Gov. Ralph Northam really flexed his progressive muscles when he signed two measures Saturday—one empowering local governing bodies in Virginia to remove confederate monuments, and another granting comprehensive protections for the state’s LGBTQ community.
According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Virginia is home to 110 Confederate monuments, making it the state with the second-most racism-enshrining statues next to Georgia’s 114. The legislation, authored by Sen. Mamie Locke (D-Hampton) and Del. Delores McQuinn (D-Richmond), was one of around 20 measures that the governor signed aimed at racial justice including bills repealing racist language in state laws banning interracial marriage and the integration of schools and neighborhoods. It allows localities the option of removing Confederate monuments.
“Racial discrimination is rooted in many of the choices we have made about who and what to honor, and in many of the laws that have historically governed this commonwealth,” Northam said in a statement. “These new laws make Virginia more equitable, just, and inclusive, and I am proud to sign them.”
It’s entirely possible that Northam is merely still trying to wash off the stink from his blackface scandal, which erupted last year when photos from a medical school yearbook showed him and another man in black makeup. But it’s worth mentioning that while he was still running for governor, he pledged to advocate for the tearing down of confederate monuments long before those photos had been unearthed.
“I believe these statues should be taken down and moved into museums,” he said in 2017. “As governor I am going to be a vocal advocate for that approach and work with localities on this issue.”
Now, not only has Northam signed the monument removal bill, but he’s also signed bills to create a commission to recommend a replacement for Virginia’s Robert E. Lee statue in the U.S. Capitol.
“These monuments tell a particular version of history that doesn’t include everyone,” Northam said. “In Virginia, that version of history has been given prominence and authority for far too long.”
But legislation aimed at racial justice wasn’t the only thing on Northam’s agenda. On Saturday, he also signed the Virginia Values Act which protects the LGBTQ community in the state from discrimination in housing, employment and public spaces, according to the Dispatch.
“This legislation sends a strong, clear message — Virginia is a place where all people are welcome to live, work, visit, and raise a family,” Northam said in a statement. “We are building an inclusive commonwealth where there is opportunity for everyone, and everyone is treated fairly.”
“No longer will LGBTQ Virginians have to fear being fired, evicted, or denied service in public places because of who they are,” he added.
Hopefully, Northam’s progressive efforts will extend to the bills on his docket that are still pending which include a minimum wage increase, collective bargaining for public employees, marijuana decriminalization, driving privileges for undocumented immigrants and initiatives for absentee voting (although, he has recently signed voting rights legislation that includes the rescinding of the previously existing voter ID law).