Things you, as my reader, know: I’m a comedian, a lover of Mexican food, Diet Coke, and of all things positive.
What you may not know, is that I am also an extremely big political dork. I love politics. In a previous life (not too long ago), I worked for former Virginia Governor Timothy Kaine. But, as much as I LOVE politics and healthy debate, when it comes to the social media world, I try my best to keep my opinions to myself. It’s not that I’m afraid of speaking my mind; it’s that I don’t want my opinions or beliefs to overshadow the other awesome things about me. Right?
But, because this is an issue I am extremely passionate about, I feel it necessary to share my feelings.
BACKSTORY (I spent my undergraduate years at Christopher Newport University (CNU) in Newport News, Virginia).
In the fall of 2003, I ran for Freshman class president at CNU. Then I ran for student government senator. I didn’t know many people on campus, but I knew I wanted to get involved and make a difference. A big issue we dealt with that year was the topic of adding the phrase “sexual orientation” to the university’s non-discrimination policy. A non-discrimination policy is the formal, legal policy that any business, employer, organization, company, university, etc. has that says that the organization will not discriminate in employment, hiring, firing, acceptance, admission, etc. based upon sex, race, religion, veteran status, marital status, disability, and sometimes gender identity or sexual orientation.
Being a rather conservative campus, this idea of adding two words to a policy was extremely controversial. The final decision HAD to come from the university’s Board of Visitors, a body of people appointed by the governor. Well, in the spring of 2004 the proposal was tabled. Over the next three years the student government association (SGA) tried to get the proposal back on the table with no luck.
In the spring of 2006, I ran for student body president and I won. When I took office, I made it a promise to myself and to the students that this policy would NOT go unchanged under my watch. I didn’t care what I had to do, but the fact that there were some of my peers, students, faculty, and staff being discriminated against because of how they identified themselves or whom they chose to love was unacceptable.
I knew I was going up against a fight. A big fight. So I did my homework. I spent hundreds and hundreds of hours in the library doing research. I looked up the non-discrimination policies of over 500 colleges and universities in the WORLD that included sexual orientation. I researched fortune 500 companies that chose to not discriminate. I looked at the legal issues – there were none. When all was said and done, my formal proposal was over 42 pages long. And I printed and bound 15 copies – one for each board member. I wrote my speech, put on my suit, and rallied the campus. Over 700 students showed up to the board of visitors meeting that November in support. Four students showed up against. It was extremely emotional. Although the vote didn’t happen that day, the proposal got taken off the table and would be voted on in February. Between November and February I lobbied each BOV member and worked to make sure that it would pass.
In the meantime, my car was egged, my office was vandalized, and blog post after letter to the editor was written in haste of me. It was a really difficult time. Then, the day before the vote, I get a letter in the mail from (then) Attorney General of Virginia Bob McDonnell outlining why the addition of sexual orientation to the university’s non-discrimination policy was illegal. I WAS FLOORED.
I immediately called out every hasty generalization and every fallacy McDonnell stated and even called the Governor’s office to get a letter of support. TAKE THAT MCDONNELL.
To make an already long story shorter, February 23rd, 2007 came. Over 1,500 students showed up in silent protest with signs. I spoke to the Board of Visitors. Shot down every lame point McDonnell stated. Gave my final word. And the board voted.
It was unanimous in support of non-discrimination for all on campus. I don’t think I’ve ever cried so hard in my life. That was/is by far my proudest moment.
That Attorney General is now the Governor of Virginia. Ken Cuccinelli is now the Attorney General. And this is what happened: On March 5th, 2010, Ken Cuccinelli wrote a letter to ALL the public colleges and universities in Virginia stating:
“It is my advice that the law and policy of the Commonwealth of Virginia prohibit a college or university from including ‘sexual orientation’ ‘gender expression,’ or like classificaiton as a protected class within its non-discrimination policy, absent specific authorization from the General Assembly.”
YEAH RIGHT. Yeah, calling him on it. BULLPOO.
It’s 2010. Does the General Assembly have to give specific authorization for RACE to be a protected class? How about SEX? Many arguments against the inclusion of “Sexual Orientation” state that it is a lifestyle choice and that lifestyle choices shouldn’t be protected in policies such as these.
Regardless on whether or not you think one’s sexual orientation is a choice, let’s think for a moment. RELIGION is a protected class. And that, to me, is a lifestyle choice. I am a Christian. I choose that. Others may choose to identify themselves a Catholic. That, is a choice.
Marital status is a choice. My friends, who happen to be married, CHOSE to get married. It’s not 1493 in ancient Egypt and their marriage wasn’t arranged. It was a choice.
I could go on.
But my overall frustration lies in the message this type of letter is sending. It’s a divider. It’s making an issue (that shouldn’t even BE an issue) one of controversy, religion, and political affiliation. It’s not about being a republican, democrat, Christian, Muslim, straight or gay. In the end, this is about human beings, human beings who should never feel as though they are second class citizens. We are no better than our friends, enemies, sisters, brothers, neighbors, or strangers. It is 2010 and we should ALL feel equal. We should ALL be able to walk across town or across campus and know that we are protected by that which governs us.
So, to you, AG Kucinelli and Governor McDonnell, I say put aside your “religious beliefs” and “partisan politics” and wake the hell up. Know that the students in your Virginia universities are bright, intelligent, beautiful, and are incredibly brilliant. And just because you don’t agree with who some of them may choose to love does NOT give you the right to make them feel insignificant.
Even though I don’t live in Virginia anymore, I hope that this type of behavior stops now. If I learned anything from my mother, it’s that you stand up for what you know is right, even if it may not be the most popular decision on the block.
Want more information? Here is some of the archived press coverage of when I was in school and how my university fought to change the policy.
- Inside Higher Education
- Daily Press Spotlight
- CNU Board of Visitor’s Meeting Minutes: February 23, 2007
- Protest Coverage
- Office Defacement
Write a letter to or call AG Kuccinelli:
Office of the Attorney General
900 East Main Street
Richmond, VA 23219
Write a letter to or call Governor McDonnell:
P.O. Box 1475
Richmond, Virginia 23218