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Three teens charged in gay D.C. principal’s murder

Police say victim met killers through sex chat line

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Four people were arrested this week in connection with the murder of Brian Betts, the gay principal of Shaw Middle School in D.C. (Photo by Bel Perez Gabilondo; courtesy of D.C. Public Schools)

Three 18-year-old men who allegedly met gay D.C. middle school principal Brian Betts through a telephone sex chat line were arrested this week in connection with his shooting death, police said.

Alante Saunders, whom Montgomery County Police said had no fixed address, and Sharif Tau Lancaster, who lives along the 5300 block of Fifth Street, N.W., in D.C., were charged Monday with first-degree murder, armed robbery and the use of a handgun in a felony crime of violence.

Deonatra Q. Gray, who lives along the 1300 block of Southview Drive in Oxon Hill, Md., was charged Tuesday with first-degree murder, one count of armed robbery, and one count of conspiracy to commit armed robbery.

“While the motive of the crime is still being investigated, we believe that it is most likely going to be robbery,” said Montgomery County Police Chief J. Thomas Manger during a news conference Monday.

Betts, 42, was found shot to death April 15 in a second floor bedroom of his house in Silver Spring, Md. Police said they found his fully clothed body after colleagues at D.C.’s Shaw Middle School, where he worked as principal, became concerned when Betts failed to report to work.

On the day they discovered Betts’ body, investigators disclosed they found no signs of a forced entry into Betts’ house, leading them to believe he invited his killer or killers inside.

Also charged in the case was Artura Otey Williams, 46, Lancaster’s mother. Police she was arrested Monday at the home on Fifth Street, N.W., on charges related to her alleged use of one of several credit cards taken from Betts’ house. She was not charged with the murder itself.

In a related development, D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles separately disclosed Monday that Lancaster and Sanders had recently escaped from a juvenile home where they were in custody by the city’s Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services. Nickles did not say the criminal offense or offenses the two youths had been charged with to land them in DYRS custody.

Manger, when asked by a reporter at the Montgomery County Police news conference whether the chat line through which Betts allegedly met his killers catered solely to gay clientele, said, “I’m not aware of that. I don’t know.”

He said he also didn’t know the name of the chat line, saying only, “It’s been described as a sex chat line, a social networking chat line.” But he noted that investigators believe Betts met one or all of the three 18-year-old men implicated in the case through the chat line on the night he was murdered.

After the news conference, police spokesperson Capt. Paul Sparks described the system as a “national chat line” linked to an Internet site. Sparks said he didn’t know the name of the chat line or Internet site.

Many gay-oriented sex chat lines are advertised in local and national gay publications and web sites.

Manger’s news conference outside Montgomery County Police headquarters in Rockville came the same day that teams of police officers and detectives in Montgomery County, Prince George’s County and D.C. used search warrants to conduct early-morning raids on four residences where they believed evidence and suspects in the case were located.

Manger said Williams was arrested during a search of her house on the 5300 block of Fifth Street, N.W.

He said Saunders, Lancaster and the third 18-year-old man were taken into custody during the search of an apartment along the 1300 block of Southview Drive in Oxon Hill, Md., which is located in Prince George’s County.

Among the items found during the Southview Drive search was Betts’ wallet, which was in possession of one of the men implicated in the case, Manger said. He noted that police found a receipt in the wallet for a pair of Nike shoes that were purchased using one of Betts’ credit cards shortly after the murder.

Police also used warrants Monday to search residences along the 4300 block of Third Street, S.E., in D.C., and along the 2400 block of Southern Avenue in Temple Hills, Md., in Prince George’s County.

Neighbors reported seeing police remove items from the residences, including several large bags containing items from the home on Fifth Street, N.W., which is near the border of D.C. and Silver Spring.

According to Manger and statements released Monday by Montgomery County Police, investigators began piecing together evidence linking the murder to the arrested suspects less than a week after Betts’ body was discovered.

The first break came when investigators discovered that Williams had used one of several credit cards stolen from Betts’ house on the night of the murder to purchase $111 worth of groceries from a Giant supermarket in Silver Spring on April 16, the day after Betts’ body was found. The Giant is located less than two miles from Betts’ house. Police said Williams was recorded using the credit card on a video surveillance camera at the store.

Police charged her with two counts of knowingly receiving a stolen credit card with the intent to use it, attempted theft of items less than $1,000 in value, and attempted fraudulent credit card use. She was being held in D.C. while awaiting extradition to Montgomery County.

“Lancaster was identified through fingerprints obtained from the crime scene inside Betts’ residence,” says one of two statements released Monday by Montgomery County Police.

“Through the course of the investigation, it was confirmed that Lancaster has no known ties to Betts,” says the statements. “Saunders, also with no known ties to the victim, was identified through fingerprints obtained inside and outside the vehicle belonging to Betts, a 2007 Nissan Xterra, which was stolen from his residence on the night of the murder.”

