Del. Bob Marshall, a Republican representing parts of Prince William County, is drawing swift condemnation for introducing a bill that activists are already comparing to North Carolina’s divisive “bathroom bill” aimed at transgender people.
The longtime 13th District delegate put forward the “Physical Privacy Act” on Jan. 3, just ahead of the General Assembly’s new session, which would ban people from entering a “restroom, changing facility or private area designated for members of the opposite sex” in any government-owned building. The bill also specifies that any government entity that violates the law could be subject to civil action.
Notably, the bill would also require any principal of a public school to notify a student’s parents within 24 hours if the child asks to be recognized as a member of the opposite sex, called by a “name or pronouns inconsistent with the child’s sex,” or use a different bathroom.
Marshall declined to answer questions by phone in favor of responding to emailed queries instead, but did not immediately respond to emailed questions about the bill.
But Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe immediately responded to the news of Marshall’s plans on Facebook, pledging to “veto any legislation that legalizes discrimination in Virginia and any legislation that infringes on the rights of the LGBT community.”
“As we saw in North Carolina, these bills don’t just hamper civil rights — they kill jobs,” Brian Coy, McAuliffe’s spokesman, wrote in a statement. “The governor is hopeful that Republicans in the General Assembly will drop these counterproductive bills and turn their focus toward building a stronger and more equal Virginia economy.”
LGBTQ advocates welcomed that support, and they’ve been similarly forceful in their early opposition to the bill.
“We feel this is a bill that has pieces that immediately cause harm to our community, but as we’ve seen in North Carolina, it could cause severe harm to our economy as well,” James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia, said on a call with reporters. “As our own state is facing a billion dollar budget shortfall, there are many other priorities the General Assembly should be dealing with instead of targeting the transgender community.”
Indeed, Cathryn Oakley, senior legislative counsel for state and municipal advocacy at the Human Rights Campaign, said Marshall included “the same damaging provisions” her group fought against in North Carolina’s H.B. 2. Gov. Pat McCrory signed that legislation into law following swift passage in a special session, leading to condemnations from observers around the country and a stream of businesses fleeing the state.
Virginia even reaped the benefits of the private sector’s reaction to the law, as CoStar Realty chose to locate its $250 million expansion in Richmond over Charlotte while citing the legislation’s discriminatory provisions.
“The governor has been a leader in state and in the south on this issue, and that’s paid off for Virginia, that determination and up-front action in making sure the gay and transgender community is part of the economy moving forward,” Parrish said.
Where Marshall’s bill differs from the North Carolina legislation is the parental notification section, Oakley said.
“I’m not aware of another regulation like that in the country, that is really an outlier,” Oakley said.
She feels the provision is both unique and uniquely dangerous, since she believes it could trap transgender students that may have come out at school, but have yet to a have conversation with their parents.
“If they’ve chosen to come out at school before doing so at home, they may have good reasons for doing that,” Oakley said. “And they may not know, if they ask a teacher to start calling themselves by a different name, that this is something they’ll be required to report to their family. They may not understand it means parents will get a phone call.”
Parrish cautioned that LGBTQ youth are “disproportionately” represented in the country’s population of homeless kids, calling that a testament to the problems Marshall’s bill could create for students.
“Even though it’s 2017, we still have parents kicking their kids out of their homes just because they’re gay or transgender,” Parrish said.
That’s why, even with McAuliffe’s veto threat, Parrish hopes legislative leaders will render the bill “dead on arrival.”
Spokesmen for House Speaker William Howell and the Republican Party of Virginia didn’t respond to requests for comment on the legislation.
But Virginia Democrats were more than willing to criticize the bill, and use it as a prime example of why they feel voters should tab another Democrat for governor this November.
"North Carolina lost jobs and $600 million in revenue because of HB2 and with the stroke of a pen, Republican gubernatorial candidates would doom Virginia to the same fate," Emily Bolton, communications director for the Democratic Party of Virginia, said in a statement. "If losing out on jobs for Virginians won't stop Ed Gillespie, Frank Wagner, and Corey Stewart from signing anti-LGBT bills into law, then what will?”