An executive order regarding workplace discrimination from Gov. Bob McDonnell has sparked disappointment within the gay community.
The order, issued by McDonnell Feb. 5, clarified rules on workplace discrimination in state government offices, assuring “equal opportunity in all facets of state government.”
Prohibiting discrimination on areas including race, sex, religion, age, political affiliation and disabilities, the executive order offers no written protection based on sexual orientation.
Aimee Kanode, a senior humanities, science, and environment major at Virginia Tech and president of Tech’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Alliance, said she was “appalled, but not surprised” by the absence of written protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation.
“I have no doubt in my mind that it was on purpose,” Kanode said.
Virginia Tech, in its Principal of Community statement signed in 2005, “rejects all forms of prejudice and discrimination,” including discrimination based on sexual orientation. Ray Plaza, a member of Tech’s Commission on Equal Opportunity and Diversity and one of the original signers of Tech’s Principles of Community, said the wording made the statement “as inclusive as possible.”
“I think some might argue when you don’t make (prohibitions on discrimination based on) sexual orientation explicit, it gives the green light to discriminate on that,” said Plaza, who is also a regular opinions columnist for the Collegiate Times. “My standpoint is that
it’s always important to clarify things that we take as given.”
The order reverses the policy of his two predecessors, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, whose executive orders on workplace discrimination offered
protection based on sexual orientation.
The policy reflects previous statements made by McDonnell. In Oct. 2009, the News and Advance reported that McDonnell would not continue the policy, questioning its legality as a “separation of powers issue.”
George Rutherglen, a professor at the University of Virginia law school, said there was a “general trend” in protecting the rights of gay workers.
“People have become more accepting of people who are gay or who change sexual identity,” Rutherglen said. “They see less and less grounds to discriminate those type of people.”
The issue of workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation has generated a lot of interest in the state legislature.
A Virginia Senate bill prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation, SB 66, was passed Feb. 8 and is now being debated in the Virginia House. Sen. A. Donald McEachin, a Democrat from the 9th district who sponsored the bill, was opposed to the wording of McDonnell’s executive order.
“Any form of discrimination is wrong,” McEachin said. “It’s disappointing he has not come out in support of this bill.”
McEachin said the bill was necessary to protect the rights of gay employees.
“If there is a problem, it solves it,” McEachin said. “If there isn’t a problem, it doesn’t hurt anybody.”
For Tech’s LGBTA, which has members across the political spectrum, Kanode said that the issue was not a partisan one.
“We’re not a politically affiliated organization,” Kanode said. “We go for what policy helps us out. We always hope we’re not going backwards in our fight.”