Nearly every session of the General Assembly seems to have some piece of controversial legislation in its mix.
This year is proving to be no different.
However, the heated debate topic this year seems to be in regards to transgender rights. So far, a total of nine pieces of legislation have been introduced regarding transgender rights and its related issues.
Many of these bills regard issues that could affect UVa-Wise students, faculty, and staff. For instance, House Bill No. 663, introduced by Delegate Mark Cole (R-Fredericksburg), would impose a $50 civil fine on anyone who uses a restroom that does not correspond with the sex they were assigned at birth. House Bill No. 773 would allow people, who, on grounds of their religious beliefs oppose same sex marriage or “the idea of transgender people,” to deny service to or refuse interaction with LGBT individuals in order to protect their religious beliefs.
House Bill No. 431, sponsored by Delegate Dave LaRock (R-Hamilton), would prohibit transgender people from changing the gender on their birth certificates. By denying this, it would be nearly impossible for transgender people to obtain important government documents such as driver’s licenses, passports, and veteran I.D. cards.
Two other pieces of legislation, deemed as religious tolerance and freedom by some and hate legislation by others, were introduced by State Senator Charles Carrico. Senator Carrico represents Bristol City, Lee County, Scott County, Grayson County, Washington County, and part of Wise County, including UVa-Wise. One of these bills, Senate Bill No. 40, would allow clerks and deputy clerks in Virginia to cite religious beliefs as justification for denying to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples. This bill, dubbed the “Kim Davis Bill” after the Kentucky Clerk of Court who refused to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples, has made it out of committee and will soon be debated on the senate floor.
Senate Bill No. 41, the other piece of legislation introduced by Senator Carrico, would allow businesses and organizations, on the basis of religious beliefs, to deny wedding-related services and products in support of a same sex marriage. This argument has come up on multiple accounts across the United States, usually in the form of wedding cake decorators not wanting to make a cake for a same sex couple.
These bills led to the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia calling this legislative session “the most anti-LGBT legislative session in the state’s history.” The bills, nearly all of which are sponsored by republican delegates and senators, have received praise from certain lobbying and advocacy groups in Virginia, such as the Virginia Christian Alliance.
Governor Terry McAuliffe, as well as Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring, have all condemned these pieces of legislation. Governor McAuliffe has promised to veto any legislation that “goes back on the great progress we have made towards equality here in the Commonwealth.” Lieutenant Governor Northam is running for Governor of Virginia in 2017 and Herring is seeking a second term as Attorney General. All three are members of the Democratic Party.
Democrats, in response to the bills introduced by republican lawmakers, introduced Senate Bill No. 67, which would make it illegal to discriminate against LGBT individuals when seeking housing. Another, Senate Bill No. 12, would codify the prohibition of discrimination of people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Both bills passed with bipartisan support, however, neither are likely to gain passage in the House of Delegates.
In Gloucester County, transgender teen Gavin Grimm’s fight to use the boy’s restroom will soon take center stage in the transgender argument and 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. Grimm, 16, and his attorneys are taking the Gloucester County School Board to court, asking for a preliminary injunction to allow him to use the boy’s restroom. This is causing the Appeals Court to determine whether Title IX, a well-known piece of legislation at UVa-Wise, is violated by restroom restrictions for transgender students. It is narrowing down to the court being forced to determine whether Title IX also protects students from discrimination based on gender identity.
Whether it is in the court rooms or on the floor of the General Assembly, Virginia is poised to remain divided and heated regarding issues surrounding LGBT individuals.