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UPDATED: Reaction begins to Cuccinelli letter to colleges on sexual orientation

Rosalind Helderman

We're starting to hear some reactions to Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's legal advice to public colleges and universities that they should remove language on sexual orientation from their campus nondiscrimination policies.

UPDATE: The full letter can be found here.

Several universities are so far officially declining to comment, indicating that their boards of visitors will have to examine Cuccinelli's advice and discuss how to proceed. That includes Longwood University, Virginia Tech and the College of William and Mary.

But students and others are offering their thoughts.

Carl Pucci, the president of the student body at Old Dominion University, thinks Cuccinelli's letter is likely to stir a strong response on campuses. "It's going to be a mess. There's no doubt about that," he said. "Our generation is really open-minded. The concept of discrimination, we're just not interested in that ... I think you're going to see the whole gamut, from angry letters to protests."

Chris Freund, a spokesman for the Family Foundation, which has long argued laws protecting employees from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation are unnecessary, applauded Cuccinelli for his consistency. He contested the idea, advanced by many professors, that these policies are unnecessary to attract top students and faculty.

"I find it hard to believe that this would be the final straw in whether or not someone's going to come to Virginia's universities," Freund said. "They are some of the best universities in the country. I think they can stand on their own without this policy."

By Rosalind Helderman  |  March 5, 2010; 12:02 PM ET
Categories:  Ken Cuccinelli , Rosalind Helderman  
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I realize this is breaking news and imagine you're still working on the complete story. Hopefully as it goes forward, you might be able to provide a bit more detail about Cuccinelli's letter:

-- was it sent to every member of the Boards of Visitors, to Rectors, and/or to college/university Presidents?

-- is it an official Opinion from the Office of the Attorney General?

-- if it is an official Opinion, who requested it?

Thanks in advance.

Posted by: jeffersonian1 | March 5, 2010 1:24 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Freund clearly doesn't know what he's talking about. UVA Law, one of the best law schools in the country, already has trouble bringing in GLBT students, because of the campus's reputation as having homophobic tendencies. This is not going to help.

-- A UVA Law alum

Posted by: Anonymous_Coward | March 5, 2010 1:33 PM | Report abuse

How does Cuccinelli do this with a straight face without accusing his predecessor of malfeasance?

Posted by: ajlerner1 | March 5, 2010 2:33 PM | Report abuse

Good point, ajlerner1!

Posted by: ViennaBelle | March 5, 2010 2:37 PM | Report abuse

It's mean-spirited and arrogant. Oh and by the way, it's also just plain incorrect.

Posted by: earthshock | March 5, 2010 3:57 PM | Report abuse

I don't know if your posting the full letter was in response to my questions but appreciate it regardless.

The letter would get an 'F' in legal reasoning but an 'A' in attempted bootstrapping. In essence, Cuccinelli is attempting to apply the Dillon Rule that applies to local governments to Boards of Visitors of state-supported colleges and universities. That's not just apples and oranges, it's apples and aardvarks.

There is the foolishness of the legal reasoning, the AG's lack of authority to act given there has apparently been no request for an official opinion and the overall waste of scarce state resources. Then there is the politics.

I would bet Vince Callahan's reaction is just the tip of the iceberg and that members of Boards of Visitors across the Commonwealth (as a group pretty high stature and pretty strong-willed folks) are furious with the AG.

Mr. Cuccinelli has opened a huge can of whoop-a** on himself and, probably, his party.

Posted by: jeffersonian1 | March 5, 2010 4:15 PM | Report abuse

The best part of this nonsense is that it will help prevent Ken Kookynutty from ever becoming governor. It was easy for him to slip in down-ticket in a big GOP year. That won't happen again.

Virginia fortunately has a history of rejecting the nuttiest rightwingers for statewide office, like Ollie North and Mike Farris.

Posted by: koolkat_1960 | March 5, 2010 4:33 PM | Report abuse

Apparently, Mr. Freund obviously does not know, or does not hold honest conversations with GLBT people who live in VA.

