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Gay marriage opponents denounce ‘notary’ wedding bill



Four of the city’s most vocal opponents of same-sex marriage, including Bishop Harry Jackson, presented or submitted testimony at a D.C. Council hearing on Oct. 14 expressing opposition to a bill that would allow marriages to be performed in D.C. by a notary public.

Another three witnesses, including D.C. gay activist Bob Summersgill, who coordinated lobbying for the same-sex marriage law, testified in favor the bill, the Marriage Officiant Amendment Act of 2010.

The bill would add D.C. to the ranks of Florida, South Carolina and Maine that currently allow a notary public to perform a civil wedding.

D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large), chair of the Council’s Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary, presided over the hearing. He noted that the bill under consideration applies to all marriages and should not be viewed as an extension of the same-sex marriage bill.

But local gay rights and same-sex marriage opponents Minister Leroy Swailes, Michael Sindram, and Richard Urban testified that, coming just a few months after the same-sex marriage law took effect, the notary marriage bill would continue what they called the city’s trend toward disrupting traditional marriage.

“It seems to be a way to push through more same-sex marriages and to further weaken the institution of marriage in my opinion,” Urban told the committee. “Having notaries perform marriages is a bad idea.”

Jackson, who did not appear in person, arranged for Carl Hayes, one of his supporters, to read his testimony.

“Implicit in the proposed law’s dramatic change in venues and officials is a devaluation of both the decision to get married and the institution of marriage,” Hayes quoted Jackson as saying.

“Changing the type and caliber of officiants could result in creating an atmosphere in which citizens enter into the depths of legal and personal commitment required by marriage without giving the decision the reverence and the solemnity it requires,” Hayes read from Jackson’s testimony.

D.C. residents Steven Lowe and Melody Hensley, who said they were involved with local secular humanist groups, joined Summersgill in supporting the bill as a means of providing another option for couples who choose to marry outside a church or religious setting.

Lowe noted that under the current law, non-religious weddings can only be performed by judges, who limit their availability to people who know them personally, and court-designated “officiants” who perform civil marriages in a small room at the D.C. courthouse that can’t accommodate more than about a dozen guests.

He said designating notaries public to perform civil marriages would enable all couples choosing a non-religious ceremony to arrange for a notary to marry them at locations ranging from private homes to large reception halls.

Summersgill called on the Council to expand the bill to create “professional, non-clergy licensed marriage officers” to perform marriages in addition to a notary public. He also called for the bill to create a one-day “marriage officiant” designation that would allow couples to choose a friend or relative to perform their marriage who doesn’t have to become a notary or marriage officer to do so.

Mendelson told the Blade he believes more research is needed to look into issues surrounding the bill. He said he has no immediate plans to seek a vote on the bill in committee or before the full Council.

The bill was co-introduced by Council members Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), and David Catania (I-At-Large). Council members Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) co-sponsored the bill.

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Va. students warn against ‘don’t say gay’ policies

New law requires parental notification of ‘sexually explicit content’ in classroom



(Bigstock photo)

More than 600 students from across Virginia signed a letter from the Pride Liberation Project that calls for the Virginia Department of Education to clarify that teaching students about LGBTQ people and events is not “sexually explicit.”

Senate Bill 656, which Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed earlier this year, requires parents be notified when instructional materials contain “sexually explicit content” — without any input from students.

Current Virginia law defines “sexual conduct” as “masturbation, homosexuality, sexual intercourse, or physical contact in an act of apparent sexual stimulation or gratification.”

Because SB 656 does not itself specify what constitutes “sexually explicit content,” LGBTQ students and activists are concerned that the bill will rest on Virginia’s pre-existing definition of sexual conduct.

In their full letter, signees argued that “In effect, SB 656 can potentially be interpreted to define all references to people in same-sex relationships as inherently sexual.”

“Consequently, all references to LGBTQIA+ people in K-12 schools, including Supreme Court cases, historical events impacting LGBTQIA+ people, and discussions about queer authors, may be deemed as sexually explicit content under SB 656, effectively erasing LGBTQIA+ representation in our school curriculum,” reads the Pride Liberation Project’s press release.

Representation has been shown to positively increase academic performance, and LGBTQ youth already face exacerbated risks of suicide and mental health crisis. In Virginia specifically, the vast majority of LGBTQ students reported hearing anti-LGBTQ remarks at school, and 26 percent of LGBTQ students reported being “disciplined for public displays of affection (PDA) that did not result in similar action for non-LGBTQ students.” 

