So much terrible news has been flooding our consciousness in the last month related to the Covid-19 virus pandemic, the terrible, swelling death toll, the difficulties getting basic protections for the health care workers, first responders and public dealing with it, and the worst possible responses from a sociopathic, genuinely insane president whose responses throughout have been totally out of sync with reality.
At least there was a momentary bi-partisan response to pour tons of money into the economy in an effort to stave off the worst consequences of sudden displacement and mass unemployment, but even that is souring as stark raving mad Republicans in Congress are now throwing up their usual barriers to collaboration to meet the greatest crisis facing the nation since World War II.
Lost in this wretched mess has been one of the more significant gains in political manifestations of progressive values bubbling up from the ongoing great national grassroots insurgency spoiling to roust out Trump and the GOP Senate majority in a huge way this fall.
The bills signed into law by Virginia’s Governor Ralph Northam, in what’s been described as a “Good Friday signing spree” last week, mark eye-popping, immense gains in social justice and human rights.
Given Virginia’s painful Confederate and Jim Crow racist history right up to its ban on interracial marriage in the late 1960s, and recent obscene assaults on women’s health, the gains represented by these new laws, all set to go into effect on July 1, are stunning and epochal.
Whereas its hard to say one set of these new laws is more important than another, it is Northam’s signing of the Virginia Values Act, a sweeping and comprehensive offensive to undo all forms of discrimination against LGBTQ persons that I’ll highlight first.
Yes, LGBTQ folks have been the last class of persons to be denied full equality under the U.S. Constitution, something that the U.S. Supreme Court corrected just a few years back. But still, going state to state, discrimination has continued to exist, including some downright hideous stuff and since the ascendancy of Trump, accompanied by a rise in hate crimes and suicides by mostly young victims, as well.
We tend to overlook how tough it is for so many LGBTQ persons who face stiff opposition to their very lives from parents and inlaws, from self-doubting selves and their peers, from treatment on an interpersonal level from their church, synagogue, temple leaders and many coaches, teachers and nasty social commentators they encounter on radio, TV and the Internet.
So, for the Commonwealth of Virginia, on behalf of all eight million of its people, to affirm equality and strike down the discriminatory laws that have loomed for so long to sanction discriminatory behaviors, it is a big deal indeed.
Hail to the years of work by the elected LGBTQ heroes who have fought so hard for this legislation in Virginia, Senator Adam Ebbin, Delegates Mark Sickles, Mark Levine, Dawn Adams and Danica Roem, and their allies, and those who founded and fought since the early 1990s for an LGBTQ caucus in the state democratic party, now led by Margaret Sacra. This legislation is monumental.
But there was much more progress made in new laws signed by Northam. In voting rights, there were laws expanding access to voting, making election day a holiday, removing the requirement to show a photo ID prior to voting and expanding to 45 days early voting without requiring a stated reason for choosing to vote that way.
There was important gun control legislation increasing background checks, limiting handgun purchases and establishing a “red flag” law, done in the faces of 20,000 pro-gun activists who attempted to intimidate the legislature with a mass rally on the state capital grounds in January. A century-old holiday honoring confederate generals Lee and Jackson was cancelled and simple possession of marijuana was decriminalized in favor of a $25 civil penalty. Records and past convictions were ordered sealed. A 24-hour waiting period, mandatory ultrasounds and other restrictions on abortions were swept away through a combination of bills known together as the Reproductive Health Protection Act.