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Christian conservatives ‘in driver’s seat’ in Va.

Dems consider lawsuit to force power-sharing as activists fear onslaught of anti-gay bills

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Bill Bolling

Virginia Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling would cast the deciding vote in any tie on bills coming up for a vote, effectively giving Republicans a razor-thin majority in the Senate. (Courtesy photo)

LGBT activists said they were hopeful that the threat of a lawsuit by Democratic members of the Virginia Senate this week would persuade Republicans to share control of the chamber and decrease the chance that it will enact anti-LGBT bills following the GOP gains in last week’s election.

No one disputes the fact that Republicans have gained a one-vote legislative majority in the Virginia Senate after Republican candidates defeated two incumbent Democrats in the 40-member Senate, resulting in a 20-20 split between the two parties.

Under the Virginia Constitution, the lieutenant governor — in this case Republican Bill Bolling — has authority to cast the deciding vote in any tie on bills coming up for a vote, effectively giving Republicans a razor-thin majority in the Senate.

ALSO IN THE BLADE: HOW DID LGBT CANDIDATES FARE IN VIRGINIA ON ELECTION NIGHT?

But Democrats argue that the constitution doesn’t give Bolling authority to vote on non-legislative matters, such as who should be named as chairs of the body’s powerful committees and which party should control the committees. Both sides say the matter could wind up in court if a compromise isn’t reached before the new legislative session begins in the second week of January.

Republicans increased their existing majority in the state’s House of Delegates in the Nov. 8 election. With Republican Robert McDonnell as governor, if Republicans win the dispute over who fully controls the Senate, the conservative-leaning GOP would be in control of all branches of the Virginia government for the first time since the Civil War.

“Virginia is never a place to look for gay-friendly legislation,” said Stephen Farnsworth, professor of political communications at George Mason University and a specialist in Virginia politics. “But what you’re looking at now is a Christian conservative element of the Republican Party that is very much in the driver’s seat going forward.”

Gay Democratic leaders and LGBT activists acknowledge that even if Democrats prevail on the issue of power sharing regarding Senate committees, the Republican majority for votes on legislation means that that the Senate is now far less likely to block anti-gay bills as it did when it was under Democratic control.

“We can certainly expect that there’s going to be a cascade of really unsavory bills flooding over to the Senate from the House as there have been in recent years pertaining to issues of immigration, women’s rights and obviously gay rights, too,” said Nick Benton, editor and publisher of the Falls Church News-Press and board member of LGBT Democrats of Virginia.

“And how many of those bills can be made to die in the Senate at this point becomes a much dicier situation,” Benton said. “There’s no guarantee at all that any of that stuff is going to be beaten back.”

Nearly all news media outlets, including the Washington Post, have reported since last week’s election that Lt. Gov. Bolling’s authority to break a tie vote in the Senate would extend to votes on committee and internal Senate organizational issues as well as votes on bills.

But some Democrats this week said they dispute Republicans’ contention that the lieutenant governor has the power to vote on non-legislative issues.

“Fundamentally, the question is whether under the Virginia Constitution he has the authority to vote on Senate organizational issues as contrasted to legislative matters, substantive matters,” said Claire Gastanaga, legislative counsel and chief lobbyist for Equality Virginia, a statewide LGBT advocacy group.

“I’m not ready to predict exactly what’s going to happen with respect to the issues that we care about,” she said. “We’ll be pursuing Equality Virginia’s agenda as we always have, and once the organizational decisions are made then we’ll know who we needed to be talking to.”

Since committees and their chairs decide which bills reach the Senate floor for a vote, a determination of which party controls the committees will play a key role in deciding which bills are passed, including a bill introduced in past years calling for banning adoptions by gay and lesbian parents.

Democrats note that when there was a similar 20-20 split between the two parties in the Senate in 1996 and 1997, party leaders worked out a power sharing agreement that enabled Republicans and Democrats to chair different committees.

