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Gay prosecutor rejected for judgeship in Va.

GOP lawmakers denounced for killing nomination of former Navy pilot

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Virginia’s Republican-controlled House of Delegates created an uproar among rival Democrats and LGBT activists early Tuesday morning when it voted to reject the nomination of gay Richmond prosecutor Tracy Thorne-Begland for the post of General District Court judge.

The 1 a.m. vote came in the last hour of the Virginia General Assembly’s 2012 legislative session. It followed claims by several Republican delegates that Thorne was unfit to be a judge because he has been an advocate for LGBT rights and couldn’t make impartial rulings on the bench.

The opposing lawmakers, led by Del. Bob Marshall (R-Prince William County), also charged that Thorne-Begland “misrepresented” himself on an enlistment application by not disclosing he was gay when he joined the Navy.

Thorne-Begland, a decorated Naval officer and fighter pilot, became a nationally recognized advocate for ending the military’s ban on gay service members in 1992 when he disclosed that he is gay, leading to his honorable discharge from the service a short time later.

“The fact that he defied his oath and could not have been candid on the application – that’s highly problematic and it stays with you,” Marshall told his colleagues.

When the vote was called, 33 delegates – 25 Democrats and eight Republicans — voted for the nomination, with 31 lawmakers – all Republicans – voting against the nomination. But nine Republicans and one independent abstained from voting and 19 Republicans and seven Democrats either were absent or did not vote, preventing Thorne-Begland from obtaining the 51 votes needed to approve the nomination in the 100-member House.

Under Virginia’s procedure for appointing judges, the General Assembly members representing Richmond, the area where Thorne-Begland would have served as a judge, placed his name in nomination after determining he was qualified for the post. Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell didn’t advocate for Thorne-Begland’s nomination but issued a statement on Tuesday saying judicial nominees “must be considered based solely on their merit, record, aptitude and skill.”

Thorne-Begland, 45, serves as Richmond’s Chief Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney and has worked as a Richmond prosecutor for 12 years.

His boss, Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael Herring, called Thorne-Begland highly qualified to serve as a judge.

“It’s hard to think about what happened in the General Assembly and not conclude that it’s a form of bigotry,” Herring said at a news conference in Richmond Tuesday afternoon. He called the vote to defeat Thorne-Begland an “embarrassment” for the state.

“The debate in the House of Delegates was homophobic and embarrassing,” said Virginia State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria), who is gay. “It showed disrespect to a Chief Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney and decorated veteran who was honorably discharged,” Ebbin said. “It’s also offensive that the Senate wouldn’t even grant Lt. Thorne-Begland the courtesy of a vote.”

Ebbin was referring to a unanimous vote by Senate Republicans to invoke a parliamentary procedure that blocked the Senate from voting on Thorne-Begland’s nomination. Ebbin noted that although a Senate vote in favor of the nomination could not have saved the nomination because both houses are needed to approve it, he said the Senate should have taken a vote on the issue.

“I believe the Senate would have voted in favor of the nomination,” he told the Blade.

Thorne-Begland would have become Virginia’s first openly gay judge if the General Assembly had approved his nomination.

A Washington Post editorial said Thorne-Begland’s nomination was “sabotaged by an ugly campaign of homophobic bigotry led by Virginia Republicans.”

Equality Virginia, a statewide LGBT advocacy group, said it was especially troubled that too many lawmakers succumbed to “fear mongering and shrill personal attacks” against Thorne-Begland by the Virginia Family Foundation, which opposes LGBT rights.

“The fact that the legislature caved in to the Family Foundation’s biased blathering is another unfortunate marker on the forced march to the past on which they seem determined to lead the Commonwealth,” Equality Virginia said in a May 15 statement.

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6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. CHRISTOPHER ALLEN HORTON

    May 16, 2012 at 6:51 am

    VIRGINIA IS A REPUBLICAN STATE CONTROLLED BY REPUBLICAN LAWMAKERS. IT MAKES PERFECT SENSE TO REJECT A HOMOSEXUAL FOR A JUDGESHIP. HAVING A MILITARY-SERVICE RECORD DOES NOT EXEMPT TRACY THORNE-BEGLAND FROM THE WILL OF VIRGINIA’S CITIZENRY.
    CHRISTOPHER ALLEN HORTON

  2. brian

    May 16, 2012 at 12:34 pm

    Virginia is a “PURPLE” state, with TWO Democratic U.S. Senators. Two of Virginia’s last three governors are Democrats. Advancement on civil rights has always had a two-steps-forward/ one-step-back political dynamic.

    Obviously, the Commonwealth is in a one-step-back mode at this time. Radical Republicans again have overstepped their power in Richmond. The Republican-controlled legislature of Virginia now stands indicted of open bigotry and homophobia by a growing number of Democrats and Independents.

    Added to Virginia Republicans’ war on women, this arrogant display of GOP bigotry will help turn the state back to more moderate, progressive control.

  3. I'm Just Sayin'

    May 17, 2012 at 9:09 am

    “We applaud Governor McDonnell for continuing to voice his belief that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is unacceptable and standing up for the LGBT community” writes Log Cabin Republicans on their Facebook page.

    So LCR, why didn’t you dismiss Governor McDonnell’s statement in response to this failed judicial appointment as a “calculated announcement come[ing] too late to be of any use?” Or perhaps, you can clarify why LCR believes the Governor “deserves praise for an announcement that comes a day late and a dollar short? ” How is it that he “standing up for the LGBT community” as you suggest, rather than trying to “manipulate LGBT families for political gain” as you have recently accused others?

    It seems to me the that the Governor’s words are “cold comfort” to equality minded VIrginians who just witnessed the lingering depths of intolerance in their state. Perhaps LCR can tell us what actions they expect the McDonnell administration to take to assure that there is not a repeat of this type of situation, other than not nominating somebody who is gay.

  4. SFJD

    May 30, 2012 at 4:05 pm

    This is absolutely disgraceful. Not too long from now, almost everybody will look back at incidents like this with shame.

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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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