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Queer W.Va. anti-mining activist alleges police brutality after arrest

Steele among 20 protesters arrested at Lincoln County mine

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Gay News, Washington Blade, Queer West Virginia

Dustin Steele’s July 28 mugshot (Photo courtesy of Arre.st/West Virginia State Police)

Environmental activists on Thursday demanded that West Virginia officials investigate allegations that state troopers beat a queer anti-mountaintop coal mining activist over the weekend.

CREDO Action and Energy Action Coalition urged Attorney General Darrell McGraw and U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia Booth Goodwin to investigate Dustin Steele’s claims that officers dragged him across a sidewalk and asphalt at the Hobet mine in Lincoln County on July 28. Steele, 21, further alleges that an unspecified number of state troopers punched and kicked him while in custody.

Officers arrested Steele and 19 others with the group Radical Action for Mountain People’s Survival after they blocked access to the mine and charged them with trespassing and obstructing an officer. RAMPS further alleges that troopers dragged a second protester by her pigtails.

Steele, a West Virginia native who has protested mountaintop coal mines for nearly a decade, told the Blade that more than 50 protesters had gathered at the mine south of Charleston in the state’s southern coalfields. Steele said roughly 30 protesters left Hobet once the officers arrived, but RAMPS maintained they forced them to walk four hours until they reached their vans parked along a nearby state highway.

A video on the group’s website shows what appears to be mine supporters holding pro-coal signs, shouting obscenities and even threatening the protesters as they walked down the access road. RAMPS claims that miners used their vehicles to prevent them from driving away from the area.

“Twenty of us chose to stay on the property and protest this form of coal mining by being arrested on the mine site,” said Steele.

Steele, who has identified as queer for the last year and uses gender-neutral pronouns, was released Wednesday on $25,000 bail. Steele stressed that gender identity did not motivate the alleged attack.

“That to my knowledge is unrelated,” stressed Steele. “I do not believe they were aware of my gender identification.”

A Lincoln County magistrate earlier today released nine of the protesters after they pleaded guilty to trespassing — they received a year’s probation and must pay a $500 fine. The remaining 10 protesters who remain in custody on $25,000 bail are scheduled to go before a different judge on Tuesday.

“Setting $25,000 bail for acts of nonviolent civil disobedience is not serving justice — it is serving the coal industry,” said Josh Nelson of CREDO Action. “That’s why CREDO Action’s West Virginia activists are calling on U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin and Attorney General Darrell McGraw to launch a full investigation into what exactly occurred during and after Saturday’s protests.”

First Sgt. Michael Baylous of the West Virginia State Police told the Blade that Steele has yet to file a formal complaint. He further defended the department in a statement.

“The West Virginia State Police is a law enforcement entity which has no desire to enter the political debate on surface mining. Our job is to enforce the laws of the land, which we do in a professional manner,” said Baylous. “In this particular instance, the West Virginia State Police simply responded to a radical action group’s organized and calculated efforts to violate the laws of the State of West Virginia and deprive others of their Constitutional rights. Any attempts by this radical action group to use the West Virginia State Police in an effort to advance their political agenda will be unsuccessful. Therefore, we have no further comment to make on the allegations which have been reported in the media.”

The attorney general’s office told the Blade that it does not have investigative authority under West Virginia law. Whit Jones, campaign director for the Energy Action Coalition, stressed that authorities have an obligation to investigate Steele’s allegations.

“The Energy Action Coalition is joining the call for U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin and Attorney General Darrell McGraw to investigate in solidarity with those fighting to protect their homes, their families, and their futures in West Virginia,” he said in a press release. “Young people want to see an end to mountaintop removal mining, but we also want our rights to peacefully protest without fear of assault by police protected.”

Steele is expected to file a formal complaint with state police in the coming days.

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5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. April

    August 6, 2012 at 11:16 pm

    This guy lives about 4 houses from me..Along with alot of other treehuggers as we call them..He is so weird, he doesnt ever wear any shoes and walks around a parking lot all day in circles..They came in hear and protested and then rented an old church and turned it into a museum wich is also where they live without a shower or anything..If you ask me if you want a peaceful protest as they say then dont chain yourself to the equipment..Further more I dont think the police beat him but if they did he probally deserved it for not coperating and walking his ass into the jail. When he left the mine site his point was made. Dont continue to act stupid once you leave..If all of this was back in the old days it would have been over by now!! Them guys would of shot a couple of their asses and put them off the hill and been done with it. THese people will do whatever we let them do and to drop the price on their bond ant going to help.It just tells them o.k. a little fine and some probation who cares. Need to leave them in there.

    • shawn kinder

      August 7, 2012 at 2:38 am

      They say when u go looking for trouble u will find it.. hahaha.. But i am sure he got what he or she asked for..lol

  2. Tim

    August 7, 2012 at 6:02 pm

    I remember this guy from school. He did a lot of different drugs and was really fucked up in the head. He really just wants to look for a fight and will go for one if he can get it, so i think that he probably antagonized the officers into it if anything. He always fought everybody in school, and got his ass kicked many times.

  3. Lance

    November 26, 2015 at 4:19 pm

    Sickening.

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Anti-LGBTQ group claims Va. marriage amendment repeal will legalize polygamy

State Sen. Adam Ebbin rejected claim during committee hearing

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census, gay news, Washington Blade
(Bigstock photo)

A representative of an anti-LGBTQ group on Tuesday said the repeal of Virginia’s constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman would pave the way for the legalization of polygamy in the state.

