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Arrest warrant sought in lesbian parental custody dispute

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An arrest warrant for Virginia resident Lisa Miller was likely to be issued this week, according to lawyers involved in her child custody dispute that has become a focal point in the nation’s same-sex parenting debate.

Miller’s former partner, Janet Jenkins, came forward Monday with a plea to help find her 7-year-old daughter, Isabella, after Miller failed to return her by a Jan. 1 deadline set by Rutland Family Court in Vermont.

“I am so worried about Isabella. I do not know where she is or whether she is OK,” Jenkins said in a statement.

Jenkins said she and Miller were involved throughout Isabella’s conception, birth and early years. But Miller, who claimed she was no longer a lesbian and became an “ex-gay” advocate after the couple separated, denied this during court proceedings to dissolve their civil union and arrange custody of Isabella.

“My goal has never been to separate Isabella from Lisa,” Jenkins said. “I just want Isabella to know and love both of her parents. I just want to be with her, like any parent.”

Her lawyers in Vermont, including Sarah Star and Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, said they were disappointed the transfer of custody did not occur as ordered.

“We’ve petitioned the court to issue a bench warrant because of Lisa’s continued refusal to comply with the custody order,” Jennifer Levi, a GLAD senior attorney, told DC Agenda. “The Rutland Family Court has been very responsive to this contempt [of court] concern that Janet has raised and could order pretty quickly.”

Judge William Cohen, who has handled the case from the beginning, was to rule on the bench warrant. No decision was announced before Agenda deadline.

Liberty Council, which represents Miller, filed an appeal with the Vermont Supreme Court, but it was not known if that appeal would continue if Miller’s whereabouts continued to be unknown.

Miller’s lawyers in Virginia, including Liberty University Dean of Law Mathew Staver, did not return the Agenda’s calls or e-mails this week.

Miller previously told Newsweek: “I do not feel safe leaving my daughter with [Jenkins], and I believe I have a God-given and constitutional right to raise my child as I see fit. There is a homosexual agenda at work here, and Isabella is a pawn in their game.”

The court had awarded Jenkins full custody last year after Miller failed to comply with an earlier custody order giving Jenkins access to their daughter.

Police in Virginia’s Fairfax County this week declined Jenkins’ requests to help find Isabella. Missing persons police reports were filed in Fairfax and Bedford counties, where Isabella lived and went to school.

The Virginia branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented Jenkins in that state’s Supreme Court case over jurisdiction of the Vermont court orders, said the issue has been settled and that Virginia law enforcement should respect the Rutland Family Court’s custody ruling.

Rebecca Glenberg, the ACLU Virginia branch’s legal director, said Miller had shown herself to have no respect for the rule of law and the matter was no longer about non-biological parenting.

Lambda Legal, which also has supported Jenkins throughout the case, said their main concern is the safety of Isabella.

“Our client has done everything she can as a loving parent to work within the system to protect her child,” said Greg Nevins, a Lambda Legal senior attorney. “Lisa Miller has repeatedly defied court orders and her behavior has been outrageous and harmful.”

Conservative and “ex-gay” groups rallied to defend Miller after the case became public in 2004, launching the Protect Isabella Coalition. Concerned Women of America and the National Organization for Marriage have, in the past, criticized the Vermont judge.

But this week, Maggie Gallagher, National Organization for Marriage president, said it was a tragedy all around and didn’t blame either party.

“I have sympathy for the pre-eminent claims of natural parents versus legal parents, when the natural mother is a fit parent (which nobody has denied in this case). But we have to be a nation ruled by laws, even when those laws may be unjust,” Gallagher said in an e-mail to the Catholic News Agency.

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Virginia

Man who killed one in 2000 Roanoke gay bar shooting dies in prison

One of the worst bias attacks targeting LGBTQ community

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Ronald Edward Gay died while serving life sentences for attacking a Virginia gay bar. (Washington Blade clipping from Sept. 29, 2000)

A man sentenced to four consecutive life terms in prison for the September 2000 shooting at a gay bar in Roanoke, Va., in which one man lost his life and six others were wounded, died of natural causes on Jan. 15, according to the Virginia Department of Corrections.

A spokesperson for the Department of Corrections told WSLA 10 TV News that Ronald Edward Gay died while being treated at a hospital near the Deerfield Correctional Center, a state prison where he had been living as an inmate. He was 75. 

Witnesses and law enforcement officials reported at the time of the shooting that a middle-aged man later identified as Gay arrived alone at Roanoke’s Backstreet Café, a popular gay bar, on the night of Sept. 22, 2000.

According to an account by an eyewitness to the incident who spoke last week with the Roanoke Times newspaper, after ordering a beer and standing next to the bar for a short time, Gay reached into the long trench coat he was wearing, pulled out a 9mm pistol, and fired a round “straight into the chest of 43-year-old Danny Overstreet, before opening fire on the rest of the bar.”

Overstreet, a beloved regular patron at the Backstreet Café, died at the scene of the shooting. Six others, who were wounded by bullets fired by Gay, later recovered, but they and many others who were present and witnessed the shooting were left emotionally scarred, the Roanoke Times reported.

In the weeks following the shooting, news media outlets, including the Washington Blade and the Washington Post, reported findings of an investigation by local police that Gay told police he went to Backstreet specifically to target gay people because he became bitter after years of being taunted and teased for his last name of “Gay.”

The Roanoke Times reported that, among other things, Gay told police “God told him to do it” and that he once wrote that there was an evil inside of him telling him “to shoot or have no rest.”

