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Money race underway in Maryland

Up to $7 million needed for marriage fight; O’Malley to host beach fundraiser

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Martin O'Malley, gay news, gay politics dc

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and House Speaker Michael E. Busch are scheduled to co-host a June 26 fundraiser in Ocean City for Marylanders for Marriage Equality. Tickets for the event start at $1,000. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Marylanders for Marriage Equality is confident it can run a “winning campaign” to defeat a voter referendum seeking to kill Maryland’s same-sex marriage law on a budget of between $5 million and $7 million, according to the organization’s campaign manager, Josh Levin.

“We feel good about that budget,” Levin told the Blade last week. “We feel like we’ll be able to do the things we need to do thanks to the effort of our coalition and our partners who are going to be talking to voters, who are going to be helping us in ways that I’m not sure are always the case in other campaigns.”

Levin’s comments came at a time when virtually all of the state’s political observers believe opponents of the marriage equality law will obtain far more than the number of petition signatures they need to place the referendum on the ballot in the Nov. 6 election.

The referendum language, which the Maryland State Board of Elections won’t draft until August, is expected to ask voters to approve or overturn a law passed earlier this year by the Maryland General Assembly legalizing same-sex marriage. The law also allows churches and religious organizations to refuse to perform such marriages.

Both sides have begun raising and spending money to wage their respective campaigns for and against the same-sex marriage law. But Maryland’s election law doesn’t require the campaigns to publicly disclose the amount of money they have raised or spent until Oct. 12, when the first of three campaign finance reports for a state referendum is due to be filed, according to Jared DeMarinis, a spokesperson for the election board.

He said the second campaign finance report must be filed on Oct. 26 and the third on Nov. 27, 21 days after the election.

DeMarinis said the election law requires organizations seeking to place the marriage equality law on the ballot in a referendum to file finance reports during the petition gathering process, which began earlier this year and continues through June 30. Those groups were required to disclose the receipt and expenditure of funds linked solely to the petition process during the past several months.

In what may come as a surprise to advocates of campaign finance disclosure laws, Marylanders for Marriage Equality isn’t required to disclose the amount of money it raises and spends and the names of its first round of donors until Oct. 12. The identity of its donors that contribute money between Oct. 26 and Election Day on Nov. 6 won’t have to be disclosed until 21 days after the election.

When asked last week by the Blade how much the campaign has raised so far, Levin said, “I don’t think I’m going to comment on that one.”

Some LGBT rights advocates in Maryland and elsewhere have expressed concern that Marylanders for Marriage Equality will need as much as $10 million to $12 million to wage an effective campaign to defeat the referendum and allow the same-sex marriage law to take effect.

These advocates, most of whom spoke to the Blade on condition that they not be identified, said Maryland’s marriage equality campaign will be competing for big donors and other contributors with the marriage equality campaigns in Maine, Minnesota and Washington State, where similar marriage referendums will be on the ballot in November.

The big donors, both gay and LGBT-supportive allies, are also being lobbied heavily to make large contributions to President Obama’s re-election campaign, placing further strain on the pool of funds needed by the pro-same-sex marriage campaigns.

“I don’t see Maryland having a very easy time pulling $10 million out to run this,” said Andy Szekeres, a professional fundraiser from Denver, who’s gay.

Szekeres is the former partner in a Denver-based fundraising company that raised more than $37 million for various political campaigns over the past several years.

“I think they’re grossly underestimating the resources that they’re going to need,” he said of Marylanders for Marriage Equality.

According to Szekeres, who was hired last year to help the statewide LGBT group Equality Maryland boost its fundraising efforts, the marriage equality side in Maryland must purchase TV ads in the expensive Washington, D.C. and Baltimore media markets.

He said he sees no evidence so far that the campaign has begun to buy and reserve TV ad time now, when the cost is lower than it will be in September and October, when the referendum campaign heats up and the Obama campaign and Maryland congressional candidates flood the airways with TV commercials.

Evan Wolfson, executive director of the national marriage equality advocacy group Freedom to Marry, said his group is “deeply embedded” in the marriage referendum campaigns in Maine, Minnesota, and Washington State and is helping those campaigns raise money. He told the Blade that the money needed to win marriage equality in those three states “will well exceed $25 million.”

