By Maggie Sacra
Every year pundits and partisans lament how this year is the “Most Important Election We’ve Had” in 10 years, a generation or a lifetime. This is especially true in Virginia where we have elections yearly. In 2017, we saw the beginning of a Blue Wave with a huge swing in the House of Delegates when Republicans went from a 66-34 majority down to a 51-49 majority. This swing of 15 seats, paved the way for a major sea change that resulted in the expansion of Medicaid that will allow 400,000 more Virginians to have health care. In 2018, Democrats picked up more than 40 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and a swing in power of that body occured when the 116th Congress convened on Capitol Hill.
Even with the 2017 elections bringing more power to the Democrats in the House of Delegates, the myriad of bills that were introduced in 2018 to provide more equity to LGBT+ citizens floundered. Most bills never made it out of Committee. Republicans still controlled the committees as they controlled both the House of Delegates and Virginia Senate. The same will be true this year, but with the constant scandals within the Trump Administration, and the growing Blue Wave, it is an increasing chance that Republicans will begin to rethink votes. This is especially true among Republicans in more progressive areas of the Commonwealth, who are facing another election in November of 2019. This year all 100 seats of the House of Delegates and all 40 Virginia Senate seats are up for election.
There is a real chance that Virginia could vote for the Equal Rights Amendment and be the final state needed to ratify. We also have a good chance of passing key legislation in Virginia that will end discrimination in public employment and in housing practices that is based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Additionally, we must focus on getting the first vote needed to rescind the archaic laws and Constitutional Amendment on the books in Virginia that place prohibitions on same-sex marriages and civil unions. Passage of these laws would be a major victory for all Virginians. It is most important to pass something in this session regarding the Constitutional Amendment because of the three steps needed to eradicate this blight to our Virginia Constitution.
Finally, we must be vigilant to stop any attempts to pass religious exemption laws that will allow individuals to discriminate against LGBT+ people while hiding behind faith. Laws of this type have been passed in other state legislatures, and are gaining steam in the Far Right’s fight against LGBT+ people.
There are ways that all progressive minded Virginians can help. The Virginia General Assembly convened this week on Jan. 9, and it is imperative that all Virginians reach out to their representatives in both the House of Delegates and the Virginia Senate to let them know that you support equality and expect them to do the same. Tell them that you support ending discrimination in housing and employment. Tell them that you want the ERA passed, and that you demand that laws and the Constitutional Amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage be removed. You can also get involved by joining with LGBT+ groups across the Commonwealth as we come together on Jan. 29 to directly lobby our representatives at the General Assembly. There was a kick-off event on Jan. 9 as LGBT+ groups from across the Commonwealth represented at the opening day of the General Assembly session. There is also a Day of Action for LGBT+ people on Jan. 29. You can also pre-register for this event at www.equalityvirginia.org/dayofaction.
Also, please don’t forget to support your Delegates and Senators who already are in the General Assembly and are up for election this year. No members of the General Assembly are allowed to fundraise while they are in session, so they have a shorter window to raise money than their opponents in November will have. You can help today by donating. The LGBT Democrats of Virginia are already raising money for Delegate Dr. Dawn Adams who represents the 68th House District, and who is the first openly lesbian representative (secure.actblue.com/donate/dawnadamsmidlothian), and for Delegate Danica Roem of the 13th House District, who is the first openly transgender representative elected to any state house in the country (secure.actblue.com/donate/danicaroeminrichmond). We hope that you will give today!
Maggie Sacra is the chairperson of the LGBT Democrats of Virginia and the LGBT+ caucus of the Democratic Party of Virginia.