LGBTQ Legal Protections in 2020

In 2020, Virginia saw historic and life-changing legislation for the LGBTQ community pass out of the General Assembly! Among these achievements, Virginia is now the first state in the South to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in their daily lives. This is possible thanks to three decades of work by countless advocates like you, as well as  by Equality Virginia, local and national community partners, and pro-equality legislators. We move forward with a changed legal landscape where LGBTQ Virginians can proudly live, love, learn, and work in a more inclusive Commonwealth.

Make sure to read up on these new laws that protect LGBTQ Virginians in countless areas of daily life. Unless otherwise noted, laws went into effect on July 1, 2020. We will have more information about how these laws will be implemented in the coming weeks.

The Virginia Values Act – LGBTQ Protections in Daily Life

The Virginia Values Act, patroned by Senator Adam Ebbin and Delegate Mark Sickles, protects against discrimination in employment, housing, public spaces, and credit for LGBTQ people, women, Black, Indigenous, and people of color, veterans, unmarried and divorced people, seniors, and people of faith.

Thank you to Delegate Delores McQuinn, Senator Jennifer Boysko, and Senator Jennifer McClellan who all patroned individual nondiscrimination bills, and became chief co-patrons of the Virginia Values Act. Thank you also to the countless advocates, faith leaders, business supporters, and partner organizations in the Virginia Values Coalition who worked tirelessly to ensure LGBTQ Virginians are protected from discrimination in every area of their daily lives. You can learn more about the law and how it protects you and your community by reading our Frequently Asked Questions info sheet below. Click here to download a PDF version.

Click Here to Read Frequently Asked Questions

What does the Virginia Values Act do?

The Virginia Values Act modernizes existing Virginia law to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in their daily lives, including in housing and access to credit, and creates new protections for all Virginians in employment and public accommodations like restaurants, shops, and other public spaces. This critical update to Virginia law will send a message that the Commonwealth is a safe and welcoming place for all people and provide remedies for those who experience discrimination.

Why is this law needed?

Virginia was previously one of only five states without meaningful protections in public accommodations for anyone, including LGBTQ people. The Virginia Values Act will bring Virginia into the 21st century by modernizing Virginia’s existing human rights laws for all Virginians, including people of color, women, veterans, seniors, unmarried and divorced people, and people of faith. People with multiple marginalized identities will not need to figure out if an instance of discrimination was motivated by one particular identity, because all of their identities are now protected against discrimination.

Which employers are covered by this new law?

Under the Virginia Values Act, private employers with 15 or more employees are prohibited from refusing to hire, discharging, or otherwise discriminating against any employee with respect to their compensation or the terms, conditions, or privileges of their employment because of the employee’s race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions including lactation, status as a veteran, or national origin. (Disability discrimination is covered by a separate, existing law.)

Employers with 20 or more employees are prohibited from taking any of those actions against any employee because the employee is 40 years old or older.

In addition employers with 6-14 employees—which are currently barred from discharging (that is, firing or laying off) employees based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, and age—will continue to be barred from discharging employees on those grounds as well as, in addition, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, and status as a veteran.

In addition, all state government employees and school board employees will also be protected against such adverse employment actions, even if the agency they work for has fewer than six employees.

Discrimination by employment agencies, unions, and apprenticeship programs is also prohibited.

What workers are not covered by this law?

Gig workers and independent contractors (who are not considered employees) of a company are not covered by the Virginia Values Act. Temporary employees are protected, however, since they are legally employees.

Can employers discriminate based on hairstyle?

A separate law, the CROWN (Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair) Act, also passed in the 2020 General Assembly session, bans discrimination based on hairstyles historically associated with race, including hair texture, hair type, and protective styles such as braids, locks, and twists.

Why are public accommodations protections important?

Protections in public spaces are critical to ensure that LGBTQ people are able to participate fully in their communities and, most importantly, go about their daily lives without the harms or fear of discrimination.

The Virginia Values Act defines a place of public accommodation as “all places or businesses offering or holding out to the general public goods, services, privileges, facilities, advantages or accommodations.” This includes restaurants, shops, doctors’ offices, clinics, hospitals, educational institutions, banks, insurance companies, transportation services, shelters, food banks, child and elder care centers, funeral parlors, hair salons, gas stations, entertainment venues, on-line businesses, and government buildings.

Of course, these places can always not serve you if you are disruptive or don’t follow basic guidelines like wearing a shirt and shoes.

Do these protections extend to schools?

Yes, public schools are open to the public so all students should be protected from discrimination. Private schools that are open to the public, where anyone can apply, are also covered. Private schools limiting enrollment to people of their own faith are not subject to the law to the same degree. Schools can have reasonable restrictions on conduct but those must apply across the board and cannot single out or target students based on their identity.

