Voice of diversity
By Anne Bromley
A faculty member’s partner — who has chronic
health problems — has
no health benefits and cannot adopt their daughter, because two-parent adoption
for anyone other than legally married couples is illegal in Virginia.
economic and emotional stress is immeasurable. If one bad
thing were to happen … that’s
the fear that shrouds our lives,” said Claire Kaplan, U.Va.’s Sexual
Assault Education Coordinator who happens to be the gay faculty member mentioned
above. She has discovered that many in the University community “have no
clue some of their colleagues don’t have the same benefits.”
Regardless of one’s personal opinions about homosexuality, a new Virginia
law, HB 751, which as of July 1 prohibits civil unions and contracts between
people of the same sex, may have repercussions for U.Va., Kaplan said. She foresees
that the University will lose some faculty members or job candidates despite
having improved the climate for diversity in other ways.
Although her job offering services for sexual assault
education is activist in nature, Kaplan has dusted
off an unofficial role she has taken on from
time: promoting gay rights. This past year, she helped revive U.Va. Pride,
the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Faculty, Staff and Graduate Student
U.Va. Pride joined a statewide education and lobbying
network, Equality Virginia, to organize a June
30 rally in Charlottesville protesting the
new law. Kaplan
said she sees awareness and support from allies growing, with almost
400 people turning up for the rally, and hundreds more attending similar
the state the same day.
A native Southern Californian, Kaplan came to U.Va. in
1991 having already “come
out” as a lesbian. Over the years she has seen the University take steps
to provide a more inclusive and safer environment — by allowing space for
the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Center in Newcomb Hall, for example. Students,
she said, are more accepting and further ahead on related issues than faculty
Women’s Center [where the Sexual Assault Education Office is housed]
has been a good place to work since day one,” she said.
people have to make their own individual decisions about
whether to come out every single day of their lives,” Kaplan pointed out.
When it comes to bias against homosexuals, “most straight people change
their minds when they get to know someone who is gay or lesbian” and become
more accepting, she has found. But she knows other employees who have changed
jobs because of fear of reprisals if they came out about their sexual orientation.
HB 751, presented by Virginia Del. Robert Marshall, R-Manassas,
and known as the Affirmation of Marriage Act, came to the legislative
to the national efforts legalizing same-sex marriage in other
parts of the country. Proponents argued, among other things,
moral values, as well as maintain the value of the institution
of marriage and the status of children.
The new law states that “a civil union, partnership contract or other arrangement
between persons of the same sex purporting to bestow the privileges or obligations
of marriage is prohibited. Any such civil union, partnership contract or other
arrangement entered into by persons of the same sex in another state or jurisdiction
shall be void in all respects in Virginia and any contractual rights created
thereby shall be void and unenforceable.”
Some gay-rights supporters fear the law could be applied
to arrangements that address child custody, hospital visitation
rights and taxes,
as well as health and life insurance benefits.
call it the ‘marriage discrimination act,’” Kaplan said.
The ACLU has already filed a lawsuit challenging the law.
In the meantime, the new law could put U.Va. in an
awkward position. “The
struggles here to make the University a safe place for gays and lesbians are
hamstrung,” she said.
U.Va. could still take a public stand on the issue
of fairness — that all
employees should have equal access to benefits — even if it could not act
on that stance at this time.
Kaplan would like to see U.Va. and other state universities
and colleges make the case that this law will negatively
will prompt good
scholars and teachers to head for states where they
are assured tolerance and equal rights.