Let me assure you, Mr. Freund, this matters a GREAT deal to people who ARE gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered, and I ASSURE you it makes a difference to the Commonwealth of Virginia EVERY DAY OF THE YEAR, whether or not these types of widely supported and accepted, and common sense policies are in place in the law, or not.

GLBT people know far and wide where they are welcomed and treated equally, and they will go out of their way to work, live, and shop where they are valued.

Mr. Freund has no idea what he is talking about. As usual...

Posted by: DouginMountVernon | March 5, 2010 6:10 PM | Report abuse

I believe you meant "necessary" when you wrote "unnecessary" in the penultimate paragraph.

Posted by: jsmjr | March 5, 2010 6:21 PM | Report abuse

virginia has great schools?
you've GOT to be kidding

Posted by: newagent99 | March 5, 2010 7:10 PM | Report abuse

the simple outcome of this letter:
the state can fire you for being gay

Posted by: newagent99 | March 5, 2010 7:13 PM | Report abuse

the simple outcome of this letter:
the state can fire you for being gay
Then, presumably, it is also legal to fire someone for being straight.

Posted by: carlaclaws | March 5, 2010 7:53 PM | Report abuse

I am a gay man who works two jobs. My partner and I are productive and law-abiding members of society. We don't drive fancy cars. We pay our bills, and we try to help people whom are less fortunate than us.

Why is it that someone would treat us any different than a strait person, just because of whom we love?

It makes no sense what-so-ever to us that this kind of thing would happen in this day & age. This is a surely a huge step backwards for society, and my partner and I are certainly re-considering where we will be living and spending our money in the future.

Posted by: FritzLiebig | March 5, 2010 9:41 PM | Report abuse

How Sad. As a lifelong Virginian, it pains me to see my state retreat back into ignorance. To think that in the first two months of Republican rule they need to attack gays twice. First in eliminating the benefits for same sex state employees and now this absurd conjecture from our imbecile of an AG. Id like to believe that Virginians will not tolerate such discrimination in this day and age. I know I raised my child better!

Posted by: iabucus | March 6, 2010 8:31 AM | Report abuse

Apparently this is not an official Attorney General opinion as no request was made for it. Even if the letter was an AG opinion it is important to remember that an AG opinions are just that, opinions. They do not have the force of law and a recipient is free to have another opinion, i.e., ignore it. It used to be much easier to ignore Mr. Cuccinelli and four years from now we doubtless can return to that happy state.

Posted by: keith684 | March 6, 2010 8:38 AM | Report abuse

This ideiot Va AG has just made a difficult decision for me, much easier to make. My son was accepted to VaTech and Caltech. Guess which university I will NOT be paying for. Welcome to Pasadena junior! Cucinnelli you need therapy my friend.

Posted by: LibDad | March 6, 2010 9:32 AM | Report abuse

The AG should realize that campaigning is over and governing has begun. There's no need for him to continue appealing to his, fortunately, minority homophobic base. Ken! It's 2010, not 1910. Get with the times.

Posted by: gshuman | March 6, 2010 10:20 AM | Report abuse

I am a Maryland resident who is living in Virginia helping with my aging parents. Fair minded Virginians and the LGBT community, I, along with the Governor of Maryland, Martin O'Malley, invite you to come to Maryland. We have excellent colleges. University of Maryland operates the oldest school of dentistry in the nation. Baltimore has some problems, but it is culturally diverse and welcoming. I also welcome businesses to consider Maryland over Virginia due to the citizens of Virginia voting for a governor who is a bigot. Northrup Grumman, I hope you are listening, and consider the Maryland suburbs of DC (accessible by METRO's red line) to locate your HQ. The suburbs of Maryland are congested just like the Hampton Roads area, but in Maryland, you'll enjoy the benefit of established public transportation, and your employees wont be stuck in the I95 parking lot between DC and Woodbridge. Hampton Roads is a losing bet due to too much growth without the necessary supporting infrastructure. Talk to anyone who commutes by car (no pubtrans)from Virginia Beach to Norfolk every morning.

