In Virginia, 2018 started off with the historic swearing in of Virginia’s first openly transgender lawmaker, Danica Roem. This was quickly followed by the approval of two nondiscrimination bills by the Virginia Senate. The train of progress and equality was clearly churning for the LGBTQ+ community. However, this has quickly come to a halt, as the Virginia House of Delegates subcommittee voted down an extension of hate crimes protections to include sexual orientation, gender identity, disability or immigration status.
The Republican-led subcommittee indicated the reason for the denial was due to the fact that violence is already a crime and adding any other protected classes would make the law more complicated. Not extending protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity sends a message that the protection of the LGBTQ+ community is not as important as that of individuals who experience violence on the basis of their race, religion, or national origin. This very problematic considering that anti-LGBT hate crimes are on the rise, particularly for the transgender community, which has seen an increase of more than 43 percent. Additionally, in 2017 a record number of deaths of transgender people were reported due to fatal violence.
This alarming information is a sign that our existing laws are not strong enough to protect the transgender community. For the legislatures to not consider the spate of violence that is occurring in the transgender community is troubling. Failing to protect a community that is already vulnerable is problematic, especially for youth who identify or have yet to identify as transgender. It fosters an environment that is not inclusive and welcoming, which puts these youth at a greater risk for bullying, harassment, suicide, and violence.
I’m sure that the House of Delegates was not trying to send a message that health and safety of transgender individuals are not important. However, ignoring the problem because it would complicate laws we already have in place is not a step in the right direction. I think we all can agree that time could and should be made to work out these “complications,” especially when lives are at stake.
Jerome R. Hunt, Ph.D.
Safe Space NOVA