A local minister calling for a voter referendum to ban same-sex marriage in the nation’s capital startled a D.C. Board of Elections & Ethics hearing when he asked the board’s two members if they have “homosexual” family members or friends.
Rev. Anthony Evans, associate pastor of D.C.’s Mount Zion Baptist Church and a same-sex marriage opponent, questioned the board’s objectivity Jan. 27 in its role to decide whether a referendum seeking to ban gay marriage is an appropriate subject for the ballot.
“Deep down in your heart, are you for same-sex marriage?” Evans asked during his testimony. “Are any of your family members or friends homosexuals? Do you have any hatred in your heart towards the church … or towards clergy?”
Evans, who was applauded by some of the hearing’s spectators, called on the two board members to withdraw from the proceedings if they “answered yes to any of these questions.”
Board members Errol Arthur, who serves as chair, and Charles Lowery did not respond to Evans’ questions. The two thanked him for his testimony and called the next witness.
Evans was one of about 50 witnesses who urged the board to allow a marriage referendum to be placed on the ballot. Eighteen witnesses, including LGBT activists, testified against holding a referendum, saying such a ballot measure would violate the city’s human rights law.
The hearing was the third one held by the board during the past seven months to decide whether a ballot measure seeking to ban same-sex marriage could be held. The board ruled against two earlier requests — one for a referendum and the other for an initiative seeking to ban marriage.
D.C. Superior Court judges upheld both board rulings, saying members were correct in determining that a ballot measure seeking to ban same-sex marriage in the city would violate the city’s Human Rights Act. The act, among other things, prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Rick Rosendall, vice president of the Gay & Lesbian Activists Alliance and one of the witnesses to testify against the proposed referendum, called Evans’ questions to the election board “outrageous” and said they represented an escalating anger and vehemence among same-sex marriage opponents.
“They already lost twice and they’re certainly going to lose again on this one,” Rosendall said. “They’re beginning to sound increasingly shrill and desperate.”
Several witnesses, including D.C. residents Odessia Tolliver and Corinthia Boone, cited biblical passages. They said the excerpts showed that same-sex marriage is immoral and would hurt society and “traditional” culture.
“I teach history,” Boone said. “Every great empire where they dared to redefine marriage as [something other than being exclusively] between a man and a woman declined and no longer exists.”
Among those testifying against the proposed referendum were D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), who worked with Council member David Catania (I-At Large) to shepherd the Religious Freedom & Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act of 2009 through the Council.
The bill is undergoing its required congressional review following its approval by the Council in December and Mayor Adrian Fenty’s decision to sign it. It’s expected to become law in early March, with nearly all political observers predicting Congress won’t overturn it.
U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) has introduced a motion to overturn the same-sex marriage bill, but the Democratic-controlled Congress is expected to block his resolution.
Two attorneys opposed to the referendum joined same-sex marriage advocate Bob Summersgill in raising last week what some called a new and novel argument against ballot measures seeking to ban gay marriage in the city.
The three said the proposed referendum, if approved, would violate the D.C. City Charter by preventing the city from obtaining projected tax revenue generated from same-sex weddings. The revenue could total more than $1 million annually.
Brian Flowers, general counsel for the City Council, and Mark Levine, an attorney representing the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, noted that a provision in the City Charter strictly prohibits initiatives and referenda that would appropriate funds, cut taxes or negatively impact the city’s budget.
To invoke the provision, they cited a report issued in December by the city’s chief financial officer projecting that same-sex weddings would generate millions of dollars a year in revenue for D.C. businesses that specialize in services related to weddings. That revenue, in turn, would result in additional tax revenue for the city, according to the report.
“Another study predicts that more than $50 million over three years would be generated in local tax and fee revenues, potentially creating approximately 700 new jobs,” Flowers said in his testimony before the election board.
