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Equality Virginia outlines help

By Ella Bronaugh

Intern

Americans throughout the nation have been spending the month of June — Gay Pride Month — celebrating the LGBT community and the advancements that they have made in recent years. Though Gay Pride Month is a reason to celebrate, it also serves as a reminder that discrimination against this community still exists.

One organization that continues to lobby for the LGBT community is Equality Virginia, an advocacy organization for LGBT people in Virginia. Its mission is primarily to work with the General Assembly and other elected leaders of Virginia to make sure the laws and policies of the commonwealth support the community. The organization has made improvements, particularly in the Hampton Roads area, to further the protection of the LGBT people against unequal treatment through the law.

The community in Suffolk still experiences discrimination in the workplace, local businesses, housing and more, said James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia.

“There are no laws in Virginia that protect gay or trans people from discrimination,” Parrish said in an interview. “It is legal to fire gay and trans people; it’s legal to deny housing and business services. The work we’re doing in the General Assembly is in effort to protect the LGBT people in Suffolk.”

The organization has two local programs: Local Leaders in Fairness, in which supporters are asked to encourage elected leaders to support laws that protect the LGBT community, and Equality Means Business, in which business owners pledge not to discriminate against customers or clients based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

“We have over 800 businesses participating in Equality Means Business, including ones in Suffolk,” Parrish said.

The only business in Suffolk that has signed the pledge, according to the website, is Young Living Essential Oils.

Equality Virginia also engages the General Assembly on passing bills that protect LGBT people from discrimination in housing and employment.

“It’s our job every day of the week to engage people who are in the General Assembly on these laws,” Parrish said. “The Virginia Senate — for the past several years — has been working to pass a bill protecting LGBT people from discrimination in housing and employment. It hasn’t passed yet in the House of Delegates.”

Equality Virginia has had some success, though, with this particular bill.

“Every representative that represents Hampton Roads — including Suffolk — supports those bills; It’s completely bipartisan,” Parrish said.

Equality Virginia also played a key role in pushing for a bill that was recently passed to prohibit discrimination from state contractors. They have also worked with local school boards to pass protections that prevent teachers and students from being discriminated against based on sexual orientation.