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Woman charged in IHOP shooting released from jail

Defendant waives right to hearing; plea bargain possible

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IHOP, gay news, Washington Blade

The International House of Pancakes restaurant in Columbia Heights (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A woman charged with aggravated assault while armed in the March 11 shooting of a gay man at the International House of Pancakes restaurant in Columbia Heights was released to home detention on Thursday, May 3, by a D.C. Superior Court judge.

The decision by Magistrate Judge Frederick J. Sullivan to order Lashawn Yvonne Carson, 27, confined to her home while wearing an electronic ankle bracelet came after Carson’s attorney waived her right to an evidentiary preliminary hearing, raising speculation that she may plead guilty to a lower charge under a government plea bargain deal.

“No good defense lawyer waives a preliminary hearing unless they get something important in return,” said Dale Edwin Sanders, an attorney who practices criminal law in D.C. and Virginia.

Sullivan scheduled a felony status conference for Carson on May 22, and Sanders said a plea agreement could be announced at that time.

Carson’s attorney, Patrick Christmas, did not respond to a request for comment. William Miller, a spokesperson for the United States Attorney’s Office, which is prosecuting the case, noted that the prosecutor from his office opposed Carson’s release and “urged continued detention” before the judge ruled against that request.

Miller said the U.S. Attorney’s office would have no further comment because the case remains pending.

According to accounts by police and witnesses, Carson allegedly shot the victim in the abdomen about 6:30 a.m. near the lobby of the IHOP restaurant after an off-duty D.C. police officer broke up a physical altercation between Carson and several of her friends and the victim and two or more of his friends.

Police and witnesses have said the altercation began shortly after people sitting with Carson at the restaurant made anti-gay remarks toward the victim and people sitting with him.

D.C. police listed the case as an anti-gay hate crime. The U.S. Attorney’s office, which prosecutes criminal cases in D.C., did not classify the case as a hate crime, saying it makes such a determination at a later time in its prosecution of all cases designated as a hate crime by police.

A D.C. police affidavit filed in court at the time Carson was arrested on March 26 says investigators obtained from the IHOP restaurant a video recording of the altercation and the shooting, which took place next to the hostess stand near the restaurant’s lobby.

“An off-duty police officer intervened and separated the two parties from fighting,” the affidavit says.

“After the parties were separated, at the time stamped 06:27:17 to 06:27:20 on camera #6, Carson is seen standing near the window of the restaurant by what appears to be a hostess stand and firing a single shot that struck the complainant,” says the affidavit. “The complainant appears to grab his right abdomen and stumble back and fall to the ground. Carson and the male subject then fled out of the restaurant,” it says.

A police charging document says a single bullet from the shooting lodged in the victim’s liver. Although the victim was treated and released from the Med Start Unit at Washington Hospital Center “the bullet has not been removed from the complainant’s liver because of the risk of complications involved in an operation to that vital organ,” the charging document says.

The arrest affidavit says Carson admitted to shooting the victim when questioned by police shortly before her arrest.

At a March 29 court hearing, attorney Christmas told another judge that Carson was pregnant and was experiencing a pregnancy-related medical problem. He asked that Carson be released under strict supervision. Judge Diana Harris Epps denied the request and ordered Carson held without bond pending a preliminary hearing.

At the hearing on Thursday, May 3, Christmas reiterated his earlier request that his client be released to home detention. This time Judge Sullivan, who is now presiding over the case, agreed to release Carson to home detention under the court’s High Intensity Supervision Program known as “HISP,” according to court records.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Lauren Dickie, the prosecutor in the case, expressed opposition to the release, saying Carson could present a danger to the community.

A plea bargain offer by the U.S. Attorney’s office resulting in the lowering of the charge against Carson is likely to upset LGBT activists, who have raised objections in the past to decisions by the U.S. Attorney to lower charges in cases involving anti-gay violence.

Officials with the U.S. Attorney’s office have told activists in community meetings that the office must weigh the strength of the evidence and determine whether a jury is likely to hand down a conviction. If prosecutors don’t think they can obtain a conviction on a more stringent charge they sometimes must lower the charge to ensure that a person who committed a violent act receives some jail time rather than be released if a jury acquits the person, the officials have said.

Representatives of the local group Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence (GLOV) have complained that the U.S. Attorney’s office appears reluctant to take cases involving anti-LGBT violence to trial even when evidence appears strong.

“We want to make sure that crimes against the LGBT community are prosecuted to the fullest extent,” said GLOV President A.J. Singletary.

Singletary noted that the U.S. Attorney’s office hasn’t explained why it charged Carson with aggravated assault while armed rather than attempted murder and why it so far has not charged her with a hate crime, which could lead to a longer prison sentence upon conviction.

He said GLOV would be further troubled if the office decides to lower the charge further in a plea bargain.

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Virginia

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

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

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(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

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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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National

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

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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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