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Va. high court rejects gay man’s appeal

Court says it can’t help in discrimination case

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The Virginia Supreme Court has denied a gay man’s effort to obtain restitution after he allegedly was forced to resign from his job at a state museum because of his sexual orientation.

In a two-paragraph notice issued May 17, the state’s high court said it wouldn’t hear the case of Michael Moore v. Virginia Museum of Natural History because there’s nothing in the situation the justice system could rectify.

“Upon review of the record in this case and consideration of the argument submitted in support of and in opposition to the granting of an appeal, the Court is of opinion there is no reversible error in the judgment complained of,” the notice states. “Accordingly, the court refuses the petition for appeal.”

The notice says that Justice Williams Mims took no part in considering the case.

Last month’s petition denial is the result of a process that began when Moore allegedly was forced to resign his position as public relations associate at the Virginia Museum of Natural History in Martinsville, Va., in November 2006 because of his sexual orientation.

On appeal to Virginia’s high court, Moore also contended his dismissal violated his rights under the U.S. Constitution providing for freedom of religion and equal protection.

Moore, who has since moved to Lakeland, Fla., and is now preparing for law school, said the court decision was disappointing but not unexpected.

“We’ve been dealt blows all along, so I was kind of pessimistic going into it,” he said. “Them having to decide either for me or against me would have just required sweeping change. It should have been the reason they made a decision and they didn’t, so I’m disappointed actually.”

Moore said he plans to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court based on violation of rights in the U.S. Constitution. He noted that he has 90 days from when Virginia’s high court issued its notice to appeal the case.

In his case, Moore has said his supervisor discovered he was gay and asked him shortly thereafter to resign, even though he was rewarded with satisfactory marks after completing a performance review.

Following his firing, Moore filed a complaint first within the state government and later with the courts based on an executive order from former Gov. Tim Kaine (D) prohibiting job bias against gay employees in the state and public workforce.

But the administration wasn’t able to find restitution for Moore, and the courts have said the executive order didn’t provide a legal basis by which the courts could take action.

Claire Guthrie Gastanaga, general counsel for Equality Virginia, said the failure of the Virginia Supreme Court to take up the case shows the need for the passage of state legislation that would help protect LGBT Virginians against workplace discrimination.

“The bottom line is this decision just demonstrates what we’ve held for years — that LGBT employees don’t have any meaningful law to seek redress for discrimination, and frankly, they don’t have any cause of action under the old executive order, either,” she said.

When he took office this year, Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell didn’t renew the executive order for workplace protection against gays and instead replaced it with a less forceful executive directive.

Gastanaga said if there weren’t any meaningful protections under Kaine’s order, “there really, really isn’t any protection now” under McDonnell’s directive.

Greg Nevins, supervising senior staff attorney for Lambda Legal, called the Virginia Supreme Court case decision “a disappointing result” and said the reasoning for the court’s rejection “isn’t completely clear.”

Still, he said LGBT people have some workplace protections because the U.S. Constitution grants them some rights.

“It doesn’t mean that public employees in Virginia don’t have recourse for discrimination,” he said. “The Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution does protect state workers from arbitrary discrimination that’s based on sexual orientation.”

Nevins said many courts have found that the Equal Protection Clause protects LGBT people against discrimination in the public workplace, although a U.S. district court in Virginia hasn’t made such a ruling.

“A whole bunch of different courts around the country have said it,” he said. “I don’t really think it’s controversial.”

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8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. Millionsix

    June 2, 2010 at 3:57 pm

    Sweet justice.

  2. Bill

    June 3, 2010 at 1:59 pm

    The Governor and the AG should be confronted by this case as an example that sexual orientation protection is needed and is not “special rights.” God, I hate this f_cking state.

  3. Tim

    June 3, 2010 at 3:07 pm

    One of the things you have to realize about living here in Virginia is the inherent backwardness. There are far too many conservative Republicans in Virginia and they are bent on continuing their discrimination well into the next century. As the rest of the country moves forward, (with the exceptions of a few other backward states) Virginia is marching backwards in time. Just look at our religious-right Governor and loonie tunes Attorney general.

  4. Anthony N.

    June 3, 2010 at 5:49 pm

    The only thing that keeps Virginia from being a 100% podunk state is Northern VA. And that is not saying much.

  5. Doctor Whom

    June 4, 2010 at 9:37 am

    Are you surprised? When I was in law school, on those rare occasions when we studied Virginia cases at all, we did so primarily to see how backward and arbitrary a state court system could be. To learn the law, we studied cases from other states and the federal court system.

  6. Mike G

    June 4, 2010 at 5:31 pm

    ONCE AGAIN VIRGINIA LIVES UP TO IT’S STATE MOTTO:

    “VIRGINIA, THE STATE OF HATE!”

