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Blade reporter turned away from Va. anti-gay marriage rally

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli spoke at Manassas church

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Gay News, Washington Blade, Gay Virginia, Ken Cuccinelli
Gay News, Washington Blade, Gay Virginia, Ken Cuccinelli

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

MANASSAS, Va.—A local  church on Friday denied a Washington Blade staff writer access to an anti-gay marriage gathering at which Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli spoke.

A woman who was standing near the entrance of Reconciliation Community Church in Manassas in front of two men wearing dark suits who appeared to be security personnel asked this reporter for identification and proof of media affiliation after he identified himself as a Blade staff writer. He proceeded to show her his drivers’ license and business card.

The women concluded this reporter was a member of Cooch Watch, a group named for the nickname Cuccinelli received while he was an undergrad at the University of Virginia that had planned to protest. She then pointedly told him to turn his car around in an adjacent driveway and leave the church’s property.

Cuccinelli’s spokesperson, Brian Gottstein, told the Blade the attorney general “fully expected the media as well as the protesters to be” at the church.

“We had not heard otherwise,” he said.

Gottstein apologized to the Blade over the incident.

“However, it is the host of the event who decides who can enter their event, not us,” he said. “As I said, the attorney general was expecting an open event.”

Pastor John Peyton of the Reconciliation Community Church acknowledged he was asked to host the gathering at which Cuccinelli spoke — the attorney general said on his Twitter account earlier on Friday he was “looking forward to speaking at the Virginia Defense of Marriage Summit tonight!” Peyton told the Blade in an e-mail he “did not bargain for any protesters to come.”

“We have members who have been delivered from many sins by having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” he said. “We also wanted respect for the guest[s] on our ground[s.] Sorry you weren’t allow[ed] in this meeting, but you may come back any Sunday and visit our church.”

The Manassas gathering was the last in a series of rallies and other events that took place across the commonwealth during the day-long Marriage Protection Virginia Bus Tour that began earlier on Friday at Liberty University in Lynchburg. It was part of the Traditional Marriage Tour the High Impact Leadership Coalition, a group founded by Bishop Harry Jackson, Jr., of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Md., organized.

Virginia was the seventh and final state that tour participants visited.

“Recent events including the president of the United States commenting that he supports gay marriage, instructing the Department of Justice not to enforce violations of the Defense of Marriage Act and a Ninth Circuit Court’s decision to strike down Proposition 8 in California, makes it necessary for us to act now,” said the High Impact Leadership Coalition in an Aug. 1 press release that announced the Traditional Marriage Tour.

In addition to Cuccinelli; Jackson, Bishop Eugene Reeves of New Life Ministries in Woodbridge, Va., and Phillip Goudeaux of the Calvary Christian Center in Sacramento, Calif., were among those scheduled to speak at Reconciliation Community Church. The Manassas event took place less than a week after Goudeaux described gay men as “predators” who seek to indoctrinate children during an anti-gay marriage gathering at a Baltimore church that Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, Maryland Marriage Alliance Chair Derek McCoy, Jackson, Reeves and roughly 100 others attended.

Shelley Abrams, co-founder of Cooch Watch, told the Blade roughly a dozen members of her group who traveled to Manassas to protest Cuccinelli were also denied access to the church. One Cooch Watch member who arrived at Reconciliation Community Church around 4:45 p.m. told Abrams a woman said “there’s no rally here.”

Abrams said the protester looked at the church and told the same woman she recognized its name. The woman reportedly said only congregation members were allowed to attend the gathering.

“She said, ‘We’re not allowing protesters in and we’re doing God’s work,’” said the woman, according to Abrams.

Abrams further stressed churches typically allow Cooch Watch members to attend forums, meetings and other events they host.

“To be denied entry into what’s considered God’s house is appalling,” she said. “Not only that, this is a public official. We are Virginians and we want to hear what he has to say about same-sex marriage. And we were not given that opportunity. There is fear among the ultra-right wing of being exposed and they know that Cooch Watch is here to expose them.”

Equality Virginia spokesperson Kevin Clay also criticized the church’s decision to deny access to the gathering.

“It’s a shame that the press has been denied access to the attorney general’s speaking engagement,” he told the Blade. “At Friday’s event Cuccinelli spoke on the marriage amendment to a small group that most likely did not represent fair-minded Virginians. Behind closed doors, we suspect he rehashed the same overreaching rhetoric. At Equality Virginia, we expect our elected officials to represent all of the commonwealth’s citizens.”

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20 Comments

20 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    October 27, 2012 at 11:47 am

    Doing the work of God in the shadows of darkness?

  2. D.w. Skinner

    October 27, 2012 at 3:21 pm

    you know what amazes me in the 21st century? That there are those who would support an anti-gay rally!

    • Rachel Zellers

      October 27, 2012 at 3:24 pm

      …excuse me…an 'anti-gay' rally? Really? Uuuugh America. Stop it. That's gross. There's no point in reporting on that any way. Full of hateful idiots who don't deserve/need any attention at all.

