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Virginia anti-gay adoption law takes effect

Governor Bob McDonnell signed the “conscience clause” law earlier this year

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Bob McDonnell, Robert McDonnell, gay news, gay politics dc

Gov. Robert McDonnell signed SB 349 earlier this year. (photo by Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia commons)

LGBT activists remain concerned that a new Virginia law that allows private adoption and foster care agencies to reject prospective parents based on religious or moral beliefs could subject gays and lesbians to what they describe as unnecessary discrimination.

Senate Bill 349, which became known as the “conscience clause,” took effect on July 1 after Gov. Bob McDonnell signed it into law earlier this year. Gay state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) told the Blade that SB 349 only reinforces current regulations that “made it easier to discriminate” against prospective parents based on their sexual orientation.

“Equality Virginia still believes this constitutes state-supported discrimination, as these agencies are using state funding to perform a public function,” added James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia. “We are most concerned about LGBTQ youth in the foster care system, since agencies can place these children in harmful situations such as ex-gay therapy, as long as doing so is in accordance with the agencies’ beliefs.”

North Dakota is the only other state with a so-called “conscience clause” adoption law.

Catholic Charities of Boston in 2006 ceased adoptions after it refused to comply with Massachusetts’ anti-discrimination law that includes sexual orientation (and now gender identity and expression.) Catholic Charities of Illinois followed suit late last year after lawmakers directed the agency, which received public funds, to place children with same-sex couples after the state’s civil unions law took effect.

State Sen. Jeff McWaters (R-Virginia Beach,) who sponsored SB 349, did not return the Blade’s request for comment. McDonnell spokesperson Taylor Thonrley defended the law.

“This legislation just codifies existing regulations that prohibit religious discrimination,” she told the Blade. “Private, religious-based adoption agencies are a major asset to our communities as they work diligently to find loving, caring, stable homes for children in need of care. This legislation will help ensure that these adoption agencies remain active in finding homes for these children without being mandated by government to violate the tenets of their deeply held religious beliefs in the process. This is a bill that reaffirms religious liberty and freedom, a hallmark of this great nation.”

Jennifer Chrisler, executive director of the Family Equality Council, told the Blade that her organization has “not heard directly” from gay Virginians who may have been directly impacted by the statute.  She stressed that she feels “it’s just a matter of time before we see it play out.”

“The primary and most obvious concern is that children will be denied the opportunity to be placed in a loving home environment because some agency decides for whatever reason because of their moral belief they are not going to place that child with a same-sex couple,” added Chrisler. “That’s what’s so sad about this law, that it is really denying opportunity to those kids in the foster care system and in the adoption system in Virginia, which has one of the worst records in the country in terms of placing kids out of foster care. It denies them the opportunity to have a chance, to experience a loving stable home environment.”

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District of Columbia

D.C. Public Schools’ LGBTQ+ program helps ensure students feel safe

More than half of queer students experience bullying, harassment

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According a study from Theirworld of LBGTQ+ Gen-Z youth, students feel unsafe in schools. D.C. Public Schools is trying to combat the problem in the District. 

“Research shows that the way schools and families respond to LGBTQ+ youth can affect their physical health, mental health outcomes, academic outcomes, and their decision-making later in life,” said DCPS’ LGBTQ+ Programming Specialist, Adalphie Johnson. 

DCPS’ LGBTQ+ Program started in 2011 after a 2009 survey from GLSEN revealed that 9 out of 10 queer students reported in-school harassment. 

In response, they have created extensive programming to ensure students feel safe at D.C. Public Schools. In 2015 they created a trans and non-binary policy that included guidance on LGBTQ+ terms, locker room accommodations, gender-neutral dress codes, and more. 

In addition, they host an annual conference for queer and trans DCPS students. 

“The “Leading With Pride” conference increases networking, and builds the leadership capacity of our students and faculty advisers to implement school-level LGBTQ programming,” Johnson said. 

In 2023, more than 500 anti-LGBTQ bills were introduced in state legislatures according to HRC. This year, Theirworld’s survey found that more than half of LGBTQ students experienced bullying and harassment at school.

Johnson said that students feeling safe in school requires creating an environment where all students can thrive. 

“We encourage students to report incidents without fear of retaliation and ensure that reports are taken seriously and investigated promptly,” she said. 

Johnson also pointed out that as a result of discrimination, students are more likely to miss school, which can lead to low grades, along with impairing cognitive responses. So, she said, it is best for schools to respond with action swiftly. 

However, Johnson and the LGBTQ+ programming team acknowledge that not all students come from supportive backgrounds. 

As a part of their trans and gender-nonconforming policy, staff are expected to work closely with students to determine how involved parents are with the transitioning student, before contacting parents. 

Johnson gave parents eight steps to ensure the safety of their child, if they are in the LGBTQ community.  

8 Steps For Parents

1. Educate Yourself. Learn about LGBTQ+ identities, issues, and terminology. Understanding the basics can help you provide better support and avoid misunderstandings.

2. Listen and Communicate. Create an open and non-judgmental space for your child to express themselves. Listen to their experiences and feelings without interrupting or offering unsolicited advice.

3. Advocate for Them. Stand up for your child in situations where they may face discrimination or misunderstanding. Become actively involved in the PTA and other parent groups within the school.

4. Seek Support. Lead or organize programming with/for other parents of LGBTQ+ children can provide  valuable insights and emotional support.

5. Respect Their Privacy. Allow your child to determine their own level of outness at school. Don’t share their identity without their permission.

