This week in wins: Virginia takes big step toward banning LGBT discrimination


States addressed anti-LGBT discrimination, human trafficking, and youth suicide, and the House of Representatives passed a bill to strengthen unions.

This week, Virginia is poised to ban LGBT discrimination throughout the state, the House of Representatives passed a bill to strengthen unions, and a federal judge overturned a ruling against aid workers who were trying to prevent migrants from dying of dehydration.

Read on to catch up on this week's wins.

Anti-LGBT discrimination bill passes Virginia Legislature

A bill to ban discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals in employment, housing, and public accommodations passed both legislative chambers in Virginia on Thursday, the Washington Post reported. The bill, similar to the Equality Act passed by the U.S. House of Representatives last year, applies the state's civil rights protections to LGBT people.

Before the bill passed, Democratic Del. Danica Roem, the state's first openly transgender lawmaker, gave a passionate speech about the need for this legislation. Speaking of transgender youth she had met, Roem said, "I was too afraid to be them. I was too afraid to tell anyone who I was because that stigma and that fear is so real."

She added that no child or adult in Virginia "should ever be afraid to be who they are and to be that well and to thrive in this commonwealth because of who they are, not despite it, and not for what discriminatory politicians tell them what they're supposed to be."

The bill passed the House of Delegates on a 59-35 vote and passed the state Senate on a 30-9 vote. Virginia's Democratic governor is expected to sign the bill into law.

Judge overturns conviction of immigration aid workers

On Monday, a federal judge overturned the convictions of four aid workers found guilty of breaking the law for leaving water and food in the Arizona desert for migrants to find, CNN reported.

The judge ruled that the volunteers proved their actions "were exercises of their sincere religious beliefs."

The volunteers were working with No More Deaths, a ministry affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tucson. The group says its mission is to "end death and suffering in the Mexico–US borderlands."

New law increases human-trafficking penalty in Pennsylvania

Criminals caught in human trafficking will face stiffer penalties in Pennsylvania, thanks to a new law signed Wednesday by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, FOX-43 reported.

"The trafficking of humans is unthinkable and that of children is especially reprehensible," Wolf said in a statement. "No crime involving exploiting humans should be handled lightly and so I am pleased to sign these stricter punishments and increased offenses for those who commit this heinous crime."

The new law increases the fines associated with human trafficking and makes it a first-degree felony if the crime involves sexual servitude.

Wisconsin governor signs law to help prevent youth suicide

On Tuesday, Wisconsin's Democratic governor, Tony Evers, signed legislation to fund peer-to-peer suicide prevention programs in the state's schools, Wisconsin Public Radio reported.

"We know that students all over our state are struggling with their mental health," Evers said at the bill signing, which was held at Milton High School. "Peer-to-peer training ensures that the people they are most likely to turn to, their friends and classmates, have the tools they need to recognize warning signs and help their friends."

According to research cited by WPR, 40% of students in Wisconsin report feeling very anxious, tense, or scared. Research from the Wisconsin Office of Children's Mental Health shows the state's teen suicide rate has been consistently higher than the national average.

Gay civil rights leader posthumously pardoned in California

Bayard Rustin, a gay civil rights leader involved in the historic 1963 March on Washington, was posthumously pardoned by Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday, the Associated Press reported.

Rustin was arrested in Pasadena in 1953 for "homosexual activity" and spent 50 days in a Los Angeles County jail before being released.

"In California and across the country, many laws have been used as legal tools of oppression, and to stigmatize and punish LGBTQ people and communities and warn others what harm could await them for living authentically," Newsom said in a statement. "I thank those who advocated for Bayard Rustin's pardon, and I want to encourage others in similar situations to seek a pardon to right this egregious wrong."

Rustin was a close friend of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., according to AP, and he worked on several nonviolent efforts to end racial discrimination. Rustin died in 1987, and posthumously received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2013.

House passes legislation to strengthen unions

On Thursday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, a bill that would give workers more power during disputes at work and increase penalties for companies that retaliate against workers seeking to unionize, the Washington Post reported.

The bill also weakens anti-union laws in 27 states and grants hundreds of thousands of workers collective-bargaining rights.

"The PRO Act is the best way to protect the right to organize and to help workers have the quality of life they deserve," Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA), a former professor and member of the American Federation of Teachers union, said in a statement after the bill passed.

The bill passed by a 224-194 margin, and now heads to the Senate. The Post reported that Tennessee Republican Lamar Alexander, chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, said he will not even consider the legislation.

Check back next week for more good news.