showed a 31% rate of differential treatment by which same‐sex couples were treated worse than equally-qualified different‐sex couples in their search for housing. To read the findings, read this report, Housing Discrimination Against Same Sex Couples in Virginia.

State Delegate Marcus Simon (D‐Falls Church) said, “All Virginians should be treated equally in the housing market.  This study raises serious doubts as to whether that is true for same‐sex couples in Virginia. I look forward to the day when all Virginians are judged on their merits when seeking a place to live and make their home.”

This past General Assembly session, the Virginia legislature had the opportunity to expand Virginia fair housing laws to protect sexual orientation and gender identity, joining 22 other states and DC that already outlaw discrimination on these bases. Unfortunately, HB 1454 (Simon, D‐Falls Church) and SB 917 (Wexton, D‐Leesburg) died early in the session. HJ 648 (Villanueva, R-Virginia Beach) offered a chance for the Housing Commission to study LGBT housing discrimination, but it too was killed in subcommittee.

“It makes no sense to consider someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity when deciding whether to rent or sell a home to them,” declared Senator Jennifer Wexton (D-Leesburg). She continued, “Unfortunately, we know these considerations are blocking housing for LGBTQ Virginians. I plan to reintroduce legislation in 2016 to outlaw this invidious discrimination. In the meantime, housing providers can show their support for these important rights by joining Equality Means Business.”

The “Equality Means Business” campaign allows the housing industry to voice their support for the LGBT community in all housing transactions.

 

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Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia, Inc. (HOME) was founded in 1971 with its core mission of ensuring equal access to housing for all people. HOME investigates housing discrimination and provides support for discrimination victims. HOME is a HUD-approved housing counseling agency that helps first-time homebuyers and assists homeowners to avoid foreclosure. HOME also conducts policy and research initiatives that expand housing opportunity.  More information is online at HOMEofVA.org. Connect on Facebook.com/HOMEofVA or Twitter @HOMEofVA

 

Equality Virginia is the leading statewide, non-partisan education, outreach, and advocacy organization seeking equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Virginians. Since 1989, EV has worked to end discrimination, protect families and build safe communities.  More information is online at EqualityVirginia.org. Connect on Facebook.com/EqualityVA or Twitter @EqualityVA.

 

Virginians Leading LGBT Equality Efforts Recognized by Equality Virginia

OUTstanding Virginians to be honored April 18 at Equality Virginia’s 12th Annual Commonwealth Dinner

For Immediate Release: March 23, 2015

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

RICHMOND – On Saturday, April 18, Equality Virginia will honor the 2015 class of OUTstanding Virginians – those who represent Virginia’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community with distinction and are committed to moving the LGBT community forward – at its 12th Annual Commonwealth Dinner.

“One of the reasons we are able to celebrate the freedom to marry at this year’s Commonwealth Dinner is in part because of the contributions of our 2015 OUTstanding Virginians,” said James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia.  “We are pleased to recognize the 2015 class of OUTstanding Virginians for everything they have done to make Virginia a more welcoming and inclusive place to live.”

2015’s OUTstanding Virginians include:

Keri Abrams, Mechanic and Spokesperson, Richmond:  After transitioning from male to female in 2010, at the age of 55, Keri Abrams quickly connected with the James River Transgender Society and became a leader and spokesperson in Virginia’s transgender community. Today, she shares her story with individuals and the public alike.  One of her goals is to win recognition of the needs and experiences of transgender people out in the broader community. “It’s about individuals coming together as a community,” Keri said.

Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, Advocate, Richmond:  This past fall, Claire Guthrie Gastañaga had the “best day of her professional life” when, as the executive director of the ACLU of Virginia, she got to inform the two couples who the organization represented in Virginia’s freedom-to-marry case that the U.S. Supreme Court would let stand the lower court ruling that Virginia’s marriage ban was unconstitutional.  Among other accomplishments, Claire has put in countless hours representing Virginia’s LGBT community at the General Assembly, led the Commonwealth Coalition against the Marshall-Newman Amendment, and encouraged the establishment of EV’s OUTstanding Virginians program.

William C. Hall, Jr., Corporate Executive, Richmond: For decades, William C. Hall, Jr. has been working to turn the tide in a positive direction for LGBT Virginians – both actively, as past board chair for Equality Virginia, and by example, as an openly gay man holding high-profile roles in journalism, business, and non-profit leadership.  After losing friends to AIDS in the 1980s and 1990s, Bill decided that he “just couldn’t sit still on this issue.”  Bill has seen a lot of positive changes over the years, but believes that true equality will not be achieved until we have changed not only laws, but people’s hearts and minds.

