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Va. Senate panel approves anti-gay adoption bill

LGBT non-discrimination measures killed in committee

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A subcommittee of the Virginia Senate on Wednesday approved a so-called “conscience clause” bill that would allow state-funded adoption agencies to refuse to approve adoptions or foster care placement on religious or “moral” grounds.

State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria), who is gay, said that although the words “sexual orientation” or “gay” and “lesbian” are not in Senate Bill 349, lawmakers clearly understand that it’s aimed at justifying the denial of adoptions or foster child placement for gay people.

“This would put into the law that they can be turned away,” Ebbin said. “The issue is simple –whether or not state dollars should be used or taxpayers’ funds should be used to fund discrimination in adoption and foster care.”

Ebbin noted that Virginia provides about $800 million a year to private, state certified adoption and foster care placement agencies.

Meanwhile, separate bills that would ban job discrimination against state workers and ban adoption-related discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity died in committee in the Virginia Senate this week. Ebbin was among the lead sponsors of both bills.

On Wednesday, the same day that the Senate Subcommittee on Rehabilitation and Social Services approved the conscience clause bill, it rejected an adoption non-discrimination bill that Ebbin introduced.

Ebbin’s bill called for banning discrimination in adoption and foster care placement based on a list of categories, including sexual orientation and gender identity.

Two days earlier, on Jan. 30, the Virginia Senate’s Committee on General Laws and Technology voted 8-7 along party lines to defeat an employment non-discrimination bill that Ebbin and Sen. Donald McEachin (D-Henrico County) introduced.

Senate Bill 263 called for protecting state employees from discrimination based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.

A similar bill introduced in the Virginia Senate passed in committee and in the full Senate in 2010 and 2011 when the Senate was controlled by Democrats. It died both years in the House of Delegates, which was Republican controlled.

Democrats lost control of the Senate in the November 2011 election, which left the Senate equally divided between Democrats and Republicans. The state’s Republican lieutenant governor, who has authority to cast a tie-breaking vote, effectively placed control of the Senate in the Republicans’ hands.

That enabled Republicans this year to gain an 8-7 majority on the General Laws and Technology Committee, which had jurisdiction over Ebbin’s employment non-discrimination bill.

Sen. Jeffrey McWaters (R-Virginia Beach) introduced the “conscience clause” adoption bill approved by the subcommittee on Wednesday. The bill doesn’t ban gay people from adopting or becoming foster parents. Ebbin and others familiar with the measure said it would not change existing state law that allows private agencies to approve gay adoptions and gay foster care placement if they wish to do so.

The legislation instead provides a state seal of approval to state-funded agencies that refuse to approve adoptions and foster care placement to a gay person or to other individuals based on religious or moral grounds, Ebbin said.

It also protects adoption or foster care placement agencies from “any claim for damages” from a person denied an adoption or foster care placement due to the reasons stated in the bill.

The bill was scheduled to be voted on in the full Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee on Friday, where Ebbin predicted it would pass before going to the full Senate.

“I think it has a pretty good chance of passing in the full Senate, too,” Ebbin said.

James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia, a statewide LGBT advocacy group, said the decision by the General Laws and Technology Committee to defeat the employment non-discrimination bill indicates that LGBT people are being treated as “second-class citizens” in Virginia.

“Virginia is one of only 20 states where you can still be fired from a state or local job simply because of your sexual orientation or gender identity,” Parrish said.

“This reality undercuts the Commonwealth’s ability to recruit the best and the brightest to be our college professors, our teachers and our other public employees,” he said. “It adversely affects our competitiveness and, ultimately, holds the potential to undercut the quality of our higher education institutions.”

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5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Tim

    February 3, 2012 at 9:21 am

    No surprises here. The state should really change its saying of “Virginia is for lovers” to “Virginia is for haters,” because that is the reality of the situation. Virginia continues to march backwards towards more intolerance and discrimination, when the rest of the country is moving forward.

  2. Tamara G. Suttle, M.Ed., LPC

    February 3, 2012 at 9:46 am

    Really? REALLY???! It seems so perverse, doesn’t it, in 2012 to continue to have to fight for children to have the right to have families of their own!

    I take comfort in recognizing that in spite of the narrow mindedness and self-righteousness of the older men in the Virginia Senate, the times are changing . . . . The polls show that the majority of youth today recognize that ALL loving and safe families are good places for children to live.

