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Discrimination: A competitiveness issue


Report by Chris Graham
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Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a moral evil. Got that. Interesting approach from gay, lesbian and transgender activists in Virginia – playing not the moral but the economic-competitiveness card.

“We want you to be sure you tell your employees that you’re bringing the facts of life – and the facts of life are that when they cross the border into Virginia, if they were legally married somewhere else, they’re not going to be married anymore. And if they had a registered domestic partnership in California, they won’t have a partnership anymore that’s enforceable. Those are the kinds of things in terms of moving human capital across state lines that becomes an impediment to businesses being able to function,” Equality Virginia lobbyist Claire Guthrie Gastanaga said in an interview for Monday’s AFP Show podcast talking about the news of the day on the discrimination front.

Where to start – first there’s the letter that nobody has seen but everybody is talking about apparently sent by the office of the new attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, to the College of William and Mary regarding the school’s antidiscrimination policy, which social conservatives feel is over the top in its protections in the sexual-orientation area, and Cuccinelli’s office reportedly feels is out of bounds with state law.

Then there’s the recent move of the Republican-majority House of Delegates to kill legislation that would have prohibited discrimination based on race, color, religion, age, and sexual orientation.

Protections against discrimination have been traditionally enacted through executive order, but Gov. Bob McDonnell’s nondiscrimination executive order does not protect workers from discrimination based on sexual orientation.

“I’m disappointed with the House’s actions, but I can’t say I’m surprised,” said State Sen. Donald McEachin, D-Henrico, the author of SB 66, which passed the State Senate with a 23-17 vote.

“If we are going to be an inclusive society and a society that does not discriminate, then we should have passed this bill to protect our state workers. It is far past time we ensure our personnel decisions are made on ability and not personal characteristics,” said McEachin, whose bill was identical in language to the nondiscrimination executive order issued by Gov. Tim Kaine in 2006.

The legislation would have applied only to the state government and its employee-hiring and management practices.

McEachin introduced SB 66 after McDonnell said it was the job of the General Assembly to identify classes of workers for protection.

It would seem to be clear that the McDonnell statement was an attempt to pass the buck on the worker-protection issue. The gambit is already hampering economic-development efforts in Virginia. Northrop Grumman, which is publicly mulling a move of its corporate headquarters to Virginia, is being wooed by neighboring Maryland, where a state senator cited the recent actions of McDonnell and Cuccinelli as a potential sticking point for the progressive-minded company in making a move to a Virginia that is not as open for business as it was just a few months ago.

“Virginia is one of only 20 states that continue to allow a person to be fired just because he or she is gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender,” said Jon Blair, the CEO of Equality Virginia, at a Monday press conference to talk about the discrimination issues in the current events.

The question for the Northrup Grummans of the world, then – you’re sure you want to come here?

“What we’re saying is, Look, we want you to come to Virginia,” Gastanaga said. “You’re already the state’s fifth-largest employer. We’d love to have your corporate headquarters here because you’re a progressive company. We want you to be an advocate for the state having the same kinds of policies that you afford your employees.”

But, Gastanaga said, companies considering setting up shop in Virginia need to be up on what moving here can mean.



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