Today, Ken Plum, a Democratic member of the legislature ,mounted another protest of Cuccinelli’s letter by forcing a vote on a measure that would ban discrimination in public employment “on the basis of sexual orientation.” Gov. Bob McDonnell omitted such protections for state workers in an executive order signed on February 5, and the House has “repeatedly rejected such legislation and voted against floor consideration of the bill.” Citing last week’s letter, Plum argued that protecting LGBT workers from hiring discrimination was “particularly timely at this time because the eyes of the nation are upon us”:
Del. David Englin (D-Alexandria) also rose to address the House, recalling his parents and grandparents’ stories of anti-Semitic discrimination by employers. Englin said the state must act to protect Virginia’s reputation as a desirable place to do business because some companies might see the state as intolerant. “Let there be no mistake – Ken Cuccinelli wants to hang a sign in front of the public colleges and universities of this Commonwealth that reads ‘Gays need not apply,‘” Englin said.
Plum’s attempt to revive the measure failed, but his intentions capture the public rejection of Cuccinelli’s directive. Earlier today, about 250 people attended “the first of four forums being held today on VCU’s academic and medical campuses” to discuss Cuccinelli’s letter. The Richmond Times Dispatch reports that most of the attendees urged administrators “to take a strong stand against” the attorney general’s new policy, citing the detrimental affect removing LGBT protections would have on hiring practices and student retention.
“If VCU did not protect sexual orientation, I wouldn’t have come here,“ said Luke Schlimme, a graduate student in social work. VCU Provost Stephen D. Gottfredson characterized the opinion as mean-spirited“ and promised to stand by the school’s existing non discrimination policy unless “the board of visitors acts to change them.”
Prominent members of Virignia’s higher education community have come out against Cuccinelli’s directive. The head of the Virginia conference of the American Association of University Professors has written a letter to McDonnell, saying that “discrimination not grounded in qualification or merit ‘is abhorrent to the values of higher education‘” and a former head of the University of Virginia told the Washington Post in an e-mail, that “it is far from clear that the Attorney General would be expected to or even empowered to turn back the clock on such a vital issue of public importance,” noting that the state’s higher-education community is “unanimous in its commitment to equality.”