Momentum behind Va. anti-LGBT discrimination bill grows

by Scott Stiffler

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Thursday July 30, 2009

In an unanimous vote on June 23, Alexandria became the latest Virginia municipality to pass a resolution to urge state lawmakers to pass ban anti-LGBT discrimination in the workplace.

Jeanne Niebauer, director of the Alexandria Office of Human Rights, notes her city passed its Human Rights Code in 1975 that included protections against workplace discrimination. Sexual orientation was added in 1988.

Neighboring Arlington and Blacksburg in the southwestern part of the state have passed similar resolutions, but Equality Virginia is using the Alexandria action as momentum to establish a statewide law next year once the General Assembly reconvenes in Richmond.

A July 28 email sent by Equality Virginia called for other local state governments to "sign a resolution supporting workplace non-discrimination." The group further noted "there are still many municipalities and cities in Virginia that we need to have formally state that they value being a diverse and inclusive community."

Noting he feels the lack of a statewide non-discrimination law impacts everyone, Equality Virginia chief operating officer John Blair pointed out the state's patchwork of non-discrimination laws protect different people in different ways.

"Some are protected a little, some not at all," he said. "The important thing about non discrimination legislation is it needs to be comprehensive."

Blair contends the problem for LGBT Virginians remains stark.

"It's perfectly legal for an employer to fire an employee because they're gay," he said. "There's no protection based on sexual orientation."

"They voted to send a message to the General Assembly that Alexandria believes all public employees should be protected from discrimination and the General Assembly needs to pass a law to that effect."

Blair added the potential damage in the workplace goes far beyond LGBT Virginians.

"A straight man could walk into work today and be fired for being straight," he said.

Blair further concluded he feels makes the Alexandria City Council's resolution is all the more significant.

"They voted to send a message to the General Assembly that Alexandria believes all public employees should be protected from discrimination and the General Assembly needs to pass a law to that effect," he said.

Niebauer pointed out her city's action was taken specifically to help facilitate the codification of statewide law in 2010.

"The resolution was brought about by the mayor and the city council mainly because Adam Ebbin (a member of the Virginia legislature) introduced a non discrimination bill pertaining to all state and local workers in Virginia," she said. "The bill did not pass, so jurisdictions like Alexandria approved resolutions to show their support."

Both Niebauer and Blair urged bill supporters to lobby their lawmakers and educate their friends, family and neighbors.

"As everyone talks about it, there will be more support for it at the state level," Niebauer said.

Scott Stiffler is a New York City based writer and comedian who has performed stand-up, improv, and sketch comedy. His show, "Sammy's at The Palace. . .at Don't Tell Mama"---a spoof of Liza Minnelli's 2008 NYC performance at The Palace Theatre, recently had a NYC run. He must eat twice his weight in fish every day, or he becomes radioactive.

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