Yes, Virginia, There Is Discrimination

Finding Teachable Moments in the News
by Bill Taverner, CFLE Director

A. “I’m sorry, sir, we can’t hire you. Your skin is just too dark.”

B. “I’m sorry, ma’am, we can’t hire you. You’re in a wheelchair and all our professors are able-bodied.

C. “Your resume is very impressive, but you’re just too darn old. We’re trying to go with younger folks.”

D. “I’m sorry, but we’re only hiring people who are sexually turned on by the other sex.”

In most Virginia universities, it was against school policy (not to mention deeply offensive) to say any of these things to a person applying for a job. But, one of these responses has recently been suggested not just to be acceptable, but the only legally appropriate response. Can you guess which one?

State Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli instructed Virginia universities and colleges to remove language from their anti-discrimination policies that would protect people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender as they seek jobs. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force reports that there are 21 states (plus the District of Columbia) that have laws protecting people from discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity. See their map here. Wikipedia reports that there are 30 states (plus Washington D.C.) with anti-discrimination laws. Though it is a less reliable resource, Wikipedia has a cool, animated history of these laws since 1972. Click here. The animation provides a virtual study in protections being enacted, then taken away. For example, watch Louisiana, as civil rights emerge and depart in presidential election years. 1992: protected; 1996; unprotected; 2004: protected; 2008: unprotected.

And so this gay political football is passed ‘round and ‘round, while citizens wonder whether their gender and sexual interests, not their job qualifications, prevent them from getting an interview. If they are lucky enough to be employed, they must worry about their job security. Will their bosses, at some point, be legally entitled to say, “You’re gay! You’re fired!” as in some twisted episode of The Apprentice?

In Virginia, and in 28 other states, a boss can do exactly that. There are a million possible responses to this action. Some applaud the governor’s action; others shake their heads. Some cry; others celebrate. Many feel helpless as basic human rights continue to erode; others feel these rights were never legitimate to begin with. As we all wrestle with this very emotional subject, and more importantly what to do about it, I am reminded of several very smart sexuality educators who taught me the essential use of current events in sex ed.

Deborah Roffman
(Baltimore, MD) wrote about this topics years ago in the SIECUS Report; Peggy Brick (Kennett Square, PA) trains teachers on how to use newspapers as a sexuality education text; Martha Roper (Manchester, MO) routinely incorporates current events to teach about topical sexuality education subjects with her high school students; and Susie Wilson (Princeton, NJ) maintains the Sex Matters blog for the New Jersey Newsroom, where she frequently comments on current events as “teachable moments” for parents and teachers. In a recent blog, I discussed the apology Tiger Woods gave for his infidelity. Wilson discusses how the revelation of Woods’ affairs might be used as a teachable moment here.

So how might you use the recent decision in Virginia as a teachable moment for students? The CFLE has a few suggestions. You might read a short article about it to your students, such as the one from the New York Times. Or show the Wikipedia page mentioned earlier, and discuss the history of discrimination. Or read excerpts from this blog! Once you’ve equipped your students with some information about the subject, you might ask students to debate the issue. Divide the class into three large groups: one group defending the merits of the anti-discrimination laws; the second opposing anti-discrimination laws, and a third group serving as a jury to decide upon the merits of each set of arguments.

You could also simply raise some discussion questions. Some basic ones might include:
Why do you think states want to make laws that protect individuals against discrimination?

· What groups of individuals ARE protected from discrimination? Why might this be?
· What groups of individuals ARE NOT protected from discrimination? Why might this be?
· What criteria should there be for laws that protect groups of individuals from discrimination? (E.g., is it based on groups that have historically faced discrimination?)
· When, if ever, should the government allow discrimination in hiring practices?
· What consequences should there be for employers that discriminate in violation of the law?
· What do you think you would do if someone refused to hire you because of your gender or because of the gender of the person you were sexually attracted to?

And, you might also read the statements at the beginning of this essay and ask students which type of discrimination, if any, are to be deemed permissible by society?

One Response to “Yes, Virginia, There Is Discrimination”

  1. Bill

    Virginia is for Lovers…as deemed acceptable by the governor and attorney general.