By Senator Donald McEachin
This year, as I have done repeatedly, I will introduce the State Employment Non-Discrimination Act in the General Assembly. This bill would ensure that Virginians cannot be fired from state jobs, or passed over for promotion, simply because of who they are. It targets discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity as well as many other different kinds of prejudice.
Although, unfortunately, not every time, three times now, the Senate has passed my bill. Every time, the House has killed it, typically, by voice vote, meaning there aren’t even records to show who voted against it.
Democratic Governors Warner, Kaine and McAuliffe have all issued executive orders to prevent state employment discrimination. Unfortunately, as we saw during Gov. McDonnell’s administration, those orders are not permanent. Current protections could disappear with the stroke of a pen. That’s why passing a bill is so important. Discrimination is always wrong, and Virginians shouldn’t have to count on a particular governor or election result to know they’re protected.
Discrimination and inequality have a long sordid history in Virginia. For over two centuries, our Commonwealth allowed some citizens to keep other human beings as slaves. Women couldn’t vote until 1919, and voting was extremely difficult for African-Americans until about sixty years ago. It took rulings by unelected courts to allow interracial and same-sex marriage.
These stains on our history mean that all of us have a special responsibility to stand up for each other. Women should not be the only ones opposing restrictions on their bodies. Latinos should not be the only ones advocating for the DREAM Act and immigration reform. African-Americans should not be alone in fighting voting restrictions. In the same vein, LGBT Virginians must not stand alone in fighting for their right to equal justice, fairness and opportunity.
We are making great strides: we have marriage equality in Virginia! But non-discrimination in the workplace is every bit as important. Every individual needs to know he or she can earn a living, pay his or her bills, take care of his or her family, and have the opportunity to be a contributing member of society. To deprive a person of his livelihood simply because of who he is, is to deprive him of his very chance at well-being. I applaud the demise of the marriage ban — and all of the other progress we have made — but if we cannot even promise individuals that their work status will be based on their performance, then we have left them in a truly compromised position.
Please know I will continue to fight for non-discrimination — and not just in employment. I and my Democratic colleagues will work to repeal the marriage ban in our Constitution; to extend fair housing guarantees to LGBT Virginians; and to pass other bills that move us towards the fairer and more equal Commonwealth to which we all aspire. As Virginians, we should all have confidence that we are being treated fairly and justly and that our opportunities are limited only by our own actions — not by prejudice and bigotry.