Are Virginia lawmakers finally ready to stop being boobs?
It’s an important question because Virginia is one of only three states in the nation where public breast-feeding is not protected by law.
On Friday, the famously female-unfriendly legislature is poised to take the first step toward changing that. The House of Delegates is going to vote on a long-overdue bill that gives women the right to nurse their infants anywhere.
The way it stands, a mom and her nursing infant can get kicked out of a gym, a store or a restaurant in Virginia for letting the infant, you know, eat lunch the way some babies do.
That’s also the case in only two other places in America: Idaho and South Dakota, according to information from the National Conference of State Legislatures and the Virginia Alliance for Breastfeeding Laws. Not exactly the company the Old Dominion wants to keep, right?
There is a Virginia law that says moms have the right to breast-feed on any state-owned property. But hey, you can nurse in Occoneechee State Park for only so long. Eventually, baby’s going to get hungry when you’re at the mall.
If you think people are actually cool with nursing, and this is just angry, lactivist rhetoric, think again.
Just this week a mother was kicked out of the Chinquapin Recreation Center in Alexandria because her breast milk was considered a scary biohazard.
“The playroom attendant told me that the policy of the recreation center was that no one was allowed to nurse in the playroom,” said Olivia Blackmon, who was feeding 6-month-old Amelia when someone freaked out by the milk was about to get the yellow plastic suit and safety goggles on.
“I had to either stop nursing or I needed to leave,” Blackmon said. “I asked her why that was a policy, since this was a child-friendly area, and she said it was considered ‘unsanitary’ if the milk got on any equipment or if the baby spit up.”
This wasn’t 1950. Or 1984. This happened Tuesday, although a spokesman for Alexandria had the grace to fess up to the mistake.
“We sincerely apologize for the error, and for any burden placed on customers,” said the spokesman, Craig Fifer. “We have already reminded all center staff of the city’s support for breast-feeding, and we are conducting refresher training for all recreation staff tomorrow.” They are also conducting training for all city employees in the coming weeks.
But this kind of reaction occurs just about every week in Virginia. In the past few weeks and months, I heard from moms who were ejected from a Fairfax pool, a Culpeper Wal-Mart and an Ashburn gym.
And it happens plenty in other parts of the country, too. We hear about a nursing mom being shamed in some park or grocery store. And then all of a sudden, the lactavists show up for a nurse-in.
But in most of those cases, they have the law on their side.
Not in Virginia.
“I was wearing a hoodie and a tanktop. When my baby’s head was latched on, you couldn’t see anything. And I was tucked away where regular gym-goers wouldn’t see me,” said Jill DeLorenzo, a 27-year-old mother of two from Ashburn.
“I was showing less skin than women wearing sports bras or booty shorts,” she said.
Still, two staff members asked her to leave and go into the bathroom to nurse her 7-week-old, rather than in a tucked-away place outside the gym’s child-care area, where her other child was playing.
This wasn’t just some pimply teen a little wigged out by realizing what breasts are for. Two people asked her to leave.
DeLorenzo said one of them was a gym executive who called a lawyer twice during their conversation to make sure he was on the right side of the law to oust her.
If all goes well for the lactivists, DeLorenzo can breast-feed at the gym anytime and anywhere she wants.
Yes, the legislature that has been so obsessed with what goes on with women below their waists (remember the transvaginal probe legislation and the “personhood” proposal?) is finally focusing on the northern half of a woman’s private parts.
Get this. Del. David B. Albo (R -Fairfax), the guy who made national news when he played wah-wah porn music on the House floor to talk about requiring transvaginal probes for any woman having an abortion, is now talking about breasts. And in a good way. Yay, Dave. Evolution!
Albo, along with co-sponsor Del. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond), introduced the bill this month that would “provide that a mother may breast-feed in any place where the mother is lawfully present.”
His support was thanks to the urging of lawyer Rebecca Geller, a mother of three who runs a law firm and is an activist who was horrified by all the cases she saw on her mommy e-mail lists about breast-feeding evictions.
“It makes me crazy that 47 states have this law, but, of course, Virginia does not,” she told me when we were messaging one day.
“I’m not even an extended breastfeeding mom (cannot wait until the baby turns 1, and I can say goodbye to my breast pump!!!), but I still want to have it a protected right!”
The bill has bipartisan support, as well as the backing of the governor.
“Governor McAuliffe supports this legislation, which helps new and working mothers across the commonwealth, and looks forward to signing it when it reaches his desk,” said his spokeswoman, Rachel Thomas.
Welcome to the 21st century, Virginia.
To read previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/dvorak.