Virginia is set to become the first state in the South to include LGBTQ people in its non-discrimination protections.
Lawmakers in Virginia’s House and Senate finally passed the Virginia Values Act, a law that adds sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s civil rights protections, on Thursday. The law passed 59-35 in the House and 30-9 in the Senate. Each chamber must now confirm each other’s version of the bill, and then it will go to the desk of Democratic Governor Ralph Northam. Northam plans to sign the bill and has pledged public support.
“LGBTQ Virginians should never have to fear being fired or evicted because of who they love,” Northam said in a statement. “These comprehensive anti-discrimination protections will make our Commonwealth stronger and more inclusive and I’m proud to support them.”
There are about 250,000 gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans people living in Virginia, according to Equality Virginia. The state made history in recent years by electing the first openly lesbian and openly trans members of its legislature, and last year’s election proved to be a turning point for LGBTQ rights.
Kasey Suffredini, CEO and national campaign director of Freedom for All Americans, explained: “This is a historic day and a bright moment for the whole country as Virginia prepares to become the first Southern state to ensure full, comprehensive protections for LGBTQ people from discrimination. The moment for freedom and fairness in Virginia will reverberate across America as ongoing proof that people of all beliefs and backgrounds — living in red, blue and purple states — can and do support non-discrimination protections.”
Major employers in Virginia have also backed the bill, including Capital One, Dominion Energy, and Verizon. “Passing a comprehensive nondiscrimination law isn’t just the right thing to do – it’s crucial to the state economy,” those companies and over 24 others wrote in a letter to lawmakers.
Some religious advocacy organizations and Republican lawmakers have criticized the bill, which they say limits religious freedom.