Anti-discriminatory bill passes

Student Council passes resolution supporting fully inclusive non-discrimination policies

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Student Council unanimously passed a resolution yesterday night to affirm its support for a fully inclusive non-discrimination policy and to urge the Board of Visitors, the Virginia General Assembly and U.S. Congress to pass legislation supporting protections "against discrimination in local, state, and federal employment based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression."\nThis resolution was passed in tandem with the one-year anniversary of a hate crime against a gay student at the University.

"It really shows the success of mobilization and passion," said Carrie Filipetti, one of three co-chairs of Council's Diversity Initiatives Committee. "It was an effort on behalf of the students to really push for acknowledging for what really needs to be done in the future. We didn't let what the governor said about sexual orientation stop us. It really shows the power of reaching out to student groups and it shows that people in the state of Virginia want change - they want to see the inclusion of sexual orientation and the inclusion of gender identity."

Engineering School representative Seth Kaye, who sponsored the bill, noted that mobilization in favor of the resolution across Grounds largely has been the result of a grassroots effort that thus far has gained the support of 62 organizations on Grounds, including the Inter-Fraternity Council, Graduate Arts & Sciences Council and the Minority Rights Advocacy Coalition.

"I'm thrilled to see how supportive the community is," Kaye said. "I sent one e-mail out to the StudCo-CIO listserv, and the other leaders really took initiative and brought it up to their groups. I talked to a handful of groups, but certainly not 62."

Kaye said he already has spoken to President John T. Casteen, III, about the resolution. From here, the Council's Diversity Initiatives Committee plan to talk to members of the Faculty Senate and Board of Visitors.

Filipetti added that passing the resolution issues a strong statement on behalf of the University.

"It's really a strong and positive statement not only to the University community, but to the governor as the top public university in the state that we're making this statement and resoundingly so," she said.

Nevertheless, Filipetti noted that this is only an incremental stride toward a more open community.

"This is the groundwork," Filipetti said. "This is saying this is what the students want and now we're going to push for getting it actually included in the non-discrimination clauses, and then from there, push for not only changes at the state level, but possibly pushing for [the Employment Non-Discrimination Act] and to make it so that other universities that are in a similar position - as universities in Virginia are - don't have to deal with the same issues."

Kaye noted, though, that even targeting ENDA has limitations.

"It's important to recognize that ENDA is the Employment Non-Discrimination Act - that's only employment," Kaye said. "That's why it's only a small step - it's only workers; it's not students sitting at the lunch table."

Council President Colin Hood said passing this resolution is consistent with Council's core values.

"The goal of Student Council is to improve student life at the University," Hood said. "It shows that Student Council is sticking by its purpose. This is something that would progress the University and something that would make sure that we're doing our job."

Kaye also noted that the resolution is one example of social progress in the commonwealth.

"We've sent a clear message that the politics in Virginia has changed - you can't just shove these things under the rug; you can't just marginalize other groups," Kaye said. "This is not a political stance - this is about values."

Incoming Graduate Arts & Sciences Council President Heather Mastapeter is a supporter of the legislation.

"The graduate community is behind this resolution and we fully support it," Mastapeter said. "It protects teaching assistants, faculty, staff members and fellow students. We do endorse it and fully support it."

Similarly, Verena Kollig, a transgender female teaching assistant in the German department, spoke to Council in favor of the resolution from personal experience facing discrimination.

"It's my sincere wish to commend this resolution," Kollig said. "As a person who'd be affected, it's definitely an issue to go from one aisle of the office to another one because I can't pass that without [discriminatory] comments."

Filipetti noted that the resolution started as part of the Diversity Initiatives Committee's gender identity initiative that increased in importance after Gov. Bob McDonnell and University alumnus Attorney General Ken Cucinelli's statements regarding gender identity earlier this year.

"This is one of the most significant resolutions that Student Council has passed in some time," Filipetti added. "It speaks to our open-mindedness. And I hope other universities will follow in our footsteps"

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