What spaces are not covered under the Virginia Values Act?

A place of public accommodation does not include private clubs, places owned or operated by religious organizations that are not in fact open to the public, or any other establishment that is not in fact open to the public. Bars and places that primarily serve alcohol are also allowed to deny entry to anyone under 21 years of age.

How does this law affect housing discrimination?

This law updates Virginia’s Fair Housing Act to add protections for renters and homebuyers against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or veteran’s status. This protects individuals looking to buy a house, renters of a house or a building, and those interacting with real estate agents.

Are there any exemptions to the housing protections?

This law did not change the pre-existing exemptions in the law. For example, the law does not generally cover a regular person selling or renting out a single family home they own without a real estate agent; religious nonprofits and private clubs restricting lodging to members of their own religion or club; or someone renting out a room or unit in the building where they live if there are living quarters for no more than four families living independently there. Additionally, certain institutions like schools and hospitals can limit dwellings to be single-sex spaces.

How does this law affect discrimination in accessing credit?

Many Virginians need to access credit to get a mortgage for their home, buy a car, or simply get a credit card. This law updates existing credit protections so LGBTQ people cannot be discriminated against in accessing credit, which could include being denied credit because of your identity, being charged discriminatory interest rates or having discriminatory payment schedules due to your identity, and being asked invasive, inappropriate questions about a previous legal name due to being transgender.

 How will this new law be enforced?

The Virginia Division of Human Rights is currently tasked with helping to enforce the Fair Housing Act in Virginia. The Virginia Values Act similarly empowers the Division of Human Rights to conduct investigations and issue recommendations when a person files a discrimination complaint with them. They can file suit on behalf of someone who complains. In addition, after filing a complaint with the Division of Human Rights, an individual can file suit against those who discriminated against them. In such a suit, they can obtain an order prohibiting the person sued from engaging in further discrimination or requiring other action, as well as compensatory and punitive damages, and attorney fees and costs. Government employees may need to go through an employment grievance process.

What should someone do if they experience discrimination?

Keep a contemporaneous written record in a secure place (not at work) regarding what happened, what was said, who witnessed it, and what the consequences were, along with copies of any written or electronic documents relating to the discrimination. Promptly contact an attorney.

If you would like to file a complaint of discrimination, you can use this form. For more information about the complaint process, click here.

What if I can’t afford a lawyer?

Most lawyers that handle employment discrimination cases are willing to do so on a ‘contingency’ basis, where the client does not need to pay attorney’s fees up front or as the case progresses and the attorney instead receives a share of any recovery as compensation for the attorney’s work. For a list of LGBTQ-friendly lawyers, click here.

Does this law mean discrimination will go away eventually in Virginia?

As we’ve seen with other civil rights laws prohibiting race, sex, and disability discrimination, legal protections are an important tool in fighting back against discrimination, but they will not stop it altogether. What the law will do is put employees, organizations, landlords, schools, real estate agents, and others on notice that Virginia will not tolerate discrimination against any of our residents and, in addition, provide legal mechanisms to provide remedies when discrimination does happen to make the victim of discrimination whole and deter future discriminatory acts. It will be crucial to continue to work to change hearts and minds and bring about societal change to eliminate unjust discrimination.

How does this law affect people of faith and religious organizations?

This law adds additional protections from discrimination for people of faith in private employment and in public spaces (religious discrimination was already protected in housing and credit),  Further, Non-profit organizations that have missions rooted in faith and carry out faith work in their operations have important protections under the First Amendment, including the ability to hire, fire, and set the conditions of employment for their employees who teach or preach about their religion. Religious organizations also are allowed to only hire, or to prefer, members of their religion. This does not affect for-profit organizations or non-profit organizations that are not doing religious-based work, like hospitals. Religious organizations have ample protections to assure their First Amendment rights are undisturbed.

DISCLAIMER: This document provides general information only and should not be understood as providing legal advice regarding any person’s specific situation. For guidance on your particular situation, you must consult a lawyer.

End Discrimination

Non-Discrimination Protections in Virginia’s Code

Delegate Mark Levine’s House Bill (HB) 1049 adds non-discrimination protections for sexual orientation and gender identity into 70 different places in Virginia’s code, covering many areas of law such as public contracts, auto insurance, apprenticeship programs, and so much more. These LGBTQ protections were added to existing non-discrimination laws, so Virginians can follow the normal complaint or reporting process for the covered areas.

