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Gay coach fired at VCU

Advocates renew call for Obama exec order on workplace bias

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James Finley, VCU, ENDA, Employment Non-Discrimination Act, gay news, Washington Blade, Virginia Commonwealth University
James Finley, VCU, ENDA, Employment Non-Discrimination Act, gay news, Washington Blade, Virginia Commonwealth University

VCU women’s volleyball coach James Finley says he was fired because he’s gay. (Photo courtesy of Finley)

A women’s volleyball coach at Virginia Commonwealth University, who says he was fired last month because he’s gay, would have a far better chance of getting his job back if President Obama had issued a non-discrimination executive order for federal contractors.

That’s the assessment of Tico Almeida, president of the national LGBT advocacy group Freedom to Work.

“If the executive order were already in place, Coach [James] Finley could have the Department of Labor investigate whether federal contractor VCU allowed anti-gay animus to overshadow the fact that he led his team to a 25-6 winning record this season as well as a perfect graduation rate for his student athletes,” Almeida told the Blade in a statement.

Almeida said VCU would be a prime target for a discrimination investigation under such an executive order because it has received more than $40 million in contracts in recent years from such federal agencies as the National Institutes of Health, the Social Security Administration, and the Department of Defense.

“President Obama should sign the executive order today because every day that passes is another day in which taxpayer money can be squandered on anti-LGBT workplace harassment and discrimination,” he said.

Finley, 52, told the Blade he learned of his dismissal on Nov. 19 when the university’s recently hired athletic director, Ed McLaughlin, informed him he decided not to renew Finley’s contract as coach.

He said he filed a discrimination complaint with the university’s diversity office. The university’s personnel policy bans discrimination based on sexual orientation. A VCU spokesperson said the office has 45 days to investigate the complaint under university rules.

Another university spokesperson, Pamela Lepley, told Richmond news media outlets that McLaughlin’s decision not to renew Finley’s contract was “in compliance with appropriate VCU employment practices and policies.”

In his own statement, McLaughlin said he did not base his action on the fact that Finley is gay.

“It is unfortunate that Mr. Finley feels the decision not to renew his contract was based on anything other than previously stated concerns about the volleyball program,” he said.

Finley told the Blade McLaughlin told him his reason for not renewing the contract was a desire to take the volleyball program in a “different direction” in order to lift the program to “an elite level.”

Finley and his husband, John Sternlicht, an attorney, consider McLaughlin’s rationale for not renewing Finley’s contract a thinly veiled pretext.

The two say they believe the true motive was McLaughlin’s unwillingness to retain an openly gay man as coach of the VCU women’s volleyball team, despite the fact that Finley is credited by students, other coaches, and sports writers with having vastly improved the team and inspired its women players during his eight-year tenure as coach.

“The reality is they were below 500 [in their win-loss record] for 14 straight years prior to me coming here,” Finley said in a telephone interview.

In the years in which he served as coach, the team has had the highest winning percentage in women’s volleyball at VCU in the previous 20 years, he said.

“We had 25 wins with only six losses,” he said in discussing the current year. “We had our highest national ranking in program history.”

According to Finley, many university officials, students, and the athletic department staff have been fully accepting of him and Sternlicht. Many of his colleagues attended his and Sternlicht’s wedding celebration last year, he said

With that as a backdrop, Finley and Sterlicht said McLaughlin remained distant and unsupportive of Finley since the time McLaughlin was hired as athletic director in July of this year.

He never attended any of the women’s volleyball games at the university’s home court, never congratulated him or the players for their successful season, and appeared to turn and walk in another direction whenever the two crossed paths on campus, said Finley.

Sternlicht said evidence of anti-gay animus surfaced when it became known last month that McLaughlin demoted a woman staffer who was the only other out gay person in the athletic department.

According to the Commonwealth Times, Pat Stauffer, a 30-year employee at the VCU Athletics Department, was stripped of her title as Senior Women’s Administrator and given the new title of Senior Associate Athletic Director for Sport Administration.

Finley said any doubt about McLaughlin’s motive for firing him vanished in his own mind and in that of his supporters when his volleyball players told him McLaughlin said the university wants a coach who would “represent the university well.”

“What he was saying is I, as a gay man, can’t represent the university or the athletic program in a positive way,” Finley said.

Finley’s dismissal comes at a time when LGBT advocates in Virginia say they are uncertain over whether sexual orientation non-discrimination policies adopted by the state’s universities and colleges, including VCU, can be enforced.

Last year, Virginia Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli said the universities didn’t have legal standing to adopt such policies because sexual orientation discrimination is not prohibited under Virginia law.

