Amidst the mid-summer sun, a bustling boardwalk packed with tourists and under the gaze of the now iconic statue of Neptune at the Virginia Beach oceanfront, a small group of Virginia Beach residents gathered at Neptune Park to learn about Virginia Beach for Fairness, a new coalition to support LGBTQ equality in Virginia Beach and beyond who are committed to protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Virginians from discrimination. (Video courtesy of Equality Virginia.)
Three of the coalition’s co-chairs shared personal stories about why LGBTQ equality is important and why they are working with community groups to raise awareness about the need to update Virginia’s laws to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination. This effort is separate from the Virginia Beach Human Right Commission and the coalition members include veterans, business owners, people of faith, and LGBT community members and their families.
“I was born in Virginia Beach and have spent most of my life here. Virginia Beach is a wonderful place to live – but as a young gay man, I felt I had to leave to be my authentic self because Virginia Beach did not feel like a welcoming place for people like me,” said Michael Berlucchi, Virginia Beach for Fairness co-chair, Community Engagement Manager for the Chrysler Museum of Art, and member of the Virginia Beach Human Rights Commission. “Unfortunately, my story is not unique. I know firsthand that many young LGBT people leave Virginia to live in states where they know they will be protected from discrimination. We must do everything we can to make Virginia a welcoming place for all people to live, work, and thrive.”
“My time in the military gave me profound respect for my country,” said Tracey Swinarsky, a transgender advocate and claims representative for GEICO also serving as a Virginia Beach for Fairness co-chair. “America’s founding promise of freedom and opportunity is what makes it so special. And that’s why it’s so disheartening that here in Virginia, gay and transgender Virginians can be fired from a job or denied housing simply because of who they are. This effort called Virginia Beach For Fairness is about bringing us closer to our nation’s founding promise ideal of freedom and justice.”
“All parents want our children to be safe, healthy, and happy. But no parent should have to worry that their kid will be denied a job or housing simply because of who they are or who they love,” said Kathy Hinson, Virginia Beach for Fairness co-chair, public servant, and mother of three. “Every member of the LGBT community is someone’s child. When it comes to being able to earn a living, having a place to live, or being served by a business or government office, gay and transgender people should be treated like anyone else and not be discriminated against.”
Currently, the group is not specifically writing legislation for the upcoming legislative session, but will be advocating for changes among local and state government officials. It also remains to be seen how the group will cooperate with other organizations in Hampton Roads. Earlier today, Congressman Scott Taylor (R-VA) voiced his support for the coalition in a video posted by Equality Virginia.
If you are interested in getting involved or learning more about the coalition, Virginia Beach for Fairness will convene a community meeting on August 1st at 7:00 PM at the Meyera E. Oberndorf Central Library in Virginia Beach. The event is free and open to the public. In addition to this meeting, the coalition will host other events over the coming months with faith leaders, veterans, and Virginians from all political backgrounds. For more information on the coalition’s efforts, please visit VirginiaBeachForFairness.org