Posted by: scooter883 | March 6, 2010 10:23 AM | Report abuse

First Gov. McDonnell removes language from his executive order that would prevent all state employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation. Second, AG Cucinelli follows with a recommendation to state universities to do the same. Soon anyone who works in any institution that receives state money will lose these protections. Both McDonnell and Cuccinelli used the convenient excuse that this language must be approved by the General Assembly, so if you care about this issue, write to your state representative and tell them you are against discrimination based on sexual orientation and you want that language specifically added to VA anti-discrimination laws. It is also a good idea to write to VA state schools and encourage them NOT to follow Cuccinelli's legal advice.

Posted by: katabann | March 6, 2010 10:31 AM | Report abuse

This is a setback for all Virginians (all Americans) not just GLBT people. People were told electing these nuts would turn back time, drill baby drill. Welcome to the deep south, can the AG be recalled?

Posted by: bwelch | March 6, 2010 10:34 AM | Report abuse

One word for all your collage and work needs... M-A-R-Y-L-A-N-D. Lets leave Gov'ner Bob, Ken "the "closet" case" Cuccinelli, and old preacher boy Patti Robertson in Virginia to burn themselves a special place in hell

Posted by: vincegrimmett | March 6, 2010 10:40 AM | Report abuse

This would be another step backward for the country...more RepubliCON rubbish!

Posted by: DickNH | March 6, 2010 10:41 AM | Report abuse

Does anyone remember when Cuccinelli was in the General Assembly and accepted political contributions from a Middle Eastern group with ties to terrorists? He refused to return the money so I wrote the little ditty that follows:
Osama Loves Me
(with apologies to "Jesus Loves Me")

Osama loves me this I know
'Cause his buddies send me dough
To give it back would make me cry
He's conservative and so am I.
Yes, Osama loves me
Yes, Osama loves me
yes, Osama loves me
His buddies tell me so

The Al Queda's misunderstood
They's be welcome in my 'Hood
I like them like a bee likes honey
Especially when they give me money
The Taliban should be our pals
They know how to treat their gals
They like me hat porn and smut
I should know, I'm a right wing nut.
Money's what makes my campaign tick
Where it comes from's not my shtick
So Taliban everywhere heed this call
So I'll be elected again this Fall.

Posted by: keith684 | March 6, 2010 10:50 AM | Report abuse

jeffersonian1 and others:

Dillon's Rule clearly applies to Boards of Visitors and other like creations of the state. These boards only have the powers that are delegated to them by the state.

I certainly oppose discrimination against gays and lesbians. In fact, I support giving the same rights to same sex couples as to married couples (which is a much more complex issue) but the legal reasoning of the opinion is sound. The BOV of a state university is a creation of the state even moreso than a local government. Such a board cannot go off and do whatever it pleases. The proper (and more democratic) way to go about this is to get state legislation passed.

Posted by: jessej | March 6, 2010 11:14 AM | Report abuse

I am one of many people I know who have moved out of Virginia to get away from this neanderthal mentality. This includes straight and gay people, BTW. I also know a lot of people that won't visit Virginia--including wine buffs in NY/Philly/Boston--that would be perfect targets for tourism marketing. When you consider how these policies hurt Virginians--their own children--and hurt Virginia's economy, it's just amazing to me how the bigots are able to justify their actions to themselves.

Posted by: lobonick | March 6, 2010 11:22 AM | Report abuse

I would not fire a person because they were bald.

I also would not fire a person because they were gay.

But I also do NOT believe that bald people (and gay people) are entitled to be a "protected class" with all sorts of special legal rights.

Cucinelli is not saying that it's OK to discriminate based on sexual preference. He's saying that there are no grounds to create YET ANOTHER group of "special" people who should be treated differently from everyone else.

That's a big difference from active discrimination.

Take a moment and think rationally instead of reacting to the soundbites. We don't need yet another group of people who believe they are special and can sue any employer at the drop of a hat.

Posted by: sw11231 | March 6, 2010 12:53 PM | Report abuse

- '"I find it hard to believe that this would be the final straw in whether or not someone's going to come to Virginia's universities," Freund said.'