  7. Larry Esser

    June 5, 2010 at 8:40 am

    What a sad thing that this can still happen in this country. I was fired from a managerial job in 1983 when my (new) boss invited me to have dinner with his family and a “young woman” he thought I’d be interested in. I turned him down flat, a few days later, he told me my work was not up to par and I would be let go. When I offered to improve my performance, he wouldn’t hear of it. That’s when I realized what was really happening.
    It took ten years in Maryland and then the powerful assistance of then-governor Glendenning to get our non-discrimination act. Virginia gays will just have to keep fighting unless we get a Federal ENDA. That may be the only hope for many states.

  8. EL Dorado

    June 8, 2010 at 11:50 am

    Where’s ENDA dammit! If it was the law, this case wouldn’t be an issue!

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UDC hit with anti-trans discrimination complaint

University accused of misgendering student

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Emma Alexandra accuses UDC of misgendering her and outing her to fellow students and faculty. (Photo courtesy Alexandra)

A female transgender student at the University of the District of Columbia on Aug. 2 filed a discrimination complaint against the university on grounds that it is violating the city’s Human Rights Act by continuing to use her legal name on school documents and class enrollment lists unless she obtains a legal name change.

Emma R. Alexandra, 28, a part-time student who was admitted to UDC in April, states in her complaint filed with the D.C. Office of Human Rights that she informed UDC officials that she was not ready to immediately undertake a legal name change. She states in her complaint that she has repeatedly asked that her chosen name alone be used on all documents and student lists that can be viewed by fellow students and professors.

She said she understands that her legal name may be needed for legal admissions and academic transcript related documents. But to her dismay, Alexandra told the Washington Blade, UDC officials put in place what they consider a compromise position that identifies her on all public university documents and student class lists by both her legal name and her chosen name.

She said the university began and currently continues to identify her by her male legal name with her preferred name written next to her legal name inside parentheses in this way: Legal First Name (preferred name Emma); Legal last name (preferred name Alexandra).

“This is an egregious solution,” Alexandra told UDC President Ronald Mason Jr. in a July 4 email. “This is the name that appears everywhere now,” she wrote Mason. “Most notable, it’s the name that was displayed to my fellow students and professor during the class I took this summer on Blackboard,” she said, which is an online site like Zoom on which UDC conducts classes.

“This effectively outed me as trans to every other student and my professor,” she told Mason. “I assume the same will continue when I go to campus in the fall and get an ID. My ID will have this name and out me to everyone I show it to,” she wrote. “This is completely unacceptable, disrespectful and dangerous.”

Alexandra said she currently works full time as a Web Application Architect for Bloomberg Industry Group as part of its News Engineering team. She said the company is fully accepting of her using her chosen name without obtaining a legal name change. She said she has enrolled at UDC to take courses she needs to qualify for applying to medical school to fulfill her dream of becoming a psychiatrist.  

Under longstanding procedures, the D.C. Office of Human Rights investigates discrimination complaints and usually calls on both parties to consider reaching a conciliation agreement over the complaint if possible. If conciliation cannot be reached, OHR makes a determination of whether probable cause exists that discrimination occurred in violation of D.C. law.

If such a determination is made, the case is sent to the D.C. Commission on Human Rights, which conducts a trial-like hearing that includes testimony by witnesses before it issues a ruling on the case.

In response to a question from the Blade about whether a refusal by a D.C. university to use a transgender person’s chosen name violates the Human Rights Act, OHR Director Monica Palacio said OHR cannot provide legal advice on such a question. But in a statement to the Blade, Palacio said for educational institutions, the Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on 15 protected characteristics, including gender identity and expression.

OHR’s regulations related to educational institutions “prohibit creating a hostile environment which could include deliberately misgendering a student,” Palacio said. “If anyone believes the statute has been violated, they may file a complaint with OHR,” she said. “OHR investigations are confidential.”

Alexandra said she had yet to receive a direct reply to her email message to Mason as of early this week. But last week she was contacted by phone by an official from the university’s admissions office and from Dr. William Latham, UDC’s Chief Student Development and Success Officer on behalf of Mason.

According to Alexandra, the two explained that her legal name was needed on certain legal documents. She said Latham explained that a software system the university uses to manage student records known as the Banner system, doesn’t support preferred names and currently prevents the school from displaying only her preferred name.

The officials said the university planned to upgrade to a newer version of Banner in October and the new system “may” support using preferred names, Alexandra said.

“Overall, I thought this was a really ridiculous conversation where folks from UDC tried to convince me that they are using my preferred name while also stating that they cannot use my preferred name as it should be used, mostly due to limitations of software,” Alexandra told the Blade. “I don’t think the Human Rights Act has an exception for software systems,” she said.

The Blade contacted UDC President Mason by email on July 20, asking him to comment on Alexandra’s concerns and asking him what, if any, problems would be caused if the university used Alexandra’s chosen name rather than her legal name on the various public, external documents and lists in which her legal name is being used.

