Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Time to Do the Right Thing

Today, Equality Virginia, the AARP, the AAUP, the Virginia Education Association, the Virginia Governmental Employees Association, the Virginia AFL-CIO, and the Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations stood together in support of SB 66, a bill that would, for the first time, codify protections against discrimination for Virginia's hard-working and underpaid state employees.

In 1970, Governor Linwood Holton established a tradition that Virginia chief executives followed until this year; his first official act as Governor was the issuance of an executive order promising state employees equal opportunity and protection from discrimination in the workplace.

35 years later, Governor Warner concluded his term by signing an executive order extending this protection to discrimination based on sexual orientation -- a promise of opportunity continued in Governor Kaine’s first executive order on Equal Opportunity issued the day he was sworn in as Virginia’s 70th Governor – a promise also extended by Governor Kaine’s order to Virginia’s veterans.

Despite this long history of executive action, the Virginia legislature has never acted to incorporate in the Code of Virginia an explicit and comprehensive ban on discrimination in public employment. And, as then Attorney General McDonnell said in an opinion he issued in 2006, the legislature's failure to act deprives the Governor of the authority to extend anti-discrimination policies to Virginia's gay, lesbian, bi-sexual or transgender employees by executive order.

It is past time for the Virginia legislature to make the Commonwealth’s equal opportunity policy clear and applicable equally to all public employees.

No state employee should have reason to doubt Virginia's commitment to equal opportunity in employment for all regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy, childbirth or related conditions, age, marital status, disability, sexual orientation, or veteran status.

Today, eight members of the Senate General Laws Committee voted to report a bill that codifies past executive actions and makes equal opportunity a matter of legislative enactment.

Much has been made of the fact that this bill would include sexual orientation in the legislature's statement of the Commonwealth’s nondiscrimination policy.

Protecting Virginia’s gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender public employees from discrimination is not a radical idea.

Virginia is far behind private sector employers in adopting such a nondiscrimination policy. Top employers protect their workers from discrimination based on sexual orientation, because it simply makes good business sense.

All of Virginia’s top ten largest private employers have sexual orientation protections in their non-discrimination policies:
• Wal-Mart
• Northrop Grumman Newport News
• Food Lion
• Sentara
• Inova Fairfax Hospital
• Science Applications International (SAIC)
• Booz Allen Hamilton
• Target

30 states now have laws and ordinances that ban discrimination by all employers (public and private) based on sexual orientation; 12 and the District of Columbia include gender identity. Such nondiscrimination laws now cover over half of the United States population.

A poll of Virginia voters conducted by a bi-partisan polling team has found that, even among Virginia voters who would vote for a marriage amendment, 86% said gays and lesbians should have the right to work for the government.

It is time for the Virginia General Assembly to reject the insubstantial, biased, and fear based arguments against this legislation and make equal opportunity in employment the law for all Virginia state employees regardless of race, national origin, sex, age, disability, political affiliation, religion, and, yes, sexual orientation.

It is simply the RIGHT thing to do.

Please urge your Senator to vote YES on SB 66. You can find out who your senator is and how to contact him or her on the Virginia General Assembly home page.