VCU is making changes to its non-discrimination policy in light of Virginia legalizing same-sex marriage earlier this month.
University president Michael Rao sent an email to the VCU community the same day Attorney General Mark Herring announced that Virginia court clerks could begin signing same-sex marriage licenses. Rao’s email stated the university is addressing the benefits offered to now-eligible spouses. He also said VCU is amending its non-discrimination statement to include gender identity.
“Activities of the university are designed to promote the continuing policy of providing equal opportunity for employment and education and access to all programs and services without regard to race, color, national origin, age, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, political affiliation, veterans’ status, or disability,” Rao stated.
The Board of Visitors will review the included statement for approval at their next meeting on Dec. 12. The last revision of VCU’s Equal Opportunity policy was approved by the Board of Visitors on Nov. 15, 2013.
VCU’s amended non-discrimination statement grants written protection to transgender and other gender-variant individuals against discrimination at the university.
Rao’s email followed the Supreme Court decision declining review of lower-court decisions overruling gay marriage in five states. The Supreme Court decision hence effectively legalized same-sex marriage in Virginia, Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah and Wisconsin.
“(The SCOTUS decision) has given political and legal cover for colleges, universities and the executive branch of the Virginia state government, and has created some momentum to go forward with protecting and emphasizing the rights dealing with sexual orientation and gender identity,” said VCU political science professor John Aughenbaugh.
The state mandated adherence to non-discrimination based on gender identity before VCU amended the policy’s rhetoric, however.
In January, Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed his first Executive Order entitled “Equal Opportunity.”
The mandate applies to all state institutions and specifically prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, sex, color, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, political affiliation or against otherwise qualified persons with disabilities.
Some students view Rao’s public acknowledgement of the policy change as another step forward for the university.
“People that identify on a non-binary spectrum, that don’t identify as male or female, or that are in transition need to be able to identify in a way that feels comfortable to them without fear of harassment or discrimination” said Chris Ruiz de Velasco, a mathematics and secondary education double major.
Others were surprised that VCU is just now recognizing gender identity in the statement.
“I think it’s a positive thing,” said early education major Harold Claros. “But I’m surprised that VCU, as such a forward-thinking school, has not done it already. That’s not to say that I’m unhappy with the timing. Any time, especially right now, is a good time to move forward with change.”