He said Maryland’s marriage equality campaign will need “$10 million plus” to successfully fend off the referendum seeking to kill the state’s same-sex marriage law.

Wolfson has declined to comment on why Freedom to Marry has not joined the coalition of groups that that formed Marylanders for Marriage Equality. Campaign finance reports filed in Maine, Minnesota, and Washington show that Freedom to Marry has contributed thousands of dollars to the marriage equality campaigns in those states.

Levin and other officials with Marylanders for Marriage Equality dispute Szekeres’ and Wolfson’s assessment of the campaign’s fundraising needs, saying they believe they will have the resources to run an aggressive and effective grassroots campaign throughout the state.

“I’m not worried,” said Levin. “We’ve got a lot of folks around the country who are working on this issue and we’ve got four states where it’s on the ballot. And I think that supporters around the country are going to look at all four states. Hopefully they’ll support all four.”

Levin pointed to a poll last month commissioned by the campaign and conducted by the firm Public Policy Polling showing support for the same-sex marriage law leading among likely voters in Maryland by a margin of 57 percent to 37 percent. The same poll showed the marriage equality side leading among black voters in the state by a margin of 55 percent to 36 percent.

The poll findings, released on May 24, showed a dramatic increase in support of same-sex marriage by black voters following President Obama’s announcement that he and first lady Michelle Obama believe gay and lesbian couples should be allowed to legally marry.

Although the Public Policy Polling poll was commissioned by Marylanders for Marriage Equality, officials with the group note that a separate ABC News-Washington Post poll released around the same time found that 59 percent of blacks across the country expressed support for same-sex marriage.

“I think we’ve opened some eyes and changed some minds about Maryland here in the last couple of months,” Levin said. “Our poll numbers are probably the best in the country of the states where we are looking at this issue on the ballot right now.”

He added, “I know that I’m learning from my fellow campaign managers in the other states about what’s working there. We’re talking. We’re trying to work together. It’s not a rivalry. It’s a partnership. We all want to move this forward.”

Marylanders for Marriage Equality spokesperson Kevin Nix also points out that the group’s coalition partners are especially influential and knowledgeable on Maryland politics. They include the NAACP of Maryland, the ACLU of Maryland, Equality Maryland, the Human Rights Campaign, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) of Maryland, among other organizations.

LGBT advocates say the marriage equality side is likely to benefit from Maryland’s status as a solid Democratic state expected to vote strongly for Obama in the presidential election taking place at the same time as the marriage referendum. With polls showing that Democratic voters in general and Obama voters in particular tend to support same-sex marriage rights at higher levels than other voters, the presidential election will likely be a major boost to the campaign in favor of Maryland’s marriage equality law.

Polls conducted earlier this year also showed that as many as 30 percent of Maryland voters saying they plan to vote for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney also support same-sex marriage.

LGBT advocates in Maryland are also hopeful that Gov. Martin O’Malley, who enjoys widespread popularity throughout the state, will follow through with his promise to campaign vigorously in support of the same-sex marriage law and help raise money for the campaign. O’Malley has been credited with playing a key role in persuading the legislature to pass the law.

O’Malley’s chief fundraising consultant, Colleen Martin Lauer of the fundraising firm Martin-Lauer Associates, is working with the campaign, Lauer told the Blade. She declined to provide details on what her firm is doing, deferring inquires to the campaign.

O’Malley and Maryland House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel County) are scheduled to co-host a June 26 fundraiser in Ocean City for Marylanders for Marriage Equality. According to the Washington Post, tickets for the event start at $1,000.

Szekeres said he’s rooting for the success of the Maryland campaign as well as the pro-marriage equality campaigns in Maine, Minnesota and Washington. But he said other states have had similarly strong coalitions, with polling numbers showing the same-sex marriage side ahead. He notes that same-sex marriage has lost in each of the 32 states that have had ballot measures on the issue.