Final straw? No. A factor of some importance? Absolutely, at least for me. As someone who will pursue a law degree beginning this fall, I crossed several Virginia schools off of my list simply because I don't intend to study and practice in a state run by a bunch of good old boys who pine for the 1950s, if I can help it. Perception builds reality. And I'm blessed to have options.

I also wonder if businesses who might otherwise relocate to Virginia might also have second thoughts. Who needs the PR hit of dealing with this?

Posted by: Route1 | March 6, 2010 1:09 PM | Report abuse

This letter can no more be called genuine "legal advice" than John Yoo's torture memos can. The real story here is an attorney general who misunderstands his own job. An attorney general is not a Fuhrer who gets to roam around the state issuing decrees based on his personal bigotries. This zealot is making of mockery of the office of attorney general.

Posted by: uh_huhh | March 6, 2010 1:26 PM | Report abuse

I personally know a few younger people who are currently looking at colleges and grad schools, and who will rule VA schools out if they rescind the anti-discrimination policy. I know the plural of anecdote isn't data, but there are at least four people who would choose not to go to a VA school based on this possibility alone.

User carlaclaws brings up an interesting point. Under current policy, straight people are protected. If the policy is rescinded, it is possible (though admittedly not likely) that a straight person could be denied a job, tenure, etc. based on their straightness. Current policy protects everybody from orientation-based discrimination, not just gay people.

Posted by: dkp01 | March 6, 2010 1:39 PM | Report abuse

Face it: these people and the Virginia government WANT to discourage students and faculty (and gov't employees) who are L, G, B or T. It's not a question of arguing with them that they will hurt enrollment etc. They WANT gay people to know that they are NOT welcome. They just pushed us; they just poked us in the chest. They just hung another sign on the front door of Virginia that says:



So, the question is: what are we going to do about it?

Posted by: LawsLuvr | March 6, 2010 1:46 PM | Report abuse

I guess it's a lot easier for these morons to go on antigay witch hunts instead of dealing with health care or unemployment. That is what happens when elect a nut case who thinks women should not work outside the home.

Posted by: orange3 | March 6, 2010 1:47 PM | Report abuse

Republicans across the land have to shove peoples sexuality back at them and say everyone gets treated equally in the eyes of the goverment...
if dems could read thats exactly what the A.G. did...
no preference for gays...
equality for all...

Posted by: DwightCollins | March 6, 2010 2:21 PM | Report abuse

To Mr. Freund: I would absolutely choose not to go to school in VA because of this. I don't want to be a part of an institution that thinks its ok to offer protections to some groups and not others...people are people and they shouldn't be cut down or treated like second class citizens because our state government is full of bigots who dole out "legal advice" asking us to take a step back instead of a step forward. I hope Virginia schools that choose to subscribe to this advice see their student rosters and faculty rosters fall. I hope others take a stand against this...I know I certainly won't look at any school for my Masters that doesn't offer equal protections.

Posted by: fedup81 | March 6, 2010 2:30 PM | Report abuse


While Dillon's Rule does limit organs of the state to those powers expressly delegated to them, Cuccinelli's letter is rather unpersuasive in making the argument that the powers of the various Boards of Visitors do not include the ability to affirmatively ban discrimination based on factors not present in the VA Human Rights Act. Banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is consistent with the express and implied powers granted to universities under Virginia law, and therefore Dillon's Rule does not change the analysis.

There's also the additional consideration that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is inherently and necessarily also discrimination on the basis of sex, which means that instituting a policy which did not cover the former two would be in violation of the General Assembly's statute, the subsequent amendments notwithstanding.


Bans on discrimination on the basis of certain classifications do not grant anyone "special rights." Everyone is protected from being discriminated against on the basis of race, for instance, regardless of what race they are. Similarly with sex. To the extent you believe that banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity would grant anyone "special rights," you are merely demonstrating your own heterosexist and cisgendered privilege, in that you do not have to worry about being discriminated against on the basis of those factors.

