By Cody Mello-Klein | [email protected]
City council unanimously voted to amend Alexandria’s human rights code to include protections for gender identity at Saturday’s public hearing. The amendment, originally proposed by Councilor Mo Seifeldein, now protects transgender and nonbinary residents from discrimination.
“At a time when so many people seek to divide us and spread messages of hate, it’s our responsibility to ensure that our LGBTQIA residents feel safe and affirmed within all spaces in our city,” Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker said.
Several residents spoke in support of the amendment during the public hearing, including Robin Anderson, a pastor at Commonwealth Baptist Church.
“It is good and it’s right that all Alexandrians, including those that are transgender or nonbinary, are safe from discrimination,” Anderson said. “Everybody deserves the security of knowing that they can’t be denied a job or housing, education, healthcare or a place to use the bathroom because of the pronouns that they use or who they love.”
Casey Pick, an Alexandria resident and senior fellow for advocacy and government affairs for the Trevor Project, spoke to the importance of the city’s human rights code and its impact on those in the LGBTQ community, particularly youth. The Trevor Project is a national organization that provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services for LGBTQ youth.
According to a survey conducted by the Trevor Project of 34,000 young people between the ages of 13 and 25, 78 percent of respondents reported they had been the target of discrimination due to their gender identity, Pick said. About 20 percent reported experiencing physical harm because of their gender identity.
Some residents were not supportive of the proposed amendment and claimed the city government has no authority to make such a change in a Dillon Rule state like Virginia. Under the Dillon Rule, local governments are limited by what the state government has granted them the authority to do.
“I seriously question whether council has the authority at this time – it may in a year – to add these categories to the local statute because this is a Dillon Rule state,” Dino Drudi said.
Drudi also claimed that by expanding the human rights code to encompass gender identity, the city would be limiting the rights of others, including certain religious groups.
The same question of the Dillon Rule came up during council’s consideration of whether to add sexual orientation to the human rights code in the ‘80s, Councilor Del Pepper said.
“When this was passed, adding sexual orientation, you could have heard a pin drop,” Pepper said. “We were all very tense that we would get it passed.”
City council ultimately passed the amendment in 1988. Pepper said she asked then-mayor Jim Moran what would happen if the state were to punish the city in some way.
“His answer was that we should move forward. This is how you make progress. You have to push the envelope and that is what we did. And they haven’t come for us yet,” Pepper said.
“It’s never too early to do the right thing,” Councilor John Chapman added. Localities have often had to lead the state in the past, Chapman said.
Seifeldein made a motion, seconded by Pepper, to adopt the amendment to the human rights code. Council unanimously voted to support the amendment.
“I’m very pleased that this atmosphere is entirely different than it was in the late ‘80s and that we all respect diversity,” Pepper said.
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