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Following 2022 session, future legislation expected to enable LGBTQ+ discrimination

State Sen. Jennifer Kiggans looks to the right of the frame while attending Virginia Women Veterans Week during March at the Virginia War Memorial.
Crixell Matthews
State Sen. Jennifer Kiggans attends a March event honoring women veterans at the Virginia War Memorial. Kiggans earlier in 2022 introduced SB 766 — a bill that would have disallowed transgender students from competing on teams because of the gender they were assigned at birth. (File photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

A number of bills introduced this year attempted to roll back protections for LGBTQ+ Virginians. But those measures didn’t make it through the Virginia General Assembly and won’t become law with a slate of other bills that take effect on July 1.

In 2020, lawmakers updated the Virginia Human Rights Act, adding sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes, in an attempt to prevent discrimination in housing, employment and more.

Faith-based advocacy groups have historically opposed some of these measures, claiming they infringe on religious freedoms. This year, one legislative proposal attempted to add a  religious exemption in Virginia. 

“We've seen the slippery slope of action as liberal, secularists have moved from simply trying to censor faith-based belief in the public square, to actually trying to regulate and control what's happening behind or inside the church walls or private school classrooms,” said Victoria Cobb, president of the Virginia Family Foundation, a local faith-based organization. “And so this bill was an effort to rightly allow people of faith to practice their own tenants within their own entities.”

But other groups, like the ACLU of Virginia, said the legislation would’ve allowed for discrimination against LGBTQ+ people based on religious beliefs.

“What this exemption sought to do was just pretty much rip a hole in our nondiscrimination laws,” said Breanna Diaz, legislative and policy counsel with the ACLU of Virginia. 

Diaz expects an increase in future legislative proposals similar to the 2022 bills that intended to strip away protections for LGBTQ+ Virginians. For example, she anticipates she’ll see  another bill aiming to prohibit transgender student-athletes from joining teams that align with their gender identities next year. 

“This was a very similar anti-trans sports bill that we have seen pop up across the country,” Diaz said.

Diaz and Narissa Rahaman, executive director of Equality Virginia, see this as part of a national trend. According to the Human Rights Campaign, more than 250 anti-LGBTQ+ bills were introduced across the country this year.

But Rahaman said this was the first year she saw Virginia get swept up in the national trend of bills specifically targeting trans and nonbinary students. Another bill introduced this year sought to reverse course on a separate piece of legislation passed in 2020,  requiring school boards to pass model policies consistent with the state’s support of transgender students.

“I think we're going to, unfortunately, see a continued, growing trend of anti-LGBTQ bills introduced everywhere, especially as we get close to elections,” Rahaman said.

“These are bills that are solely introduced to create division and fearmonger and mobilize a radical base,” she continued. “Unfortunately, they're all done at the expense of children, extremely marginalized children.”


Megan Pauly reports on early childhood and higher education news in Virginia
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