    • Jack Pyne

      October 27, 2012 at 11:09 pm

      Rachel Zellers wake up! they may be "hateful idiots" but they have
      power to do us harm. They are the enemy and don't forget it.

    • Kevin Williams

      October 28, 2012 at 4:04 pm

      DW, I agree with Jack. So I read MUCh more right wing stuff than progressive articles. Keep your friends close but your enemies closer. I have a husband of 33 years and two wonderful children. I don't want a constitutional amendment banning my love for my husband and the adoption of my three children invalidated. Romney promised that.

    • Mark Patro

      October 29, 2012 at 3:48 pm

      tme for anti-christian rallies when they do this sort of thing

  3. Steven P. Schonfeld

    October 27, 2012 at 4:10 pm

    Congress needs to pass a law that clarifies the 1st Amendment: reporters under no circumstances shall be turned away from a public event in which pubic officials are scheduled to appear and/or speak.

    • Shane B Johnson

      October 28, 2012 at 3:42 pm

      This wasn't a public event. This was an event that a public official decided to attend that was being hosted by a private organizer on private property. It not like we are unaware of Cuccinelli's position on Marriage Equality, gay rights, etc. This was a church function and the church reserves the right to be selective about who attends.

  4. John Keefe

    October 27, 2012 at 8:21 pm

    "Reconciliation" Community Church? Time for a name change.

  5. Jean Pierre Katz

    October 27, 2012 at 10:14 pm

    Friends of the truth do not need secrecy.

  6. Mike Scott

    October 27, 2012 at 10:49 pm

    Maybe they will find an ally on the inside.

  7. Bob Jones

    October 27, 2012 at 10:52 pm

    Great advertising here on Face book for Marriage Equality. if he had not been turned away, this story would not be going all over the country like a wild fire.

  8. Bob

    October 27, 2012 at 6:53 pm

    great advertising for Marriage Equality… think of th free coverage nationwide this incident is making…

  9. Willie Millard

    October 27, 2012 at 9:20 pm

    I would accept their invitation to come back and post a sign saying “No Gays” in the front.

    I went to the Reconciliation Community Church website and clicked on staff. What is up with the Sound Engineer?

  10. Lanorexic

    October 28, 2012 at 3:27 am

    It was in Manassas which tells you everything you need to know about the people attending this little cross burning rally. Nothing good can come of anything where Cuccinelli speaks. This is how blacks were treated in the early 60’s when they came to hear the opposition. We all know what a BIGOT the Virginia States Atorney really is, now we’ve just seen it in action. This is supposed to be a church but it’s a front for a hate group. Revoke their tax exempt status immediately. I just don’t understand why these bubba’s are so obsessed with gay marriage. Just don’t marry someone of the same sex!

  11. Lanorexic

    October 28, 2012 at 3:30 am

    These people have a “special” God. One that hates you if you aren’t a wealthy, white, male republican.

  12. Luis H. Lopez

    October 28, 2012 at 9:43 am

    Anti gay bigots should be put to death! Why because their agenda calls for murder of gays that is the truth prove me wrong if you can cause these liars hide their true intentions!

  13. William Whesley

    October 28, 2012 at 12:16 pm

    Is it just me or does anyone else find it ironic that this happened in a town with both "man" and "ass" in its name? If one of my friends told me about this, I would think the whole thing was just a bad sketch from Saturday Night Live. Ruining a stranger's chance at happiness, fulfillment or equality has never been and will never be God's work.

  14. Cameron Robert

    October 28, 2012 at 7:21 pm

    Cuccinnelli is one of the most repugnant, bigoted scumbags in politics today. Him and his family need to be made to pay a very heavy price for the harm he causes to homosexuals and their loved ones.

  15. Suzanne Tillman

    October 28, 2012 at 11:15 pm

    Which church was that again? Westboro something or other?

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Virginia

Va. businessman apologizes for burning of rainbow flag poster

‘Shocked and horrified’: Ashburn incident caught on video

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Organizers of an event where a Pride symbol was burned say the incident was a misunderstanding.

The owner of a Virginia technology company that hosted a private Veterans Day party on the grounds of an Ashburn, Va., brewery in which a company employee used a flame-throwing device to ignite a rainbow flag poster said the selection of the poster was a mistake and he and his company have no ill will toward the LGBTQ community.

The Washington Blade learned about the poster burning from a customer of the Old Ox Brewery in Ashburn, where the incident took place on its outdoor grounds. The customer made a video of the incident with his cell phone and sent a copy of the video to the Blade.

The video, which includes an audio recording, shows a man using a hand-held flame-throwing device to ignite the rainbow poster, which was hanging from a cable and appeared to be mounted on cardboard or a thin sheet of wood. Bystanders can be heard laughing and cheering as the poster is set on fire.