D.C. police recovered the vehicle April 17, two days after Betts was found dead in his house along the 3900 block of Fourth Street, S.E.

“It was determined that several credit cards belonging to Betts were stolen from the residence,” one of the police statements says. “The continuing investigation revealed that Betts’ credit cards were used to make purchases throughout the area, including Silver Spring, Oxon Hill, Hyattsville, Northwest and Southeast Washington, D.C.”

The statement notes that surveillance photos show Lancaster, Saunders and Williams using the credit cards.

“This remains still a very active investigation,” Manger said during his news conference.
In response to reporters’ questions, he said he didn’t know whether Lancaster, Saunders and Gray used the chat line to rob or harm other people. He also told reporters that he didn’t know what promoted one of the suspects to allegedly shoot Betts to death if the motive was robbery.

“The interviews have not been completed, so we don’t have that information,” he said.

Sparks, the police spokesperson, said more arrests could be made in the case.

Officials with the D.C. group Gays & Lesbians Opposing Violence have said that law enforcement agencies in the D.C. area should issue a public alert about criminals targeting gays for robberies and assaults through online social networking sites or phone chat lines.

GLOV co-chairs Kelly Pickard and Joe Montoni said during the group’s regular monthly meeting in April, one week after the Betts murder, that plans were made to distribute flyers and other alerts urging members of the LGBT community to exert caution when using such sites or chat lines.

On Dec. 27, gay D.C. resident Anthony Perkins, 29, was shot to death in his car in Southeast D.C. by a suspect who met him through a phone chat line, according to D.C. police and the U.S. Attorney’s office. Authorities have so far declined to name the chat line.

D.C. police charged 20-year-old Antwan Holcomb with first-degree murder while armed in connection with Perkins’ death.

And in January, gay Maryland resident Gordon Rivers, 47, was fatally shot inside his car while it was parked on Naylor Road in Southeast D.C. Police later arrested 17-year-old William Wren of Southeast D.C. and 22-year-old Anthony Hager of Temple Hills, Md., on murder charges in connection with the case.

D.C. police said in an arrest affidavit that Wren admitted knowing Rivers before the murder and having called Rivers by phone to arrange a meeting with him on Naylor Road, intending to rob him.

Police and the U.S. Attorney’s office have declined to disclose how Wren met Rivers, spurring questions as to whether the two met online or through a phone chat line.

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Virginia

Va. lieutenant governor misgenders Danica Roem

Manassas Democrat is first trans person elected to state Senate

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Virginia Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears speaks at CPAC in 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Virginia Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears on Monday misgendered state Sen. Danica Roem (D-Manassas) on the Virginia Senate floor.

WVTF Richmond Bureau Chief Brad Kutner in an X post said Earle-Sears, who is a Republican, referred to Roem, who is a transgender woman, as “sir” during a debate on House Bill 964, which would allow attorneys to serve as the executive director of the Virginia Board of Medicine. 

Kutner said the Senate went “recess twice after reportedly ‘Sears refused to apologize.'”

“I’m not here to upset anyone, I’m here to do the job the people of Virginia have called me to do,” Earle-Sears later said, according to Kutner.

Roem in 2018 became the first trans person seated in a state legislature in the country when she assumed her seat in the Virginia House of Delegates.

Voters in the 30th Senate District last November elected her to the Senate. Roem is the first trans person seated in the chamber.

The Washington Blade on Monday reached out to Roem, but she declined comment.

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District of Columbia

GW transgender, nonbinary student group criticizes Utah governor’s on campus comments 

Spencer Cox decried ‘genital-mutilation surgeries’

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Republican Utah Gov. Spencer Cox (Photo courtesy of Cox's office)

A George Washington University transgender and nonbinary student group has criticized Republican Utah Gov. Spencer Cox’s comments about gender-affirming health care that he made last week during an on-campus.

The GW Hatchet reported Cox on Feb. 21 described gender-affirming health care as “genital-mutilation surgeries” during a “Disagree Better” event the university’s School of Media and Public Affairs hosted. Jonah Goldberg, a conservative writer and commentator, and NPR “Morning Edition” host Michel Martin also participated in the event that Frank Sesno, a GWU School of Media and Public Affairs professor who was previously CNN’s Washington Bureau chief, moderated.

The Transgender and Nonbinary Students of GW in a post to its Instagram page said it is “hurt, ashamed and frustrated that such harmful language was allowed to be given a platform on our campus.”

“Fear mongering claims that young trans people are ‘mutilating our bodies’ are factually incorrect and damaging to our community,” said the group in its post that notes the event took place days after Nex Benedict, a nonbinary student in Oklahoma, died after a fight in their high school’s bathroom. “Gender-affirming care for minors saves lives, and is approved by reputable institutions, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and American Psychiatric Association.”