The 2008 approval of California’s Proposition 8, which overturned that state’s gay marriage law, and the 2009 defeat of a same-sex marriage law approved by the Maine legislature that year were especially heartbreaking, Szekeres and others familiar with those ballot measures said.

California voters approved Proposition 8 by a margin of 52 to 48 percent following polling numbers showing the marriage equality side was ahead. Polls showed that Maine’s same-sex marriage law would survive the referendum vote shortly before voters rejected the law by a margin of 53 to 47 percent.

Opponents of a Maine same-sex marriage law passed by the state legislature initiated the 2009 referendum, which killed the law before it took effect. This year’s referendum in Maine was initiated by same-sex marriage supporters, who want Maine to become the first state to put a same-sex marriage law in place through a popular election.

“We lose these things 52 to 48 percent across the country,” said Szekeres. “I’ve been at these things and our polling showed we were much higher in Maine [in 2009] than we were. People lie to pollsters. They don’t want to be bigots to the pollsters but they are when they go vote.”

He and others familiar with same-sex marriage ballot campaigns have said TV ads by opponents that allege that gay marriage is harmful to children and the traditional family continue to succeed in persuading a majority of voters to turn against marriage equality.

“Again, if they think they can run this on a shoestring budget because 57 percent of the people six months out from the election tell pollsters they support us, that’s not going to happen,” said Szekeres in discussing the Maryland referendum. “There will be a lot of negative advertising and negative advertising works. And we just don’t seem to have an effective response.”

Nix said Marylanders for Marriage Equality retained the D.C.-based national advertising firm Dixon-Davis Media Group to prepare the campaign’s TV ads on behalf of the same-sex marriage law.

The firm’s website describes itself as a “full-service strategic communications company and advertising agency serving Democratic candidates, campaigns and causes.”

Nix said the campaign has also retained the Hart Research polling company to conduct internal polls to help the campaign develop the best possible messages for persuading voters to support marriage equality.

Matthew Crenson, professor emeritus of political science at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, said he has observed a “shift in the electorate” that is likely to break the gay marriage losing streak on ballot measures.

“I think there’s a better than 50-50 chance that Maryland will become the first state to approve gay marriage in a referendum,” he said.

“One decisive event was when the NAACP endorsed [marriage equality] because African Americans in Maryland, especially those closely attached to churches, have traditionally been opposed to gay marriage and gay rights,” he said.

“But the NAACP defined this as a civil rights issue, which is similar to the kind of issues that African Americans have raised in the past,” he said. “And I think that introduced a kind of shift in the electorate that makes it more than likely that [same-sex marriage] will pass.”

Maryland political observer Michael J. Wilson, a Montgomery County resident and former executive director of the national group Americans for Democratic Action, said he too senses a shift in the direction of voters upholding the same-sex marriage law.

“I think there’s reason to be hopeful,” he said, adding that the ability of the marriage equality side to turn out their supporters at the polls will be a crucial factor in the outcome.

“In Maryland, if you carry Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Montgomery County, and Prince George’s County by a big enough margin, you win a statewide election,” Wilson said. “If you carry those big counties you can win the state, even if the other counties go 60 to 40 against you.”

Michael K. Lavers contributed to this report.

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District of Columbia

Judge postpones ruling on whether Casa Ruby should be dissolved

Request by Corado for gag order to stop ‘one sided’ information denied

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A judge denied Ruby Corado’s request for a gag order in the ongoing case. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A D.C. Superior Court judge on Thursday said she was not ready to issue a ruling on whether the LGBTQ community services center Casa Ruby should be dissolved as recommended two and a half weeks earlier by a court-appointed receiver that took control of Casa Ruby’s operations.

Judge Danya A. Dayson stated at a Sept. 29 court status hearing that the Office of the D.C. Attorney General, which filed civil charges against Casa Ruby and its founder and former executive director Ruby Corado in July, needed more time to complete its investigation into Casa Ruby’s operations.

“We think it may be premature to immediately commence proceedings for dissolution while our investigation is still pending,” Cara Spencer, an official with the Office of the Attorney General, told the judge. “We’re still gathering information. We still intend to shortly serve discovery so we can bring it to a resolution promptly,” she said.

