As a growing number of states have begun prejudiced and hate-filled attempts to roll back rights for their LGBTQ citizens, the state of Virginia is moving in the opposite direction, approving a number of recent pro-LGBTQ measures into law. The latest diverse and inclusive act from state lawmakers? Virginia will soon be the first state in the South with an LGBTQ advisory board.
Jake Lubbehusen of NBC News has reported that Gov. Ralph Northam has signed legislation “that will establish a 26-person group to advise him on issues ‘regarding the economic, professional, cultural, educational and governmental links between the Commonwealth and the LGBTQ+ community in Virginia.’”
The new board, which could be up and running as early as July 1, will include 21 men and women who are not employees of the state — at least 15 of whom identify as LGBTQ — plus five members of the governor’s Cabinet, or designees acting in their place.
In a tweet he issued following the announcement, Northam said the advisory board will be a lasting bit of progress even after he leaves offices and “will ensure the LGBTQ+ community has a permanent voice in Virginia’s executive branch — no matter who is governor.”
Today, I signed legislation creating a new advisory board that will ensure the LGBTQ+ community has a permanent voice in Virginia's executive branch—no matter who is governor. 🏳️🌈
— Governor Ralph Northam (@GovernorVA) April 26, 2021
According to Lubbehusen, the advisory board is “the latest [initiative] in a string of pro-LGBTQ measures the state has enacted in the past year. Last April, Northam signed the Virginia Values Act initiating LGBTQ anti-discrimination protections. Last month, Virginia became the 12th state in the U.S. — and the first in the South — to ban the use of the so-called gay and trans panic defense. And just this month, he signed a bill modernizing the state’s HIV exposure laws and making it legal for those living with HIV to donate blood, tissue or organs.”
In an interview with NBC News, Arlington Del. Alfonso Lopez reflected on just how far the state had progressed in terms of LGBTQ equality over the last decade.
“When I was first getting involved in Virginia politics, same-sex couples could not marry and any resident could be denied employment or housing on the basis of their gender identity or sexual orientation,” Lopez said. “Not only have we successfully overturned decades of discriminatory policies, but now this bill will mandate that Virginia’s LGBTQ+ residents have a seat at the table for all state government issues.”
Kevin Saucedo-Broach, Lopez’s chief of staff, celebrated the passage of the bill on Twitter as well, saying, “Momentous and emotional day in Richmond: Virginia’s getting the South’s first statewide LGBTQ+ Advisory Board. Really proud of all the work [Lopez] did to author, introduce and pass this bill ensuring that LGBTQ+ Virginians like me have a seat at the table of state [government]!”
Once in place, Lubbehusen reported that the LGBTQ advisory panel will join the governor’s five other advisory boards (the African American Advisory Board, the Asian Advisory Board, the Complete Count Commission, the Council on Women and the Latino Advisory Board) in helping to protect the rights and equality of diverse populations across the state.
“While citywide LGBTQ commissions and advisory boards exist across the U.S., formal statewide executive panels are less common,” Lubbehusen wrote, noting that state LGBTQ commissions exist in just a handful of states, including New York and Pennsylvania.