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GOProud head attacked in anti-gay assault

LaSalvia, attacked near Union Station, critical of hate crimes laws; GLLU pager unanswered

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'Why did we spend so much political capital for the federal hate crimes law …still does nothing to prevent hate crimes,’ said GOProud’s Jimmy LaSalvia. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The head of the conservative gay Republican group GOProud was attacked on a secluded street behind Union Station while riding home from work on his bicycle on July 15 by a male teenager who called him a “faggot.”

Jimmy LaSalvia, GOProud’s executive director, said the unidentified youth punched him in the chest about 8:30 p.m. as he rode past the youth and six or seven other male teenagers who were with the person that struck him on 2nd Street, N.E. just north of L Street.

“I was on my bike when I approached them,” LaSalvia told the Blade in an e-mail. “Just as I got up to them, the assailant lunged off the sidewalk toward me on the street and delivered a punch across my chest. The momentum of my bicycling driving me into his fist and arm caused a shocking pain like I’ve never felt before,” he said.

“Just as I began to realize what was happening, I heard it. The words are still ringing in my ears as I write this today – ‘F____ faggot!’ LaSalvia said in his e-mail. “It was clear to me in that moment that my sexual orientation had motivated this attack.”

LaSalvia said that after barely catching himself from falling to the ground, he reached into his backpack for his cell phone, with the thought of calling the police. That action prompted one of the teenagers accompanying the attacker to say, “Does he have a gun?” LaSalvia told the Blade.

The attacker and a few of the others with him “puffed up their chests and were clearly ready to continue the attack,” he said. But seconds later, the group fled the scene after he kept his hand inside his backpack, “allowing them to wonder if I was reaching for a gun.”

He said he then rode home and called the police non-emergency number. A receptionist taking the call instructed him to call 911, saying an officer would come to his house to take a report. But LaSalvia said he didn’t feel it necessary to take up police time for what was no longer an emergency. He said he chose instead to wait until morning to file a police report.

According to LaSalvia, on Saturday morning, July 16, he went to the headquarters office of the police Gay & Lesbian Liaison Unit, which is located in the Sun Trust Bank building on Dupont Circle. Upon his arrival, no one answered the doorbell, said LaSalvia, even though he noticed people were inside the office. He said a sign on the door advised visitors to call the GLLU’s pager number, which he did, he said. However, as of Monday morning, no one from the GLLU returned his message.

Sgt. Carlos Mejia, the GLLU’s supervisor, told the Blade on Monday that the unit is phasing out the pager number, which he said is part of an “antiquated” system that sometimes malfunctions. Mejia said the GLLU and the police department have distributed literature and public notices advising citizens to contact the unit on its new 24-hour smart phone number of 202-506-0714.

LaSalia, in a phone interview, said he later reached the GLLU and that one of its members, Sgt. Joe Morquecho, interviewed him about the incident and made a report that lists the incident as a hate crime.

“He gave me the name of the detective handling the case and I was just contacted by a victims’ services representative,” LaSalvia said. “So the police department’s been very good to follow up with me and talk to me about this.”

LaSalvia informed friends about the attack in a message on his Facebook page.

Mejia said the GLLU office is not staffed 24 hours a day. One police source said civilian volunteers sometimes work in the office when the officers are out in the field. The volunteers are instructed not to answer the door since they are not trained to work directly with the public, the source said.

“I realize now that this is something that should be reported,” LaSalvia said.

LaSalvia described his attacker as a black male appearing about 17 or 18 years old, about 5 feet 11 inches tall, and weighing about 145 pounds. He said the attacker was wearing gym shorts and had his shirt off, exposing a slim but “muscular” build. LaSalvia said the attacker had a medium skin complexion and “very short hair – almost like a shaved head.”

GOProud describes itself on its website as an organization representing “gay conservatives and their allies…committed to a traditional conservative agenda that emphasizes limited government, individual liberty, free markets and a confident foreign policy.”

Although D.C. police have listed the assault against him as a hate crime, LaSalvia acknowledged that he and GOProud have emerged as critics of the federal and state hate crimes laws.

“We do not oppose hate crimes laws but I happen to think they’re a waste of time because they don’t do anything to prevent violent crimes from occurring and they have outlasted their usefulness,” he said.

According to LaSalvia, hate crimes laws would have been useful in the past, when state and federal law enforcement officials often did not prosecute crimes targeting gays and other minorities such as blacks. He said those days are all but gone, and authorities now routinely prosecute crimes against gays and other groups, even if they are not officially classified as hate crimes in states that don’t have hate crimes laws.

The Obama administration and a coalition of Democratic and Republican members of Congress that voted to pass the Matthew Shepard Hate Crime Prevention Act in 2009 said the law could act as a deterrent to hate crimes by drawing attention to such crimes and building strong opposition to hate violence in society.

Activists supporting the federal hate crimes law also noted that it includes protections for transgender people. Activists said the transgender community, along with gays and lesbians, could now rely on the federal government to prosecute anti-LGBT hate crimes if a state or local law enforcement agency declines to prosecute such crimes against them.