Newly elected Va. State Sen. Adam Ebbin said he plans to introduce a bill to bar employment discrimination against state employees based on sexual orientation and gender identity. (Photo courtesy Adam Ebbin)

House of Delegates member Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria), the Virginia Legislature’s only openly gay member, won his race last week for a seat in the Virginia Senate, becoming the first out gay in that body.

ALSO IN THE BLADE: EBBIN’S MARCH TOWARD MAKING HISTORY

Ebbin said this week that he, too, is uncertain about the outcome of the dispute over whether Republicans will gain full control over the Senate committees or whether a power-sharing agreement will be reached. In either case, Ebbin said he plans to introduce a bill calling for banning employment discrimination against state employees based on sexual orientation and gender identity similar to the bill he introduced earlier this year.

The bill passed in the then Democratic-controlled Senate but died in committee in the GOP-controlled House.

Ebbin said he and LGBT allies in the Senate and House will do all they can to block anti-gay bills in the 2012 legislative session. But similar to Benton, Ebbin said the ability to block hostile bills will be more difficult under a GOP-controlled Senate.

“In the past, we’ve been able to count on the Senate to thwart anti-gay legislation passed by the House,” he said. “We can’t count on the Senate to do that in the next legislative session. I’m not saying that things won’t get killed in the Senate. It’s just that we can’t absolutely count on it.”

Ebbin said that in addition to a possible bill to ban gay adoptions, conservative GOP lawmakers could bring up other hostile bills that either surfaced or had been proposed in past years but died in committee. Among them were calls for banning Gay-Straight Alliance clubs in the state’s public schools and a call for banning colleges in the state from adopting non-discrimination polices related to sexual orientation and gender identity.

Ebbin said that although it would be unlikely, anti-gay groups might also attempt to persuade the legislature to repeal the only pro-gay bills it has ever passed – separate measures in 2005 and 2010 that removed an arcane state law that prohibited private insurance companies from selling health and life insurance policies to same-sex couples.

Farnsworth, the George Mason University professor, noted that virtually all Republican candidates in Virginia this year stressed economic and jobs-related issues along with their disagreements with the Obama administration over the economy. He said few if any of the GOP candidates raised social issues, such as gay rights, during their campaigns.

“It will be interesting to see just how the Republican unified government system operates in Virginia,” he said. “The lessons that Republicans have learned from the experiences in Wisconsin and Ohio and other places is that overreaching, offering up polarizing messages can be counterproductive.”

He added, “Careful Republicans with their eyes on the future may be hesitant to go too far in the conservative direction and risk a backlash.”

Are moderate Republicans the answer?

LGBT activists were hopeful that more moderate Republicans would join Sen. Tommy Norment (R-Williamsburg), the current minority leader who’s in line to become Republican majority leader. Norment was the only Republican in the Senate to vote for the state employment non-discrimination bill earlier this year when the Democratic-controlled Senate passed the measure.

Tiffany Joslyn, president of LGBT Democrats of Virginia, said she doubts that very many Republican lawmakers in the state would join Norment in backing LGBT supportive bills.

“I have no doubt they will do the same thing that they always do,” she said. “They preach moderation, they preach jobs, and then they get into office and they govern from the far right and to their far-right base.”

Joslyn called on Log Cabin Republicans of Virginia to join her group and Equality Virginia in urging more GOP lawmakers to support legislation seeking to bar LGBT discrimination in the workplace and in other areas.

Log Cabin Republicans of Virginia President David Lampo couldn’t be immediately reached this week. Christian Berle, deputy executive director of the national Log Cabin Republicans organization, said both the national and Virginia group would continue their ongoing efforts to encourage Republican lawmakers to support LGBT equality in all levels of government.

Berle also disputed predictions by gay Democrats that a GOP-controlled Virginia Legislature would result in the passage of anti-gay bills.

“They said the same thing would happen with Gov. McDonnell, that all kinds of bad things would happen,” said Berle. “It didn’t happen.”