Flowers and Levine pointed to a 2004 decision by the D.C. Court of Appeals barring an initiative seeking to ban smoking in restaurants and bars and an appeals court ruling in 1994 rejecting an initiative to prevent the city from booting cars that are illegally parked. In those cases, the court ruled that advocates for a smoking ban and an anti-booting policy could not seek to enact those polices through a ballot measure because the policies would reduce city revenue by curtailing taxes generated by restaurants and bars or fines generated by booting cars.
Some legal observers believe the “revenue” argument may be stronger than the human rights act argument because the revenue-related restriction against ballot measures is written in the City Charter. The human rights law restriction is part of a regular city law passed in 1978 to implement the City Charter’s creation of the initiative and referendum process.
Cleta Mitchell, an attorney representing supporters of the ballot measure to ban same-sex marriage, testified at the election board hearing that the human rights law argument used by marriage equality advocates is flawed. Mitchell and others calling on the board to allow a marriage referendum have argued that the human rights law restriction could only be used if they were embedded in the City Charter.
Two Superior Court judges have rejected that argument, however, and marriage equality activists said they were hopeful that the election board and yet another court ruling would support their view that the ballot measures must be rejected if they would result in discrimination against minorities protected by the Human Rights Act.
Biden endorses Roem for re-election
Former journalist is first out trans person in any state legislature
President Biden on Tuesday endorsed Virginia state Del. Danica Roem (D-Manassas) for re-election.
Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax County) is among the other Democratic members of the Virginia House of Delegates who Biden backed. Biden in his tweet also stressed his support of Terry McAuliffe, who is running against Republican Glenn Youngkin to succeed Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam.
“Building back better starts in the states,” tweeted Biden. “Since flipping the legislature in 2019, Virginia Democrats have been a model of progress—including helping us vaccinate folks to beat the pandemic. To keep our progress, we must elect Terry McAuliffe and Democrats up and down the ballot.”
Building back better starts in the states. Since flipping the legislature in 2019, Virginia Democrats have been a model of progress—including helping us vaccinate folks to beat the pandemic. To keep our progress, we must elect @TerryMcAuliffe and Democrats up and down the ballot. pic.twitter.com/NsJiiPNzlv
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) October 19, 2021
Roem, a former journalist, in 2018 became the first openly transgender person seated in any state legislature in the U.S.
Biden called Roem on the night she defeated then-state Del. Bob Marshall and congratulated her. A Washington Post picture that showed Roem crying moments later went viral.
The Manassas Democrat who represents the 13th District in 2019 easily won re-election. Christopher Stone, the Republican who is running against Roem in this cycle, opposes marriage and adoption rights for same-sex couples.
Conservatives blame pro-trans policy after assaults in Loudoun schools
‘Gender fluid’ 15-year-old accused of attacking female students
The Loudoun County, Va., public school system’s recently adopted policy of allowing students to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity has come under fire over the past two weeks by outraged parents and conservative political activists following reports that a 15-year-old “gender fluid” boy allegedly sexually assaulted two girls in different high schools.
The parents of one of the girls released a statement through the Virginia-based Stanley Law Group blaming school officials for failing to put in place safeguards to prevent the boy, who they say was dressed in a skirt, from entering the girl’s bathroom to assault their daughter at Stone Bridge High School in Ashburn, Va., on May 28.
The statement accuses Loudoun County Schools officials and the Loudoun County Board of Education of failing to take steps to prevent the same 15-year-old boy from allegedly sexually assaulting another female student at Broad Run High School, also located in Ashburn, on Oct. 6 in a vacant classroom.
School officials acknowledge that the boy was transferred to the second school after law enforcement authorities released him from a juvenile detention facility following his arrest for the first case, in which the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office said he was charged with two counts of forceable sodomy against his female victim.
“The sexual assault on our daughter and the subsequent sexual assault by the same individual were both predictable and preventable,” the parents’ statement says. “Subsequent to the sexual assault on our daughter, Loudoun County Public Schools formalized the policy regarding restroom use that was easily exploitable by a potential sexual assailant,” the statement continues.
