Anyone in Virginia who has turned on a television set in the last month knows that it is election season. The political ads seemingly run in a loop, bombarding voters with competing messages about a candidate’s stance on any number of important issues, ranging from education funding to gun control. If you live in a competitive Virginia Senate or House district, chances are you’ve been visited more than once by people canvassing for candidates, making sure you know when, where and how to vote. If it feels like there are more resources being poured into this year’s statehouse elections, it’s because there are. Control of the Virginia General Assembly literally hangs in the balance for the first time in decades, with polls showing that Democrats are poised to win a majority in both chambers. There’s a lot at stake, especially for LGBTQ Virginians.
Most people don’t realize that in Virginia, it is perfectly legal for LGBTQ people to be fired from a job, evicted from housing or be denied service in a store or restaurant just because of whom we love or how we identify. For years, groups like Equality Virginia have fought to change that. And, they’ve had some success. For the last six years, the Virginia Senate, controlled by Republicans, has passed bipartisan legislation to protect LGBTQ Virginians from discrimination in public employment and in housing. This makes sense. According to recent state-wide polling, solid majorities of Republican primary voters—the most die-hard of the bunch—support discrimination protections for LGBTQ Virginians. They know it’s wrong and know we need common-sense laws to protect us.
But each year, bills to protect our community have died in the GOP-controlled House of Delegates. Last year I, along with dozens of other LGBTQ advocates, supported multiple efforts organized by Equality Virginia to get bi-partisan non-discrimination laws passed in the House of Delegates. But House leadership killed the bills through procedural maneuvers that prevented them from ever getting a vote. Why? Because they knew they would pass.
But we have the opportunity to ensure that won’t happen again. There are 27 pro-LGBTQ equality candidates running for office in the General Assembly this year. Learn who they are and be sure you vote for them if you can. If those candidates win, the leadership of the House will change, and with it the lives of all LGBTQ Virginians. Not only will we finally have laws to protect us from discrimination in public employment and housing, but it is highly likely that we will have legal protections extended to public accommodations, too, meaning that it will be illegal to deny service to us in restaurants, hotels, shops and other public spaces.
There is good reason to have hope that 2019 will be the year that the landscape changes for LGBTQ Virginians, once and for all. But it only happens if we vote. And if we get our friends, families and neighbors to vote. In 2017, control of the House of Delegates was essentially decided by a coin toss, after one race ended in a tie. If you’ve ever thought that your one vote doesn’t matter, remember that. On November 5th, join me in voting like your life depends on it, because in many ways, it does.
James Millner is President of Virginia Pride