Protest of more than 1,000 followed by march to Capitol
More than 1,000 students, faculty and staff gathered to rally against a request to ban VCU’s nondiscrimination policy, and approximately 150 protestors marched to the Capitol to voice concerns to state legislators.
Thirteen students and faculty roused the crowd at the packed University Student Commons Plaza Wednesday, March 10 as they spoke on securing rights and protections to sexual minorities at public universities.
The rally came the day after the university held forums on the Monroe Park and MCV campuses.
“We are here to bring ourselves together as a community,” said Kanwar Singh Anand, a business major and member of the Students for Possibilities Party, which organized the rally. The group organizers were joined by VCU Queer Action, VCU Young Democrats, S.A.V.E.S. and the University Equity and Diversity Committee.
Following a group recitation of the “Pledge of Allegiance” and a solo performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” Liz Canfield, the faculty organizer for Queer Action and an instructor in the women’s studies department, spoke to the massive crowd.
Protestors waved LGBTQ flags and gripped protest signs with anti-discrimination statements that read “Ban hate in Virginia” to “I need my gay co-workers.”
“Though we are outraged and angry, what is amazing is how … we all stood up for what we value,” Canfield said.
Dorothy Fillmore, the co-chair of the LGBT subcommittee for the University Equity and Diversity Committee, an organization for gay and lesbian faculty, said she was thankful to the student organizers of the rally and straight allies.
“It’s a good day to be queer at VCU,” Fillmore said.
Martin Blaney, a graduate student in the nurse anesthesia program, echoed the sentiments of many other speakers.
“Ken Cucinelli is a man with an agenda, sitting in an office of power, who has the potential to do good but has made a decision to do harm,” Blaney said. “Last week the attorney general made his agenda clear. He let his personal convictions cloud his professional judgment, let his prejudice influence his legal directives and in doing so took aim at a sleeping giant: you and me.”
Other speakers included: VCU head volleyball coach James Finley, Assistant Professor Marian Jones, Vice President for ODU Out Tahj Mitchell, VCU Young Democrats President Katie Rivara, Former Young Democrats President Jon Ward, S.A.V.E.S. President Jennifer Walters, Student for Possibilities member Matt Wetzel and Associate Professor Tarynn Witten.
Ward read a letter from Sen. Donald McEachin, D-Richmond, who addressed the VCU protestors in high regard and stated he would continue to stand with them against discrimination.
“I commend you on your actions today and I assure you, were I not on the floor of Senate of Virginia of the General Assembly I would be with you in person but know that I am there in spirit,” McEachin stated in the letter.
Following the speakers, Anand made closing statements, which officially ended the rally but signaled the beginning of a student-led march to the capitol.
The impromptu march was inspired by Cameron Hunt, a religious studies major and VCU Queer Action’s senior adviser, who announced his plans to head to the Capitol to meet with legislators after the General Assembly session had ended for the day. Hunt welcomed others to walk with him.
“The General Assemble is about to let out,” Hunt said. “I’m going to be waiting.”
With a final promise that nothing would stop him from reaching the Capitol, Hunt and a smaller crowd made their way from the Commons Plaza. About 150 protestors marched through Monroe Park and down West Franklin Street, escorted by mounted police as police cars blocked off traffic.
The protestors reached the Capitol around 2:30 p.m. Upon arrival, they waited until the session ended before making contact with McEachin, who, Hunt said, granted them entrance to the balcony of the Virginia House of Delegates chamber.
Once in the House chamber the protestors were introduced and received a standing ovation from all the Democratic delegates, Hunt said.
Hunt said Protestors were praised by Sen. McEachin and Delegate Adam Ebbin, D-Arlington, who is the only openly gay member serving the Virginia General Assembly.
Delegate Joseph D. Morrissey, D-Henrico, made a House floor speech today asking the governor to back banning discrimination against gays.
The House then introduced an appropriations bill with language attached that would prohibit sexual orientation discrimination to present to Gov. Bob McDonnell, Hunt said.
Hunt said some of the student protestors will return Thursday, March 11 to sit in the House Chamber’s balcony while delegates vote on the new bill. Some plan to wear blue.
“Everyone who went felt vindicated–if a little exhausted,” Hunt said. “They’ve actually done something and done something good today. They made a difference.”