“Because of poor planning and misguided policies, Loudoun Schools failed to institute even minimal safeguards to protect students from sexual assaults,” says the statement.
Loudoun County Schools Superintendent Scott A. Ziegler apologized at an Oct. 15 news conference for what he acknowledged was the school systems’ mishandling of the two sexual assault cases. He noted that school officials should have publicly disclosed the two cases or at least alerted parents at the time they occurred. But he said a federal civil rights law known as Title IX that mandates how schools must respond to cases of sexual harassment appeared to prevent Loudoun school officials from initially disclosing the two cases of sexual assault until they were investigated by law enforcement authorities.
Ziegler said the school system was revamping its disciplinary procedures and its interaction with the Loudoun Sheriff’s Office to ensure that parents and students are alerted to potential danger similar to the cases where the 15-year-old boy allegedly assaulted the two female students.
Meanwhile, school officials and the LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Loudoun have pointed out that law enforcement officials have yet to confirm whether the 15-year-old boy charged in the two cases was actually dressed in women’s clothes during the first incident or whether he is trans or gender fluid.
Equality Loudoun’s president, Cris Candice Tuck, released a statement to the Washington Blade on Oct. 18 that she said was the first official known statement responding to the Loudoun school controversy from an LGBTQ organization.
“In light of the reporting of recent sexual assault allegations, the Board of Directors of Equality Loudoun wishes to extend our deepest sympathies to the victims of these heinous attacks and their families,” the statement says. “Equality Loudoun advocates for due process and justice for the victims regardless of whether the alleged perpetrator was a member of the LGBTQ+ community,” the statement continues. “Such actions have no place in our community, and Equality Loudoun does not condone any form of sexual violence, assault, or harassment,” it says.
“However, the accusations that the alleged perpetrator of these assaults is transgender or genderfluid have so far been unverified,” the Equality Loudoun statement asserts. “Attempts to shift blame of this incident to any individual, group, or policy – other than the alleged perpetrator – does a grave disservice to the victims of these crimes and already marginalized youth in our community.”
The statement adds, “We remind those advocating for change to the laws and policies that the initial assault predated any enactment of Policy 8040 by almost 4 months.”
The Equality Loudoun statement was referring to the fact that the Loudoun County School Board did not vote to approve the school system’s trans nondiscrimination policy until August of this year, more than three months after the first of the two sexual assault incidents occurred.
The policy, among other things, allows transgender and genderfluid students to use the school bathrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity. The policy also requires that teachers, school administrators and fellow students address a trans or genderfluid student by their chosen name and pronouns.
“Inadvertent slips in the use of names and pronouns may occur,” the policy states. “However, staff or students who intentionally and persistently refuse to respect a student’s gender identity by using the wrong name and gender pronoun are in violation of this policy,” it states.
The statement says that rumors of a bathroom “pilot” program that predated the official approval of Policy 8040 that would have allowed female trans or genderfluid students to use the girls’ bathrooms “are simply untrue” and were never put in place.
In a separate statement to the Blade, Equality Loudoun’s Cris Candice Tuck challenged claims by some parents and conservative political activists, some of whom are supporting Virginia’s GOP gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin over Democrat Terry McAulliffe, that the trans nondiscrimination policy is placing students at risk for sexual assault.
“The adoption of nondiscrimination policies are in no way endangering students,” Candice Tuck said. “Across the country, sexual assaults have occurred in schools for decades before any transgender inclusive policies were passed,” she said. “And in those counties and states where such protections have passed in recent years, there has been no verified incidence of anyone abusing such policies to commit such attacks in schools.”
Candice Tuck added, “The focus should be on improving systems of reporting, coordination, and investigation, protecting the victims of these attacks, and creating safer school environments by creating modernized areas and bathrooms that increase protection for all students, including LGBTQ+ students who are statistically more likely to be the victim of such a crime.”
