Leaders Call For Youngkin to Fire DEI Chief

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, right, listens to former Gov. L.Douglas Wilder, center, after a news conference announcing the Department of Education report on education Thursday May 19, 2022, in Richmond, Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

By Meghin Moore

May 2, 2023

More Black leaders are calling for Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s Chief Diversity Officer to be fired over recent comments he made condemning diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.

Numerous state leaders are calling on Virginia’s Chief Diversity Officer Martin D. Brown to resign after he criticized efforts to boost diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives.

Brown, a Black Republican, declared that “DEI is dead” during a recent training held for faculty and staff at Virginia Military Institute (VMI).

“Let’s take a moment right now to kill that cow,” he said. “We’re not going to bring that cow up anymore. It’s dead. It was mandated by the General Assembly, but this governor has a different philosophy of civil discourse.”  

Those comments have drawn backlash from a group of influential Virginians, including former Gov. Doug Wilder and groups such as the Virginia NAACP, as well as the General Assembly’s Black, Latino, and Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) caucuses, who are now calling for Brown to resign or for Gov. Glenn Youngkin to fire him.

“Mr. Brown actively promotes the reckless rhetoric of this administration. We will not stand silently while this administration dismantles the progress being made to achieve equity and advancing civil rights,” said Virginia NAACP President Robert N. Barnette, Jr.

Prominent Black Virginia leaders, such as State Sen. Lamont Bagby, who leads the Legislative Black Caucus, said Brown’s rhetoric was “appalling” and that the group’s members think he should leave his job — effective immediately. 

The Washington Post reported that Black lawmakers said Brown’s remarks were enraging because of where they were said: VMI. The school is the oldest state-supported military school in the United States. Over the last two years, school officials have worked to help women and people of color feel welcome, following the results of a state-ordered investigation in 2021 that unearthed a racist and sexist culture at the institution, where Black students couldn’t enroll until the 1960s, and women couldn’t enroll until 1997.

Leaders in Virginia’s AAPI Caucus as well as Virginia’s Latino Caucus also made statements about Brown’s comments.

“If Mr. Martin Brown doesn’t believe in the mission of his office, he should resign and make way for someone who does,” said Del. Alfonso Lopez, co-chair of Virginia’s Latino Caucus.

“As Virginia grapples with historical and continuing discrimination and racism, Mr. Brown clearly is neither prepared nor willing to perform his duties as DEI director and must resign,” said Del. Kathy Tran, chair of the Virginia Asian American and Pacific Islander Caucus.

On Monday May 1, Democratic State Sen. Scott Surovell and House Minority Leader Don Scott reached out to Attorney General Jason Miyares’ office asking for a legal opinion on the matter. 

As reported by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the letter asks if the attorney general’s office thinks that the statements made by Brown at VMI “constitute a violation of his statutory obligations as an employee of the state.”

The two lawmakers also questioned whether Youngkin is allowed to “ignore state code sections and establish any name for state employees and state agencies he chooses.”

They also noted that when Miyares was a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, he voted in favor of the creation of the Virginia DEI office, which passed the legislature with bipartisan support.

According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, former Gov. Doug Wilder is calling for Younkgin to fire his DEI officer.

“I see people calling for Mr. Martin Brown [to] resign. No. Governor Youngkin needs to fire him. That’s what you do when somebody isn’t doing their job,” he said, adding, “If he won’t fire him, he needs to say why he won’t.”

Virginia’s history with DEI officers is still relatively young, as Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam appointed the first DEI officer in 2019. From there, the General Assembly codified a position for a director of DEI and voted to require Virginia’s state agencies to establish strategic plans for DEI initiatives. Brown is the commonwealth’s third DEI officer.

After taking office in 2022, Youngkin changed the name of Virginia’s DEI office to “diversity, opportunity, and inclusion,” even though General Assembly members have yet to approve the name change. 

When Brown was confirmed to the position, the General Assembly amended language provided by Youngkin that swapped the word “equity” for the word “opportunity.” The Youngkin Administration lists Brown’s position in the “Office of Diversity, Opportunity and Inclusion.

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