Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam on Wednesday in his State of the Commonwealth address highlighted his signing of historic legislation that banned discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
“We took important steps forward in treating everyone with dignity and respect, becoming the first Southern state to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation,” Northam, a Democrat, told a scattering of lawmakers during the mostly virtual address due to the coronavirus pandemic. “And requiring schools to develop plans for transgender students.”
The Virginia Values Act, which went into
effect last July, updated the state’s anti-discrimination laws to include
sexual orientation and gender identity. Equality Virginia and the Virginia
Values Coalition were among many organizations working together to ensure
passage of this historic measure during the legislature’s previous session.
The General Assembly’s 2021 legislative
session began on Wednesday.
“These actions were about living our values,”
Northam said about this effort and others promoting racial equity in the state,
such as removing racist language from law books and Confederate statues
representing Virginia from the state and nation’s capital. “Virginia is a large
and diverse state that welcomes everyone, and we took action to demonstrate
Northam’s address also commended the
assistance of Virginia’s state police and National Guard in quelling the Jan. 6
riot at the U.S. Capitol, and mentioned National Guard members were also
helping with Virginia’s pandemic response, to include testing and soon
He pointed out that the state’s 2018 expansion
of Medicaid coverage help more Virginians be able to afford health care prior
to the pandemic. Northam, however failed to mention the additional expansion in
his proposed budget that would expand Medicaid again to include transgender
health care coverage.
Regarding the earlier Medicaid expansion, Northam said in his address that “just a few weeks ago, we marked 500,000 Virginians who are covered through the expansion program. That’s half a million Virginians who would feel a lot less secure about their health during this pandemic if they were uninsured.”
He thanked legislators on both sides of the
aisle who cooperated to make that necessary expansion possible, adding “It was
the right thing to do.”
In his speech, Northam also discussed a
proposal to change the state’s constitution to automatically restore voting
rights lost due to past felony convictions, abolishing the death penalty, and
increasing both teacher pay and affordable access to broadband internet.
Equity, humility and forgiveness were
recurring themes in a speech that acknowledged the state’s dark history and his
efforts to move forward through investments in education, affordable housing
and small businesses.
In his final remarks, he once again mentioned both the pandemic and the chaos last week at the U.S. Capitol.
“Virginians have lost a great deal — jobs, livelihoods and unfortunately loved ones. But we are still here,” Northam said. “We are poised and ready to rebound.”