 “Most of my LGBTQIA+ friends are already struggling with their mental health,” said one Loudoun County student in the Pride Liberation Project press release. “I’m scared about the message these guidelines could send and losing the already limited affirming representation in my class.” 

Another student from Richmond said that they “didn’t want to see their friends who are from homes that aren’t accepting not see themselves reflected at school.” 

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District of Columbia

SMYAL announces new executive director

Erin Whelan to start Sept. 1



Erin Whelan (Photo courtesy of SMYAL)

SMYAL on Thursday announced Erin Whelan will become the organization’s new executive director on Sept. 1.

SMYAL’s mission is to support and empower LGBTQ youth ages 6-24.

A press release that announces Whelan’s appointment notes the organization over the last five years has grown “exponentially.” Its services include affirming programs, housing support, leadership training and mental health services, designed to help LGBTQ youth develop advocacy skills and an educated, welcoming community.   

Whelan most recently served as the director of housing and homeless services at LifeWorks, an Austin, Texas,-based nonprofit that provides youth with housing and services. She has worked in nonprofit management for almost 20 years, and SMYAL’s press release highlighted her commitment to antiracism, equity and the LGBTQ community. 

“Erin Whelan is a compassionate and strong leader who I am confident is the right person to lead SMYAL,” board chair Rob Cogorno said. “I could not be more proud of the tremendous growth in services for our LGBTQ youth and of the SMYAL staff’s hard work that made that growth possible. Erin’s extensive experience in service to youth in need and her passion for that work will help guide SMYAL in continuing its excellent work in this challenging time for LGBTQ youth in our region and across the country.” 

Whelan in the press release shared her enthusiasm for stepping into leadership with this driving purpose. 

“I am beyond excited and honored to join SMYAL as the new executive director. My work has been committed to understanding and seeing the world through the lens of the most marginalized youth and young adults and being a fierce advocate for LGBTQ youth,” Whelan said. “I believe all LGBTQ youth deserve an opportunity to build a life they love and a chance to feel celebrated and affirmed for exactly who they are and strive to be. From the moment I stepped into the SMYAL community, it felt like exactly where I wanted to be. SMYAL creates a community for queer and trans youth where they can feel radically accepted and safe to step into their true selves.” 

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Judge: West Virginia Medicaid must cover transgender care

Fain v. Crouch is litigation challenging blanket exclusions of coverage for gender-confirming care in West Virginia’s state health plans



A U.S. District Court judge ruled Tuesday that West Virginia’s Medicaid program could no longer discriminate by excluding coverage for gender-confirming surgical care for transgender West Virginia Medicaid participants. 

U.S. District Court Judge Robert C. Chambers also certified the lawsuit as a class action, covering all transgender West Virginians who participate in Medicaid.  In the lawsuit brought in November of 2020 by Lambda Legal, Nichols Kaster, and The Employment Law Center, the plantiffs challenged the state’s ban on gender-confirming care in West Virginia’s Medicaid and state employee health plans.

“We applaud Judge Chamber’s decision to remove the discriminatory barrier to accessing medically necessary, gender-confirming surgical care for all transgender West Virginia Medicaid participants. Protecting and advancing health care for transgender people is vital, sound, and just. Transgender West Virginia Medicaid participants deserve to have equal access to the same coverage for medically necessary healthcare that cisgender Medicaid participants receive as a matter of course,” said Avatara Smith-Carrington, Staff Attorney at Lambda Legal. 

Fain v. Crouch is a class action litigation challenging blanket exclusions of coverage for gender-confirming care in West Virginia’s state health plans. The blanket exclusions of coverage for care are stated expressly in the health plans offered to Medicaid participants and to state employees. West Virginia’s state health plans serve approximately 564,000 Medicaid participants and15,000 state employees.

“I am excited to finally have access to the healthcare I deserve. The exclusion negatively affects my health and wellbeing as well as the health and wellbeing of other transgender Medicaid participants in our community. Gender-confirming care is healthcare, and it is lifesaving,” said plaintiff Shauntae Anderson, West Virginia Medicaid participant.  

“This is a victory not only for me but for other transgender Medicaid participants across West Virginia. This decision is validating, confirming that after years of fighting to prove that gender-confirming care is medically necessary, we should have access to the same services that West Virginia Medicaid already provides to cisgender participants. Transgender West Virginians should never feel as if our lives are worth less than others,” said plaintiff Christopher Fain, West Virginia Medicaid participant. 

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