“In response to your July 20 email, the Office of the Registrar can enter the student’s preferred name in Banner (via all access screen for faculty and staff awareness), however all official documents, such as the academic transcript, will require the use of the student’s official legal name,” Mason told the Blade in a one-sentence response.

His response didn’t address the issue raised by UDC official Latham in his phone conversation with Alexandra in which Latham said the Banner software system couldn’t currently identify Alexandra only by her chosen name. Mason also didn’t respond to the Blade’s question of why UDC could not adopt a policy like the D.C. Public Schools system, which accepts a request by transgender students to use their chosen name without having to obtain a legal name change.

Alexandra, meanwhile, points out that UDC’s refusal so far to allow her chosen name alone to be used on all public university documents and student lists without her legal name being attached to it appears to be at odds with a May 4 open letter Mason released to the university community expressing strong support for using the appropriate pronouns for transgender and gender non-conforming students.

“The University of the District of Columbia (UDC) strives to be an inclusive campus that supports and values all members of our community, including LGBTQIA+, nonbinary, intersex and gender non-conforming students,” Mason says in his letter.

“Choosing to not use or ignore the pronouns someone has requested you to use implies that person shouldn’t and doesn’t exist and does not deserve respect,” Mason wrote in his letter. “Therefore, we encourage all faculty and staff to use pronouns in their email signatures as an act of solidarity and to foster a culture of respect for every Firebird,” he concludes in referring to the symbolic name used for members of the UDC community.

UDC is governed by a 15-member independent Board of Trustees. Eleven of the members are appointed by the D.C. mayor and confirmed by the D.C. Council. Three are appointed by UDC alumni and one by students, according to information on the UDC website.

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LULAC Lambda announces 2021 scholarship awards

Castro, Javier Rodriguez win $1,000 honors

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Brian Castro and Victor Javier Rodriguez are this year’s LULAC award winners.

The D.C.-based LGBTQ Latinx organization LULAC Lambda has announced it has selected two D.C. residents bound for graduate studies in foreign affairs and higher education to receive its 2021 annual scholarship award.

“For a fourth year in a row, LULAC Lambda will provide scholarships to outstanding scholars who come from our LGBTQ+ Latinx community,” said Erik Rodriquez, the LULAC Lambda president, in a statement released by the group. “Our scholarship program will help these scholars achieve their academic goals and reduce their student debt,” Rodriquez said.

The statement says one of the two scholarship awards, for $1,000, will go to Brian Castro, who will begin studies for a master’s degree in the fall of 2021 at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service.

“The generous scholarship provided by LULAC Lambda will complement my studies by going directly into my tuition costs,” Castro said in the statement. “Though I have been a resident of Washington, D.C., working full-time at a leading public health consulting firm, I am grateful to have received the support from an organization that is also committed to social justice,” he said.

The other scholarship, for $1,300, will go to Victor Javier Rodriguez for his doctoral work in education at Florida State University. The LULAC Lambda statement says Javier Rodriquez’s academic interest lies in “exploring the relationship between school communities and districts’ implementation of anti-racist practice and student success.”

In his own words, Javier Rodriquez said, “A long-term career goal of mine is to affect change at the federal level through the United States Department of Education, in which I would work to address our nation’s education crisis by advocating for equitable policies and practices that improve the outcome for all our students, especially those who are most vulnerable.”

LULAC Lambda says it was founded in October 2014 “to mobilize and strengthen the LGBTQ+ and Latinx communities of Washington, D.C. through community and civic engagement.” It is one of 1,000 chapters across the country affiliated with the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the nation’s largest and oldest Latinx volunteer-based civil rights organization, the group’s statement says.

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Missing gay man found ‘alive and well’

Police say Richard ‘Rick’ Woods found in good health

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Richard G. ‘Rick’ Woods, a 65-year-old gay man, was found alive and well.

D.C. police announced on Friday that Richard G. ‘Rick’ Woods, a 65-year-old gay man who police said was reported missing and last seen on July 14, has been located. But the announcement doesn’t provide information on where he was found or why he went missing.

Friends who know Woods say he operated for many years an antique wood furniture restoration business in various locations in D.C. The most recent location of his business, friends said, was in Georgetown a short distance from where police said he was last seen on the 1600 block of Wisconsin Avenue, N.W.

“MPD does not publicly disclose the circumstances surrounding a missing person and how they are found, however we do release their flyer as well as a notification when they are located,” said D.C. police spokesperson Brianna Burch. “Mr. Woods was found in good health,” Burch told the Blade.

Police sought help from the public in their initial announcement that Woods was missing. The announcement said he was reported missing to police on Friday, July 23.

Logan Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner and LGBTQ rights advocate John Fanning, who said he has been friends with Woods for many years, said he was delighted to hear Woods was found in good condition.

“Rick is known by many in our community,” Fanning told the Blade at the time Woods was reported missing. Fanning said he and others who know Woods stand ready to provide support for him should he be in need of such support.

The Blade couldn’t immediately reach Woods for comment.

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