This time last year, LGBTQ Virginians still lacked explicit protections from discrimination in all facets of life. There were no legal repercussions for those who discriminated against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer Virginans in their workplaces, their schools and their day-to-day lives.
In early 2019, the commonwealth’s anti-equality leadership refused to bring commonsense LGBTQ non-discrimination protections up for a vote in committee, despite support from a bipartisan majority of delegates and having an overwhelming approval among Virginians. Two bills would have added crucial, commonsense non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ Virginians in housing and public employment, respectively. Similar bills passed the Virginia Senate several years in a row with bipartisan support but ultimately died due to the anti-equality leadership.
We knew that if we wanted change in Virginia, we needed to act. In August 2019, HRC launched the largest field, digital and direct mail program we have ever developed in the state of Virginia. We endorsed 27 pro-equality candidates across the state House and state Senate, all with the goal of securing a pro-equality majority in the state legislature and finally passing non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ Virginians.
Then, after Election Day, we set out to change Virginia law to protect roughly 257,400 LGBTQ people in Virginia — as well as people of color, people of faith, immigrants, women and other marginalized groups — from discrimination at work and in their communities with one bill called the Virginia Values Act.
HRC used sophisticated analytics to identify and mobilize 57 million “Equality Voters” nationwide, more than 1 million specifically in Virginia, who prioritize LGBTQ-inclusive policies, including marriage equality, equitable family law and laws that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. HRC targeted these voters in the months leading up to Election Day in order to ensure we reached as many voters and win as many of our 27 priority races as possible.
Between August and Election Day in November, HRC pushed out 100+ organic posts across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. By using hashtags, including #VALeg, and keywords such as “election,” “voting” and “Virginia election,” we were able to ensure our posts landed on the news feeds of those most invested in the election.
Thousands of people across the commonwealth and the country were energized by our posts, including dozens of celebrities and politicians. Everyone from Chasten Buttigieg and Chelsea Clinton to Patricia Arquette and Ricky Martin engaged with our content, influencing and inspiring voters across the commonwealth to spread the rainbow wave.
HRC also ran social media ads in eight high-priority target districts. We created a direct-to-camera video series to highlight the diverse, exciting voices of the 2019 election. These videos were targeted on Facebook and Instagram in a hyperfocused, district-specific appeal to voters to get out and vote.
After Election Day, we reached the second phase of our campaign. If we wanted to pass non-discrimination protection in Virginia, we needed to educate our audiences about the bill. The Virginia Values Act was an uphill battle with countless roadblocks and milestones, but we did it.
Between the time the bill was introduced and finally signed into law, we posted 100+ times across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Our primary goal was building awareness. We achieved this a number of ways, including uplifting organic content through our own blog posts and quickly posting clips when Virginia representatives spoke on the floor about the need for this legislation (examples here and here). Similarly to our strategy during the election, we utilized key hashtags like #VaLeg and the bill’s code, #HB1663, to ensure our content was seen and uplifted by interested parties, including the media and partner organizations.
In February, the Virginia Values Act was finally passed by both chambers of the Virginia General Assembly. Although this was historic, our work was not done. We next needed to reach out to our audiences and push them to act. The governor still needed to sign the bill and our goal was to make sure he knew this bill was important to his constituents.
We set up an online petition to gather signatures in the form of a text to act and captured the voices of real Virginians across the commonwealth to compel fellow residents to sign on. Our audiences viewed this video over 20k times with hundreds of engagements across platforms.
Finally, in June, the Virginia Values Act was enacted into law and it was time to celebrate. We worked with our coalition and partner organizations to keep the drumbeat alive with a unique hashtag #VVADayOne and uplifted our most successful content from the past year.
HRC held nothing back to ensure that our message reached the hearts and minds of every voter in Virginia. We used social media both to cast a wide net and hyper-target our audience so that every citizen in the commonwealth knew that non-discrimination protections were worth fighting for.
During the course of the election campaign alone, HRC garnered more than 82.2 million impressions and 1.8 million engagements on social media. On election night specifically, HRC had 2.2 million impressions and 338,000 engagements.
The results of the election were historic. Of the 27 pro-equality candidates that we endorsed across the state House and state Senate, including 18 women and 10 people of color, the majority won. This rainbow wave made way for a Virginia state House and state Senate ready to pass a slate of legislation, including explicit non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people, that will change the lives of millions of Virginians. Thousands of Virginians proved that they were willing to vote for their pro-equality values and continue fighting to ensure the laws reflected those values.
Ultimately, Virginia will forever be a more welcoming, more inclusive and safer place to live. Because of our pro-equality majority, we passed the Virginia Values Act and many other pro-equality bills that will advance the lives of LGBTQ people across the commonwealth. Virginia became the first state in the South to pass these protections and is the first state nationwide in over two decades to do so.