HRC Blog

Harnessing the Power of College Activists in Virginia

This post comes from HRC Youth and Campus Outreach Associate Director Candace Gingrich-Jones: On Friday I had the chance to return to the Commonwealth of Virginia as I headed to the University of Richmond, which was hosting Equality Virginia’s “Generation Equality” conference. Pretty catchy name, huh? Each year a different campus hosts the statewide conference, bringing together hundreds of queer and allied students to learn how to make a difference through activism. It was my first trip to VA in a while -- I’ve been to Roanoke, Richmond and Shenandoah Valley prides; spoken at Virginia Tech, George Mason and UVA; and worked in partnership with Equality Virginia. It didn’t hurt that the previous ED of Equality Virginia was an old rugby teammate of mine! The current head of Equality Virginia, Jon Blair, opened things up and got the crowd going with a great call to action. The crowd was already pretty fired-up – I mean, how can you be a college student in Virginia where your Attorney General tries to tell your schools they can’t institute  non-discrimination policies and not be fired up? This was a fun group to talk to – for all the “fun” that had been going on in VA with Attorney General Cuccinelli and with Governor Bob McDonnell over the past few weeks. But I was also excited because here was a group of young people who were already stirring up trouble (the good kind) and I got to just stir things up a bit more. The reason we call this cohort Generation Equality is because of their overwhelming support of LGBT equality issues – from hate crime laws to ending "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" and all the way to full marriage equality. They get it – queer and straight alike. Which makes them the most supportive generation ever in our country. But usually my message hinges around the idea that equality doesn’t magically happen -- just because a certain number of people support something doesn’t produce results. There needs to be action taken and what I’d seen happening was VA college students taking a whole lot of action:

  • Virginia Commonwealth University students marched to & rallied at the state capitol in Richmond
  • George Mason University Law School students organized a protest to welcome AG Cuccinelli who was speaking there
  • Christopher Newport University had a meeting planned of Young Republicans and College Democrats to work together on a response
  • Nearly every VA college had started a Facebook group about the topic with over 10K followers total
  • A FB group was formed called We Don’t Want Discrimination in Our Colleges & Universities that within days had over 8K followers

Now that is turning beliefs into action! So I stirred them up a bit more and then asked them to take action on a national issue: contacting Senator Jim Webb about the repeal of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell." I got the chance to introduce HRC staffer Terry McGuire who was in VA focusing on grassroots efforts to reach Senator Webb – he would be meeting with the students at a breakfast the next day. I challenged the students to take the passion and commitment they had shown in the past few weeks and focus it on convincing Senator Webb to vote the right way on DADT. I ended my talk by admitting that I actually agreed with something that Attorney General Cuccinelli had said. “Campus activism is an old tradition in America – and it’s a good one”. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

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