A new coalition is forming between faith leaders in Virginia and Equality Virginia to fight for nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people.
The Virginia Values Coalition, organized by Equity Virginia, is comprised of faith leaders, law enforcement officers, business leaders and residents who are protecting LGBT individuals from discrimination such as denial of housing or employment.
On Jan. 8, the coalition will take a petition to the General Assembly to create protections for LGBT people. As a part of this, 140 faith leaders from across Virginia have joined the fight.
“I think it’s a misconception that faith communities don’t support LGBT equality,” said James Parrish, executive director for Equality Virginia. “Unfortunately there are some that don’t but there’s a broad range of faith and faith leaders coming together to emphasize that anti-LGBT people don’t own the faith space.”
Parrish said this is the first time the organization has created a coalition since it was done to fight for marriage equality — now it’s to protect other LGBT rights.
In Virginia, and 29 other states, it is currently legal for LGBT individuals to be fired from a job, denied housing or be evicted from a living space, as well as be denied service in restaurants and stores, according to a news release from Equality Virginia.
The new members of the Faith Coalition will take on a variety of activities to raise awareness for the needs for those protections.
Max Blalock, campus minister with the Wesley Foundation at William & Mary, said he recognizes the urgent need to fight for the protections.
“For me, as a cisgender, white, Christian male, I never have to think about [discrimination],” he said. “When I’m employed, I don’t have to think about if I’m in danger of losing my job just because of who I am. I think that’s a very real effect, without having these protections it literally puts people in danger.”
Parrish said the new coalition will help bring Virginia to where it needs — and wants — to be. According to the Equality Virginia website, two polls done by a bi-partisan polling team showed Virginians across the state supported LGBT workplace rights.
Polls showed 87 percent of Virginians agree that gay and lesbian employees should have protections from workplace discrimination and 90 percent said LGBT Virginians should have the right to work for the government.
Parrish said because of the leadership in the House of Delegates, however, those protections have not been passed.
The new coalition hopes to change that.
While Parrish said the faith portion of the coalition is just a small part, he said he recognizes the importance of having support from the faith community.
Blalock said he works with individuals from diverse backgrounds on a daily basis and while he doesn’t experience their discrimination, he hears about it and knows action needs to be taken.
“I think it’s simply that the fear can hang over you,” he said.
Both Blalock and Parrish agree having a connection to the faith community will be an important part of making others aware of the needs for those protections. Blalock said while places of worship might promote welcoming and inclusive communities, there is still the idea of separation between LGBT people and communities of faith.
With the new coalition, Blalock said hopefully faith leaders will be instrumental in helping get the nondiscrimination laws passed but also help to promote a sense of welcoming and inclusive community.
“This is simply about fairness and equality for all people,” he said. “Not about infringing on religious beliefs for anyone.”
To learn more about Equality Virginia and get involved with nondiscrimination efforts, visit Equality Virginia online.