He criticized Equality Virginia for taking the position that “only Democrats” could be counted on to support LGBT equality in the state and expressed concern that more LGBT advocates didn’t support gay Republican candidate Patrick Forrest’s race for a state Senate seat in the Northern Virginia city of Reston in this year’s election.

ALSO IN THE BLADE: IS VIRGINIA GAY REPUBLICAN SENATE CANDIDATE VICTIM OF GAY BAITING?

Gay Democrats said most LGBT activists didn’t support Forrest because he ran against incumbent Sen. Janet Howell, one of the LGBT community’s strongest allies in the Virginia Legislature.

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Comings & Goings

Nathanson takes role at Outright Action

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Rikki Nathanson

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 Rikki Nathanson on her new position as Senior Advisor – Global Trans Program with OutRight Action International in New York. Nathanson will be based in D.C.  

 “I am absolutely thrilled to be taking on this new role as Senior Advisor in OutRight’s Global Trans Program,” said Nathanson. “I have finally found the perfect fit for me: as a trans woman who has been fighting for equality not only for myself, but for others globally, this position is not only a job, it’s intrinsically part of who I am. So, what better way to live, nurture and grow myself.” 

Nathanson will be working closely with all program staff to ensure a cohesive and intentional approach to gender issues throughout OutRight’s programs, including its approach to gender ideology movements. She will lead new initiatives on gender advocacy and policy change, focused but not limited to legal gender recognition and anti-discrimination legislation and policies.

Prior to this Nathanson was director of housing programs at Casa Ruby in D.C. She has also held a number of other positions including: founder/executive director of Trans Research, Education, Advocacy & Training (TREAT), Zimbabwe; chairperson Southern Africa Trans Forum, SATF, Cape Town, South Africa; executive director, Ricochet Modeling Agency, Zimbabwe; and company secretary for Dunlop Zimbabwe Limited, Zimbabwe. 

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SMYAL Director Shakir to step down Dec. 31

Board to launch Executive Search beginning in January

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SMYAL Executive Director Sultan Shakir addresses the crowd at the 2021 Fall Brunch. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Sultan Shakir, who has served as executive director of D.C.’s LGBTQ youth advocacy organization SMYAL since August 2014, announced on Friday that he will be stepping down from his position effective Dec. 31.

In a Dec. 3 announcement, SMYAL said details of Shakir’s future career plans would be announced in the coming weeks.

“While we are sad to see Sultan leave, we wish him nothing but the same success in his new endeavor as he had at SMYAL,” said Rob Cogorno, SMYAL’s board chair. “His leadership and vision enabled SMYAL to expand greatly needed services to LGBTQ youth in the DC metro area throughout his tenure,” Cogorno said.

“I am immensely proud of the work we have been able to accomplish together in my time at SMYAL,” Shakir said in a statement released by SMYAL. “SMYAL has been an integral and vital resource in the DMV community for over 37 years, and while we have come a long way in combating homophobia, transphobia, racism, sexual health stigma, homelessness, violence against the LGBTQ community, and oppression, we have a long way to go,” he said.

“This work has never been about one person,” said Shakir. “SMYAL was founded by our community and we’re still around because of our community,” he said. “I leave knowing that the commitment and passion of the SMYAL Board, staff, volunteers, and youth leaders have created a solid foundation from which our work will continue to grow until LGBTQ youth no longer need us.”

The SMYAL statement says that under Shakir’s tenure, SMYAL, which stands for Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders, expanded its programs and services for LGBTQ youth. Among other things, in 2017 SMYAL opened its first of several housing facilities for homeless LGBTQ youth that include culturally competent case management, education and employment assistance.

“The Youth Housing Program now comprises five programmatic models that serve a combined 61 youth residents,” the statement says.