The AG’s office filed a civil complaint against Casa Ruby and Corado on July 29 alleging that the LGBTQ group had violated the city’s Nonprofit Corporations Act for the past several years. The complaint says improper actions by Corado, including the unaccounted-for expenditure of funds and a failure by the Casa Ruby Board of Directors to provide oversight led to a financial crisis.

The complaint notes that Casa Ruby employees were not getting paid and over $1 million was owed to landlords in back rent for at least three buildings Casa Ruby used for its offices and to provide emergency housing for homeless LGBTQ youth.

With Corado spending most of the past year in El Salvador, according to Casa Ruby employees, the employees and managers struggling to keep its operations going said they were forced to shut down all operations in late July.

Corado, who attended the Sept. 29 status hearing through a phone hookup, said she had yet to retain a lawyer due to a “shortage of funds.” She told Dayson she expects to finally retain an attorney but said she had not received a copy of the receiver’s report that recommended Casa Ruby be dissolved. One of the attorneys with the AG’s office told Dayson the office sent a copy of the report to four email addresses it had for Corado and Casa Ruby.

At the judge’s request, one of the AG office officials sent another copy of the report to Corado during the hearing to an email address that the judge asked Corado to provide.

Dayson on Aug. 12, at the recommendation of the AG’s office, appointed the Wanda Alston Foundation, a D.C. organization that provides housing for homeless LGBTQ youth, as the Casa Ruby receiver. One day earlier, Dayson approved the AG office’s request that Casa Ruby be placed under receivership.

On Aug. 3, also at the request of the AG’s office, the judge issued an order that all of Casa Ruby’s bank accounts and financial assets, which had been under the sole control of Corado, be frozen. Dayson lifted that freeze after the Alston Foundation assumed control of Casa Ruby under the receivership.

As she had at the Aug. 11 court hearing, Corado stated in the Sept. 29 hearing that Casa Ruby’s financial problems were caused by the D.C. government withholding as much as $600,000 in grant funds for services Casa Ruby had provided.

Officials with the D.C. Department of Human Services, which initially approved the grants, have said some of the grant funds were withdrawn or cancelled because Casa Ruby failed to comply with the terms of the grants. In some cases, the officials said, required financial reports were not filed to substantiate how the funds were spent.

Corado also asked Dayson at the Sept. 29 hearing to order the receiver and officials with the AG’s office stop releasing “one-sided” information that she said was falsely placing her and Casa Ruby in a negative light through reports in the press.

“The story that has been painted is that Casa Ruby left the clients in the cold,” Corado said. “That is not accurate.”

When asked by Dayson what she wanted the court to do, Corado said, among other things, she did not want the receiver to be allowed to disclose information about what happened in the court proceedings that Corado said was being reported by the press inaccurately.

She said highly negative publicity resulting from the release of information from the previous court hearing resulted in her receiving death threats and damage to the engine of her vehicle in an act of vandalism that cost $1,700 to repair.  

Dayson said Corado appeared to be seeking a gag order to prohibit the receiver or the AG’s office from discussing or releasing information that was part of the public record. Saying there were insufficient grounds for such an order, Dayson announced she was denying a request to seal court records or issue a gag order against the receiver.

The judge ruled in favor of a request by the AG office attorney to file an amended complaint for the case, directing them to file the amended complaint by Nov. 28. Court records show that Dayson directed the parties to return to court for scheduling hearings on Oct. 28 and Jan. 6. 

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Maryland

Former FreeState Justice executive director denies allegations against them

Jeremy LaMaster denies they launched ‘coordinated attack’

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Jeremy LaMaster (Photo courtesy of Jeremy LaMaster)

The former executive director of FreeState Justice on Tuesday denied they have launched a “coordinated attack” against their former organization.

Jeremy LaMaster on Sept. 19 announced their resignation after they said FreeState Justice”s board of directors declined their request to step down. 

FreeState Justice two days later in a federal court filing against LaMaster said they “immediately began a coordinated attack on FreeState’s operations; in particular, its IT assets” after they left a Sept. 16 meeting in which the board informed them they “were relieved of their duties, and the final two weeks of their employment were to be spent cooperating in the transition of FreeState’s operations.”

