Ken Cuccinelli, Virginia’s new Attorney General, directed all state schools and colleges to remove any existing sexual orientation references from their non-discrimination policies. Now he is facing major backlash from the campus populations, LGBTQ activists, and even conservative politicians.
In a memo last week, Cuccinelli wrote,
“It is my advice that the law and public policy of the Commonwealth of Virginia prohibit a college or university from including ‘sexual orientation,’ ‘gender identity,’ ‘gender expression,’ or like classification as a protected class within its non-discrimination policy absent specific authorization from the General Assembly.”
The Washington Post called Cuccinelli’s move “his most aggressive initiative on conservative social issues since taking office in January,” adding,
“What he’s saying is reprehensible,” said Vincent F. Callahan Jr., a former Republican member of the House of Delegates who serves on George Mason’s board of visitors. “I don’t know what he’s doing, opening up this can of worms.”
“It is not entirely clear what recourse Cuccinelli would have if the universities do not follow his advice. Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, general counsel to the gay rights group Equality Virginia and a former deputy attorney general, urged boards to seek a second opinion. “They call it advice for a reason,” she said.
“Former attorney general Jerry Kilgore (R) agreed it would be difficult for Cuccinelli to enforce his opinion without pursuing court action. But he said college visitors swear an oath to abide by state statute.”
“U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) said in a statement that Cuccinelli’s advice would “damage the Commonwealth’s reputation for academic excellence and diversity.”
On its College, Inc. blog, The Post also reports,
“The University of Virginia group Queer & Allied Activism has launched a social media campaign, urging students to protest on Cuccinelli’s Facebook and Twitter pages, and to sign a petition organized by the group Equality Virginia.
“Some students contend Cuccinelli released the letter late last week on purpose, because it caught many students leaving for break.
“I’ve never gotten so many e-mails from students wanting to do something,” said Brandon Carroll, 21, student government president at Virginia Tech. In his view, any erosion in gay rights at state universities is “going to make us lose top students. It’s going to make us lose top faculty.”
In, “Virginia Is For Haters,” civil rights activist, author, and former Clinton White House senior advisor David Mixner calls the actions by both Cuccinelli and his boss, Governor Bob McDonnell “hostile and bigoted,” a “campaign of hate,” and urges action:
“If the new generation of activists created by Proposition 8 ever needed a target, this is it.”
Mixner has offered an eleven-point action plan, and this warning:
“If we allow them to proceed without disruption, paying no price for such actions and continuing with business as usual, then we can expect others to follow in their footsteps and we should get ready to find enjoyment in being second class citizens.”
Students themselves have taken to protesting on a large scale.
A University of Virginia student group, “Queer & Allied Activism,” wrote a letter to both Governor McDonnell and AG Cuccinelli, stating,
“This move sets the tone for the state and universities and sends the message that LGBTQ individuals are not welcome in Virginia. This is a clear flip flop on his campaign promise not to promote a social agenda,” and wisely adding, “based on our own research of the top 50 schools ranked by US News & World Reports, 49 of 50 schools have non-discrimination protections for sexual orientation, and 38 have protections for gender identity.”
In conjunction with their social media campaign, they have also created a Facebook page, “WE DON’T WANT DISCRIMINATION IN OUR STATE UNIVERSITIES AND COLLEGES!” which currently has over 4500 fans and is growing rapidly.
The ACLU of Virginia is getting involved too. Via their website:
“The ACLU of Virginia is sending letters to all public university presidents warning them against taking any action that would permit discrimination against gay and lesbian employees or students. According to the ACLU, gays and lesbians are protected against governmental discrimination by the U.S. Constitution.
“The letter, from ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Rebecca K. Glenberg, is intended to counteract a March 4 letter from Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli informing state universities that their non-discrimination policies as applied to gays and lesbians are not authorized by state law and must be rescinded.
“Cuccinelli’s letter is an affront to anyone who stands for the principle of equal protection under the law,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. “Regardless of state law or policy, not only should universities prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, but they are required to do so under the U.S. Constitution.”