LaSalvia said he is aware that D.C.’s hate crimes law, as well as similar laws in other states, allow judges to hand down a stricter sentence to criminals convicted of committing a hate crime.

“My argument is I’m fine with that but it didn’t do anything to deter him from doing it,” he said of the youth who attacked him. “And that’s my whole point about why did we spend so much political capital for [the federal hate crimes law] when, OK, it’s retribution, but it still does nothing to prevent hate crimes.”

 

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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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Maryland

Judge rules trans teacher’s lawsuit against P.G. County can go to trial

Gay man files separate case charging discrimination

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Jennifer Eller, gay news, Washington Blade
Jennifer Eller alleges the P.G. County school system subjected her to discrimination and harassment. (Photo courtesy of Lambda Legal)

A federal judge in Maryland issued a ruling on Tuesday, Jan. 18, clearing the way for a lawsuit filed by transgender former English teacher Jennifer Eller in 2018 charging the Prince George’s County, Md., Public Schools with discrimination and harassment based on her gender identity to proceed to a trial.

In the ruling, Judge Theodore D. Chuang of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland denied key parts of several motions filed by attorneys representing the P.G. County Public Schools that in effect called for the dismissal of the lawsuit. The motions, among other things, claimed the lawsuit failed to provide sufficient evidence that Eller was subjected to discrimination and harassment, which forced her to resign due to a hostile work environment.

Chuang also ruled against a separate motion introduced by Eller’s attorneys calling for him to issue a summary judgement decision affirming all the lawsuit’s allegations that would have ended the litigation in Eller’s favor without the need to go to trial.

Eller’s lawsuit charges that school officials acted illegally by failing to intervene when she was subjected to a hostile work environment for five years that included abuse and harassment by students, parents, fellow teachers, and supervisors and retaliation by school administrators.

The lawsuit alleges that the school system and its administrators in its actions against Eller violated Title VII of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX of the federal Education Amendments Act of 1972, the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution, the Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act, and the nondiscrimination provision of the Prince George’s County Code.

“We think the judge did as best he could,” said Omar Gonzales-Pagan, an attorney with the LGBTQ litigation group Lambda Legal, which, along with the D.C. law firm Arnold & Porter, are representing Eller in her lawsuit.

“The takeaway is that the case is now in a posture to proceed to trial,” Gonzales-Pagan told the Washington Blade. “The court found that the alleged facts and the information as discovered throughout the case in the discovery process is sufficient to allow a jury to find whether Jennifer Eller was subjected to a hostile work environment and constructive discharge and retaliation unlawfully by the defendants,” he said.

By the term constructive discharge, Gonzales-Pagan was referring to the lawsuit’s charge that Eller was forced to resign from her teaching job in 2017 after being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder due to the alleged abuse she faced on the job.

P.G. County Public Schools officials have declined to comment on the lawsuit on grounds that the school system has a longstanding policy of not discussing pending litigation. However, in its response to the lawsuit in court filings, school system officials have denied Eller’s allegations of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation.

“For years, I was aggressively misgendered, attacked and harassed in the hallways and even in my own classroom by students, peers and supervisors,” Eller said in a statement released by her attorneys.

“My pleas for help and for sensitivity training on LGBTQ issues for students and staff, were ignored,” Eller said in her statement. “The relentless harassment stripped me of the joy of teaching and forced me to resign,” she said. “It is time for Prince George’s County Public Schools to be held accountable.”

The lawsuit says the harassment and discriminatory action against her began in 2011 when she began presenting as female during the school year. It says school officials initially responded to her complaints about the harassment by demanding that she stop dressing as a woman and return to wearing men’s clothes, which she refused to do.

In a separate action, gay former Spanish teacher Jared Hester filed on his own without an attorney a lawsuit in the Maryland federal court charging the P.G. County Public Schools with failing to take action to prevent him from being subjected to discrimination and harassment similar to some of the allegations made in Eller’s lawsuit.

Hester told the Blade that he was subjected to harassment by students who repeatedly called him “faggot,” but school officials, including the principal of the middle school where he taught, refused to take action to stop the harassment.

He provided the Blade with copies of earlier complaints he filed against school system officials with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights, and the P.G County Public Schools’ internal Office of Equity Assurance. Each of the three agencies issued rulings against Hester’s complaints, with two of them saying sufficient evidence could not be found to support his allegations.

The EEOC, in a Nov. 3, 2021 “dismissal” notice, told Hester the EEOC “will not proceed further with its investigation, and makes no determination about whether further investigation would establish violations of the statute.” The notice added, “This does not mean the claims have no merit” or that the respondent, meaning the P.G. County Public Schools, “is in compliance with the statutes.”

The notice did not give a reason for why it chose to end its investigation into Hester’s complaint, but it said his filing with the EEOC cleared the way for him to file a lawsuit to further his case against the school system. 

Hester told the Blade he reached out to Lambda Legal to represent him in his lawsuit, but the LGBTQ litigation group declined to take on his case without giving a reason. Gonzalez-Pagan, the Lambda attorney working on the Eller case, said he was unfamiliar with Hester’s request for representation. Another Lambda official couldn’t immediately be reached to determine the reason for its decision not to represent Hester.

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