The College of William and Mary looks poised to take a bold, and essential, step toward the protection of gender identity and expression on campus. Due to the combined efforts of student and faculty members, specifically professors Eugene Tracy and Leisa Meyer, the College’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities will soon include language preventing discrimination based on gender identity and expression, becoming one of more than 150 colleges and universities nationwide to introduce such language. It is a long overdue change to College policy, and we will be glad to see it implemented.
College President Taylor Reveley has stressed that the policy change is nothing more than a clarification and that the College already does not discriminate on these grounds. But the clarification is an important one. Ambiguities in policy will merely serve to protect narrow-minded intolerance, and prove a barrier to the equality to which we aspire. So, while it is good to see such ideals defended, it’s even better to see that defense backed up by concrete action.
This is why we find Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s recent change to statewide policies regarding discrimination extremely disappointing. McDonnell has both repealed an order that included sexual orientation in the state’s anti-discrimination policy, as well as discontinued a proposal that would have, in effect, extended the benefits of state employees to their same-sex partners. Despite these actions, his office maintains that it supports equal opportunity in the workplace.
This answer is insufficient. It is not enough to mouth ideals of equality while upholding the standards that actively subvert it. The business world has come to realize that an employee’s identity — race, gender or sexual orientation — has no bearing on that person’s performance in the workplace, and McDonnell’s statement seems to acknowledge that. But until this realization is translated into explicit policy changes, it will continue to provide a safe-haven for prejudice and intolerance. It’s an easy step to draft a press release defending workplace equality, but without change, these are just empty words.