6. Create a Safe Environment. Inform the school of any homophobic or transphobic remarks or behavior from others.

7. Inform school about their needs. Recognize that each LGBTQ+ person’s experience is unique. Ask your child what they need from you and how you can best support them. Communicate those needs to the school. This would be a great opportunity to develop and share a Safety Plan for the student while at school. 

8. Promote Inclusivity. Encourage, support and inform inclusive policies and practices in your child’s school community. 

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District of Columbia

SMYAL for Summer returns July 25

‘Their hard work, resilience, and identities are valued and celebrated’

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A scene from last year's SMYAL for Summer. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

SMYAL for Summer is back at Franklin Hall on July 25, where the youth services organization will honor the next generation of change makers in the LGBTQ community. 

“In a tumultuous year for policy against LGBTQ+ youth, celebrating the achievements of our scholarship winners sends a powerful message that their hard work, resilience, and identities are valued and celebrated,” said Caro Vordndran, SMYAL’s Development Coordinator. 

At the event, SMYAL, the D.C. queer and trans youth advocacy organization, will honor recipients of its Youth Leadership Award and the Sophie’s Live Out Loud Scholarship. Plus, the event will feature a drag performance from Mia Vanderbilt. 

One of the scholarship recipients, Lion Burney, said that in addition to the scholarship they were most excited for the community they will continue to seek in SMYAL’s safe space. 

“The SMYAL community means a lot to me. From found family to open expression to endless support — I am beyond grateful to be a part of this experience,” Burney said.

This is SMYAL’s 12th annual SMYAL for Summer event and the 40th year of creating community for D.C.’s youth. Given SMYAL’s history, alumni like Nathan Handberg often come back to keep traditions alive. 

Handberg was an awardee in 2019 and served on the selection committee this year. They said they felt great about their continued involvement with SMYAL.

“Being a previous winner really gave me insight that helped with the process of choosing the winners this year and I like that I have the ability to help shape future leaders in our community,” they said. 

Tickets for the event range from $10 for students and $20 for general admission, up to $500 for Platinum Supporters. Tickets for the event will contribute to funding for SMYAL’s year-round youth advocacy programming. The event will run from 6-8 p.m.

“They have housing programs for queer youth… they’ve done queer sex education classes filling in critical gaps that are left by our education curriculum,” Handberg said. “Honestly they do so much more, I could write multiple pages on my experiences with SMYAL and all they do.”

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District of Columbia

Congressional budget amendments target D.C. Office of LGBTQ Affairs, Human Rights Act

U.S. Reps. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) and Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) introduced proposals

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U.S. Capitol
Two Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives have introduced budget amendments that would defund the D.C. Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs and prohibit the city from using its funds to enforce the D.C. Human Rights Act in cases of discrimination against transgender people. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Two Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives introduced separate amendments this week to the D.C. budget bill that would eliminate funding for the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs and prohibit the city from using its funds to enforce the D.C. Human Rights Act in cases of discrimination against transgender people. 

The two amendments, along with as many as 10 other amendments introduced by GOP House members targeting the D.C. budget, were expected to come up for a vote in the House Rules Committee, which is now considering the D.C. budget bill, during the week of July 22.

Congressional observers have said the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate, as it did last year, was expected to reject most of the House amendments to the D.C. budget bill if they were to pass in the full House.

Under the D.C. Home Rule Act, in which Congress established D.C.’s home rule government consisting of an elected mayor and City Council, Congress retains full authority to approve, change, or reject any laws passed by the city, including its annual budget. 

U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) introduced the amendment calling for eliminating funding for the Office of LGBTQ Affairs. U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) introduced the amendment calling for ending funding for enforcing the D.C. Human Rights Act regarding discrimination based on gender identity and expression. 

Spokespersons for the two House members couldn’t immediately be reached by the Washington Blade for comment on what prompted them to introduce their amendments. 

Sharon Nichols, a spokesperson for Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said Norton strongly opposes the two amendments and will be urging her House colleagues to oppose them. 

The amendment introduced by Gosar calling for defunding the LGBTQ Affairs Office states “none of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act, including titles IV and VII, may be used for the salaries and expenses of the Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Affairs established under the Office of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Affairs Act of 2006 (Sec. 2-1831 et seq., D.C Official Code.”

The D.C. Council on June 12 gave final approval for D.C.’s fiscal year 2025 budget that includes $1.7 million in funds for the Office of LGBTQ Affairs. Among those who will lose their salary if the full Congress approves the amendment would be Japer Bowles, the LGBTQ rights advocate who currently serves as director of the LGBTQ Affairs Office. 

The amendment introduced by Mace would prohibit D.C. from using federal or local funds to enforce the part of its municipal regulations that prohibit discrimination based on gender identity or expression, which pertains to trans people. The regulations in question pertain to the D.C. Human Rights Act. 

“It is no surprise to me that Republicans filed two anti-LGBTQ+ amendments to the D.C. appropriations bill,” Norton told the Blade in a statement. “D.C. has some of the strongest non-discrimination initiatives in the country, including regulations protecting individuals from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity,” Norton said.

“The Republican amendment that would prohibit funds from being used to enforce anti-discrimination regulations and the amendment to defund the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ+ Affairs are disgraceful attempts, in themselves, to discriminate against D.C.’s LGBTQ+ community while denying D.C. residents the limited governance over their local affairs to which they are entitled,” Norton told the Blade. “I will do everything in my power to prevent these amendments from being included in the final bill.”

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