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Gay Republican accuses Dem of gay-baiting in Va.

‘Why would you want to vote for someone who’s a homosexual?’

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A gay Republican running for state Senate in Virginia is accusing his Democratic incumbent opponent of engaging in gay-baiting tactics, an assertion supported by an audio recording obtained by the Washington Blade of inflammatory remarks made by a Democratic volunteer.

On the recording, the intoxicated Democratic volunteer can be heard saying, “Why would you want to vote for someone who’s a homosexual and is going to push his agenda in your schools?”

Patrick Forrest, the gay Republican running for state Senate in Reston, Va., said he’s heard that Democratic volunteers for State Sen. Janet Howell (D-Reston) have been reaching out to conservative voters in her district to inform them of his sexual orientation in an effort to dissuade them from supporting him.

ALSO IN THE BLADE: NEGATIVE MESSAGING STIR EMOTIONS WITH SUPPORTERS OF GAY CANDIDATES

Forrest said he heard this information from Republicans in Virginia’s 32nd district while knocking on doors and campaigning.

“I’ve been approached by several people … very, very conservative — and had basically said to me, ‘You know, we heard you’re a homosexual,'” Forrest said. “I said, ‘Yeah, I’m gay. I’ve always been openly gay.’ Well, we were actually told by … volunteers from the Democrats that you would be promoting the homosexual agenda in our schools.'”

Howell, a 19-year incumbent with a strong pro-gay record, said the claim that her campaign has been highlighting Forrest’s sexual orientation is “absolutely not true.”

“We’re not mentioning his orientation at all,” Howell told the Blade. “It’s simply not an issue. The only one who seems to be making it an issue is Mr. Forrest himself.”

Forrest’s assertion is supported by a recording of a conversation between Eric Newland, Forrest’s field director, and Kavita Imarti, a Democratic precinct captain in Reston. Newland said the recording took place on Oct. 5 outside of Imarti’s home during a party.

On the recording, Newland asks Imarti about rumors that the Howell campaign is approaching Republican voters and highlighting Forrest’s sexual orientation in order to dissuade them from supporting him. Imarti says that her side is employing this tactic. She attempts to justify the tactic throughout the recording by alleging that Republican voters are racist and homophobic and would want to know Forrest is gay.

Newland asks whether Imarti thinks the campaign should be telling people about Forrest’s sexual orientation. She replies, “Yes, because you guys are racist bastards.” Later, when asked what exactly the campaign is saying, Imarti says, “He’s gay! You guys say you’re anti-gay, but you have a gay candidate. What you gonna do now?”

Asked on the recording to clarify whether this tactic is coming from the Howell campaign, Imarti says, “Yes! You guys are openly prejudiced against someone due to orientation. I think that’s wrong. That’s wrong.”

Later, Imarti says, “What my campaign is saying is here’s your Republican candidate. He’s a homosexual. Why would you want to vote for someone who’s a homosexual and is going to push his agenda in your schools?”

Imarti isn’t a member of the Howell campaign. At one point in the conversation, she says, “I’m not working with Janet.” In the recording, she says she makes phone calls and participates in canvassing efforts. But in the recording another voice says, “You guys work together, which means you’re working for Janet.”

In a statement to the Blade, Newland said he recorded the conversation with Imarti because he heard she had been discussing this campaign strategy openly and he wanted to hear it for himself.

“Frankly, we had heard from several of our volunteers that ‘gay-baiting’ was being utilized against Patrick,” Newland said. “When hearing one of their own grassroots political organizers talking openly about this strategy to tell people that Patrick was gay, as a way to help re-elect Sen. Howell, I was deeply offended.”

Nick Kowalski, Howell’s campaign manager, said Imarti is a Democratic volunteer for a county-coordinated campaign and doesn’t speak for Howell or her campaign.

“We did not recruit her,” Kowalski said. “We have not solicited her efforts to volunteer for Janet Howell directly, and she has no direct association with this campaign. Clearly, in this recording, she’s highly intoxicated and speaking about something she knows nothing about.”

Kowalski said the campaign has sent a message to the coordinated campaign of Fairfax County that Imarti has “no further association — volunteer or otherwise — with our campaign.”

