The Long Arc of Equality in Virginia

Written by: Shawn Meredith (guest author)

Last year’s election was a momentous occasion for the LGBTQ community in Virginia. Not only did Virginians elect many new allies, but we elected our first transgender person, Danica Roem, and our first openly-lesbian woman, Dawn Adams, to the General Assembly.

I have had the great pleasure of meeting both of them, inside and outside the great halls of our state government. Adams is my delegate in the 68th and I volunteered for her campaign and attended her swearing-in ceremony in January.

I met Roem in Richmond shortly before she assumed office. She was bombarded by people who wanted to tell her how proud they were of her—myself included. I mentioned that my brother, Charly, recently came out as transgender, and how much her election meant to him, that it gave him hope. Roem immediately asked to make a video message for my brother. Her words meant the world to Charly.

When I saw Roem in the General Assembly building a month later, I told her what that meant to my family, and she responded by saying “it’s not just your family, it’s our family.” Cue the waterworks.

The election of these two women is a window into the future of inclusivity that Virginia can achieve. There are other LGBTQ members of the General Assembly, and we’re grateful for the path they opened up for Roem and Adams. With the incredible momentum that the election of these two individuals gave the Commonwealth, it is mind-boggling that Republicans in the General Laws subcommittee voted down all of the anti-discrimination bills presented this year, sponsored by Del. Simon, Sen. Ebbin, Del. Levine, and Sen. Wexton.

The bills focused on housing, insurance, and employment among other things; and they were all killed on a party-line vote. The hearing was heated and tense, with testimony presented from both sides of the issue. Those in support of the bills simply argued for fair treatment under the law, while those opposed to the bills spoke of religious liberty.

At the hearing, Republicans agreed with those opposed to the bills and the room erupted in chants of “shame!” and taunts of voting them out in the 2019 elections when the entire General Assembly is up for reelection. Before the final votes were cast, Del. Dolores McQuinn, a steadfast ally to the LGBTQ community, had strong words for her colleagues on the other side of the aisle (01:06:55 in the video).

If Virginians want to see these bills become law in the future, we are going to have to elect more people like Dawn Adams, Danica Roem, and every ally who stood up for the LGBTQ community on that dark day in the Commonwealth.

We made enormous progress last year toward achieving a more inclusive and open-minded Commonwealth, but the march for progress continues. November 2019 is closer than we all think.

If you want to help support the LGBTQ community and fight for progressive policies, please visit Equality Virginia and Progress Virginia. There you can find resources to get involved and subscribe to emails from both. Make sure to follow both of these wonderful organizations as well (go to Progress Virginia’s Twitter and Facebook and Equality Virginia’s Twitter and Facebook).

About the Author: Shawn Meredith

This is Shawn Meredith’s second year working on Eyes on Richmond with Progress Virginia. Shawn has always been passionate about politics and progressive values, but feels that now it is more important now than ever to raise our voices and to resist legislation and policy that will only set us back.