Officials and student leaders at Virginia colleges are reacting mutedly, so far, to an order from state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli that the schools stop protecting LGBT students.

In a letter (PDF) sent to the state's public colleges and universities and obtained by the Washington Post, Cuccinelli declared that the schools don't have the authority to uphold bans on discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation when the state itself has no such ban.

"It is my advice that the law and public policy of the Commonwealth of Virginia prohibit a college or university from including 'sexual orientation,' 'gender identity,' 'gender expression,' or like classification, as a protected class within its non-discrimination policy, absent specific authorization from the General Assembly," the letter stated.

Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell last month reversed an eight-year-old executive order that banned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in Virginia. The governor argued that only the state's General Assembly had the power to institute such a policy in the first place.

A bill to ban discrimination against gays was introduced in Virginia's legislature this year, but a Republican-led state House committee killed the bill this week.

The Washington Post reports that the state's public colleges and universities aren't jumping at the opportunity to rid themselves of a ban on anti-gay discrimination. So far, the College of William and Mary, Longwood University and Virginia Tech have all not responded to the attorney-general's request.

A Virginia Tech spokesman told the Roanoke Times that school officials would have to "confer" about the attorney general's assertion, and insisted the school's discrimination policy could only be changed by a decision of the board of visitors.

Carl Pucci, student body president at Old Dominion University, told the Post's Rosalind Helderman that the move won't be welcomed by today's post-secondary students.

"It's going to be a mess. There's no doubt about that," he said. "Our generation is really open-minded. The concept of discrimination, we're just not interested in that ... I think you're going to see the whole gamut, from angry letters to protests."

Virginia Democratic congressional candidate Rich Anthony held nothing back in his reaction to the news, calling the move "homophobic bigotry."

"Virginia’s Attorney General is actually trying to make it easier for people to discriminate against gays and lesbians in Virginia," he wrote on his blog. "This, despite the fact that the entire country is moving towards granting our GLBT fellow citizens equal rights with everyone else in all areas."

Anthony added, "I strongly condemn the ever increasing message of intolerance coming from the Republican leadership in Richmond. I encourage them to reconsider their recent actions that have not only harmed our fellow Virginians but also tarnished our beloved Commonwealth’s image."