Posted by: Anonymous_Coward | March 6, 2010 2:31 PM | Report abuse

It's accepted that most people think Kenny is a right-wing nut job with issues.
Now we know he's also a really bad attorney.

Posted by: pfallsgirl | March 6, 2010 2:53 PM | Report abuse

That's Virginia--five hundred years of tradition unhampered by progress.

Posted by: bkcarolina | March 6, 2010 2:59 PM | Report abuse

After living (and paying taxes) in VA for more than 30 years, my partner and two year-old daughter recently moved to Silver Spring, MD to escape the draconian laws of the Commonwealth. Now, not only can we do a second parent adoption, but our marriage will also be legally recognized. It just baffles me that 58% of you out there voted for this fruitcake. Buyer beware. Virginia is for HATERS!

Posted by: gethantaylor | March 6, 2010 3:07 PM | Report abuse

There are comments on this post which are written anonymously. The blog commenting system automatically tags those as being posted by "Anonymous_Coward".

While normally a humorous rejoinder, originally from slashdot, when applied to someone writing against the repeal of protections against discrimination for being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered -- in which many of the community choose to remain anonymous to avoid legal discrimination -- labelling such comments as by an "Anonymous_Coward" seems unnecessarily inflammatory. should change this label to something less inflammatory.

Posted by: rutledge1 | March 6, 2010 3:19 PM | Report abuse

I find it truly sad that a great state like Virginia would willingly take a step back into the past and not forward into the future. I attended WWRC in Fishersville VA to learn how to deal with a life-long learning disability from 1987-1989 and it was a great place and I felt very safe there as a disabled person. I will not visit Virginia again until they rescind this idiotic policy and legislate the way forward for ALL not just straights. SHAME SHAME SHAME you BIGOTS

Posted by: grossdc2 | March 6, 2010 3:29 PM | Report abuse

Cu Clux Cuccinelli is a right-wing terrorist who must be impeached, prosecuted, and brought to justice.

Posted by: patrickschabe | March 6, 2010 3:48 PM | Report abuse

These posts are not very persuasive. They seem only designed to incite hatred.

I often wish that conservatives would be more tolerant, but conservative who love Virginia are less offensive than liberals who hate Virginia. And the truth is that liberals will always hate Virginia for something.

It's saddening to see gay activists compare their agenda to civil rights. Black Americans have always had excellent leadership.

Posted by: blasmaic | March 6, 2010 3:51 PM | Report abuse

This is a sad day for Virginia...there are tons of other issues our AG should be working on but he'd rather spend my tax dollars taking the state backwards. I need to move!

Posted by: shottot | March 6, 2010 4:31 PM | Report abuse

"These posts are not very persuasive. They seem only designed to incite hatred.

I often wish that conservatives would be more tolerant, but conservative who love Virginia are less offensive than liberals who hate Virginia. And the truth is that liberals will always hate Virginia for something.

It's saddening to see gay activists compare their agenda to civil rights. Black Americans have always had excellent leadership."

And *that* was your idea of a "persuasive" post?

Let's see: Liberals hate Virginia? It's "saddening" to compare two groups' struggles for civil liberties? You wish that conservatives would be "more tolerant," but then you denigrate the gay and lesbian community by implication?

Brilliant argumentation.

Posted by: Route1 | March 6, 2010 6:53 PM | Report abuse

According to Wikipedia:
In 2004, Cuccinelli stated "homosexuality is wrong"[16] and during his 2009 campaign for attorney general opposed a nondiscrimination policy against gays and lesbians and stated about homosexual acts: "I happen to think that it represents (to put it politely; I need my thesaurus to be polite) behavior that is not healthy to an individual and in aggregate is not healthy to society."[17]
What Cuccinelli should do is resign from his post and keep his beliefs to himself. As a public official he should act as the AG of all the people regardless of ones beliefs- in short his thoughts is his and only his and not grandstand on a futile effort. Disclosure, I myself think homosexuality is not a good thing in my opinion, but I will never discriminate or debase homosexuals as individuals. They should be free to live their lives. Live and let live.

