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Virginia becomes first southern US state to sign comprehensive LGBTQ protections into law

State governor Ralph Northam has signed the Virginia Values Act, which will protect people from discrimination when it comes into force in July.

By Tim Heap

Virginia has become the first southern US state to sign into law a bill providing comprehensive protection from discrimination to LGBTQ people.

The state’s governor, Ralph Northam, has signed new legislation that will come into force from 1 July and is designed to protect people – all people – from discrimination.

The Virgina Values Act was passed in the House of Delegates in February, with a majority of 25 votes (59 yes to 35 no), and a separate version also won in the Senate with 30 votes for to nine votes against.

Previous attempts to pass anti-discrimination legislastion had been blocked by anti-equality lawmakers in the state, but the 2019 election saw a swing towards liberal values in both houses of the state’s General Assembly, and there wasn’t enough opposition against the bill this time round.

It’s the first time in over two decades that both houses are controlled by Democrats.

With Northam’s signature, Virginia becomes the 21st state nationwide (plus Washington DC) to provide similar protections for minority groups.

“This legislation sends a strong, clear message — Virginia is a place where all people are welcome to live, work, visit, and raise a family,” Northam said in a press release.

“We are building an inclusive Commonwealth where there is opportunity for everyone, and everyone is treated fairly.

“No longer will LGBTQ Virginians have to fear being fired, evicted, or denied service in public places because of who they are.”

Although a milestone victory for LGBTQ Virginians, polls show strong support for equality in the state, with two thirds saying they support the measures.

The law will make it illegal to fire, evict or deny service to people because of their gender or sexual identity.

Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, of Campaign for Southern Equality, has said the move “charts a hopeful pathway forward for all LGBTQ Southerners”.

Human Rights Campaign (HRC) president Alphonso David added that the current coronavirus pandemic makes it even more “vital that we all protected from bias as we earn a living, access housing and healthcare, and seek goods and services”.

HRC had a hand in ensuring a mojority of Virginia’s lawmakers are pro-equality by endorsing candidates and investing over $250,000 in last year’s elections.

Last month, Northam also signed a bill banning conversion therapy for anyone under 18, joining 19 other states in doing so.

Other recent law changes in Virginia include gun background checks and no jail time for simple cannabis possession – marking a significant shift to the political left for the state since Trump took office.