The GW Hatchet notes Cox told Sesno that he invited trans youth and their families to the Governor’s Mansion in Salt Lake City “to discuss state measures that pertain to transgender people, a conversation that he said led to legislative change.” 

Cox in 2022 vetoed a bill that banned trans students from playing on sports teams that correspond with their gender identity. The Utah Legislature later overrode his veto.

The governor last year signed a bill that bans gender-affirming health care for minors in his state. Cox last month signed a bill that prevents trans and nonbinary people from using restrooms and locker rooms in public schools and government buildings that correspond to their gender identity.

The GW Hatchet reported Cox in response to a student’s question said “no one” in Utah has died by suicide because they were unable to access gender-affirming care.

“I care deeply about these kids. I love these kids. I want these kids to thrive. I want these kids to be successful,” Cox said, according to the GW Hatchet. “I think there’s a better way to do that than by having genital-mutilation surgeries before they’re 18 and old enough to have a rational decision, to actually make a decision for themselves. And so we can disagree with that.”

“As the only trans student org at GW, we refuse to let our community have their right to exist be put up for debate and threatened by disinformation,” said the Transgender and Nonbinary Students of GW in their statement. “We call on GW administration to consider ways in which they can repair the harm caused by Gov. Cox’s statements on campus, and make the safety of their trans students, faculty and staff a priority in a sociopolitical climate that is fixated on our eradication.”

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District of Columbia

Nex Benedict honored at D.C. candlelight vigil

Upwards of 100 people paid tribute to nonbinary Okla. student at As You Are

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A candlelight vigil is held outside of the LGBTQ café and bar As You Are on Feb. 22, 2024, for 16-year-old nonbinary student Nex Benedict. (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

Nearly 100 people turned out on Feb. 22 for a candlelight vigil hosted by the D.C. LGBTQ café and bar As You Are to pay tribute to 16-year-old nonbinary student Nex Benedict.

Benedict died Feb. 8 at a hospital in Owasso, Okla., one day after family members say Benedict was beaten up by three older female students in an Owasso High School bathroom after a fight broke out. Owasso police have said they are investigating the circumstances surrounding Benedict’s death but said preliminary autopsy findings do not show the death was caused by physical injuries.

Family members, including Benedict’s mother, told news media outlets that Benedict suffered severe bruises to their face and head and the family believes the injuries from an assault caused their child’s death. Family members have also said Benedict had been targeted for bullying at school because of their status as a nonbinary person.

People who spoke at the As You Are candlelight vigil said they considered the death an anti-LGBTQ hate crime.

“Today we are brought together to mourn the loss of Nex Benedict,” As You Are co-owner Rachel “Coach” Pike told the gathering, which was held on the As You Are outdoor patio and surrounding sidewalk. “Nex Benedict, your life matters. It will always matter, and more than that your life was precious,” Pike said.

“You had the right to live as you were and all parts of your identity were beautiful and should have been celebrated, supported, and safe,” Pike added.

Pike and other speakers, some of whom identified as nonbinary and transgender, pointed out that Benedict’s family are members of the Choctaw Nation, a Native American community. A speaker at the vigil who identified himself as Bo and said he identified as a two-spirit individual called on the gathering to pay tribute to Benedict’s role as one of the Choctaw people.

“When I first heard the news of Nex Benedict’s murder I was shocked,” Bo said. “I thought of how young. I thought about how much life was taken from this child.”

Another speaker, native American advocate Shiala King, whose family are members of the Sicangu Lakota Nation in South Dakota, arranged for her father, Frank John King, a faith leader and medicine man, to speak to the gathering by phone hookup from his residence in South Dakota. After greeting the gathering and expressing his condolences over the death of Benedict, Frank King further honored Benedict by singing a spiritual song in the Lakota language as part of a tradition of uplifting the spirit of beloved people who pass away.

Jo McDaniel, the other co-owner of As You Are whose also Pike’s spouse, said they were pleased with the response to their announcement of the vigil on social media. 

“To see this child taken from us this way, it’s chilling and it’s horrible and it’s not right and it’s not fair,” McDaniel told the Washington Blade after the vigil ended. “And so, we knew that the only thing we could do to help our community heal was to gather. And we wanted to do that in as honorable and wonderful a way as possible as that kid deserves,” she said.

Sue Benedict, Nex Benedict’s mother, told the British newspaper The Independent that Nex was a “courageous, smart teenager who had simply been living their true identity.” The Independent reports that Sue Benedict said Nex had been subjected to taunts, insults and bullying due to their gender fluid identity for over a year. 

Owasso police officials have said detectives were interviewing school officials and students to obtain more details on how the fight started and whether charges will be brought against those who allegedly assaulted Benedict. A police spokesperson told The Independent police were awaiting the findings of toxicology and autopsy reports from the Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s Office to determine whether anyone will be charged with a criminal offense.

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