“If Ken Cuccinelli is trying to say that the U.S. Constitution doesn’t apply in Virginia,” added Willis, “his first significant act as Attorney General is a giant step backwards and a huge embarrassment for the state.”
Let me add this. Elections matter. The time to get involved is now. As I wrote in “Eight Months From Today, The America We Know Will Be Gone,”
“Governors sign — or veto — same sex marriage legislation. Governors and mayors include — or exclude — the LGBTQ workforce from their anti-discrimination policies. (Thank you again, newly sworn-in Virgina Governor Bob McDonnell, for removing protections for LGBTQ state workers, even though you campaigned on an agenda that you claimed wasn’t about social issues, but financial ones.)
“Why does this matter? Because there still are Republicans who would like to not only ensure DOMA doesn’t get repealed, but that there’s a federal marriage amendment written into the constitution that clearly defines marriage as between one man and one woman. Think that’s impossible today? Not when support for same-sex marriage in some polls is slightly declining, and not when the last time the Federal Marriage Amendment was voted on was less than four years ago. (And not when just two weeks ago, Senator Mike Pence called for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage!)”
Lastly, let me also say this: The LGBTQ community has it tough as it is. We are second-class citizens, without the same rights that our heterosexual counterparts have and often take for granted. Like the right to marry. Like, the right to serve honestly in the armed forces. Like the right to adopt children as a couple. And so many others.
But when members of our own community actively campaign for people like Bob McDonnell, this is the end result. The Log Cabin Republicans of Virginia knew there was an issue with McDonnell when, during the campaign, the Washington Post found an old college thesis of McDonnell’s that was, to quote the Log Cabin Republicans themselves, “frightening.”
In the Log Cabin Republicans’ September, 2009 newsletter, here’s what they had to say:
“In response to the widely quoted, 20-year-old college thesis that the Washington Post recently unearthed, Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell has expressed his strongest support to date for the principle of nondiscrimination on the basis of sexual orientation by the government. The dissertation expressed some frightening views for those who believe in limited government, individual rights, and equality under the law. McDonnell says his views on these issues have changed and that he now believes that “government should not punish or discriminate based on anyone’s sexual orientation.” Much of his voting record in the House, however, is at odds with this admirable statement, so Mr. McDonnell appears to be a work in progress on glbt issues.”
Get that? A “work in progress.” Well, folks, this “work in progress” walked in the door, was sworn in, and then actively went out of his way to remove long-term anti-discrimination protections from Virginia’s LGBTQ community. And then, his homphobic Attorney General followed suit even more strongly.
The Log Cabin Republicans of Virginia did speak out aggressively against Cuccinelli, but also did support McDonnell. It only takes a nod from the top to give all the others the support they need to do each others’ bidding.
Is anyone surprised?
I’m not. Nor is DailyPress.com’s Carol Capó, who, in, “As Cuccinelli shows his stripes, what was Virginia thinking?,” writes,
“The new attorney general’s fast out of the blocks with controversial moves in his first months on the job. Controversial, but not surprising. In his campaign, he made no bones about his ideas and ideals. Now we’ll see how they work out as state policy.
“Actually, the idea of an attorney general making policy is alarming. When the governor and General Assembly do it, there are checks and balances.
“But when the attorney general starts in, where’s the check? When he comes out of the far reaches of the ideological spectrum, as Cuccinelli does, there’s no balance. Only some far-off accountability, at the next election. But attorneys general rarely run for re-election. Usually, they’re using the office to polish up their résumé for the job they really want: governor.
“To this one, Virginia, pay attention.”
Virginia, and every other state as well.
Ironically, on Cuccinelli’s own website, in a letter thanking voters, he writes,
“In addition to standing guard over your individual rights during my tenure, you can count on me to stand guard against constitutional overreaching by the federal government, but only thanks to your support and your efforts.”
So, let’s get to work!”
I suppose one could add, “Unless you’re LGBTQ.”
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