RICHMOND,Va. (WRIC) — With Virginia Democrats in control of the General Assembly, advocates for LGBTQ equality believe a discrimination bill can finally pass during this year’s session.
Two companion bills that have been proposed, one in the House and the other in the Senate, could possibly give advocates what they want.
House Bill 1663, introduced by Del. Mark Sickles (D-Fairfax), would prohibit discrimination in public and private employment and housing. On Thursday, a House subcommittee voted it forward in a 5-1 vote.
8News reached out to the one “no” vote, Del. William Wampler III (R-4th District), for comment. Now the bill will move forward to the House General Laws Committee.
“A lot of people think that we already have non-discrimination protections in place,” said Katelyn O’Brien.
Her employer has discrimination policies that protect her but that’s not the case for many others.
“It was hard, very hard to come out,” she said. “People I’ve known, they spend years in school and they can’t get a job. They know they’ve been discriminated against but even if they could prove it, what are they going to do about it.”
Governor Ralph Northam (D) pledged to support LGBTQ equality bills in his 2020 State of the Commonwealth Address. House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn pledged to do the same.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, about 185,000 LGBTQ adults live in Virginia and under current state law, they are not explicitly protected from discrimination, like 29 other states.
Another bill being proposed, Senate Bill 868 filed by Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria), has yet to be heard in committee. The measure would amend existing nondiscrimination laws to extend protections for the state’s LGBTQ residents.
Right now, discrimination against race, religion, age and disability, among other demographics, already exists under Virginia law. This bill would add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.”
“In 2020, you can actually be fired, you can be denied housing, you can be denied service simply for being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender in Virginia,” Vee Lamneck, executive director of Equality Virginia, said Friday.
House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) told 8News on Friday that he would not vote for the bill being proposed in the House.
“I sat on the committee where we considered that bill for years,” Gilbert said. “My concern would be creating a special class of people where lawsuits could abound. Where there’s no empirical evidence that people are actually facing discrimination. If anything, I think people who have different sexual orientations and different gender identities are actually celebrated right now.”
According to the Attorney General’s office, citing Virginia State Police, 23 of the 161 hate crimes reported in Virginia in 2019 were motivated by sexual orientation.
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