Legislation to ban anti-LGBTQ discrimination in housing and public employment in Virginia has died for this session.
Republican leaders in the House of Delegates Thursday removed the two nondiscrimination bills from the agenda of the General Laws Committee. "The move prevents the pieces of legislation from getting past committee and squanders any hope that they may become law in this legislative session," the Washington Blade reports.
The Senate had passed similar measures, one banning discrimination in housing and the other in public employment, January 18, the Human Rights Campaign notes. The chamber had also approved bills like this over each of the past several years, but they have always stalled in the House. Virginia does not include sexual orientation or gender identity in any of its civil rights laws.
"It's shameful that Speaker [Kirk] Cox, Majority Caucus Chairman Tim Hugo and leaders in the House of Delegates continue to use every political trick in the book to kill these crucial, commonsense nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ Virginians," HRC national field director Marty Rouse said in a press release. "For several years in a row, bills that would protect LGBTQ Virginians from discrimination in housing and public employment have passed the state Senate, but House leadership continues to obfuscate the political process and obstruct this legislation. Let's be clear: Cox is using LGBTQ people as political pawns. This fall, voters in Virginia will head to the polls to elect their state representatives. If current leaders cowardly refuse to protect all Virginians, then voters will elect lawmakers who will. We will remember this in November."
Polling has shown bipartisan support among Virginians for legislation banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, the HRC notes. Business groups had lobbied for the legislation this year, including the Virginia Beach Restaurant Association and the Virginia Beach Resort Advisory Commission. And HRC, Equality Virginia, and Freedom for All Americans had gathered at the state capitol Thursday to demand a hearing on the bills, and they denounced the House's move.
"Today's anti-LGBTQ actions by Virginia House leadership are dramatically out of step with voters, lawmakers, and Americans from all walks of life," said a statement issued by Freedom for All Americans CEO Masen Davis, according to the Blade. "Equality is not a partisan issue, but a human issue -- and it's a shame when legislators who don't yet realize that fundamental truth have the power to thwart commonsense, bipartisan bills to protect their constituents."
On Twitter, Equality Virginia officials wrote, "Once again Republican House leadership has denied a fair hearing to bills that would have protected hundreds of thousands of Virginians from discrimination. We lost this one but make no mistake ... we will keep fighting for the community and we won't stop."
Meanwhile, the state is dealing with a racially charged scandal involving Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam. A photo from his 1984 medical school yearbook surfaced Friday showing one man in blackface and another in a Ku Klux Klan robe. The photo was first discovered by a right-wing website, Big League Politics. Northam has confirmed that he is in the picture, although it's not clear which of the two men he is, USA Today reports.
"I am deeply sorry for the decision I made to appear as I did in this photo and for the hurt that decision caused then and now," Northam said in a statement to USA Today. He added, "This behavior is not in keeping with who I am today and the values I have fought for throughout my career in the military, in medicine, and in public service. But I want to be clear, I understand how this decision shakes Virginians' faith in that commitment."
Northam then reversed course Saturday, saying it wasn't him in the yearbook photo, but that he once darkened his skin to dress as Michael Jackson. "Northam said he regrets that he didn't understand 'the harmful legacy of an action like that,'" the Associated Press reports. He said he hadn't seen the yearbook photo until Friday, as he hadn't bought his yearbook.
Several individuals and groups have called for Northam to resign, including HRC. "Northam must resign immediately. The right path forward is for [Lt. Gov.] Justin Fairfax to become the next governor of Virginia." Presidential hopefuls Kamala Harris and Julian Castro have also demanded Northam's resignation, as did the Virginia Democratic Party. But so far he has resisted.