April 1, 2010 | by Harley Dennett
Local news in brief

GMU retains anti-discrimination policies

Not even Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s own alma mater is siding with him on his push to overturn LGBT non-discrimination policies on public college campuses.

The George Mason University Board of Visitors adopted a resolution last week affirming the school’s existing policies banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

“[A] diverse and inclusive learning environment that respects and enhances the potential of all members of our community is vitally important to the mission of George Mason University to achieve excellence in teaching, research and service,” says a board statement.

Board members praised the “outstanding contributions” of LGBT faculty, students and staff and said all employees and students deserve statutory protections against discrimination.

The decision came March 24, one day after Cuccinelli returned to his former law school for a question-and-answer session with students. He was greeted by a protest of about 50 to 60 current and former George Mason law students opposed to his efforts to overturn the anti-discrimination policies.

Many public universities in Virginia are disregarding Cuccinelli’s March 4 letter, which advised that such policies were illegal, after Gov. Bob McDonnell issued an “executive directive” calling on public agencies to not discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation or other factors.

University of Virginia President John Casteen III praised the directive’s clarity and McDonnell’s “civility and decency” on the issue.

“As rightly alarmed as many of us and I, myself, were by [the] attorney general’s letter, I was struck through the week by the wisdom and dignity of the discussion that occurred,” he said in a statement. “Let us hope that the subsequent discussion will rise to the level of the model struck in the directive.”

HARLEY DENNETT

Activists playing defense in Maryland

Just one pro-LGBT bill remains in play in Maryland’s General Assembly for 2010, a year in which Equality Maryland has tallied more defensive than offensive wins.

House Bill 462, which would add LGBT non-discrimination protections for teachers in public schools, passed the House in advance of Monday’s crucial crossover deadline. Bills must pass at least one chamber before the deadline to advance this session.

The Senate Education, Health & Environmental Affairs Committee will next consider the bill. No hearing date was immediately scheduled.

Morgan Meneses-Sheets, Equality Maryland’s executive director, said her organization’s work this year focused on playing defense.

“There have been a half dozen bills introduced that would have rolled back rights and in addition we’ve had to watch out for bad amendments to our bills,” Meneses-Sheets said. “The thing about defense: It’s behind the scenes. We know we’ve had many successes by holding back these attacks, but in terms of proactively moving forward, this HB 462 [is a measure] we hope will pass this year.”

Equality Maryland is opposing another bill, Senate Bill 385, which would give public funds to private religious schools without requiring adherence to the state’s non-discrimination policy.

“We certainly respect that they’re looking for ways to support local schools, but at the end of the day, providing public money to a private religious school that refuses to uphold out state anti-discrimination laws is just inappropriate and unacceptable.”

The bill was scheduled for a hearing in the House Ways & Means Committee on April 1, after DC Agenda deadline.

HARLEY DENNETT

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