2021 Key Issues
Now that the Virginia Values Act protects LGBTQ Virginians from discrimination in housing, employment, credit, and public accommodations, we are pivoting our organizational priorities to respond to the disparities, discrimination, and violence that LGBTQ people, especially transgender people and people of color, continue to experience in Virginia.
HIV Law Modernization
The criminalization of people living with HIV in Virginia is a significant human rights and racial justice issue. As it stands, the Virginia Legal Code allows for people living with HIV who engage in consensual sex to be charged with the crime of infected sexual battery, allows courts to mandate HIV testing for individuals charged with or convicted of a crime, and provides felony charges for those who donate blood, tissues, and/or organs that test positive for HIV. These statutes have been shown to cause disproportionate harm to Black and Latinx folks, especially transgender women, as the Code is routinely enforced and applied more heavily to members of these groups. Additionally, criminalizing HIV discourages people from accessing healthcare and testing, which contributes to poor public health. Senate Bill 1138 seeks to repeal and amend parts of the Virginia Code that are based on an outdated and misinformed understanding of HIV and its transmission, that create stigma and shame around living with HIV, and that harm the public health as well as the personal health of those living with HIV.
Older Americans Act
The Older Americans Act (OAA) is the federal government’s main piece of legislation that establishes and requires the distribution of federal funding to states so that they may coordinate and distribute services such as food programs (like Meals on Wheels), transportation, and legal aid to older adults above age 60 who are aging-in-place. Currently, LGBTQ older adults are not explicitly included in the greatest social need category included in the Act. LGBTQ older adults often endure lower socioeconomic status, poorer overall health, and increased discrimination compared to their non-LGBTQ counterparts, and Black and Latinx LGBTQ older adults experience compounded effects due to their racial/ethnic identity and their LGBTQ identity, which results in even lower access to services than white LGBTQ older adults. House Bill 1805 and Senate Bill 1366 aim to update the application of the Older Americans Act in Virginia to include LGBTQ older adults in its definition of those who experience greatest social need in order to provide them access to dignified and sufficient services.
Confirmatory Adoption (or second-parent adoption)
In current Virginia code, only different-sex parents and their children are entitled to the legal and financial protection of an automatically recognized parent-child relationship, regardless of the marital status of the parents. Same-sex couples are currently not able to enjoy these rights and privileges, as Virginia statutes only permit a non-biological or secondary adoptive parent to establish a legal parent-child connection if they are married to the child’s biological or primary adoptive parent. Children who do not share a legal parent-child relationship with one of their parents may be unable to access benefits such as health insurance, child support, or Social Security from that parent, and may be placed into the care of other relatives or foster parents if their sole legal parent were to pass away.
The decision to marry is a personal one that is influenced by a multitude of reasons, and a lack of marriage should not be a reason to deny legal parental status. Additionally, many people who are the sole legal parent of a child and are co-parenting with a relative would also benefit from the legal formalization of that relative’s parenthood of the child. Senate Bill 1321 seeks to create a pathway to legal parenthood for non-biological or secondary adoptive parents, as well as co-parenting relatives, so that both adults and children in these relationships can enjoy the securities, benefits, and familial recognition that they deserve
Marriage Amendment Repeal
The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Obergefell v. Hodges case effectively legalized same-sex marriage in the United States in 2015. However, with recent threats to reverse this decision being highly publicized at the highest levels of government, it is vital that marriage equality is more securely protected in our Commonwealth. The 2020 General Assembly session last year saw the passage of two bills, which removed the ban on same-sex marriages and civil unions from the Code of Virginia. However, the Virginia Constitution still contains a ban on marriage equality, and must be removed.
It is a two-year process to remove the amendment from the Virginia constitution, and it requires two separate General Assembly sessions to pass a bill repealing the amendment. Once both sessions pass the repeal, then it will go on the ballot to be voted on by the public.
The passage of Senate Joint Resolution 270, as well as House Joint Resolution 582 will put us one step further in the fight to protect marriage equality in Virginia.
LGBTQ Panic Defense Ban
The LGBTQ “panic” defense is a legal strategy currently used in court rooms to attempt to explain and even excuse a defendant’s violent behavior as a valid reaction to their victim’s actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or gender expression. Due to anti-LGBTQ prejudice that stills exists within society, LGBTQ people are at an increased risk of experiencing violent threats, assault, and murder as compared to non-LGBTQ people. Black, Latinx, Indigenous people experience high rates of violence, and their attackers frequently receive lighter sentences or are absolved of responsibility for the harm they have caused. This is especially true for transgender women and trans-feminine people who are also people of color. House Bill 2132 would ban the use of the LGBTQ “panic” defense, and would further promote the value and worthiness of the lives and safety of all LGBTQ individuals under the law.
Conscience Clause Repeal
Every year, many LGBTQ individuals and couples in Virginia choose to become parents via foster care and/or adoption. However, some encounter obstacles during this process when child-placement agencies refuse to work with them due to their LGBTQ identity. The Code of Virginia currently contains a provision known as a “conscience clause,” which permits private child-placement agencies to refuse to place a child with a foster parent or parents if said placement violates their religious or moral beliefs or policies. This means that a child-placement agency can deny LGBTQ people from fostering or adopting children in their care without consequence, even if the agency is licensed by the state and receives public funding. Because of this clause, qualified LGBTQ parents are being turned away and state adoption rates have steadily decreased. House Bill 1932 would repeal the conscience clause and ensure that all qualified LGBTQ individuals and couples are able to become foster or adoptive parents to children in need of a safe, loving home.
Medicaid Budget Amendment
Virginia Medicaid currently does not have an explicit trans-affirming policy related to the coverage of medically necessary transition-related care, nor has it specifically designated funding to be used for covering such healthcare. As a result, transgender and non-binary people who use Medicaid often experience the denial of coverage for medically necessary procedures and medicines. Due to the fact that Black, Latinx, Indigenous people form the majority of Medicaid users in Virginia, this policy and funding discrepancy puts transgender and non-binary people of color at a higher risk of being unable to access the healthcare that they need and have a right to.
The cost of Medicaid covering transition-related care will likely be lower than many other types of care, as the transgender and non-binary population in Virginia is relatively small and transition-related medicines and procedures are often not as cost-heavy to the provider. The Governor’s budget requests that Medicaid funding be set aside specifically for use in covering transition-related healthcare, so that transgender and non-binary Virginians are guaranteed to have access to medically-necessary care.
Learn more about these issues
Every year, Equality Virginia monitors all legislation introduced to the Virginia General Assembly and advocates on behalf of Virginia’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer community. We work to introduce and support pro-equality legislation and to oppose bills that move us backward.