2010: A Step Backwards


Richmond Activates: The March 2, 2010 Rally for Peace at Virginia Commonwealth University. Student-organized events are energizing the Richmond LGBTQ community. Credit GJ

In 2010, Virginia has seen several steps backwards. On February 5, 2010, new Governor Bob McDonnell puts into place an executive order prohibitting discrimination in state hiring. This executive order did not include sexual orientation, unlike the executive orders passed by both Governor Warner and Governor Kaine.[1]

Soon after, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli wrote a letter to state public colleges telling them that sexual orientation and gender expression cannot be included in nondiscrimination policies because the general assembly has not included this language in state policies.[2]

These actions prompted student and community rallies for equality in Richmond and across the state. State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, spokeswoman Kirsten Nelson responded with some historical contex. Nelson refers to codes that set out the relationship between state colleges and the state government. According to Nelson, those codes "are somewhat vague," written in language that gives the institutions "a great deal of autonomy . . . historically, it has been assumed that it is the will of the General Assembly that the institutions retain broad control over their governance". Cuccinelli insists that state colleges cannot includes protected classes in their nondiscrimination policies.[3] In Richmond, The Richmond Times Dispatch reported that over 1,000 students and allies protested Cuccinelli's letter on campus.[4]

Soon after, McDonnell issued a Exuecutive Directive stating that no discrimination would be tolerated in state government hiring. However, McDonnell's "directive" has no force of law and is seen my many activists as a "useless piece of paper."[5]

There has been a lot of progress since the Stonewall Riots, encompassing political, social and cultural activism, but the fact that state officials feel that it is OK to discriminate against LGBTQ citizens show and that Virginia has one of the most restrictive "Defense of Marriage" law and amendments in the United States shows that there is room for a lot more improvement.


  1. Washington Post online http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/02/09/AR2010020903739.htmlm, accessed 4/30/10.
  2. Richmond Times Dispatch online http://www2.timesdispatch.com/rtd/news/state_regional/state_regional_govtpolitics/article/CUCC06_20100305-222004/328673/, accessed 4/30/10.
  3. Washington Post online http://voices.washingtonpost.com/college-inc/2010/03/students_mobilize_over_ag_opin.html, accessed 4/30/10.
  4. The Richmond Times Dispatch, http://www2.timesdispatch.com/rtd/news/local/education/article/vcu_rally_takes_on_cuccinelli_discrimination_letter/329472/.
  5. Washington Post online http://voices.washingtonpost.com/virginiapolitics/2010/03/mcdonnells_nondiscrimination_d.html, accesssed 4/30/10.