“In times of crisis, we must all decide again and again whom we love.” Frank O’Hara, Meditations in an Emergency
UPDATED 5:45 PM, October 30, 2019: OutWire757 is receiving multiple unconfirmed reports that Kenrick El did not resign today, despite mainstream media stories to the contrary. We’re keeping a close eye on these developments and will update both this post and our earlier news story when we have official confirmation either way.
Like all my other LGBTQ family members, I was shocked by Virginia Beach Human Rights Commissioner LaKendrick El’s recent assertions that that homosexuality is “an abomination” and a “mental illness.”
But every cloud has a silver lining, and my anger and disappointment was somewhat tempered when, in a moment of unity, all of our local LGBTQ leaders and organizations responded immediately and with urgency.
The day after El’s comments were made public, Hampton Roads Pride took the lead with an email to our community leaders urging that we band together to demand accountability from the Commission and the Council.
Within several hours, the community mobilized. Hampton Roads Pride, Hampton Roads Business Outreach (HRBOR), the LGBT Life Center, the Transgender Assistance Program of Virginia (TAPVA), the Hampton Roads LGBTQAI Interfaith Group, Stonewall Sports, and dozens of LGBTQ community leaders responded by bombarding the Council and Commission members with emails of protest and calling for El’s immediate resignation.
Many of our leaders then gathered on the front lawn of the Courthouse on the afternoon of October 24 to hold a press conference on the issue. Alongside Virginia Beach Mayor Bobby Dyer, our community stood as one and loudly proclaimed that we’re here, we’re queer, and we’re watching you.
Our visibility has also resulted in national and international mainstream and LGBTQ media outlets picking up the story, resulting in more bad press for Hampton Roads’ less-than-stellar equality record.
This morning, more than ten days after his comments surfaced, El finally resigned.
See, this is where the strength of our community has always resided: in unity. We can never forget that if it weren’t for the multitude of people, voices and opinions that came together at Stonewall 50 years ago, there never would have been a movement that would ultimately lead our community to where we are today.
We also must never forget that on every level there’s still work to be done.
The longer-term opportunity here is for the collective “us” to push not only Virginia Beach but all of Hampton Roads’ municipalities to establish human rights commissions that have real teeth and the authority to guide local policy, not just support it.
What does this mean?
Columbia University’s Human Rights Institute lays out these best practices for effective Human Rights Commissions:
- Monitor and document human rights issues.
- Assess local policy and practice in light of international human rights standards.
- Engage in human rights education.
- Incorporate human rights principles into a proactive advocacy effort.
- Investigate human rights complaints.
- Coordinate and implement local policy to integrate human rights principles.
I’d like to challenge our LGBTQ and all marginalized community leaders to channel the momentum demonstrated over the last week into continued unified action towards establishing Commissions in all of our cities that are empowered to engage in these practices.
If successful, we will ensure that no one like Kendrick El will again get away with dehumanizing any population. We will require that our local, state, and national governments not just aspire to be, but areinclusive.
Our unified voices in broad daylight are much more effective than lone voices in the night.