RIC City Council LGBTQ

Forty years ago the same issue was discussed, but voted down

Last Monday night we watched history being made when Richmond City Council unanimously voted to include LGBTQ people as protected under the newly formed Human Rights Commission’s charge. The protections were not included in the original plan when the concept of the commission was introduced. It was later added by Council members Parker Agelasto and Ellen Robertson. It was also enthusiastically endorsed by Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney.

There is question as to the future of the addition as Virginia is a Dillion Rule state, meaning that a local government must yield to the statewide rules unless the General Assembly gives permission to do otherwise. The Virginia Human Rights Act does not include protections for LGBTQ people.

Pictured above, from left: Roland Winston; Councilwoman Ellen Robertson; Councilman Parker Agelasto; Mayor Levar Stoney

Richmond is following the lead of Newport News, Virginia Beach, Charlottesville and Alexandria, which also added LGBTQ protections to their city regulations. The attorneys of those cities, as with Richmond, did not sign off on the ruling.

Local activist Roland Winston played a pivotal role with the successful inclusion. For several months he has had discussions with council members, the Mayor and other city officials encouraging the passage of the inclusion. His hard work paid off as he sat in the Council gallery and watched the measure pass with full council support.

Winston’s efforts were not without challenges. “People have told me the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity is just window dressing, because these protections are not enforceable. I read recently that the Trump administration has rolled back at least 75 LGBTQ protections at the federal level, so it is disheartening that more local organizations did not see the value in joining the efforts to make this happen. Richmond City Council’s unanimous vote and Mayor Stoney’s support to defy the City Attorney’s advice is landmark.”

Local LGBTQ historian Beth Marschak well remembers when Richmond City Council discussed inclusion in 1978. “A number of us testified before the Commission and they approved the ordinance (that included sexual orientation). City Council member Willie Dell introduced the resolution with many of us testifying before Council. The version that was passed did not include sexual orientation.”

Forty years later Richmond finally gets it right.