“When FreeState discovered LaMaster’s improper interference, it terminated their employment effective immediately, ordered them to cease and desist and to rectify their actions,” reads the court filing. “LaMaster did not abide and continued to hijack and misappropriate FreeState’s IT infrastructure and documents.” 

“What would hacking into someone’s email and deleting an email do,” LaMaster told the Washington Blade during a FaceTime interview. 

LaMaster, who uses they/them pronouns, told the Blade they started “working on this transition stuff” once they returned home from the Sept. 16 meeting and “I started getting error messages for our intake system.”

“After the Sept 16 meeting, someone else, not me, began deactivating email accounts, including mine, breaking workflows for our client intake and other processes, causing a lot of problems for our IT infrastructure,” said LaMaster on Wednesday in a follow-up text message.

LaMaster said they began to receive text messages on Sept. 18 about “criminal charges” and “allegations.” 

LaMaster told the Blade they tried to call now FreeState Justice Executive Director Phillip Westry on Sept. 18, but he did not accept his call.

“I sent an email to the team about this is what happened, this is what I was doing,'” said LaMaster. “Some of our things are down. Please let me know.”

LaMaster said they sent a Slack message to Westry and now Deputy Executive Director Tina Jones on the morning of Sept. 20 in order to “help transition IT.” LaMaster told the Blade they “learned about the restraining order and a number of IT issues and allegations when everyone else did.”

LaMaster, who is representing themself, attended a court hearing in Baltimore on Monday. 

LaMaster told the Blade that they said they could provide passwords to their FreeState Justice email account. LaMaster said they provided the passwords to all other software systems the organization uses.

LaMaster sent the Blade a screenshot of a text message thread between them and Jones.

“Please provide the the (sic) appropriate login credentials and administrator access to all FreeState Justice systems,” Jones told LaMaster. “Please do not attempt to access any systems or the office.”

“As I mentioned yesterday — I do not know the passwords off the top of my head and will need to either 1) test them or 2) reset them. This required accessing the systems,” responded LaMaster. “I’m not being obtuse — but you’ve all made a large number of false (and impossible) accusation based on the very limited understanding of our tech, or tech in general (not being rude, but y’all know it’s true.)

“Like I said, I think a phone call or Zoom, we can even record it so that I cam (sic) do/show exactly what I am doing,” added LaMaster. “I’m here for the lawyer robot responses and the desire for retaliation to continue to block FreeState legal services delivery, and then turn around and blame you (sic) lack of cooperation and knowledge on me.”

Text messages between former FreeState Justice Executive Director Jeremy LaMaster and FreeState Justice Deputy Executive Director Tina Jones on Sept. 27, 2022. (Screenshot courtesy of Jeremy LaMaster)
Text messages between former FreeState Justice Executive Director Jeremy LaMaster and FreeState Justice Deputy Executive Director Tina Jones on Sept. 27, 2022. (Screenshot courtesy of Jeremy LaMaster)

LaMaster told the Blade they were “supposed to return items and keys and such” to FreeState Justice’s offices at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, but “no one was there.” The text thread shows LaMaster texted Jones at 4:43 p.m. to let her know that they’re “here to drop off keys and pick up my stuff, but no one is answering the door.”

“They’re still holding my personal belongings and not accepting my keys and FSJ (FreeState Justice) checks,” LaMaster told the Blade.

Board has ‘white supremacist culture’

LaMaster in June 2020 succeeded Mark Procopio as executive director.

LaMaster in their resignation letter said they stepped down after board members refused their request to immediately step down “due to persistent violations of our board handbook, consistent failures in their fiduciary responsibilities, and using positions of power to engage in partisan lobbying within FreeState Justice and their repeated refusal to add new members and leadership to the board.”

LaMaster in his email noted they “exhausted every avenue over the past two years to get our board fully staffed and running, and I made good faith efforts to work with the board to ensure that our clients and low-income LGBTQ Marylanders remained at our center.” 

