A Virginia for Everyone

Written by Larry Meadows:

Anita Bryant began her crusade against America’s LGBT population almost forty years ago. She enjoyed an early victory when her campaign to repeal an ordinance prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in Dade County, Florida (Miami) in 1977 succeeded. Today, it is not her eyes seeing the glory, but rather those of the LGBT people she sought to persecute. Twenty states now protect LGBT people with the kind of non-discrimination laws Bryant repudiated; seventeen of those states also extend those protections to their trans populations.

Virginia could join those states should it adopt legislation introduced by Delegates Kenneth Plum (D-36) and Marcus Simon (D-53) and Senators Donald McEachin (D-9), Adam Ebbin (D-30) and Jennifer Wexton (D-33). The allies’ proposed legislation would extend employment and housing protections necessary to guarantee LGBT Virginians economic opportunities they are routinely denied.

Extending employment protections to LGBT Virginians would put a dent in the higher unemployment and poverty rates they endure despite being more educated than the general population. Protecting LGBT Virginians from employment discrimination would benefit all Virginians as well. A report by the Movement Advancement Project, the Human Rights Campaign, and the Center for American Progress explains:

The lack of legal protections for LGBT workers, combined with the unequal treatment they receive in areas from wages and hiring to family benefits, is not just a problem for LGBT workers; it also harms their coworkers, their employers, and America’s economy. Organizations that create diverse and inclusive workplaces are better positioned to attract and retain top talent. They benefit from decreased costs associated with absenteeism and turnover (or “churn”). They also have higher levels of employee satisfaction, which can boost productivity and innovation and result in higher profits.

The bills Ebbin (SB1181), McEachin (SB785), and Plum (HB1498) introduced would help engender the economic benefits the report describes. All three bills would prohibit discrimination in public employment based on sexual orientation; SB785 and SB1181 would also prohibit discrimination in public employment based on gender identity. Should Virginia adopt these policies, the state would follow in the footsteps of 88% of Fortune 500 companies and two-thirds of small businesses while setting the example for those that remain reluctant to treat LGBT workers fairly.

Employment protections are but one necessary step toward economic justice for LGBT Virginians (especially when they only apply to the public sector). In addition to weathering higher unemployment and poverty rates, LGBT people also confront housing discrimination. Because there are no federal or state laws protecting LGBT people from housing discrimination, homophobic landlords or realtors can refuse to rent or sell housing to LGBT Virginians. This is evident in higher homelessness rates among the LGBT population than the general population; those rates also reflect the lack of employment protections offered to LGBT people.

Housing discrimination manifests itself in subtler forms than homelessness and difficulty finding housing. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) reports LGBT couples have trouble obtaining homeowners’ insurance policies and making insurance claims:

[LGBT couples] have been told they cannot put both partners’ names on a homeowner’s insurance policy, which is important to do if both partners share ownership of the home. And still other couples have been discriminated against when filing a claim as some other insurance companies have attempted to refuse claims or cancel policies on the grounds that the owners are “unrelated.”

LGBT individuals not only have a harder time achieving homeownership then, but they are also at risk of incurring additional and unnecessary costs (and headaches) as homeowners.

The bills proposed by Delegate Simon and Senator Wexton–HB1454 and SB917, respectively–would outlaw housing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, thereby mitigating some of the burdens imposed on LGBT Virginians in the housing market. Should the allies’ bills pass, housing discrimination of the variety the HRC detailed will hopefully fade away. The advent of marriage equality in Virginia should also play a role here. At the very least, the bills will allow LGBT Virginians to challenge housing discrimination with the full force of the law.

Creating a Virginia economy that works for everyone requires legislation prohibiting both employment and housing discrimination against LGBT Virginians. For LGBT Virginians, one without the other is not enough. The housing hurdles LGBT Virginians face cannot be cleared if LGBT Virginians cannot find jobs allowing them to afford housing in the first place. And the employment hurdles LGBT Virginians face cannot be cleared if LGBT Virginians are unable to obtain housing wherever employment opportunities may arise. Thus, the General Assembly must pass the employment protections proposed by Delegate Plum, Senator McEachin, and Senator Ebbin and the housing protections proposed by Delegate Simon and Senator Wexton. Virginia may create Anita Bryant’s vision of hell as a result, but we’ll all be the better for it.