VIRGINIA BEACH — Out of a statewide mission to pass anti-discrimination bills in Richmond, a local coalition has formed here — a city which is now considered the epicenter of the state’s battle over LGBT legal protections.
Virginia Beach for Fairness — a grassroots group of community members working to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Virginians from discrimination — announced an awareness and advocacy campaign Wednesday in Neptune Park at the Oceanfront.
With support from Equality Virginia, a statewide LGBT advocacy group, Virginia Beach for Fairness intends to build support for anti-discrimination protections in the state, said EV Executive Director James Parrish.
“The ultimate objective of this campaign is to pass public employment and housing protections for LGBT people” by engaging citizenry and businesses to pressure lawmakers, Parrish said.
Virginia Beach for Fairness is a response to two particular bills that were shot down in the Virginia House of Delegates in February, Parrish said. The bills would have made it illegal to discriminate against people based on gender identity and sexual orientation in housing and public employment decisions.
Two of the 12 state delegates who sit on a subcommittee of the House General Laws Committee — Dels. Jason Miyares and Barry Knight — are Republicans, represent parts of Virginia Beach.
Michael Berlucchi, who is also a member of the Virginia Beach Human Rights Commission, is one of three co-chairs of Virginia Beach for Fairness. Tracey Swinarsky, a 12-year Army veteran and transgender woman, and Kathy Hinson, a community volunteer and mother of three children who are LGBT, are also co-chairs of the Virginia Beach Fairness coalition.
Together, they intend to engage Virginia Beach and pressure its state lawmakers leading up to the November elections.
Not everyone standing in front of King Neptune was eager to see the launch of Virginia Beach for Fairness.
Beth Wyatt of Virginia Beach, said she attended Wednesday’s coalition launch “in the defense of Jesus.” Wyatt said Virginia Beach for Fairness’s mission to pass anti-discrimination bills at the state level was “sinful”, and amounted to a “satanic wave going on around the world.”
Wyatt said she was not affiliated with any organization, but rather, was “just a believer in the holy scripture.”
Robert Roman, co-owner of Decorum Furniture in Norfolk and an LGBT activist, brushed off Wyatt’s opinions on the Bible and highlighted statewide LGBT protections as important factors in attracting new investment.
“Inclusive policies are good for business,” Roman said. “Look at Fortune 500 companies — they are all about inclusive workplaces and open markets. They tend to set up shop in states that have inclusive laws and LGBT protections.”
Former Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms was part of a coalition of mayors throughout the country that fought against LGBT discrimination, and Ron Villanueva, a former state delegate from Virginia Beach, introduced legislation in January 2015 that would have prohibited public employers from discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
“Virginia Beach politicians have a history of supporting non-discrimination laws,” Parrish said. “It’s time for the city to retake its role as a statewide leader in LGBT rights.”