Monday, March 20, 2023

[Commentary] It’s Time for Virginia to Protect All Its Citizens

I moved to Norfolk in 2004 after more than ten years of studying, working, coming out and beginning my career in Washington, D.C.  During that time, I was keenly aware that as a gay man, laws in the District protected me from discrimination in housing, employment and many other areas.  I never took these protections for granted and was a proud resident of the District of Columbia.  Even with all its flaws, D.C. recognized the need to protect its citizens from discrimination.

A memory that is burnished in my mind is the day I moved to Virginia. I vividly recall crossing the 14th Street Bridge on a rainy May morning in a creaky U-Haul, realizing that the rights I enjoyed as a citizen of the District would not apply as I crossed into Arlington.  Then, as now, the Commonwealth of Virginia does not consider gay, lesbian or transgender as a ‘protected class’ of citizens.

Unfortunately, my move to Virginia forced me to unlock and crack open my closet door.  I was not comfortable being out at my new employer in Norfolk, nor did this large healthcare corporation recognize my domestic partnership or offer benefits, referring employees to the aforementioned Virginia statute that fails to legally protect sexual minorities. Virginia’s status as a ‘right to work’ state also gave me pause about being out at work.  Moving here was akin to taking a few steps back.

However, since my move, our community has made an amazing amount of progress.  I am grateful to be able to celebrate my second wedding anniversary this weekend (and fifteen years of being a couple) and have grown to love Norfolk and Hampton Roads.  I am proud to be part of an LGBTQ community that is so diverse, vibrant and active politically and socially at all levels of government.

To that end, I was very pleased to attend last week’s launch of the Virginia Beach for Fairness coalition.  My first thought upon hearing of the coalition was “It’s about time!”  I applaud their efforts and goals and wish them luck, because if they succeed, their efforts will benefit all LGBTQ Virginians as these issues would extend basic human rights, but can also affect economic development by attracting (or deterring) new businesses to the Commonwealth.

I have to admit, I was a bit disappointed my adopted home town of Norfolk was not taking the lead with this issue.  But, to make progressive, positive changes at the state level, residents of Hampton Roads need to set aside regional rivalries, egos, past grievances, and competitive natures to work together.  Virginia Beach has had an active human rights commission since the early 1990’s and hopefully by the end of the year, Norfolk will have a nascent commission established that can help advocate for the region.

In the weeks and moths to come, I hope that Virginia Beach for Fairness and Equality Virginia reach out and will welcome regional groups such as PFLAG, the LGBT Life Center, Hampton Roads Pride, Hampton Roads Business Outreach (HRBOR), the faith community, student groups and non-profits that serve our community to participate.  I also hope (and expect) the aforementioned regional groups to reach out to Virginia Beach for Fairness and offer assistance and advice. While Virginia Beach is the largest city in the Commonwealth and powerful in its own right, if LGBTQ residents throughout the seven cities can come together, our voices cannot be ignored. 

It is time for the Commonwealth of Virginia to join the late 20th century and protect all of its citizens.

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