We all worked hard to achieve continued legislative success for LGBTQ Virginians during the 2021 General Assembly session! The state legislature passed 11 pro-equality bills including protections for LGBTQ elders and people living with HIV, affirming the right to marry, repealing harmful legal loopholes, and recognizing diverse family structures. Keep reading to find out more about the new legislation that passed because most will will go into effect on July 1, 2021.
HIV Law Modernization
Senator Mamie Locke and Senator Jennifer McClellan’s SB 1138, modernizes outdated HIV laws making Virginia the first state in the South to do so! SB 1138 passed in the Senate 21-17 and then in the House 56-44, after picking up an amendment to reinstate the Class 6 felony penalty for infected sexual battery. The amendment was voted on and agreed to 55-44 by the House and 23-16 by the Senate. Governor Northam signed SB 1138 into law on March 31 and it will go into effect on July 1, 2021.
These critical updates to the Code of Virginia will decrease barriers to prevention and treatment services by modernizing statute language and HIV testing requirements. It also brings an HIV diagnosis in line with other sexually transmitted infections and reduces stigma against marginalized populations, like sex workers and people who use drugs. This is a remarkable step forward, but the final bill kept the Class 6 felony penalty connected to transmission, which carries a fine of $2,500 and/or imprisonment up to five years. Although such a heavy penalty reinforces stigma and goes against public health best practices, centering the experiences and voices of people living with HIV was vital to moving forward with this bill. Our work to repeal the felony penalty continues alongside the Ending Criminalization of HIV and Overincarceration in Virginia Coalition (ECHO-VA Coalition) and national partners at Positive Women’s Network-USA and the Sero Project.
Building Safer Communities
Because of Delegate Danica Roem’s HB 2132, Virginia becomes the first southern state and the 13th jurisdiction to ban the LGBTQ “panic defense!” HB 2132 passed in the House 58-42 and then picked up an amendment in the Senate that adds oral solicitation and hitting to the list of unacceptable justifications for using this harmful legal strategy. It then passed in the Senate 23-15 and the House adopted the amendment 58-39. Governor Northam has signed HB 2132 into law and it will go into effect on July 1, bringing Virginia one step closer to cultivating safer communities for LGBTQ people.
We are grateful to the National LGBT Bar Association for their expertise and to the many advocates whose heartfelt testimonies helped spur lawmakers to ban this faulty, outdated legal defense. Thanks also to our partners at the Virginia Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Action Alliance and to all of the the other advocates around the state for making this win possible!
Update Virginia’s Law to Reflect Marriage Equality
We made significant headway in the two-year process to remove the anti-marriage amendment from Virginia’s constitution with companion bills SJ 270 and HJ 582. Delegate Mark Sickle’s HJ 582, which incorporates Delegate Alfonso Lopez’s HJ 557 and Delegate Mark Levine’s HJ 539, passed in the House 60-33 and the Senate 22-12. Senator Adam Ebbin’s SJ 270 was agreed to by the Senate 24-12 and adopted by the House 60-37. Once adopted by both chambers, joint resolutions do not require the signature of the Governor.
In order to completely remove the anti-marriage amendment from our constitution, it will require the same version of the bill to pass two General Assembly sessions, separated by an election year. After the 2021 state election, we are optimistic that the issue will pass again in the General Assembly in 2022. Then, it will be placed on the ballot and Virginians will have the opportunity to vote to affirm marriage equality.
Increase LGBTQ+ Visibility
In an effort to ensure a more equitable and representative Commonwealth, Delegate Alfonso Lopez’s HB 2130 which passed in the House 57-42 and Senate 23-16, establishes an LGBTQ+ Advisory Board to the Governor. On March 18, Governor Northam signed the bill into law making the LGBTQ+ Advisory Board 1 of 6 Boards to work with the executive office.
The 26 member Board will advise the Governor on issues regarding the economic, professional, cultural, educational, and governmental links between the Commonwealth and the LGBTQ+ community in Virginia – particularly in rural and undeserved areas. Board members will be appointed by the Governor and comprised of 21 citizens not employed by the state and at least 15 LGBTQ+ members. This new law will go into effect on July 1, 2021 and promises to have LGBTQ+ Virginians represented and part of the policy-making conversation at the state level.
Update the Older Americans Act
Companion bills SB 1366 and HB 1805 update the Older Americans Act (OAA) to designate LGBTQ older adults as a population with “greatest social need.” Senator George Barker’s SB 1366 passed in the Senate 23-16 and the House 58-41 with an amendment. Similarly, Delegate Dawn Adam’s HB 1805 passed in the House 56-43 and then in the Senate 25-14, after picking up amendments. Governor Northam signed both bills into law on March 24. This important update to the OAA, will go into effect on July 1, 2021 and will provide LGBTQ elders with equal access to aging services and resources like Meals on Wheels, transportation assistance, legal aid, and more. Special thanks to our national partner, SAGE, for their support, and other organizations and advocates who helped advance this new and vital piece of legislation.
Virginia joins the ranks of states that allow confirmatory or second-parent adoptions thanks to Senator Jennifer Boysko’s SB 1321. After passing in the Senate 24-13, the House 80-20, and being signed by Governor Northam, SB 1321 will establish a legal pathway to parenthood for unmarried LGBTQ couples starting on July 1, 2021. This means that Virginia’s stepparent adoption provisions will expand to legally recognize and affirm the diversity of modern family structures. Big thanks to our national partner Family Equality, and to our local partner, Locke & Quinn law firm based in Richmond, for supporting this effort alongside us for years.
End Workplace Discrimination
We took major strides to continue to protect all Virginians from workplace discrimination thanks to several bills which update the Virginia Human Rights Act. Delegate Mark Sickles’ HB 1848 adds discrimination on the basis of disability, and it unanimously passed in both the House 99-0 and the Senate 39-0. It has been signed by Governor Northam and will become effective July 1, 2021.
Additionally, Senator Jennifer McClellan’s SB 1310, which extends equal rights and nondiscrimination protections to domestic workers, passed in the Senate 21-18 and House 55-45. Delegate Marcia Price’s HB 1864, expands the definition of “employer” to include those who employ one or more domestic workers. The bill passed in the House 55-44. After an initial defeat 7-7 in the Senate’s General Laws and Technology committee, the bill was reconsidered and passed through Senate 21-17 with an amendment that was adopted by the House 54-44. Governor Northam signed both SB 1310 and HB 1864 into law on March 31, and they will both go into effect starting July 1, 2021.