As a lifelong Virginian and the mother of a transgender son, I am closely following the Virginia Values Act as it moves through the General Assembly. The new law would make discrimination against LGBTQ people illegal and make the Commonwealth safer for my son and for everyone.
When my son came out as transgender three years ago, I’ll admit there was a learning curve. I had a crash course on issues that I didn’t know would ever affect me. My family began the journey of helping my son gradually transition. He eventually changed his name and began living as his true self.
I feel like I got my kid back after he came out. Parenting isn’t easy on a good day, but it becomes so much harder when your child is forced to hide who they are. My son was miserable. I’m so grateful that he felt he could open up to me and his siblings, it’s changed his life. My family never wavered in supporting him and I do my best to make sure he is only surrounded by love. But that’s difficult when you live in a state where the laws don’t protect him or any other LGBTQ people.
It pains me to know my son could be denied a job or turned away from a business simply for being himself. And there’s nothing we could do about it. Being a teenager is hard enough. I don’t ever want my son to have to hide, explain or defend who he is.
He just turned 19. He’s beginning to navigate the world on his own and I want him to be supported, respected and affirmed. He deserves to have the same opportunities as his peers. He shouldn’t have to worry about being treated differently or opportunities based on who might accept him. Finding colleges, employment and housing is already stressful enough.
I now serve on the board of He She Ze and We, a support group for parents and caregivers of transgender and nonbinary children in Virginia. One of our biggest concerns is that our children will not be granted a level playing field. We love our kids and want them to have every opportunity available to them.
All 257,000 LGBTQ Virginians should be allowed to thrive, no matter where life may take them. But under current Virginia law, LGBTQ people are not explicitly protected, which means they can be fired, evicted or denied service in restaurants or stores.
The Virginia Values Act will change that and bring the state into the 21st century by modernizing existing human rights laws and sending a message that Virginia welcomes all people to live, work and raise a family. It will ensure that LGBTQ people have the freedom to go about their daily lives without the fear of discrimination or violence.
Passage of the law would make Virginia the first Southern state to secure comprehensive nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people in employment, housing and public spaces.
I hope our lawmakers will pass this law and the governor will quickly sign it. The legislation will have a transformative and positive impact on the lives of LGBTQ Virginians. People should not have to live in fear of being their true selves.
Discrimination is a real and urgent problem that disproportionally impacts the most vulnerable members of the LGBTQ community. Thirty-one percent of transgender Virginians reported experiencing discrimination in public accommodations, including being denied service, verbal harassment, and physical assault, according to a recent report by the Williams Institute. And 20% of transgender people in Virginia reported experiencing housing discrimination, such as being evicted or denied a home or apartment.
LGBTQ people are our friends, family members, and neighbors. They live and work in all of our communities across the Commonwealth. And they urgently need protections from discrimination. Dignity and respect should never depend on who you are, who you love, or what ZIP code you call home.
I want my child to live in a world that supports and affirms him. All children deserve to have the same opportunities and respect, and the Virginia Values Act will change their lives and make sure they are treated fairly and equitably by the laws of the state.
I saw how much my son was hurting before he came out. He shouldn’t have to go through that each time he goes to a public place or looks for a job or home. He should be allowed to thrive and be himself no matter what.
Michelle Black is a home-school educator and mother of six who lives in the Richmond area. She is a member of the Virginia Values Coalition. vavalues.org.
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