Anti-LGBT Campaign Donors Undermine Virginia AG Nominee’s Claim He Opposes Discrimination

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"Anti-LGBT Campaign Donors Undermine Virginia AG Nominee’s Claim He Opposes Discrimination"

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Despite his record of opposition to LGBT equality and nondiscrimination protections, Virginia State Sen. Mark Obenshain (R) has repeatedly claimed that he now supports nondiscrimination polices for state colleges and universities throughout his campaign for Virginia Attorney General. But a ThinkProgress review of his September campaign finance filings finds that he took thousands of dollars from donors with a record of pushing for discrimination on campuses.

Obenshain said in July that discrimination based on sexual orientation or any other “irrelevant basis” must “not be tolerated in Virginia. He specifically took aim at current Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R), who instructed Virginia’s public colleges and universities to rescind their existing nondiscrimination protections for LGBT students and faculty. “We are doing a disservice to our schools and their ability to attract the best and brightest students and faculty,” Obenshain argued, “if we send a message that faculty and staff won’t be protected from discrimination based on their sexual orientation.” This view seemed to contradict Obenshain’s record in the Senate, where he consistently voted against bills to ban discrimination against public employees and refused to even enact a written nondiscrimination policy for his own staffers.

But just months after these comments, Obenshain accepted a $10,000 contribution from Regent University’s Pat Robertson and a $5,000 donation from Virginia Tech’s John G. Rocovich Jr — both of whom have supported the sort of campus exclusion he now says he opposes.

The televangelist Robertson, whose father fought against civil rights laws in the 1960s as a U.S. Senator from Virginia, has a storied record of literally demonizing LGBT people, blaming gay and lesbian Americans for 9/11, proposing a “vomit’ button for pictures of LGBT people on Facebook, and accusing LGBT Americans of intentionally spreading HIV/AIDS by cutting people. But he is also the founder and chancellor of Regent University in Virginia Beach. Regent’s Law School has the opposite of a nondiscrimination policy, noting that the school “does not discriminate purely on the basis of an individual’s professed sexual orientation, but only with regard to accompanying sexual conduct or other actions that undermine the University’s Christian character.” Regent not only bans “homosexual conduct,” but in 2006 the school threatened to have members of the LGBT-rights group Soulforce arrested if they came onto the campus.

Rocovich, who served as Rector at Virginia Tech from 2002 to 2004, is currently in his second stint as a member of the public university’s Board of Visitors. In 2003, Rocovich led the board to remove “sexual orientation” from the school’s nondiscrimination policy. “Just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t mean that it’s right,” Rocovich said at the time, of having such protections on the books. Such protections, he argued, made “Virginia Tech a billboard for special interest groups.” The Board reversed its vote later that year — despite Rocovich’s continued pleas to keep the sexual orientation protections out. In 2010, Rocovich backed Cuccinelli’s attempt to eliminate sexual orientation protections from all public schools as establishing a “merit” standard.

At least two of the four other board members who voted to keep sexual orientation out of Virginia Tech’s nondiscrimination policy, Mitch Carr ($1,000) and William Latham ($5,000) have also donated to Obenshain’s 2013 campaign.

In endorsing his opponent, State Sen. Mark Herring (D), on Wednesday, the Washington Post called Obenshain, a “doctrinaire conservative who has tried to explain away a legislative record that earned a perfect rating from the right-wing Family Foundation.” These recent contributions would seem to undermine his attempts to do so.

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