Local Non-Discrimination Laws Allowed

Delegate Danica Roem’s HB 696 allows cities and counties to pass their own non-discrimination ordinances. This was previously not possible since, under Virginia law, only powers expressly given to localities by the General Assembly can be exercised by cities and counties.

Protect LGBTQ Youth

Transgender Student Protections

Senator Jennifer Boysko’s Senate Bill (SB) 161 and Delegate Marcus Simon’s HB 145 are companion bills that require public schools to provide an equal learning environment to transgender and non-binary students. The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) is required to craft model policies for local school boards by December 31, 2020. Each school board is then required by law to adopt policies consistent with, or more comprehensive than, the VDOE’s model policies by the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year.

Conversion Therapy Ban for Minors

Senator Scott Surovell’s SB 245 and Delegate Patrick Hope’s HB 386 ban the practice of conversion therapy on minors by licensed professionals. Anyone who is licensed by the Virginia Department of Health Professions that practices conversion therapy can face disciplinary action. The law also bans the use of state funds for conducting conversion therapy.

Improve Quality of Life for Trans Virginians

Non-Binary Gender Marker & Modernized Update Process on State IDs and Licenses

Senator Scott Surovell’s SB 246 allows Virginians to select a non-binary gender marker option on DMV licenses and IDs. It also eliminates the requirement to have any special forms or letters from a healthcare provider in order to update one’s gender marker. This means Virginians will now be able to select for themselves ‘male,’ ‘female,’ or ‘non-binary’ on their state license or ID.  

To make this update, select the gender marker on the application form that best fits, and follow the regular guidelines to get a replacement card! The gender marker you select does not need to match what is listed on other documents you show the DMV. This change will allow transgender and non-binary Virginians to easily update their state ID with an accurate gender marker so they can live more safely and authentically.

Modernized Birth Certificate Update Process

Senator Jennifer Boysko’s SB 657 and Delegate Marcus Simon’s HB 1041 modernize the process of obtaining a birth certificate that matches one’s identity. The legislation eliminates the requirement for a court order or proof of medical procedure in order to update one’s gender marker on a Virginia birth certificate. It will also allow for a new birth certificate to be issued, rather than merely an amended one that shows old information.

Virginians still need to have a form completed by a health care provider who states they have undergone clinically appropriate treatment for gender transition. What clinically appropriate treatment looks like is between a patient and their health care provider, but could include one or more of the following: change in gender expression or gender role, counseling, hormone replacement therapy, or gender-confirming surgeries. Click here for more information about this process.

Health Insurance Protections for Trans Virginians

Delegate Danica Roem’s HB 1429 protects transgender and non-binary people from discrimination in state-regulated health insurance plans, which is about one in four health plans in Virginia. This means that the health insurance plan must cover any medically necessary treatment for a transgender person that it already covers for a cisgender person. Additionally, health insurance companies cannot deny you care simply because the treatment you need is not generally associated with your gender identity, the sex you were assigned at birth, or the gender marker listed with your health care provider or insurance company.

Voting without a Photo ID

Delegate Joseph Lindsey’s HB 19 will allow voters to cast a ballot without showing an ID containing a photo. This important update will increase access to the polls for those who have had difficulty accessing a photo ID. This legislation is also particularly important to transgender voters, who have sometimes had difficulty casting a ballot due to their appearance not matching the photo on their ID. Instead voters can prove their identity with one of the following:

  • Voter confirmation documents
  • Valid Virginia driver’s license, valid United States passport, or any other identification issued by the Commonwealth, one of its political subdivisions, or the United States
  • Any valid student identification card issued by any institution of higher education located in the Commonwealth or any private school located in the Commonwealth
  • Any valid student identification card issued by any institution of higher education located in any other state or territory of the United States
  • Any valid employee identification card containing a photograph of the voter and issued by an employer of the voter in the ordinary course of the employer’s business
  • A copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck, or other government document containing the name and address of the voter

Build Safe Communities

Hate Crimes Protections

Delegate Richard Sullivan’s HB 276 and Delegate Kenneth Plum’s HB 618 update Virginia’s hate crimes law to protect LGBTQ people and track data on hate crimes. Under this update, women and disabled people are also protected. The bill also eliminates the mandatory minimum terms of confinement for hate crimes.

Update Virginia’s Laws to Reflect Marriage Equality

Same-Sex Marriage Ban Removed

Senator Adam Ebbin’s SB 17 and Delegate Nancy Guy’s HB 1490 repealed the ban on same-sex marriages and unions in Virginia’s legal code. This legislative update sends a powerful message that the Commonwealth values all families, including LGBTQ couples and families. Virginia still has an unenforceable amendment in its state constitution prohibiting same-sex marriages and unions, which was ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.