Gay Judge In Virginia: Blind Justice
In May 2012, in the final days of the annual session of the Virginia General Assembly (legislative body), the House of Delegates (lower house), failed to approve the appointment of openly gay and Navy veteran Tracy Thorne-Begland, at that time Chief Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney for the City of Richmond, to the General District Court in the same city. Of 100 elected delegates, the official vote tally was 33 in favor (bipartisan), 31 against, ten abstentions and 26 legislators casting no vote whatsoever. The legislators arguing in opposition publicly (and on legislative record) used the usual homophobic litany of "advancing the 'gay agenda' and homosexual recruitment."
Because the nomination wasn't passed by the House of Delegates, it never reached the state Senate for a vote. This blatant bigoted and discriminatory legislative action garnered the attention of both national and international media, broadcast and print, of both the GLBT and mainstream communities. The Virginia Bar Association, which had endorsed the appointment of Thorne-Begland, condemned the vote and publicly chastised the legislators. Even the archconservative and homophobic GOP Governor of Virginia was cornered into offering a lukewarm and weak "regret" over the incident.
On June 14, 2012, after the legislators returned home, the judges of the City of Richmond Circuit Courts convened, flexed their collective muscle and unanimously voted to seat Tracy Thorne-Begland as probationary judge on the General District Court, 13th Judicial District located in the Manchester Courthouse in the City's southside. The indecisive legislators and ardent homophobes were forced to munch on that dish of the proverbial crow until the House was back in session in January, 2013.
Blind justice as practiced by the City of Richmond judges, the judicial and not the legislative arm of government, finally evolved into poetic justice when the Virginia General Assembly was called to order for its 2013 session this year. One of the first orders of business was the issue of either confirming or rejecting the Commonwealth's only openly gay judge. The moment of truth finally back in the collective laps of the legislature. Having been publicly chastised and humiliated by their disgusting behavior last Spring, evidently the citizens had conveyed their displeasure to their respective representatives so history would not repeat itself.
The House of Delegates, despite an effort by GOP and other associated bigots, passed Tracy Thorne-Begland's nomination to the judiciary with a vote of 66-28 with one abstention and five representatives not voting.. The delegate vote was bipartisan with more than 30 GOP members opting to confirm. Not wanting to risk another embarrassing incident, the House of Delegates conducted the approval after a brief interview with the nominee and then a full vote.
The nomination bill then went directly to the state Senate where it was fast-tracked for a vote. The senators approved the nomination 28-0 with twelve GOP members not voting rather than publicly going on record as opposed to the candidate. Obviously, they were shamed by the earlier media exposure and also fearful of being labelled as "prejudiced" or worse. The homophobic GOP Governor did not hesitate to assent to the bill. Tracy Thorne-Begland is now an official openly-gay judge and no longer temporary.
This entire disgusting and hateful episode underscores the necessity of the Federal protection that ENDA provides. The "Jim Crow" mentality is alive and well in the "New" South and in a state just across the Potomac River from the national capital. Discrimination and marginalization persist even in this relatively new century just as it did in the old. Old habits always fade away slowly when there are no Federal prevention guidelines to guarantee equality for all.
The fact that this travesty of justice involved such blatant exclusion by a body of elected representatives only heightens the urgency of ENDA. It proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that stupid and stigma exist well beyond the perceived limits of the electoral process. The time for the passing of ENDA is now, before another similar incident occurs within the Commonwealth of Virginia or elsewhere.
Peace! Get naked. Enjoy!