Equality Virginia, Virginia’s largest lGbt organization (big on the G, little on the rest), recently hired Jon Blair, a straight man, as the organization’s new Chief Operating Officer. Now I suppose one could argue effectively that a straight person can adequately fill this role, and I might agree . . . in theory. However, based on emails sent by Equality Virginia to its members and personal correspondence with the chair of the EV Board, Mr. Blair seems to have no prior experience working on LGBT issues either in a professional role or otherwise. We have given EV several opportunities to describe for us any LGBT advocacy experience Mr. Blair might have in his background, but they have been unwilling to cite any. Instead, here is how EV chose to officially respond to criticism of the hiring:
“Jon’s selection, we feel, also sends the right message that EV does not discriminate in our hiring practices…why should others? After all, EV’s lead legislative objective is non-discrimination in public employment for GLBT citizens; it would be hypocritical of us to judge or to rule out any applicants based on sexual orientation.”
Aside from patronizing and incendiary, this response completely misses the point of employment nondiscrimination legislation: to protect minority groups which have been historically discriminated against in hiring practices and to increase minority representation in various sectors of the workforce. The purpose of such legislation is not to safeguard the “right” of less-than-qualified individuals of majority status and privilege (eg, heterosexual, white, male, able-bodied) to take jobs that could have been filled by better qualified LGBTQ people with both direct knowledge of LGBT advocacy and the invaluable experience of operating as a sexual or gender minority in an oppressively heterosexist society. The latter interpretation of nondiscrimination legislation is rife with internalized homophobia.
In fact, Equality Virginia has a history of privileging heterosexual and mainstream voices over LGBT people. The following statement from the organization’s reply to criticism of Mr. Blair’s hiring describes this:
“There is absolutely no reason why Jon can’t convey GLBT concerns and issues just the same as our heterosexual lobbyist, Claire Guthrie Gastanaga, or the 3 heterosexuals on EV’s diverse Board of Directors, or the many straight allies we have across the state that volunteer their time and money to EV every year!”
(So money and support mean that LGBT people have to hand over the organization?)
The top two positions within EV, those of lobbyist and CEO, are now both filled by heterosexual people. We know from many polling studies in states with LGBT-related ballot initiatives that one of the single most important factors in determining whether a straight person supports LGBT rights is whether they know an LGBT person. What message does it send to have the two most public faces of the leading state-wide LGBT organization in Virginia be non-LGBT? It communicates that LGBT rights can better be won by placing straight, heteronormative people at the center of the discourse and by keeping LGBT people quietly hidden in the periphery. This is truly unacceptable and we feel it is necessary for people who feel similarly to voice their disapproval.
To this end, we in Virginia are asking others to join with us in solidarity as we call upon Equality Virginia to openly and publicly explain its decision to hire Mr. Blair despite his lack of specific experience and knowledge of LGBT issues and why they felt this decision was appropriate. If Mr. Blair does, in fact, have such experience we ask Equality Virginia to take responsibility for detailing that experience for its membership.
Here’s how you can help:
(1) First, sign our online petition at http://www.petitiononline.com/OutingEV/petition.html
(2) Next, help us spread the word, get press and put pressure on EV to respond. Copy this to other blogs, write letters to LGBT and mainstream press, and contact Equality Virginia directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
I’ll leave you with one last quotation from EV’s official reply:
“When asked why he wanted to be EV’s next leader, Jon replied with passion, ‘Because it’s the right thin[g] to do!’’
Was hiring a non-LGBT person with no experience working on LGBT issues the “right thin[g] to do”? We don’t think so.
LGBT and allied activists in Virginia