Rodney Lofton, Author and Healthcare Activist, Richmond: From his personal experience, Rodney Lofton knows the importance of having a support system during tough times. The organization Rodney leads, called the Renewal Projects, offers retreats to people with HIV/AIDS.  Both the newly diagnosed and “returners” participate in gatherings, workshops, creative expression, storytelling, and periods of rest and relaxation.  Rodney is determined to give back all that he can, is very engaged in Virginia’s communities of color to address racial disparities in HIV awareness and access to healthcare, and works hard to make sure anybody who crosses his path feels affirmed instead of judged.

Paula Prettyman and Kelly Schlageter , Organizers, Fairfax: When Paula Prettyman and Kelly Schlageter founded Equality Fairfax in 2001, they wanted to make a difference for the community.  With their leadership and involvement, Equality Fairfax became a fixture in the community, and an important mechanism for people in Fairfax to be involved in creating legislative change.  Through Equality Fairfax, Paula and Kelly were very active in the Commonwealth Coalition, in part because they “wanted Virginians to recognize that love is love.”  The couple is very involved with People of Faith for Equality in VA (POFEV), and Paula sits on the Board of Directors.

Todd Rosenlieb , Choreographer, Educator, and Mentor, Norfolk: Todd Rosenlieb grew up in a house of love, and he has created the same welcoming atmosphere of acceptance, love, and respect at his company, TR Dance.  The facility that Todd, and his partner Ricardo, work out of is as much a community center as it is dance studio.  Todd has put his talent and artistic creativity together with his desire to give back to the community in many ways including conducting dance outreach programs for youth, mentoring families, and gaining community support for important issues including LGBT equality.

Mothers and Others of Virginia, Allies, Richmond: Founded in 2006 by Ellen Shelton and Joyce Scher, Mothers & Others of Virginia is an alliance of mothers, fathers, friends, and fair-minded citizens who support equality for LGBT Virginians.  By talking to opponents of marriage equality about their daughters and sons, members of Mothers & Others have established personal bonds with listeners and have changed a lot of hearts and minds over the years. Even now that Virginia has gained the freedom to marry, Scher says they are “fighting as hard as ever” because there is much more work to be done.

Equality Virginia has recognized OUTstanding Virginians at its annual Commonwealth Dinner since 2009.  The Commonwealth Dinner is Virginia’s largest black-tie gathering for the LGBT community and supporters.   This year, Equality Virginia will also be recognizing the four couples who were the plaintiffs in the legal case that ultimately brought the freedom to marry to Virginia on October 6, 2014.

Learn more about the 2015 OUTstanding Virignians at https://www.equalityvirginia.org/dinner/outstanding-virginians/

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Equality Virginia is the leading statewide, non-partisan education, outreach, and advocacy organization seeking equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Virginians.  Since 1989, EV has worked to end discrimination, protect families and build safe communities.  More information is online at EqualityVirginia.org.  Connect on Facebook.com/EqualityVA or Twitter @EqualityVA.

The simple and profound right to call each other family

By Carol Schall
Plaintiff in the Bostic Case

Mary and I decided in August of 2013 to join Tim Bostic and Tony London in their legal fight for marriage equality in Virginia. When Virginia gained the freedom to marry fourteen months later – on October 6, 2014 – it was one of the happiest moments in our lives,  a moment we will be celebrating at this year’s Equality Virginia’s Commonwealth Dinner.
Honestly, we entered the fight for marriage equality much earlier than 2013. Our commitment to marriage equality began on a warm morning in January of 1998 when our now 17 year old daughter, Emily, was born. On that morning, we made one of the most important decisions of our life. We both decided to be moms. We decided that we could no longer hide or “fake” that we were just best friends or roommates. We decided that, on behalf of our baby, we were her family and would always present ourselves as both her moms. We decided that we could never pretend that one of us was anything less than her mom.

That single decision has made all the difference. There were times when we would get puzzled looks or stares from folks.  I remember there was a waitress who couldn’t figure us out. “How could you both be moms?” she asked.  Then there was the nurse at the doctor’s office who kept trying to figure out our family tree as she asked repeatedly, “Isn’t one of you a step mom?” and “Who is her dad?” And there was the kind lady who showed up two or three times in our hospital room after Emily was born  to ask if we “wanted to provide the name of the father.” When we said there was no father, she said, “I’ll just come back later.”