Additionally, Kowalski acknowledged he had two five-minute talks with Imarti prior to the recording. But he maintained that he did not discuss campaign specifics with her in those conversations.

Kowalski denied the assertion that the Howell campaign is telling potential Republican voters about Forrest’s sexual orientation.

“We 100 percent categorically deny we are sending any messages to Republican voters on Patrick’s sexuality or otherwise,” Kowalski said. “We are not reaching out to Republican voters at all in the campaign. This campaign is about getting a message out about the issues that concern voters, and Patrick’s sexuality is not an issue for us, and it’s not an issue for voters in the district.

Speaking with the Blade, Imarti disavowed any involvement with the Howell campaign and denied any knowledge about the campaign engaging Republican voters. She said the recording was made without her knowledge and has been “a real inconvenience” for her and her family.

“I was obviously intoxicated in the recording,” Imarti said. “I was not speaking clearly. I was speaking out of anger. I said some things I did not mean, and, in fact, were not true.”

Imarti said she can’t speak for the Howell campaign and she hasn’t “heard anything” about the Howell campaign reaching out to Republican voters and informing them that Forrest is gay.

“I do not have any knowledge of anything either campaign is doing, any strategy or anything like that,” Imarti said. “I was speaking for myself as a Democrat, as a person. I was being instigated and I was apparently very upset, and visibly intoxicated.”

But accusations about gay-baiting in the race go beyond this incident.

Forrest also said he spoke to two members of the Virginia Legislature — State Sen. Mark Obenshain and Del. Barbara Comstock — who asserted Howell informed them of his sexual orientation. Forrest said the lawmakers told him Howell said “this guy is a homosexual” and “you should not be supporting him.”

“She’s going about this two ways: one, by approaching … Republican legislators in Virginia [and saying] he’s gay and not a true conservative and then also by approaching conservative voters,” Forrest said.

Speaking with the Blade, Obenshain said Howell had asked him about Forrest during a brief 45-second conversation and said Republicans were “running a RINO” in the district based on several reasons, including the fact that Forrest has a same-sex partner. RINO, or Republican-In-Name-Only, is a pejorative word for a member of GOP who often doesn’t adhere to party dogma.

“She ticked off three of four things that would, I guess, indicate he was not conservative: something about taxes, maybe that he may have voted in a Democratic primary, that he has a partner — and just went tick, tick, tick,” Obenshain said. “I think my response was, ‘Gee, Janet, it sounds like you’re asking me for my endorsement,’ which was tongue-in-cheek.”

Obenshain said Howell didn’t explicitly say anything about him not wanting to support Forrest because he allegedly is a RINO or because of his sexual orientation, but added such a message may have been “a fair implication.”

“She listed off three or four things, including that he had a partner,” Obenshain said. “She didn’t place any more or less emphasis on that than the other things that she listed.”

Obenshain added he “absolutely” supports Forrest’s candidacy based on the candidate’s credentials.

“I attended and participated in fundraisers for him,” Obenshain said. “I think he’s a strong candidate who has a strong command of the issues and would do a very good job representing that district in the Senate.”

Comstock didn’t respond to the Blade’s request for comment on Forrest’s allegation. They both have anti-gay voting records and have voted against legislation that would bar state government employers from discriminating against gays in the workplace.

Forrest said he’s “very sad” about reports that his sexual orientation has become an issue because he wants the campaign to be about other other things, such as the fact that Northern Virginia sends significant tax dollars down state.

“I was frankly shocked that a liberal member of the Virginia State Senate who is so powerful and on the Budget Committee would resort to these types of tactics, but she has, and that’s what she’s chosen to do,” Forrest said. “I have fought this kind of gay-baiting when it’s been on the political right, I will continue to fight it when it’s on the political left, and I’m going to go out there and just talk about transportation, jobs, economy, my vision of the type of independent voice we need for Northern Virginia.”

Forrest said he hopes Howell apologizes so that those involved “can put this behind us and we can move on and have a real campaign talking about real issues.”

Howell denied the accusation that she has spoken to Republican lawmakers about Forrest’s sexual orientation and accused the candidate of lying.

