Virginia’s Economic Case for Equality

By, Ralph Northam


Ralph Northam.jpg

A governor’s priorities and values make an enormous difference in the direction of a state. Recent events have shown us that having the right governor can make all the difference.

Earlier this year, Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoed Senate Bill 41. The bill would discriminate against thousands of Virginians and send the absolute wrong message to current and prospective employers who want their employees and their families to live in a welcoming and inclusive commonwealth.

Earlier this year, North Carolina’s Republican governor signed that state’s House Bill 2, one of the most anti-LGBT laws in the country, and an upsetting response to a non-discrimination law passed in the city of Charlotte.

The negative response has been overwhelming, with more than 90 major employers calling on Gov. Pat McCrory to repeal the bill.

The response has already caused McCrory to backpedal, signing an executive order to prevent state employees from being fired for being gay or transgender. His action, however, stops far short of correcting the ills of HB2.

Indiana’s governor Mike Pence, the Republican Party’s Vice Presidential candidate, signed similar legislation in 2015, and the outcry damaged the state’s reputation throughout the United States. Since then, the city of Indianapolis alone has lost $60 million in tourism.

I cannot imagine how any member of the LGBT community in North Carolina or Indiana could feel welcome in their own home state.

Even further, I cannot imagine why any member of the LGBT community would want to visit a state with such backwards legislation.

Dark brick wall - LGBT rights - Virginia

Why does this matter in Virginia? As a member of McAuliffe’s Economic Development Partnership and the Virginia Tourism Corporation, I work hard to make sure that Virginia is business-friendly and welcoming to all. The passage of SB41 through our General Assembly earlier this year sends a signal to major companies, CEOs, and talented workers that Virginia could be the next North Carolina if we’re not careful.

In recent commentary for CNBC, Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson said, “As a global hospitality leader and multistate employer, these legislative skirmishes can be frustrating and costly. We still see a patchwork of gaps in state and local nondiscrimination laws that add complications and uncertainty for our people and local managers. It dismays many of us that, in 29 states, people are still at risk of losing their job just for being gay or transgender. Predictability in nondiscrimination laws would be welcome.”

I am a cofounder and now co-owner of our Norfolk-based pediatric neurology practice, and as a small business owner I know that stability and predictability are attractive traits when planning the growth of your organization. Businesses should be interested in serving the most customers the best product possible, not figuring out the gender or relationship status of people who walk in the door. When Virginia offers a pro-business, all-are-welcome environment, we are better able to compete with other states.

Especially in light of federal budget cuts and sequestration, we have to continue to be innovative and forward thinking to grow our economy. This type of legislation hurts our efforts to attract new businesses and increase jobs, and that is why inclusion will continue to be one of my top priorities.

In my role as lieutenant governor and working with McAuliffe, my priority is to create an environment that best serves all Virginians. That means recruiting new businesses and supporting current businesses in order to bring good-paying jobs and top talent. That means providing basic services that every citizen needs in order to contribute to our common good. And that means ensuring that every Virginian has a fair shot to reach their full potential.

I will fight to keep Virginia focused on these priorities so that companies, families and the entire country knows that Virginia is open for business and welcoming to all.

*Unite Virginia wishes to thank The Virginian-Pilot for running this story and the Office of the Lieutenant Governor for sharing it with us.