    Thank you for taking time to address the hipocricy that we must continue to expose to pursue a socially and morally just world.

  3. Jackson

    February 3, 2012 at 11:32 am

    Repugnantcans are really scraping the bottom of the ignorance barrel, aren’t they? These hypocritical, self-righteous, morally-bankrupt, backwards, backwoods, inbred bunch of hillbilly MORONS in the GOP have to be stood up to, called out for the bigots that they are and voted against again and again until the gay community can persuade enough progressive, open-minded people to vote the GOPigs out of office.
    Out of the GOPig Party, I would say MAYBE 2-3% are NOT scum, the rest? All scum. Period!

  4. Morgan

    February 3, 2012 at 12:26 pm

    This why I live in Maryland and not Virginia never mind the lower taxes and more plentiful jobs in NoVa than maybe in Montgomery County, Maryland. I can’t be fired for being gay in my area under Maryland law, not so in Virginia under Virginia law.
    The willful and intentional arrogance, ignorance, bigotry and backwardness of Virginia politicians like VA Atty General Ken Cuccinelli these days ruin an otherwise beautiful and historic state. During the colonial times, Northern Virginia of George Washington’s area was known for culture,refinement and intellect, now the state is just mired in hate and stupidity and is stagnating socially, politically, morally, and has badly lost its standing as a cultural and intellectual star.

  5. L. A..

    February 4, 2012 at 8:45 am

    If you’re gay or lesbian and live in Virginia you deserve to be subjected to this. What don’t you get about Virginia being a backwards state oriented towards anti-everything discrimination? Why would you live in Virginia and then whine about this? When McDonnell won the election it was highly likely that this would happen as soon as the votes were there.

    Similar to living on the Arctic circle and complaining about the cold weather.

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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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Some D.C. gay bars to require proof of COVID vaccination

Action prompted by mayor’s order reinstating masks indoors

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Adams Morgan’s A League of Her Own is among the area queer bars requiring proof of vaccination for entry.

At least four D.C. gay bars announced this week on social media that they will require patrons to show proof that they have been vaccinated for COVID-19 as a condition for being admitted to the bars.

They include the Logan Circle area gay bars Number Nine and Trade, which are operated by the same co-owners, and the Adams Morgan gay sports bars Pitchers and A League of Her Own, which are also operated by the same owner and share the same building.

The four bars, which also offer dining service, announced their proof of vaccination requirement shortly after D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser on Thursday issued a new order reinstating the city’s requirement that facial masks be worn inside all businesses and other public establishments.

The mayor’s order applies to all vaccinated and unvaccinated people over the age of two. It was scheduled to take effect 5 a.m. Saturday, July 31.

At a July 29 news conference, Bowser pointed to a new U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance issued two days earlier recommending that fully vaccinated people resume wearing masks indoors in places where transmission of the coronavirus is considered “substantial” or “high.”

The mayor said that, at the advice of her public health experts, she decided to issue the new order to help curtail the rising number of COVID cases in D.C. over the past month or more due to the rapid spread of the virus’s delta variant, which is surging throughout the nation. Like other parts of the country, Bowser and D.C. Department of Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbit said people who are unvaccinated in D.C. make up nearly all of the newly infected cases.

“I know D.C. residents have been very closely following the public health guidelines, and they will embrace this,” Bowser said in referring to the new mask requirement.

The four-page order released by the mayor’s office, similar to the city’s earlier mask requirements, allows indoor patrons of restaurants and bars to remove their masks while “actively” eating or drinking.

But some representatives of restaurants and bars have pointed out that other jurisdictions, including Maryland and Virginia, have followed the CDC’s initial policy of making mask wearing a recommendation rather than a requirement.

“Mayor Bowser’s announcement that nightlife hospitality patrons must wear a mask indoors when not ‘actively eating or drinking’ renders the reinstated mandate essentially unenforceable and results in the rule being reduced to a largely theatrical requirement,” said Mark Lee, director of the D.C. Nightlife Council, a local trade association representing bars, restaurants, nightclubs, and other nightlife related businesses.

“The greatest disappointment for many venue operators and staff, however, is that the mayor’s decision does not allow an option for establishments to admit only fully vaccinated patrons and be exempt from the mandate, as a number of other jurisdictions across the country have done,” Lee said.

