Virginia GOP Targets Transgender Community in HB2-Style Bill [UPDATED]

The Virginia GOP proposes HB1612 - an HB2 style bathroom bill

Not taking the lessons of North Carolina’s transphobic HB2 to heart, the Virginia GOP just proposed legislation targeting transgender people for explicit discrimination in gender-segregated facilities. HB1612 – also known as the Physical Privacy Act – would prohibit transgender persons from using facilities that match their gender identity in “public schools, public institutions of higher education, and government buildings.”

The bill’s text doesn’t mince words. It begins:

It is the public policy of the Commonwealth to (i) protect individuals in public schools, public institutions of higher education, and government buildings; (ii) provide for the physical privacy and safety needs of all individuals in such schools, institutions, and buildings; (iii) maintain order and dignity in restrooms, locker rooms, changing rooms, shower rooms, and similar facilities where individuals may be in a state of undress in the presence of others; and (iv) protect a parent’s fundamental right to make decisions concerning the upbringing, education, and care of the parent’s child as set forth in § 1-240.1 and recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court.

From there it adds requirements into Virginia law saying a person may not enter any bathroom or locker room in a school or government building that doesn’t align with the sex “as shown on an individual’s original birth certificate.”

It goes much further than that though. HB1612 doesn’t just target transgender people for gender-segregated facility discrimination; no, it targets transgender children too:

The principal of a public school attended by a child shall notify the child’s parent, guardian, legal custodian, or other person having control or charge of a child within 24 hours of any request by a child to be recognized or treated as the opposite sex, to use a name or pronouns inconsistent with the child’s sex, or to use a restroom or changing facility designated for the opposite sex.

The section has similarities to a law proposed by a Texas Senator Konni Burton. In both bills the state would force schools to violate student privacy to divulge LGBTQ status to parents – a move that ha been shown repeatedly to be particularly harmful to transgender youth.

When the Texas bill was proposed we wrote:

As any LGBTQ person can confirm, keeping sexual orientation and gender identity/expression a secret from parents may literally be a matter of life or death. While society has made significant leaps forward in ensuring families with LGBTQ children are at a minimum tolerant, many areas of the and many belief systems still view being LGBTQ as wrong or criminal. Unwittingly outing a LGBTQ child or teenager to his or her parents can have devastating and sometimes lethal consequences.

If a student is transgender the chances of harm based on outing grow exponentially. A 2011 survey found that transgender people attempted to commit suicide at rates over 30 times the general population. And the causation behind that more often than not was discrimination, violence and/or rejection by those close to them.

While suicide is at the far end of the spectrum, LGBTQ students face a myriad of other consequence in having their identities unwittingly exposed to their parents including verbal and physical abuse, homelessness (after being kicked out) and involuntary conversation therapy (a practice condemned by the medical and psychological community though it’s still popular among anti-LGBTQ conservatives).

In a statement published initially by The New Civil Rights Movement, the ACLU of Virginia said, “We would have hoped that Virginia legislators would have learned valuable economic and civil rights lessons from their colleagues in North Carolina, but certain lawmakers seem committed to taking the Commonwealth down the wrong path.”

Equality Virginia executive director James Parrish echoed those thoughts saying HB1612 “would cause immediate harm to our transgender community and economy.” He added, “The General Assembly has real issues to tackle when it convenes next Wednesday and Equality Virginia calls on the leadership of both parties to declare this harmful and unnecessary bill dead on arrival.”

HB1612 comes at an uncertain time for transgender rights – particularly for students. Aside from the fact that the Supreme Court hasn’t yet heard arguments in a Fourth Circuit case dealing with this exact same issue, the fact remains that the incoming Attorney General and Education Secretary are both hostile to LGBTQ rights. The Obama administration’s interpretation of two key portions of the Civil Rights Act to protect transgender students will most likely not be carried over to the incoming Trump administration.

In the meantime the only weapon LGBTQ civil rights advocates may have is their (and their allies) voices. Speaking out against discrimination worked in North Carolina – so well in fact opposition to HB2 was mostly responsible for the ousting of one term Governor Pat McCrory. If that same spirit can be harnessed in other states proposing similar legislation “bathroom bill” style laws can be killed before they’re signed into law.

UPDATE [January 5, 2017]

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe vowed Wednesday to veto any discriminatory legislation the GOP attempts to push through the state legislature. “I will veto any bill that legalizes discrimination or harms our on-going efforts to bring jobs to Virginia,” McAuliffe said on Twitter.

Simultaneously, Gov. McAuliffe signed an executive order that bans anti-LGBT discrimination among state employees, contractors and subcontractors. The Washington Blade commented on the order:

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Thursday signed an executive order that bans anti-LGBT discrimination among state employees, contractors and subcontractors. “Today’s executive order is a huge leap forward in our goal toward becoming a state that is a safe, welcoming and equal place for all Virginians,” said Equality Virginia Executive Director James Parrish in a press release. “We are grateful for the continued leadership demonstrated by Gov. McAuliffe on gay and transgender issues.”

“This policy is simply good business practice — taxpayers should expect that their money will not be used to support organizations that discriminate,” he added. The first executive order that McAuliffe issued upon taking office in 2014 banned discrimination against LGBT state employees. Virginia’s statewide anti-discrimination law does not include sexual orientation and gender identity.

Tim Peacock is the Managing Editor and founder of Peacock Panache and has worked as a civil rights advocate for over twenty years. During that time he’s worn several hats including leading on campus LGBT advocacy in the University of Missouri campus system, interning with the Colorado Civil Rights Division, and volunteering at advocacy organizations. You can learn more about him at his personal website.

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