Since my partner decided to come out as transgender almost two years ago, we’ve had more conversations about how that decision would affect our careers, shared earning potential, and living options than we did about how it would affect our personal and emotional lives.
My partner and I are in our late twenties and they are currently in law school. The career advice they are given by the professors makes it clear that the legal profession is still decidedly conservative. Students are told that if they want to beat the stiff competition, their best bet is to look as traditionally professional as possible. The goal is to fit into one of two narrow boxes of professionalism, one for cis-men and one for cis-women. Anyone outside of those categories is automatically unusual and therefore, less professional.
As a result, my partner was hesitant to fully transition until after they had graduated and secured a job. They were skeptical about staying in Virginia after graduation, because this state offered us no protections in terms of jobs or housing. They figured that if they could get a job in a more progressive state, they couldn’t be fired for coming out. I remember going door to door in 2019 to tell people how winning the election was the difference between my partner and I being able to live in this state or not.
This year the General Assembly passed he Virginia Values Act which outlaws discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, access to credit, and public accommodations. However, the Governor is now fielding potential amendments from conservative groups like Focus on the Family, which will severely weaken the bill.
Making sure that the unamended bill is signed law is important, and it will help more than just my family. I personally know at least three queer, transgender, or nonbinary friends who are now considering moving to or staying in Virginia thanks to these new protections.
These individuals are young professionals with masters’ degrees who went to public schools here in Virginia. Before we passed the Virginia Values Act, none of them felt comfortable looking for work in the South, but now, as long as the Virginia Values Act becomes law, they’ll all probably choose to live here. Instead of bright, young queer people like my partner getting their educations at our public schools and then leaving the Commonwealth, more of them will decide to stay here and put their education to work for Virginia.
Virginia now has the unique opportunity to attract LGBTQ+ young professionals from the rest of the South. Let’s hope our employers are smart enough to start putting effort into recruiting them!
But this isn’t just about good workers. Looking at our neighbors, we can see that discrimination and other socially conservative policies hurt states’ economic performance. Georgia and North Carolina, two of our biggest economic competitors in the South, have recently had major issues with industries and businesses over their conservative policies and laws. Georgia’s extremist abortion bill led to the loss of lucrative Hollywood contracts, while North Carolina’s discriminatory bathroom policies cost the state over $3.5 billion dollars in business revenue.
Conversely, studies show that progressive policies that ban LGBTQ+ discrimination lead to considerable economic growth. In 2017, Florida conducted a host of studies to predict the economic impact of widespread discrimination bans, similar to the Virginia Values Act. Researchers concluded that nondiscrimination laws could boost Florida’s overall economic output by $5.5 billion and add over 35,000 jobs in the next ten years.
They also estimated that the policy could add $3.5 billion to the state’s expected GDP growth during that time period, due to how much more competitive Florida’s businesses would be in attracting skilled workers. Now that Virginia has the most extensive LGBTQ+ protections in the South, we are poised to reap similarly impressive economic benefits!
Progressive laws mean better workers, more opportunities, and a stronger, healthier economy! The best is yet to come for Virginia, both for workers and for businesses! The Virginia Values Act is just one crucial step away from becoming law! Sign our petition to make sure the Governor signs the Virginia Values Act today!