For more than a year, Almeida and other LGBT advocates have been urging President Obama to sign an executive order requiring companies and other entities such as universities that receive federal contracts to adopt internal personnel policies banning employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Existing federal civil rights laws already ban employment discrimination based on race, religion, sex and ethnicity, but those laws don’t apply to LGBT people. A bill pending in Congress known as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA, would add similar protections for LGBT people in federal law.

But ENDA remains stalled in the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives, and Capitol Hill observers say it has no chance of passing unless Democrats regain control of the House in the 2014 elections.

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Delaware

Delmarva Pride to feature drag, dancing, and more this weekend

Easton and Cambridge to host events

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A scene from Delmarva Pride. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Delmarva Peninsula will hold its annual Pride celebration this weekend, including drag shows, a festival, and much more. 

The Delmarva Pride Center will put on the annual Pride celebration starting on Friday, June 14, and it will go until Sunday to celebrate queer love and acceptance in Delmarva.  

The weekend kicks off on Friday with a free legal clinic in partnership with FreeState Justice at the Academy Art Museum, 106 South St., Easton, Md. Free legal services including name and gender marker changes, criminal record expungements, and peace and protection orders are just some of the services being offered. For more information visit freestate-justice.org.

Then on Friday night, the third annual Pride Drag Show will be at the Avalon Theatre, 40 E Dover St., in Easton. Bring your cash as four drag queens and host Miranda Bryant put on the fundraising show, where 100% of ticket sales go to the Delmarva Pride Center. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and performance begins at 7 p.m. For tickets visit avalonfoundation.org.

On Saturday there will be the Pride festival from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. at  S. Harrison and E. Dover Street, in Easton. This free community festival will include vendors, live performances, and more. 

Saturday night the party gets going as Delmarva Pride will host its 2024 Pride Dance. There will be a DJ and drinks available for purchase. This event is for 18 and up and will include a cash bar for anyone 21 and up. No tickets are required. 

To round out your Pride weekend, on Sunday the Delmarva Pride Brunch will be held at ArtBar 2.0, 420b Race St. in Cambridge, Md. Tickets include food, access to the mimosa bar, and a drag performance. Tickets are available here

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Baltimore

People of Pride: Five Marylanders making a difference in the LGBTQ+ community

Baltimore Pride is this weekend

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Jabari Lyles poses for a portrait in East Mount Vernon Place in Baltimore on June 10, 2024. (Photo by Jessica Gallagher/The Baltimore Banner)

By JOHN-JOHN WILLIAMS IV | One hosts movie nights, karaoke and other events that provide a safe space for LGBTQ people. Another has become a sounding board for customers at his gay bar dealing with pressures of the outside world. And a third beats the pavement to promote political awareness about LGBTQ issues.

These are just some of the things five Baltimoreans the Baltimore Banner is profiling in honor of Baltimore Pride Month are doing in the fight for visibility, support and acceptance of their peers.

The rest of this article can be found on the Baltimore Banner’s website.

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Delaware

Delaware’s Sussex Pride launches free statewide HIV, STI testing

Special program honors National HIV Testing Day on June 27

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Each year on June 27, people across the United States are encouraged to get tested for HIV. This year for Delawareans, it’s easier than ever.

Sussex Pride has partnered with STDCheck to offer free HIV and syphilis testing everywhere in Delaware. There are more than 20 locations across the state, making it simple to find a testing center.  

David Mariner, executive director of Sussex Pride, told the Blade, “We are thrilled with this new partnership with STDcheck. The ultimate goal is to empower individuals with knowledge about their HIV status, provide necessary support, and facilitate early intervention to improve health outcomes in our state.”

Finding a testing center, getting tested, and getting results is simple. Start by finding a lab near you using this link (https://www.stdcheck.com/std-test-center.php). Then call STDcheck at 800-456-2323 and request a free Sussex Pride HIV and/or syphilis test. Make sure to mention Sussex Pride in the call to get the test for free. Then schedule a time and get tested. 

“If you are HIV positive, the sooner you know, the better,” Mariner added. “Early and sustained treatment can help you live a long and healthy life. It can also help protect others.”

This special program is in honor of National HIV Testing Day, created in 1995 to highlight the lifesaving impact of HIV testing. HIV has historically had a disproportionate effect on the LGBTQ community. According to the CDC, 70% of all new cases of HIV in 2021 were among gay and bisexual men and other men who have sex with men.

The CDC’s theme for this year’s HIV testing day is “Level up your self-love: check your status.” The theme emphasizes, “valuing yourself, showing yourself compassion and respect, and honoring your health needs with self-love,” and the best way to do that is to test.

For more information on Sussex Pride’s testing program visit sussexpride.org/posts/testing/ and for more information on HIV visit CDC.gov/hiv.

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