Gay later pleaded guilty to multiple charges against him, including murder. On July 23, 2001, he was sentenced to four consecutive life sentences in prison for the shooting incident and the murder of Overstreet.

The Backstreet incident in Roanoke was considered by LGBTQ rights advocates and others to be one of the worst incidents in which LGBTQ people were targeted for a shooting until the June 2016 shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., in which 49 people died and 53 more were wounded in a mass shooting by 29-year-old Omar Mateen.

Mateen, who was shot and killed by Orlando police after a three-hour standoff, told police in a phone call from inside the nightclub after the shooting began that he swore allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and his attack against the gay nightclub was motivated by the U.S. military intervention in Iraq and Syria. The FBI later classified the incident as a terrorist attack.

The Roanoke Times reported that the shooting incident at Backstreet Café prompted LGBTQ residents and allies to gather in the days and weeks after the incident for vigils and marches. About 1,000 people walked through the streets of downtown Roanoke to honor the life of Overstreet and to urge Congress to pass federal hate crimes legislation, the newspaper reported.

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Va. senator introduces anti-transgender student athlete bill

Democrats have vowed to thwart anti-LGBTQ measures in state Senate

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transgender, Gender Conference East, trans, transgender flag, gay news, Washington Blade
(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A Virginia lawmaker has introduced a bill that would ban transgender students from joining school sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity.

Senate Bill 766, which state Sen. Jennifer Kiggans (R-Virginia Beach) introduced on Friday, would require “each elementary or secondary school or a private school that competes in sponsored athletic events against such public schools to designate athletic teams, whether a school athletic team or an intramural team sponsored by such school, based on biological sex as follows: (i) ‘males,’ ‘men,’ or ‘boys’; (ii) ‘females,’ ‘women,’ or ‘girls’; or (iii) ‘coed’ or ‘mixed.'”

“Under the bill, male students are not permitted to participate on any school athletic team or squad designated for ‘females,’ ‘women,’ or ‘girls’; however, this provision does not apply to physical education classes at schools,” adds the bill. “The bill provides civil penalties for students and schools that suffer harm as a result of a violation of the bill. Such civil actions are required to be initiated within two years after the harm occurred.”

Kiggans introduced her bill less than a week after Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin took office.

Youngkin during his campaign said he does not support allowing trans children to play on sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity. Elizabeth Schultz, an anti-LGBTQ former member of the Fairfax County School Board, has been named the Virginia Department of Education’s Assistant Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The General Assembly’s 2022 legislative session began on Jan. 12 with Republicans in control of the state House of Delegates. Democrats still control the state Senate, and they have pledged to thwart any anti-LGBTQ bills.

“Let’s be clear: This is part of an ongoing, nationwide effort to exclude trans people from enjoying the benefits of sports like their cisgender peers,” tweeted the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia on Friday after Kiggans introduced SB 766. “We won’t tolerate this.”

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Comings & Goings

Hazen inducted into Cooperative Hall of Fame

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Paul Hazen

The Comings & Goings column is about sharing the professional successes of our community. We want to recognize those landing new jobs, new clients for their business, joining boards of organizations and other achievements. Please share your successes with us at: [email protected] 

The Comings & Goings column also invites LGBTQ+ college students to share their successes with us. If you have been elected to a student government position, gotten an exciting internship, or are graduating and beginning your career with a great job, let us know so we can share your success. 

Congratulations to Paul Hazen on his being inducted into the 2022 Cooperative Hall of Fame.  On receiving the honor, he said, “I am very lucky to be given the opportunity to combine my work in international development with my volunteer cooperative development work in Washington DC.”

Hazen is executive director, U.S. Overseas Cooperative Development Council (OCDC) and has devoted his career to elevating the cooperative voice domestically and internationally. U.S. co-ops include Ace Hardware, Land O’Lakes, Inc., Sunkist, REI and the Associated Press. Hazen helped establish federal legislation promoting rural co-op development.  

Prior to joining OCDC, he was CEO of Washington, D.C.-based National Cooperative Business Association CLUSA International. During his 25-year tenure with the organization, he held key positions, including chief operating officer, vice president of public policy, vice president of member services and director of consumer cooperatives.

He worked for Rep. Al Baldus (Wisc.). He was executive director of Rural Housing Inc. in Madison, Wisc., where he developed co-ops and affordable housing projects in rural communities. 

As a volunteer, Hazen formed the Community Purchasing Alliance (CPA) with 12 congregations in D.C.  In 2020, CPA secured more than $18.7 million in contracts resulting in an investment of $13 million in D.C.-based small businesses owned by people of color.

Ben Finzel

Congratulations also to Ben Finzel, who was inducted into the National Capital Public Relations Hall of Fame. Upon receiving the honor, he said “To be recognized by your peers is wonderful; to be honored by them is amazing. I still can’t quite believe I have done enough to be worthy of this recognition, but I know enough to be thankful and appreciative of this high honor. Thank you PRSA National Capital Chapter for including me in such inspiring company; I will be forever grateful.”

Finzel is president of RENEWPR, a D.C.-based public affairs, communications consulting firm. In 2004, he helped launch FH Out Front, the first global LGBTQ communications practice at an international firm, Fleishman Hillard, and served as its first global chair. He started DC Family Communicators, a professional networking group for LGBTQ communications professionals. Finzel served on the Victory Campaign Board of the LGBTQ Victory Fund from 2007 to 2017.

His firm is currently celebrating its seventh year in business. To recognize that accomplishment, Finzel is launching an endowed scholarship at his alma mater, Texas Tech University. His business is certified as an LGBT Business Enterprise by the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce.

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