Legislation that aimed to protect LGBTQ Virginians from discrimination in public employment and housing died in a House of Delegates subcommittee hearing today.
The five bills -- one of which was withdrawn by its author before today’s hearing -- aimed to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected classes in the state’s Fair Housing Law as well as nondiscrimination laws in public employment for state and city employees. They all met their end in today’s General Laws Committee as they have year after year.
In a less common procedural move, the House subcommittee heard both House and Senate versions of the same legislation ahead of the usual time when legislation switches between the two bodies. Their failure to pass continues to make it legal to not hire or fire someone, or deny them housing, because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Among those who testified today was an official of Housing Opportunities Made Equal, Brian Koziol. The director of the nonprofit housing group’s research division spoke about a 2014-15 study that showed as many as 44 percent of same-sex housing applicants were treated differently when seeking housing.
“People know there’s nothing they can do,” he said. “ And this leads to a culture of silence.”
Bill Harrison, executive director of Diversity Richmond, asked how it was illegal to fire someone for being a Republican, Democrat or Catholic, but not because of sexual orientation.
“Being a Republican or Catholic is a choice, being gay is not a choice,” he said.“Here we are in 2018 and we’re debating whether or not it should be legal to fire someone from their job cause of who they love? Really?”
Kaitlyn O’Brien, a transgender Newport News resident who works in the naval shipyard also spoke .
“It’s not an issue for anyone other than me where I work -- it wasn’t an issue for them sending me abroad, or to other states,” she said. “It should not be a thing that we’re discriminated against for our gender identity, whether or not we build warships. It should not keep us homeless or keep us from living.” Opposition also spoke before today’s vote.
“A fundamental issue here is religious liberty. … It could create civil action against religious groups because of their sincerely held beliefs. It could apply to faith-based colleges or charities,” said Jeff Caruso, founding director of the Virginia Catholic Conference. “We cannot sever our beliefs from our services. Please preserve our religious liberty.”
There’s a history of bills to add similar protections dying in the same subcommittee. However this year marks a change as bills that would legalize discrimination against LGBTQ people, or work to force transgender people into bathrooms aligned with their birth gender were not submitted.
After the end of today’s vote, Delegate Delores McQuinn drew a parallel between her own experience as an African-American woman.
“I’ve been discriminated against … and it seems like these systems of hierarchy that were established over the years must be overcome,” she said. “We must dismantle these systems. We have an obligation as leaders to set the standards, to be giants of this, and support anyone being discriminated against for any reason.”