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Virginia Becomes First State In The South To Pass LGBTQ Discrimination Protections

Delegate Mark Sickles (D-Arlington) sponsored the House version Virginia Values Act. It passed with bipartisan support on Thursday.
Delegate Mark Sickles (D-Arlington) sponsored the House version Virginia Values Act. It passed with bipartisan support on Thursday. (Roberto Roldan/VPM)

The General Assembly passed the Virginia Values Act on Thursday, providing new employment and housing protections for LGBTQ people. 

Virginia will be the first state in the Southto treat sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes in non-discrimination law. The Virginia Values Act includes discrimination protections in housing, employment, credit and public accommodation, which means any business open to the public would have to serve LGBTQ people. 

Senator Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) sponsored the bill. He said as the first openly gay person to be elected to the General Assembly, he never thought he would see the day something like it passed.

“Discrimination is still happening in Virginia,” Ebbin said. “It is time to drive it out. Until we do, our commonwealth will continue to suffer the psychological, physical and economic vandalism simply because of who people are or who they love.”

The bill passed the Senate in a 30-9 vote with bipartisan support. The House version of the Virginia Values Act likewise passed with a large majority.

Delegate Mark Sickles (D-Fairfax), the House bill sponsor, pitched the act as a much-needed update to Virginia’s non-discrimination laws. 

“A lot of Virginians believe this is already the law,” he said. “If you took a survey they might say ‘This is law.’ They can’t believe someone would be fired for being gay or lesbian or transgender.”

Some conservative groups have opposed the legislation, saying it would force people of faith to go against their conscience. The Virginia Values Act does include an exemption for religious organizations, like churches and schools, who want to only serve people of their faith. 

The two bills will still need to crossover to the other house and be voted on again. Once they make it to Governor Ralph Northam’s desk, he is expected to sign the Virginia Values Act into law. 

Northam said in a Tweet on Thursday that he believes LGBTQ people shouldn’t have to live in fear because of who they love.

“These comprehensive anti-discrimination protections will make our commonwealth stronger and more inclusive and I'm proud to support them,” Northam said.