“Instead, the board has refused to accept any new board members since 2021 and refused to staff and run core board activities as per our handbook,” wrote LaMaster. “Instead, they have worked to consolidate power and amend the board handbook in secret to lower the minimum number of board members required and ensure that our policy positions prioritize relationships with legislators, not the best interests of our clients and community. I have provided clear warnings and consistent concerns over these issues that were repeatedly ignored.”

LaMaster reiterated his criticism of the board when they spoke with the Blade.

“As with most nonprofits, I’m sure if you talk to any executive director, they will tell you the large number of challenges that comes to board and nonprofit boards and cultivating and building them and supporting them. There have been chronic issues for two years now,” they said.

“I think everyone gets a pass with the (COVID-19) pandemic, but at some point, stop getting passes,” LaMaster added. “There was just a lot of really poor decision making that was costing the organization money, and really not fulfilling core responsibilities laid out in our board handbook.”

LaMaster specifically noted the board’s abrupt decision in May 2022 to stop offering COVID-19 vaccines to people experiencing homelessness after FreeState Justice’s landlord “did a full Karen” and “went to the board and was complaining about a whole lot of things, the majority of which were not true.”

“It basically screwed six or seven of our homeless clients out of getting their second dose,” they said.

LaMaster also said board members did not take their calls for more advocacy on behalf of LGBTQ students in Maryland seriously. LaMaster further accused board members of threatening FreeState Justice’s 501(c)(3) status because of their ties to politicians they didn’t specifically identify.

“We don’t exist to help politicians get easy wins and in the General Assembly,” said LaMaster. “We exist to provide widespread advocacy work and transparent information to the community.”

LaMaster also accused board members of engaging in unethical behavior. 

They said Brianna January, the board’s vice president, repeatedly asked FreeState Justice staff to secure funding that would allow her to be hired as the organization’s policy director. LaMaster provided the Blade with a text message in which January asked them to hire her.

A text message between now former FreeState Justice Executive Director Jeremy LaMaster and Brianna January, vice president of the FreeState Justice board of directors. (Screenshot courtesy of Jeremy LaMaster)

LaMaster further reiterated their previous claim the board engages in white supremacism.

“When I say white supremacist culture within the board, this response is case and point of that culture, of that type of culture,” they said.

Westry on Wednesday declined to comment on LaMaster’s allegations.

“FreeState Justice has provided comments on this issue to several publications about the ongoing litigation with Jeremy LaMaster,” Westry told the Blade in an email. “We are in active litigation with LaMaster and will offer no further comment.”

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Virginia

Va. students stage mass walkout over anti-LGBTQ policies

Activists from more than 90 schools across state hold rallies

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Youth activists in schools across Virginia walked out of class to rally against proposed changes to school policy for LGBTQ students. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Thousands of students in schools across Virginia participated in walkouts and rallies on Tuesday to oppose the revised “model policies” on transgender students released by the Virginia Department of Education.

VDOE policy revisions were released on Sept. 16 and differ substantially from the policies passed into law in 2020.

The original policies on the treatment of trans students were intended to protect LGBTQ students; but the revised “model policies” have been criticized by activists, educators and legislators for mandating students use school facilities for the sex they were assigned at birth and bars students from changing their names and pronouns without parental permission. Further, the policies direct teachers and staff not to conceal a student’s gender identity from parents, even when a student asks to keep that information private.

The student-led Virginia-based Pride Liberation Project responded to these policy changes by organizing mass walkouts and rallies in more than 90 schools from Alexandria to Williamsburg.

“These proposed guidelines are essentially taking that cornerstone and using it to undermine our rights. If these guidelines are implemented, it will be the single biggest loss for queer rights in Virginia in years,” Natasha Sanghvi, a student organizer with the Pride Liberation Project, said in a statement.

Openly gay Virginia state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) in a statement said “these new model policies, which are in flagrant violation of Virginia law, will do serious harm to transgender students. They are not based in science or compassion and will lead to students being outed before they are ready, increased bullying and harassment of marginalized youth, and will require students to jump through legal hoops just to be referred to with their proper name.”

