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Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R) on Thursday, March 4, advised the state’s public colleges and universities that ”the law and public policy of the Commonwealth of Virginia prohibit” the inclusion of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression in the schools’ nondiscrimination policies and that the schools are to take action to address the ”invalid policies.”
One of the impacted school’s deans is pushing back, however, telling Metro Weekly on Friday that she anticipated that her school ”will have a thorough discussion” before adopting the attorney general’s advice.
Dr. Karen DePauw, the vice president and dean for graduate education at Virginia Tech, said on Friday that regardless of the letter, ”We will continue to have an open and inclusive environment for the grad school, I am confident of that.
”I cannot speak for the whole university because I have not seen the letter and we haven’t had a chance to talk about it,” she said. ”As vice president and dean for graduate education, I anticipate and am hopeful that we will have a thorough discussion before we take any final action.”
Jon Blair, the chief executive officer of Equality Virginia, echoed DePauw’s comments, said, ”I think that the universities have a responsibility to review this letter thoroughly and ask questions of the Attorney General.”
The leaders of the University of Virginia’s Queer & Allied Activism and Queer Student Union – Jenna Krotke, Seth Kaye and Alex Tatum – posted a statement on the first group’s website on Friday, writing they were ”appalled” by the letter.
”Such blatant targeting of a minority group has no place in Virginia, or anywhere for that matter. … As students, we need to be worrying about our class work, not contemplating how our daily lives are going to change or whether our jobs, or even our lives are safe because of the negative attitude our government is taking.”
Virginia Tech’s DePauw also expressed concern about the impact that the removal of the policies would have. ”We send the wrong message about our commitment to diversity and inclusion by removing sexual orientation. There are a number of faculty, staff and students at Virginia Tech who are LGBT or allies, and by removing that it says we are not as welcoming and inclusive to all.”
Regardless, she concluded of the programs under her school, ”What we do in the graduate school is not going to change.”
Equality Virginia’s Blair expressed concern that the removal would cause damage to higher education in Virginia, saying, ”Attorney General Cuccinelli clearly doesn’t understand that his radical actions are putting Virginia at risk of losing both top students and faculty, and discouraging prospective ones from coming here.”
In its public system of higher education, Virginia has 15 four-year institutions, one two-year institution and 23 community colleges.
Blair also took aim at the state’s new governor – and former attorney general – Bob McDonnell (R), saying, ”It is time that Governor McDonnell come out from hiding and reign in Mr. Cuccinelli before his embarrassing and regressive actions permanently damage the reputation, educational system and competitiveness of our great Commonwealth.”
LGBT groups weren’t the only ones striking out at the action. Virginia Young Democrats released a statement opposing the action on Friday afternoon.
Sean Holihan, president of the Virginia Young Democrats, said, ”In just the first two months of the McDonnell, [Lt. Gov. Bill] Bolling and Cuccinelli administration, we have gotten the message again and again that members of the LGBT community are no longer welcome in state employment.”
Lauren Gilbert, college caucus chair of the Virginia Young Democrats, added, ”Between scaring away good professors and cutting the higher education budget, McDonnell, Bolling, and Cuccinelli are putting their personal prejudices ahead of what’s best for Virginia schools.”
Cuccinelli’s move stands in stark contrast to other local movement on LGBT equality, coming less than two weeks after Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler (D) issued a formal opinion that led to the state beginning immediately to recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages and just one day after the District began accepting applications for marriage licenses from same-sex couples – several of whom live in Virginia.
A spokesman from Cuccinelli’s office refused to release the letter on Friday, citing attorney-client privilege, and directed that a written request be submitted. The spokesman said he would forward the request to the chief deputy attorney general. Neither have responded to Metro Weekly. Immediately prior to publication, Metro Weekly obtained a copy of the letter from a source outside the Attorney General’s Office.