LGBT

JMU's equal opportunity policy supports equality beyond compliance with government regulations.

State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D) recently introduced a bill that will provide nondiscrimination protections for the LGBTQ community. On Jan. 10, the Virginia Values Act was proposed in the Virginia General Assembly’s 2020 Session as a means to prohibit discrimination in public and private employment, public accommodations and housing on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. 

The bill passed the House General Laws Housing/Consumer Protection Subcommittee yesterday in a 5-1 vote.

Virginia is one of five states without public accommodations protections for any protected class, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The bill will not only create protections in employment and public and private facilities on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity but also on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, age, marital status, disability or veteran status.

Shenandoah Valley Equality and Equality Virginia jointly sponsored a local panel at Beth El Synagogue in Harrisonburg on Jan. 12 to discuss the impact of the potential law. The panel was composed of former executive director of Equality Virginia James Parrish, SVE board member Grayson Sless and member of the Transgender Advocacy Speakers Bureau William Martin. JMU instructor of middle, secondary and mathematics education and SVE board member David Lane said the audience was composed of approximately 35 people, with members of the LGBTQ community and allies present. 

Lane taught for 30 years in Augusta County before teaching at JMU. As a gay man, he said he felt like he couldn’t talk about his personal life like his former colleagues could. 

“I had to keep to myself because there was always fear,” Lane said. “The range of discrimination which exists in Virginia is still quite shocking. I see this legislation as the opening of the door.”

JMU’s equal opportunity policy states that the university is committed “to support the practice, spirit and good-faith efforts regarding equal opportunity and diversity beyond mere compliance with government regulations.” Because of this, Lane said he feels less fear as a faculty member, but he said he still has reason to worry because there’s no law yet established in the state. 

JMU assistant professor of public policy and administration Rob Alexander said he recalls a previous local instance when a gay couple was discriminated against. Alexander said that a couple of years ago, a Harrisonburg realtor posted on Facebook that she was part of a transaction in which a seller turned down an offer from a couple because of their sexual orientation.

“This kind of stuff happens,” Alexander said. “It’s here; it exists. The very first thing that you need is standing to sue, and right now, people who are discriminated against for sexual orientation or identity don’t have that standing unless these bills get approved and signed into law.”

Lane said it’s important to realize that large employers in the area already have nondiscrimination protections for their employees. He listed Merck, MillerCoors and Sentara RMH Medical Center as some of these companies with local offices.

Board member for the Shenandoah LGBTQ Center Cole Troxell said “it has to be personal for people” in order for them to care about this type of legislation. Troxell said he’s known his employer for 15 years and feels confident as a transgender man in his profession. He wants to use this confidence to advocate for those who aren’t protected and fundraise through the restaurant that he runs, Baja Bean Co., in Staunton.

Lane plans on attending Equality Virginia’s “Day of Action” on Feb. 4, which is an event in Richmond organized for citizens to meet with legislators and discuss bills that are important to them. Having attended this once before, Lane said it’s an “empowering” day and a learning experience for anyone who takes part.

Lane and Alexander also highlighted the significance of writing to local papers such as The Daily News-Record, The Harrisonburg Citizen and The Breeze to express an opinion. Alexander said the first step is to get engaged in what one believes in. Troxell emphasized the importance of educating others on the bill and making fellow LGBTQ voices heard in the Valley.

“We’re only so many,” Troxell said. “We’re only so loud, and we’re only so capable of doing all of the work. We need the support of our community members to show up and put in some work, too.”

Contact Kamryn Koch at kochkr@dukes.jmu.edu. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.