Monday, March 1, 2010

Backward to Intolerance

On February 5, 2010, Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell signed an executive order barring discrimination in the state workforce on grounds that include race, sex, religion and age, but not sexual orientation, making it legal for an employer to ask an employee (or potential employee) their sexual orientation. If the respondent declares that he or she is gay, the employee can be fired or refused employment based on his or her sexual orientation.

This is a regressive policy, which condones the idea that the gay and lesbian community is somehow less worthy of protection from anti-discriminatory policies, making them the targets of bigotry in the workplace. This arcane policy says that civil rights do not pertain to gays and lesbians, and is rooted in the notion that the gay and lesbian community is a destructive - not constructive - force. What Governor McDonnell clearly fails to recognize is that homosexuals do not unravel the fabric of our society; they are very much a part of it. They are an integral part of our racial, ethnic and cultural diversity. They serve us as doctors and educators, and are active members of our military. They work to make the Commonwealth a healthier, more educated and safer place. We don’t know who they are because many choose not to flaunt their sexual orientation openly. However, prejudicial policies like this may be what force them to conceal their identity.

It took three years after the passage of the civil rights amendment for Virginia to recognize interracial marriages. While many States are moving towards the recognition of same-sex marriages, and the Federal government is moving towards the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Virginia is moving backwards, to a state of intolerance. This policy makes it acceptable for Virginia employers to discriminate against some of its citizens, not because of what they have done, but because of who they are. If we allow such a policy to take effect, we are only condoning the type of discrimination that we, as a country, fought so hard to disarm for decades. We cannot let Virginia digress while the rest of the world is working to progress.