“I’m deeply offended that Patrick Forrest would lie like this,” Howell said. “I have never said and never would say that anyone would be unwelcome in Richmond because of their sexual orientation. … A person’s sexual orientation isn’t a issue for me, and I certainly hope it isn’t for anybody who’s voting in Virginia.”

Howell said she has the “strongest record on civil rights in the Senate.” She noted she’s been endorsed by Equality Virginia and said she thinks she obtained the endorsement “because of my years of work on issues of importance to the GLBT community.”

Howell was the chief patron of bills allowing companies to provide life and health insurance benefits to the partners of their gay employees. She also worked against passage of the Marshall-Newman Amendment, a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, which was enacted in 2006. She voted against the measure in the General Assembly and said she led the effort to defeat the measure when it came before voters.

“I’m one of the ones who was the strongest opponents of that odious Marshall-Newman constitutional amendment,” Howell said. “I spoke and voted against it on the floor of the Senate, and I worked my district like crazy to have that defeated, and glad to say they did.”

Howell said she supports same-sex marriage and backs legislation that would bar employers from discriminating against LGBT people in the workplace.

“I’ve been married for 45 years, and I know how marriage can deepen a relationship, and I think everyone should have that same right,” Howell said.

Forrest, who’s been endorsed by the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, also said he supports marriage equality and legislation that would bar job discrimination against LGBT people.

Denis Dison, a Victory Fund spokesperson, said the alleged gay-baiting “has no place in politics” and came to the defense of his organization’s endorsed candidate.

“If this is true then it’s really unfortunate,” Dison said. “Patrick is eminently qualified to serve in the Virginia Senate and we applaud the fact that he’s been open and honest about being gay. We were proud to endorse him and we stand by our candidate in this race.”

Del. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria), who’s gay and also endorsed by the Victory Fund, said he couldn’t comment on the veracity of the allegations, but defended Howell based on her record. Ebbin is also seeking a Virginia Senate seat in another race.

“Without Janet Howell, we wouldn’t have extended life insurance or health insurance to same-sex partners in Virginia, and she’s been a true leader on issues of equality,” Ebbin said.

NOTE: This article has been updated.

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District of Columbia

D.C.’s Capital Pride to resume ‘large-scale’ outdoor events

Organizers say one of the largest ever parades and festivals set for June

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Happy days are here again? Scenes like this from 2019 could be back in 2022. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Capital Pride Alliance, the group that organizes D.C.’s annual LGBTQ Pride events, has announced on its website that it plans to resume the city’s Pride Parade and Festival in June 2022 that traditionally has attracted tens of thousands of participants after canceling the two events in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID pandemic.

“The Capital Pride Alliance is excited to announce the highly anticipated return of our annual large-scale outdoor Pride Celebration in June 2022!” the group says on its website. “Registration for the Capital Pride Parade on June 11, 2022, and the Capital Pride Festival on June 12, 2022, will be open soon,” the website message says.

Ryan Bos, the Capital Pride Alliance executive director, told the Washington Blade the group met with D.C. government officials on Monday to coordinate plans for the upcoming outdoor events in June. He said an updated announcement with more details of the events would be released later this week or early next week.

The Capital Pride website message focuses on the parade and festival.

“Join the LGBTQ+ community for the return of the historic Capital Pride Parade,” the website message says. “In 2022, a modified route will honor our history and acknowledge the evolution of the LGBTQ+ neighborhoods in Washington, DC, while respecting the origins and importance of taking to the streets in our fight for equality,” it says.

“Be prepared to experience one of the largest Pride Parades to ever take place in the United States Capital,” the message adds.

The message says the Pride Festival will resume at its traditional location on Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. near the U.S. Capitol that it refers to as America’s Mainstreet.

“Enjoy a full day of entertainment on three stages, food, drink and advocacy with over 300 exhibitors,” the website message says. “The Festival is the largest annual event in the national capital region,” the message continues, adding that the Capital Pride Concert will also return this year at its usual locations at the site of the festival.

“You will experience entertainment on three stages, from international headliners to our best local regional LGBTQ+ talent,” according to the Capital Pride website message. It says concert performances will take place from 12-10 p.m. And a “Capitol” Sunset Dance Party will take place at the festival site from 8-10 p.m.

