Friday, March 12, 2010

Okay to discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity in VA universities?

Late last week, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli sent a letter to the state’s public colleges and universities advising them to repeal clauses in their non-discrimination clauses relating to sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. According to Cuccinelli, only the Virginia General Assembly can extend legal protections to LGBT students and faculty.

Attorney General Cuccinelli’s actions have spurred large amounts of on- and off-line campus activism across the state. Students from many universities created the Facebook group WE DON'T WANT DISCRIMINATION IN OUR STATE UNIVERSITIES AND COLLEGES! which now has over 6,000 members. UVA’s Queer and Allied Activism sponsored a social media campaign, calling on Virginian college students to flood social media sites with messages urging AG Cuccinelli to keep LGBT students covered by anti-discrimination clauses. Other universities have planned rallies and are working with Equality Virginia to fight the shift in policy.

AG Cuccinelli’s position is untenable for Virginia’s colleges and universities. Without offering protection from discrimination for all students and faculty, Virginia schools will fail to attract top professors and students. Refusing to protect LGBT members of campus communities is inexcusable—and will cause permanent damage to Virginia’s reputation for providing excellent public higher education.

It is cases like these that highlight the importance of passing the Employee Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) through the US Congress. By passing national non-discrimination language protecting LGBT employees, it would be impossible for states like Virginia to try to eliminate protections for employees of their public universities.

Click here for ways you can help pass ENDA!

1 comment:

Bonnie said...

Thanks for posting about this. I graduated from a Virginia school and have been curious to see how all this is going to play out. My first thought when I read AG Cuccinelli's letter was that I have no idea what the legal relationship is between the General Assembly and state universities. Cuccinelli made it sounds in his letter as though VA universities are an arm of the state. If the relationship is as strict as he made it seem, and the General Assembly explicitly refused to extend anti-discrimination protection to LGBT people, it seems as though he might actually have an argument here.

Those were my first thoughts - but then I read this:

Thankfully, Governor McDonnell put a stop to Cuccinelli. But more importantly, he made the legal point that LGBT people are protected by the Equal Protection clause of the 14th amendment to the US Constitution. It seems to me as though if that is the case (which I clearly believe it is), then the VA General Assembly is violating the Constitution by refusing to explicitly grant anti-discrimination protection to LGBT individuals. In which case, Cuccinelli just got himself in a lot deeper than he intended to, I think.