A member of the Virginia Beach Human Rights Commission has announced he’ll step down tomorrow following outcry over comments he made on Facebook disparaging the LGBTQ community.
Brother LaKendrick Coburn El, also known as Kenick El, took to Facebook to share a story about a transgender sex offender, calling being transgender a “mental illness.”
He accused the LGBTQ community of “promoting” homosexuality to children, adding that homosexuality is a “mental illness” and an “abomination to the Human Race.”
When challenged on those remarks, El wrote another post that appeared to stand by his comments, invoking his First Amendment right to freedom of speech and indicating that the views expressed in the post were his personal views and not indicative of his work on the commission.
The local LGBTQ group Hampton Roads Pride was the first to denounce El’s remarks, calling them “hurtful” and “disheartening.” The organization also sent a letter to Virginia Beach Mayor Bobby Dyer expressing their disappointment with El’s remarks and questioning the vetting process for people appointed to the Human Rights Commission.
Currently, members of the commission are named to three-year terms by the City Council. Hampton Roads Pride has asked for a review of the vetting process and recommendations — including requiring diversity training for appointees — on how to improve the process so that the community can feel assured that all members are interested in promoting the human rights and equal treatment of all Virginia Beach residents.
Following the outcry, El said that the situation had been “blown out of proportion,” and refused to resign, saying he could still protect the human rights of all people.
“I definitely understand people’s different perspectives and their right to express their views and communicate how they feel,” he said in an interview with FOX13.
He added the posts were his “personal views” and did not reflect the position of the Virginia Beach Human Rights Commission. And he maintained that he “loves everyone,” even though he may “disagree” with another person’s sexual orientation.
But calls for El’s resignation or removal from the commission continued to mount, with the LGBT Life Center, the LGBTQAI Interfaith Group, Hampton Roads Business OutReach, and PFLAG Hampton Roads denouncing the comments and questioning El’s ability to be impartial in matters or disputes involving LGBTQ individuals.
“We believe that the statements and opinions expressed by Commissioner El, personal or not, if left unchecked without consequence, will contribute to and foster a climate of folks in our LGBT+ community feeling unsafe and unable to trust in our elected and appointed leaders,” the LGBTQAI Interfaith Group wrote in a letter to Dyer.
Even Virginia Congresswoman Elaine Luria (D) weighed in, saying in a statement: “I reject these abhorrent and regressive views, and I stand with our LGBT community. This rhetoric is not reflective of the values of Virginia Beach. To the children of Hampton Roads forced this week to feel shame for who you love and how you identify: Please know your Congresswoman stands with you.”
Last Thursday, city leaders and LGBTQ groups held a press conference calling for El’s resignation, with Dyer reading a statement, signed by all but two members of the City Council, saying that it was “no longer appropriate” for El to remain on the human rights commission. Dyer also called on the Human Rights Commission to hold a special meeting on Oct. 31 to discuss El’s future.
Following the press conference, El told FOX13 that he was listening carefully to the concerns of the community and expressed hope for future dialogue with those calling for his resignation. But the following day, on Oct. 25, he announced that he would resign following the special Oct. 31 meeting.
But on Tuesday, less than 48 hours before the special meeting was scheduled to take place, it was cancelled without explanation.
Sabrina Wooten, one of the two councilmembers who didn’t sign the letter calling for El’s resignation, said she hadn’t been informed about the press conference on Oct. 24.
She said Councilmember Michael Berlucchi had told her about the letter presented at the press conference, but believed that it was “premature” to call for El’s resignation prior to meeting with all parties involved and attempting to work out a resolution.
“I’m a mediator. I can see things from both sides — I’m not taking sides, but I can see the potential for dialogue,” she said. “And I told [Berlucchi] my position stands: We really need to address this with dialogue, with both sides.”