Posted by: ere591 | March 6, 2010 8:49 PM | Report abuse


I'm an attorney, and somewhat of an "expert" on Dillon's Rule. I also have represented numerous plaintiffs in sexual discrimination suits. I'm sorry to tell you that both of your legal conclusions are incorrect.

Sexual preference is not a protected class under federal law even though Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of "sex" (defined as "gender").

For the definitive piece on Dillon's Rule (although I don't touch on entities other than local governments, because it's obvious for those other entities) see:

Posted by: jessej | March 6, 2010 9:32 PM | Report abuse

The people of Virginia elected this idiot? I hate to tell them this, but their ability to attract first rate faculty will definitely be impacted if this ruling stands. What a nut!

Posted by: nymec | March 6, 2010 10:05 PM | Report abuse

This is about civil rights for all Americans and a history of discrimination and fear repeating itself. Mr. Cuccinelli is using his office to push his religious beliefs and uneducated fear against another minority. In turn, what he is doing will cause more innocent Americans to be harmed. History has shown that Americans will stand up and support civil rights for all citizens. Any woman who supports Cuccinelli's decision only has to remember that someone fought for their right to vote and their voice to be heard and their voice shouldn't be used to discriminate against another minority. Any African American who supports Cuccinelli's decision only has to look in the mirror and remember the decades of horrific treatment and fight for civil rights. Their voice shouldn't be used to discriminate against another minority. When will the superpower of the world learn how to treat all their citizens with the same respect and civil rights? It's time to stop torturing the LGBT community and afford them the same civil rights that other Americans enjoy. It's time for our legislatures to do the people's business and stand up for all the citizens of this country. Fear is an ugly disease. After the Gays, who will be next to discriminate against? Education, understanding and compassion are the key to dissolving fear and eradicating discrimination. In the spirit of Thomas Jefferson, grant the right of equality to all that they are already born deserving!

Posted by: vaoceangal | March 7, 2010 7:17 AM | Report abuse

I have already sent a letter to the UVa Board of Visitors explaining my strong feelings about this bigoted letter. I told them that I will cease all donations to the University and the alumni association should they not act decisively in rejecting Mr. Cucinelli's request. I'm sure they will be receiving many letters such as mine.

Mr. Freund, by the way, is an idiot. Not only does this bother students considering VA colleges, it also will greatly affect faculty hiring. And as I said above, it should have a great affect on giving as well, which state universities rely on more than state funds at this point in time.

Posted by: jak2 | March 7, 2010 12:13 PM | Report abuse

It looks to me as though Cuccinelli is positioning himself to run for Governor. He'll have a fight on his hands, particularly with younger voters.

Posted by: mprevo | March 7, 2010 1:14 PM | Report abuse

Thank you, Mr. Cuccinelli. What you have done out of hate and ignorance will serve to more equality rights issues to the top.

Posted by: bobbarnes | March 7, 2010 1:33 PM | Report abuse

Cuccinelli will never hold another elected office.

Posted by: squier13 | March 7, 2010 2:47 PM | Report abuse

Cucc.'s radical "opinion" is devoid of legal support. To Jesse - Dillon's Rule does not apply. Public universities are state instrumentalities, which are completely different from local governmental bodies, municipalities, etc. And in any event, universities have very broad delegated powers - even Cucc. recognizes that.
The only relevant legal question is whether creating an anti-discrimination policy including sexual orientation is "contrary to" a specific state law. It is not. Virginia courts are clear -- prohibiting a broader scope of behavior than prohibited by a state statute is NOT contrary to said state statute.

Posted by: univlaw1 | March 8, 2010 4:11 PM | Report abuse

To sw11231: What an ass-wipe you are. It is not about creating a group with special rights. It is about protecting a group of people who are singled out for attacks and firing due to factors beyond their control. You smell like a bigot. Let me ask you, did you marry one of your cousins?

Posted by: wjfreeman1 | March 10, 2010 3:54 PM | Report abuse

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