Despite protesters efforts, anti-discrimination bill killed

Erica Terrini

Executive Editor

An anti-discrimination rally attracted about 100 protesters to VCU’s Monroe Park campus this week in support of Senate Bill 747, which was killed in a House subcommittee Tuesday.

Supporters of SB 747 also marched to the Capitol and Court House where protesters spoke with legislators and attended a demonstrative marriage ceremony, in which LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) couples request marriage certifications, are then denied and leave the building to have their unions blessed by varying religious figures.

The rally was organized by two VCU student organizations (VCU Young Democrats and Queer Action). Both groups planned the same event last year after Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli requested all Virginia public colleges and universities to exclude sexual orientation from their discrimination policies—saying institutions of higher education have no legislative authority to prohibit discrimination against members of the LGBTQ community. Last year’s rally involved hundreds of protesters.

“Last year, Ken Cuccinelli wrote the letter saying that the non-discrimination policies of these universities of the state of Virginia should not have the right not discriminate against people. How quickly we forget that there is still no law to protect our people,” said Queer Action Senior Adviser Cameron Hunt, who spoke at last year’s rally and led an unplanned march to the Capitol.

The student groups supported SB 747, which was introduced by Sen. A Donald McEachin, D-Henrico.

The bill would have banned “discrimination in state employment based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, age, marital status, disability, sexual orientation, or status as a special disabled veteran or other veteran.”

On the day of the rally the bill had been passed by the Senate and was referred to the House General Laws subcommittee.

“Last year we stood up here and made the same speeches and many more people listened,” Hunt said. “We promised at the end of last year with the executive directive that Gov. Bob McDonnell put out and only gave weak suggestive protection to state employees, to our professors, to our friends and loved ones that we wouldn’t stop until it became a law.”

Delegates David L. Englin, D-Alexandria, and Adam P. Ebbin, D-Arlington, also spoke at the rally in support of McEachin’s bill. Englin is a House patron of SB 747.

“Adam and I represent many of you who believe that Virginia ought to be a place where all human beings are treated with equal dignity and respect,” Englin said. “I know that with your activism, working together … Virginia and the United States will be that place again, that shining city on a hill, where people around the world look to as a place where all human beings are treated with equal dignity and respect.”

Ebbin compared the anti-discrimination protesters’ activism to that of the Egyptian peoples,’ saying, “If you doubt that your activism can make a difference, let’s just remember that it took the nation of Egypt and its citizens standing up less than three weeks to make a difference and change their government.”

Following the end if the rally, a group of about 50 protesters marched through the streets of Richmond to the Capitol and Richmond Court House, carrying signs that read “Discrimination is every one’s problem,” and “We the people (That means ALL OF US!),” etc. Those who marched also chanted variations of the phrase “Equal rights, right now.”

Protesters also shouted, “Here’s your line,” in response to Delegate C. Todd Gilbert’s, R-Shenandoah and Republican deputy whip, recent comment that discrimination is not an issue in Virginia and if it were there would be “a line out the door” of people ready to tell their stories.

Once at the Capitol, protesters organized to speak with their legislators and promote SB 747. Hunt and other student group members also attended the House subcommittee meeting, where they stood and watched as subcommittee members voted to kill McEachin’s bill in addition to another one of his bills that would have allowed the State Department of Human Resources to explore providing same-sex partners with health benefits.

“One thing you’ll have to learn from doing this kind of work is that we are a slave to the news cycle,” Hunt said, standing just outside the Capitol. “With Ken Cuccinelli’s letter last year, it really became apparent in the media for people to get involved. Our mission for this year is to really get the message out there and educate people that these are still very pressing issues.”

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