Virginia Delegate C. Todd Gilbert (R) successfully moved to kill a bipartisan proposal to protect LGBT state government employees from discrimination on Tuesday. His reasoning? Proponents did not show any proof that such discrimination exists in Virginia — a standard a major bill he sponsored this year did not meet.
The non-discrimination bill passed the Virginia Senate by a strong 24–16 majority. Every Democrat and four Republicans voted in favor of the measure. But on Gilbert’s motion, the House of Delegates General Laws Committee’s subcommittee on Professions/Occupations and Administrative Process tabled the bill for the year on a voice vote.
Gilbert told his colleagues on the subcommittee:
Among all the people who spoke, there was not a single example of one that was discriminated against in public employment. I challenge those in the room to bring forth an example. I was told the following year that there would be a line out the door of people with examples of having been discriminated against in public employment. There was not a single example anyone that felt that except that abstract fear that we’ve heard testified here today. I heard the gentlewoman today say that Virginia Commonwealth — VCU is this oppressive and intolerant environment. I dare say that’s probably not true. The examples we’ve heard from today have actually reaffirmed that people are interested in coming to Virginia and engaging in careers here and are thriving in the process of engaging in those careers. I think the many people that testify in their roles in higher education demonstrate that there is no problem this bill solves and once again, we’ve heard from many people about this specter of oppression that really doesn’t exist because, again we have not a single example of anyone who has been discriminated against for this reason.
Watch the video, courtesy of ProgressVA:
Under Virginia law, it is perfectly legal for businesses to fire an employee just for being — or even seeming to be — gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. It is even legal for state employees to be fired for the same reason. Former Governors Mark Warner (D) and Tim Kaine (D) banned anti-gay discrimination by executive order and current Governor Bob McDonnell (R) instead issued an executive directive ordering his administration not to discriminate based on sexual orientation. Assuming these orders are being followed, it is no wonder that public employees cannot show specific employment discrimination they have faced. But these protections are at the will of the current governor and the apparent Republican nominee Ken Cuccinelli has made it clear that he believes such orders are unconstitutional. Thanks to Gilbert and the Republican majority on the committee, even McDonnell’s largely toothless protections could disappear in January.
A major reason for legal protections is so that LGBT people who may not be “out” can be open about who they are without fear of retribution. Knowing their sexual orientation could lead to termination, many LGBT people simply determine it is not worth the risk — despite Delegate Gilbert’s assurances that they have nothing to fear. Notably, Gilbert has consistently refused to even agree that he will not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation in his own legislative hirings.
And there have been examples of discrimination in Virginia government: in 2002, Virginia Tech rescinded an employment offer to the partner of a new Dean apparently based on her sexual orientation. Just last year, the House of Delegates initially voted not to confirm an openly gay former prosecutor to a judgeship based on his sexual orientation and his public support for LGBT rights. And in November, Virginia Commonwealth University fired a volleyball coach, allegedly because he was a gay man.
Ironically, Gilbert is chief sponsor of a bill that passed in the House and Senate this year that purportedly would ban discrimination against religious and political groups at Virginia’s public colleges and universities who choose to restrict membership based on their beliefs. The bill essentially gives clubs license to discriminate against LGBT and other students. But when Gilbert presented the bill as a protection against discrimination, he too failed to show any examples of discrimination against college groups in Virginia.
American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia Executive Director Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, who attended the hearings on Gilbert’s bill and spoke in opposition, told ThinkProgress that bill’s proponents claimed the bill was necessary because of a case at Vanderbilt University. According to its website, Vanderbilt is a private institution and is located in Tennessee. Gilbert’s Senate counterpart attempted to spin the bill as protecting a vegan group from omnivore members.
Gilbert did not respond to a request for comment.
(HT: Blue Virginia)