It’s been my honor to succeed my mentor and good friend James M. “Jim” Scott in the House of Delegates in 2014. I want to take this opportunity to once again thank Jim for his support, not just during my campaign, but as a fresh-out-of-college, enthusiastic, and very inexperienced legislative aide when he gave me my first job in 1992.
I learned so much from Jim in that first job, but no lesson was more important than one that I continue to apply in my work and as a legislator today. Figure out what’s important to you, what matters most, and work hard at it. It’s easy to get distracted by the topic or controversy of the day, but Jim made it clear that unless the issue was one that he was especially passionate about or especially expert at, we didn’t need to try and take the lead.
On those core issues, though, the ones that mattered most, Jim was an extraordinarily effective leader. One such issue was Housing. Jim was always a passionate activist for affordable housing, and housing non-discrimination. Perhaps it’s not surprising then, that even after I left work with Jim to go on to work for the Chairman of the Board of Supervisors, and later off to law school, I returned to housing and real estate law as my chosen profession.
At least every biennium, if not more frequently, Jim Scott would introduce a bill to expand Virginia’s Fair Housing law to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. I was pleased to continue that tradition last year, my first in the legislature, with the introduction of HB418. I plan to spearhead a bipartisan effort to make more headway on that bill in 2015.
Beyond being the right thing to do, I think it’s important to Virginia’s business climate and to our Realtor community that this change be implemented in Virginia. The National Association of Realtor’s Code of Ethics already prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation by its members. I think Virginia should hold all of its real estate licensees, whether they choose to join their realtor association or not, to the same standard.
Continuing to reject such a mainstream change to our Fair Housing law is harmful to Virginia’s reputation as a great place to do business, particularly in the science and technology communities. While Apple Computer CEO Tim Cook only recently went public with his sexual orientation, it’s been well known for years that the hi-tech companies want to do business in places where they have access to a well-educated, capable, and enlightened workforce open to new ideas. Places where people and talent are judged on their merits and abilities, not the color of their skin, their national origin, or their sexual orientation.
Federal Courts have made Virginia a much better place for same sex couples to live and raise their families. It’s time for the General Assembly to take a small step in that direction – and if the step is still too big in 2015, we’ll try again. Because this is an issue that matters.
Delegate Simon represents the 53rd District in the Virginia House of Delegates. He may be emailed at DelMSimon@house.virginia.gov