Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Virginia Governor Orders Protections for State Workers

(Link) Mark Warner, governor of the state with the harshest anti-queer laws in the US, has pushed through a pro-queer employment law. Virginians react: “If the state passes a law like this, a public school teacher all of a sudden puts a picture of her so-called partner on her desk!" Oh, the horror...

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LNewsEditor said...

JIC Post:

Washington Blade

Virginia Gov. Mark Warner (D) last week made it illegal for state agencies to discriminate against their workers because of their sexual orientation.

Warner included the protections in his 2006-2008 budget and modified Executive Order One, which bans other forms of discrimination, to reflect the change.

Gov.-elect Tim Kaine (D) has reportedly said he will sign a similar executive order after he takes office next year.

“We looked at the list of [Virginia] state legislators who had signed a pledge with Equality Virginia saying they would not discriminate in hiring,” said Warner spokesperson Ellen Qualls. “We found that to be a powerful message.”

Eight out of 10 of Virginia’s largest employers and about 60 percent of General Assembly members bar employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, according to Warner’s office.

“This is a step that isn’t that groundbreaking,” said Josh Israel, president of the Virginia Partisans Gay & Lesbian Democratic club. “A lot of states have done this. A lot of businesses have done this.”

But, he added, “It’s great for Virginia to have a government that is protecting its employees. That’s only going to attract the best employees to Virginia.”

The Virginia Partisans and Equality Virginia lobbied Warner during the past few years for the change, said Dyana Mason, executive director of Equality Virginia. Activists are now working on a law to make the protections permanent and defending the executive order, she said.

“This brings Virginia in line with most other states in the country and large employers in the state,” she said.

Those who oppose the change are criticizing Warner for not going through the General Assembly first and adding it to a budget weeks before he steps down as governor. Some Virginia legislators reportedly plan to challenge Warner’s authority to make the change and remove the provision from the budget.

“We will be encouraging folks to contact their delegates and senators about removing the language from the budget,” said Joe Glover, president of the conservative Family Policy Network of Virginia. “We don’t believe a person’s private sexual conduct should ever be a basis for so-called civil rights.

“If the state passes a law like this, a public school teacher all of a sudden puts a picture of her so-called partner on her desk,” Glover said. “There’s a firestorm. Now the administration, the principal, their hands are tied and they can’t even use their own discretion in addressing the situation.”

Some Republican leaders doubt they’ll have enough support to overturn the provision, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.

Twenty-seven states already have some form of protection against employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

About 12 states, including Louisiana, Michigan and Montana, have an executive order or personnel regulation prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination against state employees, said Carrie Evans, HRC state legislative director. In Iowa, a court found the governor did not have the authority to make an executive order prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination, she said.

Governors tend to pursue executive orders in states that are “tougher, not on the cutting edge like California or Vermont,” she said.

“Not all governors can,” she said. “Each state has a different state constitution.”

Warner’s father-in-law, former Republican Gov. Linwood Holton, adopted Virginia’s Executive Order One in 1970. While it first protected against racial discrimination, it has grown to include sex, color, national origin, religion, age, disability, or political affiliation, said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

Warner, who is reportedly eyeing a 2008 presidential run, likely waited to amend the executive order for political reasons, said Sabato.

“He’s running for president,” he said. “Gays and lesbians are a significant group in many Democratic Party primaries — that’s just life in politics.”