Virginia Tech University announced this month that it is adding gender identity to its anti-discrimination statement, which will protect transgender students, faculty, and staff. The policy has already passed through the school’s University Council and is simply awaiting final approval by the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors.
Provost Mark McNamee told The Cavalier Daily that “the students were especially acting in proposing this and advocating for it” and that “people feel really good about the University taking a very proactive step.”
It’s actually a step Virginia’s public universities are increasingly taking. For some time, the College of William and Mary was the only public school in the commonwealth with gender identity protections. In recent years, Old Dominion University, Norfolk State University, and most recently, James Madison University, have also joined the hundreds of universities protecting the transgender community.
LGBT protections at Virginia’s public universities have previously been a politically divisive issue. In 2010, then-Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) directed them to rescind their policies that protected sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression, arguing that they are out of step with state law — which has not advanced such protections statewide. More of the schools had sexual orientation protections at the time, and they held onto them.
As soon as Terry McAuliffe (D) was inaugurated governor this year, he began to reverse the anti-LGBT policies of the previous Republican administration. His first action was an executive order protecting LGBT state employees from discrimination — protecting transgender workers for the first time in the state. Though not as far-reaching as a state law protecting all workers, it was a step that changed the precedent and bucked the notion that institutions cannot extend protections without the Assembly approve them first.
McNamee was not aware of any anti-transgender discrimination at Virginia Tech, but that doesn’t mean it has been a welcoming campus. The new policy may help recruit more transgender students, staff, and faculty and create an environment in which they feel safer being open and reporting incidents of harassment and discrimination.