John Guggenmos, co-owner of the bars Trade and Number Nine, told the Washington Blade he and his co-owners adopted the proof of vaccination policy as an added means of protecting the safety of both patrons and employees of the two bars.

“We’re hopeful that this will be in effect for just a few weeks or a month or two,” Guggenmos said. “Our patrons have always been very supportive,” he said in referring to the city’s public health directives last year and early this year in which masks were required up until May of this year.

Guggenmos said Trade and Number Nine will allow an alternative to the vaccination requirement if patrons provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test conducted within the previous three days of their admission to the bars.

In its social media postings, Pitchers and A League of Her Own said their proof of vaccination requirement was based on the concern for the health of their patrons and staff.

“We will require proof a COVID vaccination until further notice at Pitchers/ALOHO and masks per the mayor,” a Facebook posting says. “We take guidelines and the health of our patrons and staff very seriously. We will accept a picture or hard copy of your COVID vaccination card,” it says. “No exceptions, no arguing, no talking to the manager.”

Tammy Truong, owner of the gay bar Uproar Lounge at 639 Florida Ave., N.W., told the Blade the bar has no immediate plans to require proof of vaccination as a requirement for admission, but Uproar will fully comply with the mayor’s order requiring indoor masks.

Justin Parker, co-owner of the nearby gay bar The Dirty Goose at 913 U St., N.W., told the Blade he and his staff decided on Friday to also put in place a requirment that patrons show either proof of vaccination or proof of a negative COVID-19 test within the past five days. He said a 5-day window for the COVID test, which the CDC allows in some cases, was chosen rather than three a requirement to accomodate people who may not be able to get tested during weekends.

Owners of other D.C. gay bars couldn’t immeidately be reached. But the Blade could not find any announcements by the other gay bars as of Friday afternoon that they planed to put in place a proof of vaccination requiremenet. 

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Judge dismisses lawsuit against Va. school guidelines for transgender students

Christian Action Network and other conservative groups filed suit

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Connor Climo, gay news, Washington Blade

Lynchburg Circuit Court Judge J. Frederick Watson on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit that challenged the Virginia Department of Education’s model policies for transgender students that are to be implemented for the 2021-2022 school year.

The VDOE introduced the policies in March to better protect and affirm trans and non-binary students in schools, considering they are more likely to face discrimination and harassment from their peers and students. The directives would require Virginia schools to allow them to use school bathrooms and locker rooms that conform to their gender identity and pronouns and a name that reflects their gender identity.

Several conservative organizations, including the Christian Action Network, and families whose children attend Lynchburg public schools had sought to overturn the VDOE’s policies. The groups cited their need to protect their right to free speech and religion under the First Amendment.

Challenging the enactment of non-binary and trans-inclusive school policies in Virginia is not a new occurence. 

Tanner Cross, a Loudoun County teacher, was suspended in May after stating he would not use trans students’ preferred pronouns. Circuit Judge James E. Plowman, Jr., who invoked Pickering v. Board of Education,  a 1968 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of a teacher that stated they have the right to provide commentary on issues of public importance without being dismissed from their position, reinstated Cross after he filed a lawsuit,  

Equality Virginia on Tuesday a statement celebrated what they described as “a win for Virginia schools and students.”

“This ruling is important progress and emphasizes the continued need to protect transgender and non-binary youth in Virginia,” said Executive Director Vee Lamneck. “These policies will create safer classrooms and will reduce bullying, discrimination and harassment. It’s imperative school boards adopt these policies as soon as possible because the lives of transgender students are at risk.”

Equality Virginia, ACLU of Virginia, and more than 50 other organizations and school board leaders across the state filed an amicus brief earlier this month encouraging the court to deny the lawsuit.

The brief’s arguments included references to historic lawsuits like Brown v. Board of Education and Grimm v. Gloucester City School Board that specifically addressed inequalities in schools for minority students.

While Tuesday’s ruling is a win for LGBTQ rights advocates in education and their respective students, there still remains a final barrier to ensure that the VDOE’s policies are sanctioned in the fall. 

“The dismissal clears one statewide hurdle for the guidelines and limits future challenges,” reports the Virginian-Pilot newspaper. “But it leaves the fight to continue at local school boards, which are currently debating how or if to implement policies before the start of the school year.”

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