Another memory I’ll never forget was when Mary was pregnant with Emily, she had a complication that required emergency treatment. I rushed her to the hospital and checked her in. Then I had to move the car from the emergency room bay to the parking lot. As I left to park, I saw the hospital staff wheel Mary away, doubled over in pain, unable to speak. When I returned after parking the car, I asked the desk staff where Mary was and what her condition was. My heart sank when they asked: “are you a relative?” I answered that I was her partner. That wasn’t good enough. I was denied any information and was told to sit and wait. With tears in my eyes and worry in my heart, I strained my ears to hear her cries, her name, anything…

I walked past that same emergency room on October 15, 2014. I stopped and smiled. I breathed in the sweet air of equality. I realized that from now on I get to call Mary my wife and Emily my daughter. Never again will any of us have to wait for medical status while strangers decide if we are deserving of this precious information.

You see; names matter. Names like “mom” and “wife” make all the difference in the world. That is why we were a part of this case. That is what we won on October 6, 2014: the simple and profound right to call each other family; to call the loves of our life “husband” or “wife” and to hear our children legally call us “mom” or “dad”.

 

 

Equality Virginia to celebrate the freedom to marry at its 12th Annual Commonwealth Dinner

March 9, 2015 – For immediate release
Contact: Kirsten Bokenkamp, [email protected]; 804-643-4816

RICHMOND – Equality Virginia announced on Monday that its Annual Commonwealth Dinner, to be held on April 18 in Richmond, will be dedicated this year to celebrating the freedom to marry in the commonwealth.  Today, 37 states and Washington D.C. have the freedom to marry, but just five months ago, on October 6, 2014, Virginia became the first southern state to gain the freedom to marry.

“This is the time to recognize the work that so many Virginians have put into this fight for decades, some of whom never got to see this day,” said James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia.  “We will honor everybody’s hard work and celebrate this important time in history by throwing one big wedding reception for Virginia.”

Joining Equality Virginia to commemorate this important time in history will be over 1,000 supporters of Virginia’s LGBT community, the plaintiff couples in the cases that challenged Virginia’s ban on marriage, and political allies that helped make the freedom to marry in the commonwealth a reality.

“From Attorney General Herring’s historic decision to side with the plaintiffs, to Judge Arenda Wright Allen’s ruling  – the day before Valentine’s Day – finding the marriage ban unconstitutional, to the rallies that hundreds of Virginians participated in, this journey has been phenomenal,” said Parrish. “Virginia is ready to celebrate!”

The Commonwealth Dinner is Virginia’s largest black-tie gathering for the LGBT community and its supporters, and is Equality Virginia’s largest annual fundraiser.  To learn more about this event, click here: www.equalityvirginia.org/dinner

 

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Equality Virginia pleased with Attorney General’s opinion: school boards have authority to protect LGBT employees from discrimination

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – March 5, 2015

Contact: Kirsten Bokenkamp, [email protected]ginia.org;  804.643.4816202-957-6611

 

RICHMOND – On Wednesday, Attorney General Mark Herring released an opinion stating that school boards in Virginia have the authority to expand their anti-discrimination policies to encompass sexual orientation and gender identity.

“This is great news for Virginia’s school boards as well as gay and transgender public school employees,” said James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia.  “School boards across the commonwealth now have the freedom to create and implement inclusive policies that align with the non-discrimination policies already in place at the majority of Virginia’s leading employers.  Employees should be judged on their qualifications, experience, and the job they do – nothing more and nothing less.

Wednesday’s opinion implicates non-discrimination policies with respect to both students and school employees.  As part of its safe schools work, Equality Virginia has been working with school boards to implement bullying policies enumerated with sexual orientation and gender identity.  In 2012, less than 2 percent of Virginia’s public school students attended a school with such a policy.  Today, more than 20 percent of Virginia’s public school students are protected.

“This opinion will allow us to strengthen our advocacy efforts in school districts throughout the commonwealth,  we are excited that we can now work with school boards to implement policies to protect not only students, but also employees,” said Parrish.

The opinion released overrules a 2002 opinion that said school boards had no authority to enact employment non-discrimination policies.  The opinion also concluded that school boards may not discriminate in the provision of benefits to employees who are married according to whether the employee’s spouse is of the same or opposite gender.

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Equality Virginia is a statewide, non-partisan education, outreach, and advocacy organization seeking equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Virginians.  Since 1989, EV has worked to end discrimination, protect families and build safe communities.  More information is online at EqualityVirginia.org.  Connect on Facebook.com/EqualityVA or Twitter @EqualityVA.