Ebbin joined several hundred students at West Potomac High School in Alexandria in a rally opposing the model policies proposed by Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin.

“The new policy drafts are only going to do more harm to trans students who are already at risk for being outed, harassed and harmed,” Jules Lombardi, a Fairfax County high school senior, told the Washington Blade. “These drafts will take schools, which are supposed to be safe environments for students, and make them spaces where students have to hide themselves for fear of their parents finding out about their identities.”

“This isn’t a matter of ‘parental rights,’ it’s a matter of human rights and we deserve to be treated with the same respect as cis students,” Lombardi added.

Students in more than 90 schools across Virginia participated in walkouts on Tuesday, Sept. 27. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Andrea-Grace Mukuna, a senior at John R. Lewis High School in Springfield, told the Blade that “gender affirmation matters. Something so easily given to cisgender people is a right that our trans and gender non conforming youth deserve. I am walking out because schools will no longer be a safe place for queer students to be in if these policies get passed.”

“Requirements for teachers to refer to students by their birth name and pronouns aligning with their sex, rather than trusting our students to know themselves and who they are best, reinforces the idea that we as students have no power, no control and no knowledge over anything in our lives. Gender queer youth exist, and no policy can change that,” Mukuna said.

Mukuna continued, “making an attempt at denying them their ability to be who they are is a malicious attack on vulnerable students that could cause deathly harm.”

“I walk out for my queer community — there is no erasing us,” Mukuna said.

Several hundred students walked out of McLean High School. The walkout was lead by members of the school’s GSA and organizers from the Pride Liberation Project including McLean High School senior Casey Calabia.

Calibia asked the crowd, “Do we want Gov. Youngkin to understand that this is not what Virginia looks like?”

The crowd roared, “yes!”

“Virginia stands for trans kids. Trans and queer people are a fact of humanity. We will be accepted one way or another and to see everybody here today is another step toward that change,” said Calibia through a bull horn.

Calibia told the Blade in a pre-walkout statement said “to call these policies in favor of respecting trans students’ rights and privacy is to call an apple an orange. The 2022 Transgender Model policies, even as a draft, have begun to actively hurt my community’s mental health.”

“Instead of focusing on academics and our future, we have to sit in class and wonder if we will be safe in school,” Calibia concluded. “To not only take away the 2021 policies, a cornerstone in LGBTQIA+ rights for Virginia, but to mock them with these replacements, is a devastating blow to myself, trans students, queer students, and the whole of Virginia’s public school student body. How can we be safe, if we can be taken out of school-provided counseling, maliciously misgendered, and denied opportunities given to other students simply because of our gender? Accepting queer students in class does not indoctrinate or brainwash kids. It tells queer students like me that it is okay and safe to be ourselves in school.”

Students walk out of McLean High School on Tuesday, Sept. 27, to protest the Youngkin administration’s school policies. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The student protests in Virginia have made national news.

“This is a president who supports the LGBTQI+ community and has been supporting that community for some time now as a vice president, as senator, and certainly as president now,” said White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre in response to a question about the protests during her daily press briefing. “And he . . . always is proud to speak out against the mistreatment of that community … We believe and he believes transgender youth should be allowed to be able to go to school freely, to be able to express themselves freely, to be able to have the protections that they need to be who they are.”

“When it comes to this community, he is a partner, and he is a strong ally, as well as the vice president,” Jean-Pierre stated.

Walkouts and rallies were held at middle and high schools in Arlington, Bedford, Buchanan, Chesterfield, Culpeper, Fairfax, Fauquier, Frederick, Henrico, James City, Loudoun, Louisa, Montgomery, Powhatan, Prince George’s, Prince William, Spotsylvania, Stafford, Warren and York Counties as well as in the cities of Alexandria, Chesapeake, Newport News, Portsmouth, Richmond, Williamsburg and Winchester.

“Every parent wants Virginia’s laws to ensure children’s safety, freedom, and to encourage a vibrant and engaging learning experience. But the Virginia Department of Education is rejecting those shared values by advancing policies that will target LGBTQ kids for harassment and mistreatment simply because of who they are,” said Ebbin.

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