“The concert may end but the dancing will continue,” the message says. “Enjoy the electronica sounds of an international DJ sensation while you dance in the middle of America’s Main Street on Pennsylvania Avenue, with the sun setting on the U.S. Capitol.”

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and the city’s public health officials ended the city’s COVID-related restrictions on the number of people allowed to attend outdoor events as well as indoor entertainment events last May as the number of COVID infections began to decline.

But as the number of Omicron variant cases of the COVID virus increased dramatically in the fall of 2021, the mayor resumed the requirement of the use of face masks in all indoor public places.

Also put in place earlier this month by the city was a requirement that restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and other entertainment establishments require customers to show proof of vaccination as a condition for admission to the establishments. Bowser, however, has said the city was not considering resuming restrictions on the number of people allowed in establishments such as restaurants and bars or outdoor stadiums.

Capital Pride Alliance has not said whether it will put in place a vaccination requirement for admission to the Pride festival and parade as well as some of its planned indoor events. With the number of Omicron related COVID cases beginning to drop in the past two weeks in D.C. and the surrounding suburbs, the prospect of a resumption in restrictions on the number of people allowed to assemble at outdoor events like the Pride Parade and Festival appears to be less likely.

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Virginia

Man who killed one in 2000 Roanoke gay bar shooting dies in prison

One of the worst bias attacks targeting LGBTQ community

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Ronald Edward Gay died while serving life sentences for attacking a Virginia gay bar. (Washington Blade clipping from Sept. 29, 2000)

A man sentenced to four consecutive life terms in prison for the September 2000 shooting at a gay bar in Roanoke, Va., in which one man lost his life and six others were wounded, died of natural causes on Jan. 15, according to the Virginia Department of Corrections.

A spokesperson for the Department of Corrections told WSLA 10 TV News that Ronald Edward Gay died while being treated at a hospital near the Deerfield Correctional Center, a state prison where he had been living as an inmate. He was 75. 

Witnesses and law enforcement officials reported at the time of the shooting that a middle-aged man later identified as Gay arrived alone at Roanoke’s Backstreet Café, a popular gay bar, on the night of Sept. 22, 2000.

According to an account by an eyewitness to the incident who spoke last week with the Roanoke Times newspaper, after ordering a beer and standing next to the bar for a short time, Gay reached into the long trench coat he was wearing, pulled out a 9mm pistol, and fired a round “straight into the chest of 43-year-old Danny Overstreet, before opening fire on the rest of the bar.”

Overstreet, a beloved regular patron at the Backstreet Café, died at the scene of the shooting. Six others, who were wounded by bullets fired by Gay, later recovered, but they and many others who were present and witnessed the shooting were left emotionally scarred, the Roanoke Times reported.

In the weeks following the shooting, news media outlets, including the Washington Blade and the Washington Post, reported findings of an investigation by local police that Gay told police he went to Backstreet specifically to target gay people because he became bitter after years of being taunted and teased for his last name of “Gay.”

The Roanoke Times reported that, among other things, Gay told police “God told him to do it” and that he once wrote that there was an evil inside of him telling him “to shoot or have no rest.”

Gay later pleaded guilty to multiple charges against him, including murder. On July 23, 2001, he was sentenced to four consecutive life sentences in prison for the shooting incident and the murder of Overstreet.

The Backstreet incident in Roanoke was considered by LGBTQ rights advocates and others to be one of the worst incidents in which LGBTQ people were targeted for a shooting until the June 2016 shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., in which 49 people died and 53 more were wounded in a mass shooting by 29-year-old Omar Mateen.

Mateen, who was shot and killed by Orlando police after a three-hour standoff, told police in a phone call from inside the nightclub after the shooting began that he swore allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and his attack against the gay nightclub was motivated by the U.S. military intervention in Iraq and Syria. The FBI later classified the incident as a terrorist attack.

The Roanoke Times reported that the shooting incident at Backstreet Café prompted LGBTQ residents and allies to gather in the days and weeks after the incident for vigils and marches. About 1,000 people walked through the streets of downtown Roanoke to honor the life of Overstreet and to urge Congress to pass federal hate crimes legislation, the newspaper reported.

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Local

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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