It points out that also under Shakir’s leadership, SMYAL expanded the age range of the youth its programs serve under a new Little SMYALs program, which welcomes LGBTQ youth ages 6-12. And earlier in 2021 under Shakir’s guidance, SMYAL began a new Clinical Services Department “which provides affirming and accessible mental health counseling,” the statement says.

“The SMYAL Board of Directors will officially launch an Executive Search beginning in January 2022 and expects to have named a new Executive Director by summer 2022,” the statement says. It says the board will soon name an interim executive director to work with SMYAL’s Deputy Executive Director, Jorge Membreno, and the organization’s leadership team to oversee the day-to-day activities until a new executive director is named.

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Rainbow History Project to honor LGBTQ ‘Pioneers’

Virtual celebration to take place on Dec. 9

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David Mariner, gay news, Washington Blade
David Mariner (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

D.C.’s Rainbow History Project says it will honor and recognize 12 individuals and one organization by designating them as Community Pioneers “for their diverse contributions to the Washington-area LGBTQ community” at a Dec. 9 virtual celebration.

“Rainbow History Project is an all-volunteer organization dedicated to collecting, preserving and sharing the LGBT history of metropolitan Washington, D.C.,” the group says in a statement announcing the event. “The Pioneers awards recognize diverse community leaders for their roles as organizational founders, innovators, advocates and volunteers,” the statement says.

“The Pioneers celebration will be held virtually and is designed with special features that reproduce the feeling of attending in-person, such as live streaming and video chatting with other attendees and Pioneers before and after the core awards programing,” according to the statement.

“Celebrating our Community Pioneers has been a cherished tradition since Rainbow History Project’s founding 21 years ago,” said Rob Berger, the organization’s chairperson. “It’s always an inspiring event, and we are happy that our virtual platform will still allow participants to meet and talk with the Pioneers,” Berger said in the statement.

The virtual event is free and open to the public, the statement says. Organizers released this link for those interested in attending, saying a short registration process may require registering in advance. 

Remo Conference

Following is the list of Community Pioneers scheduled to be honored at the Dec. 9 event as released by Rainbow History Project along with the project’s description of their backgrounds.

Arlington Gay and Lesbian Alliance, a local group that since its founding has addressed equal rights issues for LGBTQ Virginians from a state and local perspective.

– Eboné F. Bell, founder and editor-in-chief of Tagg Magazine and Tagg Communication LLC.

Bart Forbes, founding member of “Gay Fairfax,” a pioneering television newsmagazine program in Northern Virginia.

– Ellen Kahan, youth and family advocate, president of Rainbow Families, former director of the Lesbian Services Program at Whitman-Walker Health, and currently senior director of programs and partnerships at the Human Rights Campaign Foundation.

– Theodore Kirkland (deceased), a co-founder of D.C. Black Pride in 1991, member of the Gay Liberation Front and Skyline Faggots, active community health volunteer and advocate.

– Paul Marengo, community leader through LGBTQ organizations including Reel Affirmations, Cherry Fund, and Pride celebrations for youth, Latino, Black and Transgender communities.

– David Mariner, executive director of CAMP Rehoboth, and former executive director of the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community.

– Mark Meinke founder longtime chair, Rainbow History Project, and co-founder of Rainbow Heritage Network, a national organization for the recognition and preservation of sites, history and heritage associated with sexual and gender minorities.

– Michael “Micci” Sainte Andress, artist, health educator and advocate and an early leader in bringing African Americans into HIV/AIDS clinical trials.

– Boden Sandstrom, founder and owner of Woman Sound (later City Sound), the first all-woman sound company, which makes LGBTQ rights rallies and the women’s music scene possible.

Casse Culver (deceased), nationally acclaimed D.C. lesbian feminist singer-songwriter, and partner of Boden Sandstrom, whose followers said her love songs and feminist lyrics moved audiences from foot stomping to silent reflection.  

Alan Sharpe, playwright, director and co-founder of the African American Collective Theater in Washington, D.C., in 1976, which now focuses on LGBTQ life and culture in the Black community.

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