F.C. School Board Defies Cuccinelli, Adds Protection for Lesbians, Gays

The City of Falls Church School Board, in an act of open defiance against a controversial ruling by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, moved to add, not remove, language to its anti-discrimination policy to protect lesbians and gays at its meeting Tuesday night.

The board also resolved unanimously to join with the Falls Church City Council, which was also unanimous in its tasking of the city attorney to draft a resolution for swift action to oppose Cuccinelli’s recent letter to state colleges and universities ordering them to remove gays and lesbians as “a protected class” from their anti-discrimination policies.

The School Board’s resolute action was tantamount to a form of “civil disobedience” against Cuccinelli, it was observed, in the context of a charged atmosphere sweeping the Commonwealth as rallies, protests and mobilizations escalated this week in strident opposition to the Cuccinelli ruling.

(In a late-breaking development yesterday afternoon, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell sought to defuse the controversy by issuing an anti-discrimination “standard of conduct” executive directive, his first since taking office in January, where he states explicitly, “The Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution prohibits discrimination without a rational basis against any class of persons,” including, he wrote, “discrimination based on factors such as one’s sexual orientation.” He added, therefore, “Discrimination against any class of persons without a rational basis is prohibited.”)

Yet another Falls Church entity, the F.C. Chamber of Commerce, moved in its own way to join the rising chorus against Cuccinelli, its board of directors having accepted the task of crafting a statement based on the chilling effect the attorney general’s statement will have on the business climate in the state. A statement was being prepared for an on-line vote by the organization’s board as the News-Press went to press last night.

Falls Church News-Press owner Nicholas F. Benton launched the mobilization in Falls Church this week, releasing a strongly-worded statement denouncing Cuccinelli’s opinion to other media outlets Monday afternoon, presenting it to the City Council Monday night, to the Chamber of Commerce board of directors Tuesday morning, and to the School Board, at Vice Chair Joan Wodiska’s invitation, Tuesday night.

Benton, a Chamber board member, is also a board member of the statewide Virginia Partisans Gay and Lesbian Democratic organization, and his statement, included in his national affairs column published elsewhere in this edition, stated that Cuccinelli’s action “represents a profound threat to the Commonwealth in a number of important ways.”

He cited four such ways, by stripping protections from a class of citizens “well-known for their susceptibility to discrimination, hate and violent attacks, from elementary school playgrounds through adulthood,” by harming economic development efforts to attract large corporations with anti-discrimination policies of their own, by undermining the efforts of communities to “foster a climate of friendship and concord,” and by fueling “a climate of intimidation and hate against all minorities.”

Falls Church City Council member Lawrence Webb also spoke out against Cuccinelli to his colleagues at the Council meeting Monday night. Webb, in his first term on the City Council, is on the board of the statewide Equality Virginia gay and lesbian advocacy organization. He cited the inability of the bill that passed the state senate to extend anti-discriminatory protections to gays and lesbians from making it out of a sub-committee in the House, blocked by four Republican votes.

Falls Church Mayor Robin Gardner, following supportive comments by all members of the Council, tasked City Attorney John Foster with drafting a resolution that the Council could vote on at its next meeting.

Former Falls Church area State Del. Vince Callahan, a Republican, was quoted in the Washington Post last weekend calling Cuccinelli’s action “reprehensible.”

The reaction against Cuccinelli was uniformly strong among Republicans, as well as Democrats, on the Falls Church City Council, Chamber board and School Board.

School Board member, and former City Councilman Kieran Sharpe cited Benton’s reference to “equal protection under the law,” affirming that language is included in the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as applicable to states and localities through due process. “It is very unfortunate that there is a lingering ambiguity about these matters,” he said, “and I hope that it will be resolved at all levels.”

At the Chamber board meeting Tuesday, the owner of one of the City’s largest employers, said the matter “is very, very important.” A draft of a statement being considered by the Chamber board notes that “many new and relocating businesses will choose to avoid Virginia because this posture on discrimination (by Cuccinelli-ed.) will have a profoundly chilling effect on prospective employees, contractors, vendors and customers.”

It adds, “Surveys confirm overwhelmingly that those seeking employment in the high-tech sectors of the national economy, such as defines the predominant economic growth of Northern Virginia, hold very strongly to values of equal rights and justice for all persons.”

Wodiska, who chaired Tuesday’s School Board meeting, worked with Chairman Ron Peppe to place the matter on the meeting’s agenda at the last minute “due to its urgency” as indicated in Benton’s comments to the City Council the night before, she said. She agreed to add gays and lesbians as “a protected class” to the school board’s formal policy documents, as proposed by Board member Kathy Chandler.

The rest of the board concurred. Board member Rosario Aguerreberre said she favored joining a School Board statement to the City Council’s so “it will have more punch,” she said.