By Daniel Lombardo
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – On a windy and dreary Valentine’s Day, about 40 VCU students and other Richmond residents held a rally to protest legislation they said would undermine a litany of rights – from abortion rights and gay rights to voting rights and free speech.
The sky was overcast as a brisk wind crinkled and fluttered the corners of rally posters.
“Look me in the eye and tell me I’m inferior,” read one. Another said, “I’m young … I’m a voter … I’m a student … Give me my healthcare back!!!” A third featured an illustration of two men kissing.
The third annual Equal Rights Rally was organized by the VCU Young Democrats, with support from Students for a Democratic Society, the NAACP and the Virginia Alliance of Student Activism.
Participants at the rally said they opposed bills declaring that human embryos and fetus have the same rights as other persons in Virginia; requiring women to get an ultrasound of their fetus before they can have an abortion; and ending funding of abortions for poor women carrying babies with birth defects.
The protesters also criticized measures allowing adoption agencies to discriminate against gay applicants; requiring welfare recipients to undergo drug testing; prohibiting people without sufficient identification from voting; and revoking the state law requiring that sixth-grade girls be vaccinated against the human papillomavirus, which can cause cervical cancer.
“We have one (rally) every year in response to legislation focusing on women’s rights legislation like the HPV vaccinations and abortion – also civil rights, drug testing, voter registration, the LGBT community and adoption,” said rally organizer Vicki Yeroian, president of VCU Young Democrats.
On the other hand, rally participants said they supported bill to protect access to birth control, provide health coverage for pregnant women and children and allow for “expedited partner therapy” in Virginia. (That means treating the sex partners of people with sexually transmitted diseases without an intervening medical evaluation.)
The rally began with participants shaking their signs and chanting:
“Together we stand, together we fight, we demand our equal rights!”
“Stop the lying, stop the hate, separate our church and state!”
“Gay, straight, black or white – we just want our civil rights!”
Vicente Gonzalez, a VCU student, moved to the podium to lead off a series of speakers.
“We must believe this university is ours,” Gonzalez said.
Other speakers ranged from students with personal accounts of civil rights infringement to spoken-word presentations that advocated the “burning of Richmond with passion.”
The organizers opened the floor to the crowd. Some members of the audience said they believe VCU’s adjunct professors are grossly underpaid and don’t receive the benefits they deserve.
After the speeches, the group marched to the General Assembly Building, about two miles east.