D.C. rejects request by gyms to lift mask mandate
LGBTQ-owned venues sign letter calling requirement ‘devastating’ for business
Owners of two LGBTQ-owned D.C. fitness studios and one gym signed on to a joint letter with the owners of six other similar businesses urging D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and D.C. Department of Health Director Dr. Laquandra Nesbitt to lift a city mandate requiring patrons of gyms and fitness studios to wear masks.
The Oct. 4 letter, written by gay businessman Bryan Myers, the CEO and president of a chain of local fitness studios using the trademark name of [solidcore], states that the mask mandate, which applies to people who are fully vaccinated for the coronavirus, is based largely on outdated data pertaining to gyms and fitness studios collected prior to the widespread availability of the COVID vaccine.
“More relevant data to inform decision-making would be to study the data from two, large Northeastern cities that have opted to allow fitness classes to continue with the requirement of vaccination in lieu of a mask requirement,” the letter states. “In both New York City and Philadelphia, which have opted for this approach, we have not seen an increase in the trajectory of the Delta variant,” Myers says in the letter.
In the last week of July, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a recommendation that cities and local jurisdictions with 50 new COVID cases per 100,000 residents per week, which at that time included D.C., should ask residents to voluntarily resume wearing masks indoors. That same week, Bowser announced she would go one step further by mandating the indoor use of masks in most public places, including gyms and fitness spas or studios.
Bowser and Nesbitt said their intention was to take immediate steps to curtail the spread of the coronavirus so that the city would not be forced to return to the full shutdown mode, including the closing of businesses, that the mayor lifted earlier this year.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced they would ask residents of their states to consider using masks in crowded indoor spaces as recommended by the CDC, but said they would not require mask use.
In their letter to Bowser and Nesbitt, the gym and fitness studio owners called on the mayor to provide the same exemption to their businesses as the city has provided for restaurants, bars, and nightclubs, which requires masks except when patrons are eating and drinking.
“While it is true that bars, restaurants, and clubs technically have to follow the same guidelines, we know that in practice, these venues have been granted exceptions by D.C. Health,” the letter says. “On any given night, you can find hundreds of individuals crowded into a U Street bar, at a Capitol Hill restaurant, or thousands at a performance or party at The Anthem enjoying themselves – singing, dancing and physically exerting themselves, shouting – maskless – so long as they have a drink somewhere nearby,” says the letter.
“And to be unequivocally clear, we are not advocating that there is anything wrong with what is happening in other industries or that there be a change to the management of those industries/venues,” the letter continues. “We are simply advocating that we be treated the same as they are.”
The letter adds, “Finally, but perhaps most importantly, the mask mandate for fitness studios and gyms has resulted in devastating financial impact to these businesses – many of which are small locally owned.”
It says patronage has dropped 50 percent for some of the fitness centers and gyms since the mayor’s mask mandate took effect July 29. It points out that the drop in customers comes at a time when many of these businesses have spent thousands of dollars and in some cases hundreds of thousands to upgrade their ventilation and filtration systems and other structural steps to curtail the spread of the coronavirus.
Myers told the Washington Blade in a statement that neither the Department of Health nor the mayor’s office replied directly to the gym and fitness studios’ letter.
Channel 7 News reported that in response to its request for the city’s reaction to the gym and fitness studios’ concerns, the Department of Health released a statement saying, “D.C. Health’s stance is that persons should wear masks in gyms and during this time [we] do not have plans to change our stance on this guidance.”
In his statement to the Blade, Myers said the D.C. gym and fitness studios were frustrated and disappointed that the city at this time is not open to reconsidering the mask mandate for gyms and fitness studios, many of which he said are barely surviving.
“This mandate is directly affecting the livelihoods of residents of the District, many of whom are women, people of color, and/or LGBTQ+ in a policy that is simply not equitable, and is steering residents away from services that can help improve the overall health of our community,” Myers said.
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