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Senate panel OK’s bill to protect Virginia LGBT workers

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RICHMOND – Women’s rights activists praised a Senate committee after it voted Monday to endorse a bill that would prohibit discrimination against public employees who are gay or transgender.

Senate Bill 12 would bar discrimination in public employment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The Senate Committee on General Laws and Technology voted 9-4 in favor of the measure. It now will be considered by the full Senate.

The Virginia Women’s Equality Coalition applauded the committee’s vote.

“We’re so grateful a bipartisan group of state senators agree gay and transgender Virginians deserve equal protection under the law when it comes to discrimination in the workplace,” said James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia, an LGBT advocacy group. “Private employers have long recognized that protecting all their employees from discrimination on the job makes good business sense, and it’s far past time the commonwealth joined them.”

Anna Scholl, executive director of Progress Virginia, agreed.

“No one should have to worry their job is in jeopardy because of who they are or whom they love,” Scholl said. “Prohibiting discrimination in public employment is a commonsense step forward to ensuring every Virginian in equal in the eyes of the law.”

Social, religious and political conservatives have opposed SB 12. Chris Freund, vice president of government relations and communications for the Family Foundation of Virginia, spoke against the bill at the committee’s hearing.

The Family Foundation advocates for “a biblical worldview and founding principles to culture and public policy.” It opposes making sexual orientation a protected class.

“Every year there are efforts in Virginia to add homosexuality to the list of protected classes in non-discrimination laws,” the group’s website says. “This is not only unnecessary, as no evidence of discrimination exists, but has potential negative ramifications on religious liberty.”

Democratic Sens. Adam Ebbin of Alexandria and A. Donald McEachin of Henrico are sponsoring SB 12.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe and his predecessors have issued executive orders to prohibit discrimination in state employment against people who are LGBT. SB 12 would make this policy a state law and extend such protection to teachers and other local government employees.

The nine members of the Senate General Laws and Technology Committee who voted for the bill were Democratic Sens. Mamie Locke of Hampton, J. Chapman Petersen of Fairfax, Ebbin and George Barker of Alexandria, Jennifer Wexton of Leesburg, Scott Surovell of Mount Vernon and Jeremy McPike of Woodbridge, as well as Republican Sens. Jill Holtzman Vogel of Winchester and David Suetterlein of Roanoke.

The four committee members who voted against the bill were Republican Sens. Frank Ruff of Clarksville, Richard Stuart of Montross, Bryce Reeves of Fredericksburg and Thomas Garrett of Hadensville. Sen. Bill DeSteph, R-Virginia Beach, abstained.

More on the Web

To track or comment on Senate Bill 12, visit the Richmond Sunlight website at www.richmondsunlight.com/bill/2016/sb12/

By Kyle Taylor and Sterling Giles/Capital News Service

Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students participating in the program provide state government coverage for Virginia’s community newspapers and other media outlets, under the supervision of Associate Professor Jeff South.