D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray has nominated openly gay former D.C. attorney general Robert Spagnoletti to serve as chair of the city’s newly created Board of Ethics and Government Accountability, which is charged with investigating allegations of ethics violations by public officials and city employees.
Gray announced his decision to nominate Spagnoletti and two others to the three-member board at a news conference on Tuesday.
The nominations came nearly six months after the D.C. Council passed legislation in December creating the board following a public outcry over several widely reported allegations of ethical breaches by city officials, including officials with Gray’s 2010 election campaign.
“These nominees have extensive experience in law, public service and ethics as well as sterling professional and personal reputations in our city,” Gray said in a statement. “I have faith that they will serve the people of the District well in safeguarding the trust that our residents place in their elected representatives.”
The board’s responsibilities include investigating allegations of violations of ethics laws by D.C. government employees and public officials. The board is also responsible for issuing new rules and regulations concerning the ethical conduct of city employees and public officials and for conducting mandatory training on the city government’s code of conduct.
Spagnoletti served as the city’s attorney general under the administration of former Mayor Anthony Williams, who appointed him to the post. Prior to his term as attorney general, Spagnoletti served from 1990 to 2003 as an Assistant United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, where he became known as a skilled prosecutor.
After leaving office as D.C. Attorney General in 2006, Spagnoletti became a partner in the D.C. law firm Schertler & Onorato LLP, with a practice in both criminal law and civil litigation. He also served as president of the D.C. Bar.
Spagnoletti, 49, lives in the city’s Shepherd Park neighborhood with his partner and their two sons.
Gray nominated to the ethics board Republican attorney Laura Richards who recently retired as deputy general counsel and staff attorney for the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission; and Deborah Lathen, a consultant, corporate lawyer and former official with the Federal Communications Commission.
All three nominees must be confirmed by the Council.
The legislation creating the board requires that no more than two of the board’s member can come from the same political party.
Bob Kabel, the openly gay chair of the D.C. Republican Party, called Richards, a Republican, “an excellent choice” for the position.
“The board is best served with a diversity of opinions and Mrs. Richards would bring just that,” Kabel said in a statement. “The mayor made a strong choice by nominating Mrs. Richards and we are thankful that he was inclusive of the District’s Republican Party when making his selection.”
In creating the board last December, the Council acted in response to calls from community activists and government watchdog groups for a re-writing and strengthening of the city’s existing ethics in government rules, which critics said were too weak.
Some of the same activist and groups criticized Gray for taking too long to nominate the members of the ethics board. Gray said he wanted to seek out the best possible nominees for the panel.
The nominations come shortly after a federal judge sentenced former D.C. Council member Harry Thomas (D-Ward 5) to prison after he pleaded guilty to embezzling city funds. Last month, two former officials who worked on Gray’s mayoral election campaign pleaded guilty to election law violations. The two were accused of arranging for campaign funds to be used to clandestinely pay a mayoral candidate with no chance of winning to denounce and heckle former Mayor Adrian Fenty during campaign debates. Fenty was Gray’s main rival in the campaign for mayor.
D.C. Council Chair Kwame Brown (D-At-Large) is also under investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s office for alleged campaign finance violations.
Spagnoletti surfaced in the news in 2011 when he served on the defense team in a civil case in which three gay men were named in a wrongful death lawsuit by the wife of slain attorney Robert Wone. The civil trial took place after the three men – Joseph Price, Victor Zaborsky, and Dylan Ward – were acquitted on obstruction of justice and conspiracy charges related to Wone’s death.
Wone was found stabbed to death in the men’s Dupont Circle area townhouse in August 2006. No one has been charged with the murder.
The two parties reached an out-of-court settlement in which the defendants agreed to pay an undisclosed sum to Cathy Wone. Spagnoletti and the other attorneys declined to disclose the amount of the settlement.
Va. students warn against ‘don’t say gay’ policies
New law requires parental notification of ‘sexually explicit content’ in classroom
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.”
SMYAL announces new executive director
Erin Whelan to start Sept. 1
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.”
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
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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