While You Were Protesting…
Unfortunately, the four hate mongers from the Westboro Church didn’t decide to protest outside the Capitol Building yesterday. Perhaps that would have brought a much needed throng of engaged, diversity-promoting citizens to represent passage of SB 66.
Had the bill passed, for the first time in legislative history, sexual orientation would have been included as part of the state’s anti-discrimination policy–a bill already in place in thirty other states. The bill, introduced by Sen. Donald McEachin (D-Henrico), was a response to Gov. Bob McDonnell’s decision in February to exclude sexual orientation from the Commonwealth’s discrimination protection. This decision from McDonnell countermanded the executive orders issued by Virginia’s past two governors, Gov. Warner and Gov. Kaine.
Despite the long history of such executive orders, McDonnell decided such additional protection was a matter for the legislature to decide. McEachin took McDonnell “at his word” and submitted the bill, yet no endorsement ever came from McDonnell. In fact, the governor’s office was quoted as having “no position on the bill.” On Monday, a day before the vote, McEachin announced publicly, on WTVR, that “”I think there is an atmosphere that is being created, regrettably brought on by the McDonnell administration.”
In fact, the Commonwealth’s latest anti-discrimination policy might be a factor
in Northrop Grumman’s decision to relocate it’s corporate headquarters to either Maryland or Virginia. Gay rights advocates and the gay Maryland State Sen. Richard Madaleno have recently lobbied Northrop Grumman, urging the company to choose a state who isn’t “turning back the clock” on protection for gay rights. While the company has made no specific comment on their decision, many believe that cultural and social factors will make one state more attractive than the other. Northrop Grumman received the one and only perfect score from the Human Rights Campaign, for the company’s efforts to welcome its LGBT employees and consumers.
Northrop Grumman is the one of the largest defense companies and has more than 120,000 employees. Not only do Virginia citizens needs jobs, they need progressive work environments that promote diversity–that judge an employee based on merit, not sexuality.
While many states proceed to advance progressive legislation such as civil unions and marriage equality, Virginia continues to fortify its conservative reputation. McDonnell’s refusal to extend protection from discrimination received nationwide coverage by major news outlets such as CNN, The Washington Post, Washington Examiner, and Talking Points Memo.
But yesterday, all news coverage in town went to the counter-protests staged in response to appearances from the fanatical, asinine members of the Westboro Baptist Church. Not a single major headline or video went to the defeat of SB 66.
The vote was important, for obvious reasons. The February defeat of its mirror legislation, HB 1116, was a clear indication that public voices would need to be heard in order for SB 66 to pass when it went to the House General Laws Sub-Committee. SB 66 had earlier passed in the Senate, 23-17.
So where was everybody yesterday?
What a sad twist of fate that the Westboro Baptist Church came to town and stole the limelight. Richmond, despite its grand demonstration to stand united and even raise money for the targeted groups, still fell victim to an old grift. We were distracted by an easy target–we took the low hanging fruit–and failed to notice what was being taken from us. What was needed was, first, not to enable a hate group by giving them media publicity, and second, to stand together and dismantle real institutional prejudice.
Fred Phelps and the Westboro Church aren’t real. People know they are despicable, idiotic and out for attention. It feels good to stand up against hate, and street protests are convenient. Representatives of numerous local LGBT and faith based organizations helped organize the counter protests. Those groups have access to resources that would have been better directed into lobbying legislators. The face paint, Sharpees, poster board, theatrics, and MEDIA could have illuminated discrimination and inequality that happens in our state, everyday–not just when Westboro comes to town.
Maybe Virginia still wouldn’t have won. Maybe the bill would have still been tabled. But media attention would have gone to something that matters more. And everyone could have still experienced the warm, fuzzy thrill of uniting for a greater purpose. When a bill is tabled, it can’t be introduced for another year. I hope to see you then, at the Capitol next year.
We can stand against ideology that penetrates deeper than the Westboro Church, and which shapes our state.
Such as that of Delegate Marshall:
“I think there first should be some finding that homosexuals, as a class, are being discriminated against,” said Del. Robert G. Marshall, R-Prince William, an ardent social conservative. “In all of my experience and reading, gay individuals seem to have more income, to attend more cultural events, to take more vacations than the rest of us. Show me where this discrimination is going on.”
Alix Bryan is a graduate student in multimedia journalism at Virginia Commonwealth University. She has also traveled the United States on scooter promoting environmentalism via PeaceScooter.com. See more of her reporting at http://www.alixbryan.com.
“All together now!”October 20, 2015
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