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Virginia Makes History by Passing LGBTQ-Inclusive Civil Rights Bill

Virginia Del. Danica Roem

The action will make Virginia the first Southern state to protect LGBTQ people against discrimination.

Virginia is well on its way to becoming the first Southern state with an LGBTQ-inclusive antidiscrimination law.

The state's Senate and House of Delegates both passed the Virginia Values Act Thursday, adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the state's civil rights law. It bans discrimination on these bases in employment and housing; the law already prohibited discrimination in these venues based on race, gender, religion, and other traits.

The act also bans discrimination in public accommodations based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and all the other characteristics enumerated in existing law. Virginia law had not addressed public accommodations previously.

The House and Senate versions of the act must go through reconciliation before going to Gov. Ralph Northam for his signature, but that is not expected to derail the legislation. Northam, a Democrat, has pledged to sign it.

"Today, history was made in Virginia, and LGBTQ Virginians are one step closer to being protected from discrimination. No one should be discriminated against simply because of who they are or whom they love," said a statement issued by Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, one of numerous organizations that lobbied heavily for the act. "This day would not have been possible without the years and years of tireless work from advocates across the commonwealth, or the voters in Virginia that filled the halls of the General Assembly with pro-equality champions who fulfilled their promises. HRC is proud to have worked to elect pro-equality lawmakers across Virginia in 2019, and we are thrilled to see that effort culminate in this important victory today." He also praised the legislators who worked to pass the measure.

Virginia was one of 30 states without a law banning anti-LGBTQ discrimination. Similar legislation had stalled there for years, but the election of Democratic majorities in both chambers made passage possible now. The Values Act was a priority for Democratic lawmakers in this session. It did receive some Republican support, however. The Senate version passed by a vote of 30-9, with nine of the chamber's 19 Republicans in favor, The Washington Post reports. A party breakdown for the House vote was not immediately available.

Speaker of the House Eileen Filler-Corn, the first woman to hold that position, released a statement lauding the act's passage. "Today, we have laid a marker down that every Virginian can work hard, earn a living wage, and live their lives without fear of discrimination based on who they are or who they love," she said. "The sun shines brighter on the Commonwealth of Virginia with the House's passage of this landmark legislation."

The Campaign for Southern Equality likewise applauded the measure. "Today's vote in Virginia is a breakthrough for LGBTQ Southerners, the first time a legislative body in our region has taken decisive statewide action to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination," said a statement issued by Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, the group's executive director. "The Virginia Values Act sends a powerful message that no one should face discrimination because of who they are or who they love, and it charts a hopeful pathway forward for all LGBTQ Southerners."

Del. Danica Roem, the first openly transgender legislator in Virginia, who had given an impassioned floor speech on behalf of the act, sent out a celebratory tweet.

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