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2/8/17 - Daily Update

Yesterday’s session was relatively short. The day after Crossover tends to be slow because the House committees are just starting to hear the Senate-passed bills. The only real business before the body was the confirmation of gubernatorial appointments. We also put the budget amendments in proper form for debate tomorrow.

We did enjoy hosting and honoring the James Madison University Football Team for winning the NCAA Division 1 Championship. Both the House and Senate arranged “center aisle” floor presentations of our joint commending resolution, HJ 829--quite an accomplishment for one of our top institutions of higher learning.

I also gave the following speech in honor of Black History Month, a daily event during February each year:

“In honor of Black History Month, I would like to bring to your attention a brilliant lawyer, mentor, and activist who bravely paved the way for many HIV/AIDS survivors to be able to live with dignity, strength, and resolve. I give all the credit for this short speech to my outstanding VCU intern Mo Nyamweya, whose parents immigrated to the country from Kenya and whose mother recently became a US Citizen.  

In July of 1987, Clarence Cain, a Virginia native and alumni of the University of Virginia Law, was removed as Head of the Philadelphia office of Hyatt Legal Services, after his supervisors found out he was suffering from AIDS. Following his unjust termination, Mr. Cain stood up against his law firm and sued them for wrongful termination.

At the time of the court case, Mr. Cain’s doctor’s prognosis gave him less than a year to live. In fact, the judge who issued the ruling in Mr. Cain’s favor issued the ruling so quickly, so as to settle the case before Cain’s passing. Hyatt had offered Mr. Cain either an entry level position at half the pay OR a severance package of merely $12,000. Cain declined the job offer, refusing to be demoted to the lowest position at the firm, and believing he deserved more than this meager severance package.

Mr Speaker, before Mr. Cain’s untimely passing, he accomplished so much, doing good, and breaking barriers. At UVA, Mr. Cain was one of the first African American Resident Advisors. He acted as a mentor to countless students of various ethnicities and backgrounds throughout his time on Grounds, at a time when few African Americans were able to attend UVA at all.

After graduating from the UVA Law School in 1986, he was recruited by Hyatt Legal Services for their fast track program. At the height of his career, Clarence Cain was promoted to regional partner of the Philadelphia region, in charge of 10 offices and 75 employees. He was one of his firm’s highest paid regional employees.

When Mr. Cain informed Hyatt of his long-term AIDS diagnosis following a bout of pneumonia, during which he took business calls from his hospital bed, it was not simply his AIDS diagnosis that shocked his law firm. Mr. Speaker, he also chose to formally come out to his employers and coworkers as a gay man, a very common occurrence in the early days of the HIV epidemic. While Hyatt maintained they fired him because Mr. Cain was sick, it is impossible to separate discrimination against AIDS patients in the 80s, from the anti-LGBT sentiment of that day.

Clarence Cain spent the last of his days physically weak and eventually bedridden, but still incredibly strong-willed and determined to fight for his right to just treatment as a gay man with a terminal illness, and the right for many others to do the same.

Since his passing, the quality of life for patients with HIV/AIDS has increased significantly, and most people know now that HIV/AIDS affects our global community as a whole, not just the gay community. It was men like Clarence Cain who paved the way for the de-stigmatization of HIV/AIDS, which ultimately helped lead to successful research, effective treatment and prevention education, and even the introduction of pharmaceuticals to prevent infection.

As Virginians, we are lucky to have inspiring local trailblazers like Clarence Cain, who never stopped being exceptional, even in the face of debilitating adversity. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.”

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I encourage you to follow the session, if there is any bill you have concerns about please contact me at DelMSickles@house.virginia.gov, follow me on Twitter or check out my Facebook.