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For most people, a human rights commissioner would promote and protect human rights for all humans.
But the leadership of the Virginia Beach Human Rights Commission (VBHRC) disagrees.
Kenick El was appointed to the VBHRC this year. On October 21, according to 13News Now, El shared an article from 2017 on Facebook about a trans woman convicted of sexual assault on a child.
Conservative news outlets picked up the story in 2017 and headlined it "Transgender Wyoming Woman Convicted of Sexually Assaulting 10-year-old Girl in Bathroom" to bolster discriminatory bathroom laws.
However the assault was not in a public bathroom and the attacker was not a stranger preying on random children in bathrooms. Like the majority of cases, the assault occurred in a friend's private home and the victim knew her attacker.
The fact the misleading story is still being regurgitated 2 years later proves how unfounded their bathroom hysteria is. The assault was horrific, but a case that doesn't warrant the bathroom bills and online vitriol it spawns targeting all transgender people for the actions of one.
But El either didn't know the facts of the case or didn't care. Like those conservative outlets, the case was an excuse to spout transphobic rhetoric.
"This is why we need to stop giving men in dresses passes."
"I have daughters and I won't accept them sharing a restroom with a grown man suffering from this mental illness."
"Men trying to be women and women trying to be men is really confusing our children and I'm tired of seeing this nonsense promoted to our children."
When he got pushback on his post, he replied with homophobic comments:
"Homosexuality is a mental illness and should be treated as such."
"Homosexuality is an abomination to the human race and it corrupts the hermetic principle of gender by interfering with the laws of nature just to gratify the lower self."
But the chair of the VBHRC, Sylvia Nery-Strickland, is unconcerned over El's self-identified homophobia and transphobia.
She told 13News Now:
"Kenick El is speaking as an individual and does not speak on behalf of the Human Rights Commission (HRC)."
"We are a commission, appointed by and serving at the pleasure of city council. The HRC is a very diverse group of individuals who come together for the common good and equality for all."
"However, each commissioner has individual beliefs, and we do not always agree."
"I personally do not agree with the postings and other commissioners have contacted me and they do not agree as well, but rather support and value our fellow LGBT commissioners, family members, friends and supporters."
If that's the official attitude, then Virginia Beach White supremacists and antisemites should contact the city council and demand their seat on the commission.
If Nery-Strickland finds publicly stated bigotry against LGBTQ people not a hindrance towards working for the "common good and equality for all," then membership in the KKK or neo-Nazi organizations should not concern her either.
The VBHRC is tasked to:
- institute, conduct and engage in educational and informational programs for the promotion of mutual understanding and respect among citizens, and the fulfillment of human rights.
- serve as a forum for the discussion of human rights issues, and to conduct studies and propose solutions for the improvement of human relations in the City.
- provide assistance to persons who believe their rights have been violated by identifying the appropriate federal, state or local agency to address the complaint and referring such persons to that agency.
Given his views, people felt El could not perform any of those duties for the LGBTQ community.
El told 13News Now:
"I felt like it was very important for me just to express my views on my page in a very sincere, polite manner."
"I made it clear in the message, I'm not speaking on behalf of any organized group."
El also made it clear the existence of LGBTQ people was "imposing" and "promoting sexual behavior."
"I don't think people trying to take posts from Facebook and make a public debacle out it is appropriate."
"I think we have a right to freedom of speech according to our constitution and freedom of expression."
Member of Virginia Beach Human Rights Commission calls homosexuality 'abomination,' 'mental illness' youtu.be
El certainly has a right to be a bigot and to freedom of speech. But does he have the right to remain on a human rights commission as a self-declared homophobe and transphobe?
People found VBHRC Chair Nery-Strickland's response woefully inadequate for individuals appointed to protect the human rights of all citizens of Virginia Beach.
They've asked the city council and mayor to step in where Commissioner Nery-Strickland failed.
Watch the report here:
More people call for removal of Virginia Beach Human Rights Commission member youtu.be
Hampton Roads Pride board of directors sent a letter to the Virginia Beach City Council. It said, in part:
"It is reasonable and proper that the citizens of Virginia Beach should expect those who serve on the City's Human Rights Commission to understand the tenets of universal Human Rights and conduct themselves in a manner consistent with the purpose of the Commission and which reflect the mission and values of the City of Virginia Beach."
"In light of this offensive public dialogue, the Board of Directors of Hampton Roads Pride request:"
- "An evaluation of the vetting process for all City appointees to Boards and Commissions be conducted as soon as practicable resulting in a public report of recommendations for any identified changes to the process"
- "All appointees of City Council be required to complete inclusion and diversity training from a well-trained and well-reputed source"
- "The Human Rights Commission (HRC) engage with members of the LGBT and allied communities in public discussion and in alignment with the work of the HRC to 'work toward mutual understanding, respect of all citizens and advocacy of human rights for all people'."
Hampton Roads Business Outreach concurred with Hampton Roads Pride and LGBT Life Center.
In a statement, the organization said:
"Hampton Roads Business OutReach (HRBOR) stands with our partner LGBT organizations, Hampton Roads Pride and LGBT Life Center, in strongly rebuking Mr. El's statements and calling for accountability and action from the VBHRC."
"No person should serve on a human rights commission who does not value the existence and validity of all people. Mr. El's lack of respect and dignity towards gay and transgender people is counter to the mission of VBHRC."
The mayor of Virginia Beach, Bobby Dyer, responded—along with most of the city council—by asking El to resign.
Watch his remarks here:
Virginia Beach Mayor: Human Rights Commission member should resign after anti-gay, trans remarks youtu.be
They decided—given his public declarations of his personal views which he declared in an on camera interview to be "the truth"—it is inappropriate for El to serve on a commission for human rights.
See further coverage here:
Majority of Virginia Beach city council agree it's 'no longer appropriate' for Human Rights Commissi youtu.be
The Mayor and city council stated should El refuse to resign, they will look at what avenues are available in meetings scheduled for next week.
But late Friday, Kenick El—whose full name is LaKendrick Coburn El—announced he would resign.
In front of a gathering at city hall including WKTR news, El said:
"Everybody's human rights is to be respected. We are to love one another, we are to show mercy and forgiveness to one another, and that's why I am committed to resigning on October 31 at the end of the commission meeting after I share my views with my colleagues."
"However, I do respect the government. I respect the fact that I was appointed to this seat."
El's resignation from the commission will happen after a special meeting on October 31 as reported by 13News Now. What fallout will occur due to VBHRC Chair Nery-Strickland's refusal to acknowledge the transphobia and homophobia El expressed was a cause for concern remains to be seen.