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Lawmakers Target Discrimination Against Gays

January 16, 2011

By Larisa Robinson
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – At least eight measures in this year’s General Assembly take aim against discrimination based on sexual orientation. The proposals range from prohibiting such discrimination in employment, to targeting harassment of gay students at school, to overturning Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage.

For example, Delegate Kenneth Plum, D-Reston, is sponsoring House Bill 1755. It would expand the Virginia Human Rights Act to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. (Currently, the law covers only such categories as race, religion, sex and disability.)

“It has always been my concern that we’d be an open society,” Plum said.

The bills come after a year in which sexual orientation has been the topic of intense discussion in Virginia and across the country.

Last February, Gov. Bob McDonnell initially removed state employees’ protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation; he later said such discrimination would not be tolerated. Then Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli drew fire for advising the state’s public colleges and universities to rescind their policies protecting gay students and employees against discrimination.

Nationwide, several young people – including a student at Rutgers University in New Jersey – committed suicide after being harassed because of their sexual orientation. And the subject surfaced again when Congress voted to end the U.S. military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

Against that backdrop, groups like Equality Virginia and the Alexandria Gay and Lesbian Community Association are hoping the General Assembly will pass legislation sought by gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

Gay rights advocates estimate that 10 percent of the population is GLBT.

“Generating public excitement and engagement on legislation that only affects a minority of persons can be a challenge,” said Claire Guthrie Gastañaga of Equality Virginia.

Her organization will try to generate that excitement on Wednesday – Equality Virginia’s Lobby Day. Organizers expect more than 200 members and activists from across the state to gather at the Library of Virginia at 8:30 a.m. and then to meet with lawmakers.

They’ll be talking about such proposals as:

House Joint Resolution 638, sponsored by Delegate David Englin, D-Alexandria. This is an attempt to repeal the constitutional amendment that Virginians adopted in 2006 defining marriage as “only a union between one man and one woman.”

House Bill 1509, by Delegate James Scott, D-Merrifield. It would prohibit discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation.

HB 1964, by Delegate Thomas Rust, R-Herndon; HB 2046, by Delegate Adam P. Ebbin, D-Arlington; and Senate Bill 747, by Sen. A. Donald McEachin, D-Richmond. These measures would bar discrimination against gay people in state government employment.

SB 797, by Sen. Mamie E. Locke, D-Hampton. Like Plum’s House bill, it would expand the Virginia Human Rights Act to cover sexual orientation.

HB 1575, by Delegates Englin, Ebbin and Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Springfield. It would require public schools to take steps against bullying, harassment and intimidation of students because of their sexual orientation.

During the General Assembly’s 2010 session, about six proposals addressed issues concerning sexual orientation. They didn’t get very far.

“The bills I’ve been a patron of on sexual orientation have never even made it out of subcommittee,” Plum said. “This shows depth of opposition on the part of more conservative legislators.”

One such legislator is Delegate Bob Marshall, R-Manassas. In response to congressional action ending the U.S. military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule, Marshall suggested that the state bar gays from service in the Virginia National Guard.

“The behavior engaged in by persons who engage in same-sex relations … is not compatible with the military,” Marshall said last month.

Groups such as the Family Foundation of Virginia, which advocates “traditional family values,” also oppose laws that contain “sexual behavior protections.”

Gay rights activists want to elevate “homosexual orientation to moral equivalence with heterosexual orientation and to do so at the cost of religious liberty,” Victoria Cobb, the foundation’s president, wrote on the group’s blog.


On the Web

For more about Equality Virginia’s Lobby Day, see www.equalityvirginia.org

You can track and comment on bills addressing sexual orientation at www.richmondsunlight.com/photosynthesis/98yxv/

The Family Foundation’s website is www.familyfoundation.org

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