By Peter Galuszka
All the talk of a “new” Virginia that is somehow the apple of Richard Florida’s “New Urbanist” eye got a drubbing this week when the General Assembly voted against a gay man for a judgeship, showing just how badly the social right-wing is running amok and how more thoughtful people can’t control them.
Tracy Thorne-Begland, an openly gay man who had been in the Navy for 20 years and had served as deputy commonwealth’s attorney in Richmond, was rejected as a new general district court judge. He was strongly opposed by the Family Foundation lobby and ultra-rightist Del. Bob Marshall who told CNN that “sodomy is not a civil right.”
Even Atty. Gen. Kenneth Cuccinelli had said that sexual orientation should not be a criteria for deciding judgeships. Ditto Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling. The man who looks the most gutless in this sorry episode is Gov. Robert F. McDonnell who had supported Thorne-Begland then left him twisting in the wind. The freshly rightist General Assembly had made McDonnell look so Neanderthal on gay and women’s issues just as he was making progress resetting himself as a moderate in a ploy to make him a vice presidential candidate.
The pathetic thing about all of this is that Virginia just can’t shed its historic tendencies for bigotry against African-Americans, gays or brown-skinned foreigners.
Over a vacation, I finished Robert A. Caro’s “Lyndon Johnson, The Passage to Power” which is part of a trilogy. This book covers LBJ from 1960 to 1965 from his hapless vice presidency to his dynamic leadership as the new president after John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
At one point, Johnson needed Virginia’s notoriously racist Senator and Kingmaker Harry F. Byrd to agree to a tax bill that would meet Byrd’s demands as head of the Senate Finance Committee to bring down the federal budget (sound familiar?). This was part of Johnson’s agenda for sweeping civil rights reform, which Byrd would naturally oppose.
After all, writes Caro, Byrd was openly hateful of African-Americans and had a very bad reaction when Virginia was forced to conform to the 1954 Brown versus Topeka decision by the Supreme Court that integrated schools and school buses. Caro writes:
“When a federal judge had issued a ruling to enforce it (integration) in Byrd’s native Virginia, the senator had pointed out the dangers. Six-year-old children of both races were going to be “assembled in little huts before the bus comes, and the bus will then be packed like sardines,” he said – and everyone knew what would come of that: What our people fear most is that by this close intimate contact future generations will intermarry.” Intermarriage! Miscegenation” the mongrel race. . . “
Substitute ‘gay” for “African-American” and you get Marshall, who is today’s “Byrd.”
Odd that one of our esteemed bloggers has just returned from a “New Urbanist” conference in Florida where he waxed eloquent on the teachings of Richard Florida, who believes that a “creative class” of innovators, many of them gay, will be more important than corporations in defining the future of cities. This is a world view one often reads in Bacon’s Rebellion – how Virginia fits very neatly into the Florida ideal.
What the Thorne-Begland decision shows, unfortunately, is that this world view is so much dreamy bullshit. The Old Dominion will never really advance until it sheds its Old Bigotry.