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NASW Virginia Chapter Opposes Discriminatory LGBTQI+ Policy Proposals

The Virginia Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) strongly opposes more than a dozen anti-LGBTQI+ bills proposed in the General Assembly this session.

In addition, the unenforceable ban on same-sex marriage in Virginia’s Constitution is discriminatory, cruel, and outdated. Since 2006, it has stated in its Bill of Rights, Section 15-A, that “only a union between one man and one woman may be a marriage valid in or recognized by this Commonwealth and its political subdivisions.”

In 2015, though, the U.S. Supreme Court protected same-sex marriage in Obergefell vs. Hodges, guaranteeing that right and overriding language in our state Constitution. However, if that ruling ever changes, the state ban would no longer be moot, since it overrides all conflicting statutes.

In 2020, the General Assembly passed a bill that altered statutory law but did not change the Constitution. In February 2022, although the Virginia Senate approved language by sponsor Sen. Adam Ebbins to remove “this stain” on the Constitution, the House of Delegates killed it.

As NASW policy notes, “Marriage equity increases access to over 1,000 federal protections and responsibilities historically denied to LGBTQ families under the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)” such as spousal benefits for same-sex spouses of military service members and protected time off from work under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993.

In addition, NASW points to the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, which lists “prohibition of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity; prevention of … degrading treatment; and respect for and freedom of expression, association, and assembly” as among the five core legal obligations of UN member states (2012, “Born Free and Equal—Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in Human Rights Law”).

The UN made these statements more than 10 years ago. Clearly, it is past time for delays and instead move forward with removing discriminatory language banning same-sex marriage in our state Constitution.

In terms of newly proposed legislation that would infringe on the rights of LGBTQI+ individuals and their families, NASW Virginia has already shared its opposition to policies that risk the mental and physical health of transgender students.

As the largest group of behavioral health providers in Virginia and the nation, social workers are daily witnesses to the effects of bullying, harassment, prejudice, accidental or forced outing to parents and others, physical and sexual violence, familial rejection, and emotional abuse experienced by LGBTQ clients. Research has clearly shown that transgender students and adolescents have higher dropout and absentee rates, depression, drug and alcohol abuse and addiction, homelessness, sexual abuse, suicidal ideation, and successful suicide than non-transgender peers.

The pain caused by laws that continue to systematize discrimination are especially true for minority LGBTQI+ youth and can lead to drastic actions. Research released in August 2022 by the Trevor Project, the largest LGBTQ suicide prevention organization in America, found that one in five multiracial LGBTQ youth attempted suicide in the past year.

Please review our September 2022 public statement for additional evidence of why the following bills could and likely would result in mental and physical harm to transgender students and families if enacted into Virginia law:

  • banning transgender students from their preferred-gender athletic teams and clubs,

  • requiring court orders for birth-assigned name changes,

  • mandating that school employees notify parents and require counseling if an LGBTQ student mentions a preference to be known as other than their birth gender,

  • requiring LGBTQ people use only birth-gender-assigned bathrooms and facilities in schools and public buildings, and

  • mandating parental notification should a student join an LGBTQ club or group at school.

[Referencing HB 2170, HB 1434, HB 1387, SB 1186, HB 2432, SB 1203, HB 1707, SB 911, SB 962, HB 1399, HB 1126, SB 960, SB 791]

In addition, social workers are required by the NASW Code of Ethics to fight discrimination of their clients. It would be against our professional Code to execute some of these requirements such as force-outing a student.

LGBTQI+ individuals of all ages need more support, not less. According to a 2017 State Survey of the National Center for Transgender Equality, 80% of responding Virginia trans students reported they had “experienced some form of mistreatment such as being verbally harassed, prohibited from dressing according to their gender identity, disciplined more harshly, or physically or sexually assaulted due to their transgender status.” Specifically, 51% of trans students who were out or considered transgender in grades kindergarten to 12 were verbally harassed, 21% were attacked physically, and 12% were sexually assaulted.

The lives and safety of Virginia LGBTQI+ youths and adults are at stake. As the voice of state social workers, the NASW Virginia Chapter and its thousands of members will fight to defend and support them.


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