Gov. Ralph Northam signed the Virginia Values Act into law Saturday, making his state the first in the South with an LGBTQ-inclusive antidiscrimination statute.
The act prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in housing, public and private employment, public accommodations, and access to credit. It takes effect July 1.
"This legislation sends a strong, clear message -- Virginia is a place where all people are welcome to live, work, visit, and raise a family," Northam, a Democrat, said in a press release. "We are building an inclusive Commonwealth where there is opportunity for everyone, and everyone is treated fairly. No longer will LGBTQ Virginians have to fear being fired, evicted, or denied service in public places because of who they are."
Also, because Virginia's antidiscrimination law had not previously addressed public accommodations, discrimination in that area is now banned on all the other bases enumerated in existing law, such as race, sex, and religion.
The Virginia Senate and House of Delegates had both passed the legislation in February, but there were some differences in the versions they approved, so the versions had to be reconciled before the governor could sign the measure into law.
Several LGBTQ activists issued statements applauding the governor's action. "When this law goes into effect on July 1, LGBTQ people in Virginia -- and people of color, people of faith, immigrants, women and more -- are at last protected from discrimination at work and in their communities," said Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign. "No one should be discriminated against simply because of who they are or whom they love. Right now, as the country and the world deals with an unprecedented pandemic, it is more important than ever to ensure that leaders are looking out for all of us. In this period of uncertainty, it is vital that we are all protected from bias as we earn a living, access housing and healthcare, and seek goods and services. We have arrived at this moment today because of years and years of tireless work from advocates across the commonwealth, and the Virginia voters that filled the halls of the General Assembly with pro-equality champions who fulfilled their promises to their constituents. HRC worked to elect pro-equality lawmakers across Virginia in 2019, and we are proud to see that effort culminate with the signing of this vital law. We want to thank all who helped make this day possible."
"Equality Virginia has been working with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle for years to create a safer and more welcoming commonwealth for LGBTQ people," added Vee Lamneck, executive director of Equality Virginia. "This law will have a transformative and positive impact on the lives of LGBTQ Virginians and bring Virginia into alignment with its voters."
"In a time when so many people are facing uncertainty about their livelihoods and futures, Virginia has demonstrated that it values treating all its residents with dignity and respect in all areas of life," said Kasey Suffredini, CEO and national campaign director of Freedom for All Americans. "This law will send a message that everyone in the Commonwealth deserves fairness and freedom, and will provide much-needed recourse for anyone who faces discrimination. Virginia now joins more than 20 other states and an overwhelming supermajority of Americans calling on Congress to finish the job: America needs the Equality Act now to update our federal law and ensure comprehensive nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people."
"Today, we see clearly that fighting for what is right matters and that fighting for what is right can make a difference," said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. "Gov. Northam and the Virginia Legislature have changed the world for the better. For more than 50,000 transgender Virginians, today's actions mean that their state sees them for who they are, respects them and recognizes the challenges they face in their daily lives -- and wants to take concrete steps to make things better. Political leaders in Virginia have listened to transgender voices, they have heard our stories and today they have done the right thing."
Democrats won control of both houses of the Virginia legislature in 2018, making it possible to pass the antidiscrimination bill and several other pieces of progressive legislation that Northam has signed in the past couple of days. These include measures providing for stronger gun restrictions, easing access to abortion, and allowing local governments to remove, relocate, or add context to monuments depicting leaders of the Confederacy.