April 29, 2021, 11:50 AM EDT
By Jake Lubbehusen
Virginia will soon be the first state in the South with an LGBTQ advisory board.
Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, signed legislation Monday that will establish a 26-person group to advise him on issues “regarding the economic, professional, cultural, educational, and governmental links between the Commonwealth and the LGBTQ+ community in Virginia.”
The board, which is expected to be in place July 1, will be composed of 21 people appointed by the governor who are not employed by the state — including at least 15 who identify as LGBTQ — and five members of the governor’s Cabinet, or their designees.
In a tweet shared Monday evening, Northam said the advisory board, which will remain in place even after his term is over, “will ensure the LGBTQ+ community has a permanent voice in Virginia's executive branch — no matter who is governor.” He then shared a link where Virginians could apply for a seat on the board.
The creation of this advisory board is the latest in a string of pro-LGBTQ measures the state has enacted in the past year. Last April, Northam signed the Virginia Values Act initiating LGBTQ anti-discrimination protections. Last month, Virginia became the 12th state in the U.S. — and the first in the South — to ban the use of the so-called gay and trans panic defense. And just this month, he signed a bill modernizing the state’s HIV exposure laws and making it legal for those living with HIV to donate blood, tissue or organs.
Del. Alfonso Lopez, D-Arlington, who sponsored the advisory board bill, reflected on how far the state has come in terms of LGBTQ rights since he first joined the Virginia House of Delegates nearly a decade ago.
“When I was first getting involved in Virginia politics, same-sex couples could not marry and any resident could be denied employment or housing on the basis of their gender identity or sexual orientation,” he told NBC News in an email. “Not only have we successfully overturned decades of discriminatory policies, but now this bill will mandate that Virginia’s LGBTQ+ residents have a seat at the table for all state government issues.”
Kevin Saucedo-Broach, Lopez’s chief of staff, who identifies as LGBTQ, shared his excitement about the bill’s passage on Twitter.
“Momentous and emotional day in Richmond: Virginia’s getting the South’s FIRST statewide LGBTQ+ Advisory Board,” he tweeted. “Really proud of all the work @Lopez4VA did to author, introduce, and pass this bill ensuring that LGBTQ+ Virginians like me have a seat at the table of state gov’t!”
The LGBTQ advisory panel will join the governor’s five other advisory boards: the African American Advisory Board, the Asian Advisory Board, the Complete Count Commission, the Council on Women and the Latino Advisory Board.
While citywide LGBTQ commissions and advisory boards exist across the U.S., formal statewide executive panels are less common, according to Elliot Imse, a spokesperson for the LGBTQ Victory Institute.
New York created a less formal statewide LGBTQ Stakeholders Committee in 2016 that meets to address issues affecting LGBTQ New Yorkers, according to Statewide Director of LGBTQ Affairs Matthew McMorrow, who runs the committee. McMorrow said that he selects members “based on their areas of expertise and diversity of experiences and locations throughout the state.” The group was launched by Alphonso David, Gov. Andrew Cuomo's former counsel, who is now president of the Human Rights Campaign, he noted.
In 2018, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signed an executive order forming the Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs, which, according to the governor’s office, was “the only one in the nation” at the time.