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
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.”
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
Kaplan said. She has already
heard that an outstanding,
sought-after graduate student
turned down U.Va. due to HB 751.
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 to time:
promoting gay rights. This past
year, she helped revive U.Va.
Pride, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual,
Transgender Faculty, Staff and Graduate Student Association.
U.Va. Pride joined a statewide
education and lobbying network, Equality Virginia,
to organize a June 30 rally in Charlottesville s protesting
the new law. Kaplan said she sees awareness and support from allies
almost 400 people turning up for the rally, and
hundreds more attending similar events held
around the state the same day.
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
“The Women’s Center, where
the Sexual Assault Education Office is housed, also offered a welcoming
environment, making it“ a good place to work since day
one,” she said.
“Gay people have to make
their own individual decisions
about whether to come out every
single day of their lives,” Kaplan
it comes to bias against homosexuals, “most straight people
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
session late, in reaction to the national efforts legalizing
same-sex marriage in other parts of the
argued, among other things, the bill was necessary to preserve
basic moral values,
as well as maintain the value of the institution
of marriage and the status of children.
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, property rights
and taxes, and health and life insurance benefits.
“We call it the ‘marriage discrimination act,’” Kaplan
said. The ACLU has already filed a lawsuit challenging the law.
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
are hamstrung,” she said.
Kaplan would like to see U.Va. and other state universities
and colleges make the case that this law will negatively affect
recruitment and will
prompt good scholars and teachers to head for states where they are assured tolerance and