Thursday, March 11, 2010

As Students Take to the Streets of Richmond, Gov. McDonnell Caves (Sort of)

So much has happened in the Commonwealth of Virginia in the last 24 hours it's been hard to make sense of it all. Students at Virginia's colleges and universities rallied, protested sent the message to Governor Bob McDonnell that Ken Cuccinelli's bigotry will not be tolerated.

Last week Cuccinelli sent a letter to Virginia's public colleges and universities stating that their employment policies banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression are illegal. In the days since, the commonwealth has once again gained national attention for it's backwoods bigotry and McDonnell, who has national political aspirations, has been in damage control mode.

In recent days FaceBook groups from colleges and universities all over Virginia, including UVA, Va. Tech, Radford, Roanoke College, The College of William and Mary, JMU, George Mason Univiversity, Mary Washington and Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) have sprung up to organize students to stand up to Cooch's discriminatory declaration.

About 1,000 students at VCU rallied at the Richmond campus on Wednesday to express their outrage, then marched through the streets of the capital to deliver their message to the statehouse.

Then yesterday afternoon Gov. McDonnell attempted to quell the uproar by holding a hastily arranged press conference where he announce that he had signed Executive Directive 1 (2010) that reads, in part, “Employment discrimination of any kind will not be tolerated by this administration. Consistent with state and federal law, and the Virginia and United States Constitutions, I hereby direct that the hiring, promotion, compensation, treatment, discipline, and termination of state employees shall be based on an individual’s job qualifications, merit and performance. No employee of the Executive Branch shall engage in any discriminatory conduct against another employee.“

But don't be so quick to take the Governor's well considered words as proof that he has changed his attitude about LGBT rights. An executive directive is not a change in law. As Equality Virginia's CEO John Blair said yesterday, the Governor's action is "a step forward and is not sufficient".

Blair said EV will "continue to lead efforts to amend state law to establish in the Code a policy against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Although the Governor's strong language about prohibiting discrimination in state employment is welcome, the Governor's directive affords no protection to students and does not include gender identity. Clearly, it is time to redouble our efforts to change the law and change lives."

MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, as usual, provided the best analysis of the situation on her show last night.

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