“There are some, at least, very legitimate concerns about whether this would actually legalize polygamy, among other forms of marriage,” said Family Foundation of Virginia Legal Counsel Josh Hetzler.

Hetzler made the comment during a Virginia Senate Privileges and Elections Committee hearing on state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria)’s resolution to repeal the Marshall-Newman Amendment. Ebbin, who is the only openly gay member of the Virginia Senate, in response to the claim noted polygamy is a crime under Virginia and federal law.

“I take offense to the Family Foundation’s characterization that this would allow polygamy,” said Ebbin. “This has nothing to do with polygamy, what this has to do with is equality.”

Carol Schall, who, along with her wife, Mary Townley, joined a federal lawsuit that paved the way for marriage equality in Virginia, and outgoing Equality Virginia Executive Director Vee Lamneck are among those who testified in support of the resolution. The committee approved it by a 10-5 vote margin.

Virginia voters approved the Marshall-Newman Amendment in 2006.

Same-sex couples have been able to legally marry in Virginia since 2014.

The General Assembly last year approved a resolution that seeks to repeal the Marshall-Newman Amendment. It must pass in two successive legislatures before it can go to the ballot.

Ebbin earlier this month told the Washington Blade he remains “hopeful” the resolution will pass in the Democratic-controlled state Senate. Prospects that the resolution will pass in the Republican-controlled state House of Delegates are far less certain.

Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin before his election reiterated his opposition to marriage equality. Youngkin, however, stressed it is “legally acceptable” in Virginia and he would “support that” as governor.

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Loudoun County removes LGBTQ book from school libraries

Superintendent overrules committee that called for retaining ‘Gender Queer: A Memoir’

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A Loudoun County, Va., School Board committee on Jan. 13 voted to uphold a decision by Loudoun County Public Schools Superintendent Scott A. Ziegler to remove from the school system’s high school libraries a controversial LGBTQ-themed book called “Gender Queer: A Memoir.”

The book is an illustrated autobiography by non-binary author Maia Kobabe that contains descriptions and comic book style drawings of sexual acts that e uses to tell the story of eir journey and struggle in discovering eir gender identity.

Although the book has received an American Library Association award for its relevance to young adults, critics in school systems throughout the country have said its sexually explicit content is not suitable for school libraries.  

The action by the School Board committee came after Ziegler asked a separate school system committee to review the book to determine if its content was appropriate for school libraries. Loudoun Public Schools spokesperson Wayde Byard told the Washington Post the committee, in a split vote, recommended that the book be retained in high school libraries.

According to Byard, Ziegler overruled the committee’s recommendation and ordered that the book be removed from the libraries. Byard said that decision was then appealed to a School Board appeals committee, which voted 3-0 to uphold Ziegler’s decision.

The decision by Ziegler to remove the book from school libraries took place about two months after Fairfax County, Va., Public Schools officials decided to return “Gender Queer” and another LGBTQ-themed book called “Lawn Boy” to their high school libraries after temporarily pulling the two books in response to complaints by some parents and conservative activists.

Two committees appointed by Fairfax school officials to review the two books that consisted of educators, school officials, parents, and students concluded that, while the books contained sexually explicit content, it did not cross the line as pornography or depictions of pedophilia as some opponents claimed.

“The decision reaffirms Fairfax County Public Schools’ ongoing commitment to provide diverse reading materials that reflect our student population, allowing every child an opportunity to see themselves reflected in literary characters,” a statement released by Fairfax school officials explaining their decision to retain the two books in their libraries said.

“Both reviews concluded that the books were valuable in their potential to reach marginalized youth who may struggle to find relatable literary characters that reflect their personal journey,” the statement says.

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Va. bill would restrict transgender students access to school bathrooms

State Del. John Avioli (R-Stanton) introduced House Bill 1126

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The Virginia Capitol (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A Virginia lawmaker has introduced a bill that would restrict the ability of transgender students and school board employees to use bathrooms and other facilities in public schools that are consistent with their gender identity.

House Bill 1126, which state Del. John Avoli (R-Stanton) introduced, would require “each school board to adopt policies to require each student and school board employee to have access to restrooms, locker rooms and other changing facilities in public school buildings that are shared only by members of the same biological sex; lodging accommodations during school-sponsored trips that are shared only by members of the same biological sex; and a single-user restroom, locker room, or other changing facility in a public school building, upon request, if the school can reasonably accommodate such a request.”

Avoli introduced HB 1126 on Jan. 12 on the same day the Virginia General Assembly’s 2022 legislative session began with Republicans in control of the House of Delegates. Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin took office on Jan. 15.

State Sen. Travis Hackworth (R-Tazewell County) last month introduced Senate Bill 20, which would eliminate the requirement that school districts must implement the Department of Education’s trans and non-binary student guidelines. State Del. Danica Roem (D-Manassas), who in 2018 became the first openly trans person seated in any state legislature in the U.S., told the Washington Blade last week that she expects SB 20 “would be dead on arrival” in committee.

Equality Virginia, a statewide LGBTQ rights group, on its website notes HB 1126 is among the bills that it opposes.

Democrats still have a 21-19 majority in the state Senate, and they have signaled they will oppose any effort to curtail LGBTQ rights in Virginia. Outgoing Equality Virginia Executive Director Vee Lamneck last week said their organization “will work with the Senate’s pro-equality majority to act as a crucial back stop against harmful legislation and efforts to roll back our hard-earned wins passed during the last two years.”

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