McAuliffe Fulfills LGBT Campaign Promise
Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) was sworn into office in Richmond on Saturday, sparking hope among equal-rights advocates that his position as an LGBT ally may foster incremental changes to Virginia’s discriminatory laws.
In his inaugural address, McAuliffe specifically referenced some of the ongoing fights in the commonwealth that pertain to LGBT rights, promising that his administration would ensure economic, educational and social opportunities for ’’all of Virginia’s children -- no matter if you’re a girl or a boy, no matter what part of the commonwealth you live in, no matter your race or religion, and no matter whom you love.’’ McAuliffe also said there is still work to be done ’’to ensure that someone can’t lose a job simply because they are gay.’’
In keeping with that spirit of his address, McAuliffe signed into effect on Saturday Executive Order 1, which supersedes and rescinds an executive order by former Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) that did not specifically protect LGBT individuals from discrimination. Under McAuliffe’s executive order, discrimination in state employment is prohibited on the basis of race, sex, color, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, political affiliation, status as a veteran or disability.
The order directs state appointing authorities and managers to take affirmative measures to emphasize the recruitment of qualified minorities, women, disabled people and older Virginians to serve at all levels of state government.
The executive order also states that ’’allegations of violations of this policy shall be brought to the attention of the Office of Equal Employment Services’’ and prohibits retaliatory actions by supervisors against those who complain of discrimination.
LGBT advocates are optimistic about the potential for greater equality under a McAuliffe administration. The LGBT-rights organization Equality Virginia, which endorsed McAuliffe in his campaign against Ken Cuccinelli, Virginia’s former attorney general, sent a contingent that marched in McAuliffe’s inaugural parade and was present for his signing of the executive order.
On Monday morning, Equality Virginia hosted a press conference with Robin Gorsoline, the head of People of Faith for Equality in Virginia (POFEV), an organization of interfaith clergy and laypeople who advocate on behalf of LGBT rights; and state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria City, Arlington, Fairfax counties), who is the only out member of the General Assembly, Sen. A. Donald McEachin (D-Richmond, Henrico, Hanover, Charles City counties) and Del. Patrick Hope (D-Arlington Co.) to discuss several legislative priorities that Democrats -- and a handful of House Republicans -- are trying to get passed.
Among the topics discussed was a bill sponsored by Ebbin to repeal Virginia’s constitutional amendment banning any and all recognition of same-sex relationships. The conference also addressed two bills put forth by McEachin: one, SB248, to codify the executive order signed by McAuliffe into law, and the other, SB252, to expand the state health plan to give some state employees the option of covering a same-sex spouse, among other benefits.
Another bill discussed at the press conference is to be introduced by Hope. It would ban ’’gay conversion’’ therapy for minors.
Enthusiasm aside, the General Assembly -- particularly the GOP-held House -- poses myriad obstacles for LGBT-friendly legislation.
’’Even though the commonwealth is taking steps toward equality, the truth is we have a long way to go,’’ James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia, said Monday. ’’An overwhelming majority of Virginians believe that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals should have the right to work for the government without facing discrimination, and when it comes to marriage, they believe that gay and lesbian couples should be able to marry the person they love and have that relationship recognized where they live.’’
’’Sens. Ebbin and McEachin are listening to their constituents and to the majority of Virginians,’’ Parrish continued. ’’The time for equality is now! I hope that legislators are listening to their constituents when it comes to LGBT rights. The decisions being made at the General Assembly must start reflecting where Virginians stand when it comes to issues of fairness and equality.’’