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Activists turn out for Equality Virginia’s lobby day

Gay rights advocates have been active at Capitol Square this legislative session, seeking laws that would ban discrimination in employment and adoptions on the basis of sexual orientation.

About 75 people turned out last week for the annual Lobby Day held by Equality Virginia, which advocates for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Activists spent the morning of Jan. 24 lobbying members of the General Assembly on LGBT-related legislation. That was followed by a series of workshops on various topics and a legislative reception in the evening.

“Most of what we’re addressing is equality in employment,” said Roland Winston, the executive director of the LGBT rights group Mothers and Others.

“We [also] don’t want discrimination in adoption. … There are two bills that have been submitted to ensure that religious institutions do not ever have to place children with gay people, and we’re opposed to those.”

Winston said Equality Virginia was lobbying for Senate Bill 569, sponsored by Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, that would ban adoption discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Jasper Hendricks, the openly gay chair of the Appomattox Democratic Committee, said some of the legislators he lobbied – such as Sen. Thomas Garrett, R-Bumpass – seemed surprised to meet him.

“State Sen. Garrett told me that, by looking at me and by talking to me, [he] didn’t get that I was gay,” Hendricks said. “And that’s why it’s important to have different voices on the issues, because it helps to put the biases aside.”

Rebecca Voskeritchian, who has spina bifida, said that her disability made her want to lobby against what she called “double discrimination.”

“Having the [legislation forbidding] workplace discrimination go through would be important to me,” said Voskeritchian, a master’s student in social work at Virginia Commonwealth University, “because then that’s one less [type of] discrimination that I would have to deal with.”

One Virginia mother said she had a personal stake in the struggle for LGBT rights. The mother, who asked that her name not be used, said she was there on behalf of her transgender child.

“I came today for the first time to lobby,” she said. “It’s a great experience. I’m not very political, I guess. … I just kind of talked from my mother’s perspective of a young transgender child.”

The Rev. Robin Gorsline said he was lobbying on behalf of several bills, including House Bill 115, the “Solemnization of Marriage Act.”

“This is a bill to allow religious leaders and others in congregations to marry people even if the marriage is not recognized legally by the commonwealth,” said Gorsline, the president of People of Faith for Equality in Virginia. He said the existing law infringed upon freedom of religion.

“Currently we have a law that says if I as a pastor or a priest or a rabbi stands up and says, ‘I marry you’ to two women or two men, it is not a valid marriage, and I’m actually breaking the law,” said Gorsline, who moderated a workshop on the subject.

Other workshop topics included how to ensure safer schools for LGBT youth and how to talk about LGBT issues.

In the latter session, Equality Virginia Executive Director James Parrish discussed terminology pertaining to gay rights activism. He advocated using “sexual orientation” rather than “sexual preference” and simply “marriage” instead of “gay marriage.”

“We all want the same thing,” Parrish said. “When two older people want to get married, we don’t call it ‘elder marriage’… and there’s no such thing as ‘gay marriage.’ We just want access to marriage.”

Later, Equality Virginia held a reception in the Library of Virginia lobby. Legislators in attendance included Democratic Delegates Joe Morrissey of Highland Springs and David Toscano of Charlottesville, as well as Sen. Ebbin.

“Equality Virginia cannot be successful at all if we don’t have people like [the attendees] involved,” Parrish said.

“I can go down there every day and see every delegate, but I only vote for two of them, so that’s the only two who are going to listen to me. …. It does take everyone to make this happen.”

Wednesday is AIDS Awareness Day at Capitol. The advocacy group Virginia Organizations Responding to AIDS will hold its annual lobbying day on Wednesday at Capitol Square. Participants will meet at the General Assembly Building for breakfast before lobbying their delegates and senators on AIDS-related legislation. The event will feature Miss America 2010, Caressa Cameron, as a speaker. Cameron, a native of Fredericksburg, is an organizer for AIDS United in Washington, D.C.
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