The poster consisted of a variation of the LGBTQ Pride rainbow flag that included the word “love” configured from an upper white stripe on the rainbow symbol.

The customer who took the video, who has asked not to be identified, thought the decision to set the poster on fire was a sign of disrespect if not hatred toward a longstanding symbol of LGBTQ equality and pride.

Chris Burns, Old Ox Brewery’s president, shared that view, telling the Blade he and his staff were “shocked and horrified” when they learned later that a rainbow flag poster had been burned on the brewery’s grounds. Burns said Old Ox supports the LGBTQ community and participated in LGBTQ Pride month earlier this year.

He said the company that held the private party paid a fee to hold the event on the brewery’s grounds, but the brewery did not know a rainbow poster would be burned.

“I’m mortified that our event was interpreted in this way,” said Nate Reynolds, the founder and partner of Hypershift Technologies LLC, the Falls Church, Va.-based technology company that organized the Nov. 11 party at Old Ox Brewery. “I can assure you that ZERO ill-will or offense was meant,” Reynolds told the Blade in a Nov. 24 email.

“We held a small private party for a few clients, which included a demonstration of Elon Musk’s Boring Company ‘Not a Flamethrower,’” he said in his message. He was referring to one of billionaire businessman Elon Musk’s companies that specializes in boring through the ground to create tunnels for cars, trains, and other purposes. 

“After so many being isolated during COVID, we wanted to have an event that was lighthearted and to some small effect, silly,” Reynolds said in his message to the Blade.

According to Reynolds, in thinking about what should be used for “fodder” for the flame-thrower, he went to a Five Below discount store and purchased items such as stuffed animals and posters, including a “Space Jam” movie poster as well as what he thought was a poster of the British rock group The Beatles.

“When I pulled the Beatles poster out of the tube it was instead the ‘Love’ poster,” he said, referring to the rainbow flag poster the Blade asked him about in an earlier email.

“All I focused on was the ‘Love’ wording and not the rainbow and did not draw the conclusion that the poster was an icon that represents the LGBTQ community,” Reynolds said. “It was my own ignorance of not connecting the symbolism of the poster. If I had realized it was a symbol of the LGBTQ community, I would not have used it,” he said.

“I feel terrible, and I want to emphasize that I am solely responsible for this mistake – not the Old Ox Brewery,” he wrote in his message. “Nobody at Old Ox had anything to do with this activity.”

Reynolds added, “Hate has no place in my heart, and I sincerely apologize for any offense that could have been drawn from what I now realize was poor judgement on my part. I simply didn’t correlate this poster with the LGBTQ pride symbol.”  

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Before Reynolds issued his statement of apology, Burns, the Old Ox Brewery co-owner, told the Blade in an email he was “saddened and upset” over the rainbow poster burning on the grounds of his brewery.

“We do not wish to benefit from this event,” he said in his email message. “Therefore, Old Ox is donating 100% of the revenue generated from the private event to GLSEN.”

GLSEN is a national LGBTQ advocacy group that focuses on education and support for LGBTQ youth. Burns said Old Ox Brewery also donated proceeds from a Pride month event it organized earlier this year to GLSEN.

LGBTQ activists and organizations contacted by the Blade said they were unfamiliar with the variation of the rainbow flag with the word “love” that was the subject of the poster burning incident. The poster is available for sale at Five Below stores in the D.C. metropolitan area for $5.

Small print writings on the poster show it is produced by Trends International LLC, which describes itself on its website as “the leading publisher and manufacturer of licensed posters, calendars, stickers and social stationery products.” The Blade couldn’t immediately determine who designed the poster.

 The video of the poster burning incident can be viewed here:

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Fairfax schools returns LGBTQ-themed books in high school libraries

Review found ‘no pedophilia’ in texts as critics claimed

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(Book cover insert courtesy of Amazon)

The Fairfax County Public Schools announced on Tuesday that following a detailed review by two committees appointed by school officials it has returned two LGBTQ themed books to its high school libraries that had been temporarily withdrawn after being challenged by critics who claimed they included sexually explicit content inappropriate for students.

The two books, “Lawn Boy,” a novel by author Jonathan Evison, and “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” which is described as an illustrated autobiography by non-binary author Maia Kobabe, each contain descriptions of sexual acts.

But supporters of the books have argued that they have won praise by literary critics and, while describing intimate relationships, they tell stories that do not fall into the category of pornography.  

Fairfax County Public Schools, the name used for the county’s public school system, on Tuesday said in a statement that a thorough review of the books by two committees consisting of educators, school officials, parents and some students found that neither book contained content that could be considered to depict pedophilia as claimed by some parents and others opposing the two books.

School officials announced they had temporarily withdrawn the two books from school libraries following a Sept. 23 meeting of the Fairfax County School Board where strong objections to the two books were raised by parents.

“Two books that were subject to formal challenge have been deemed appropriate for high school readers following a two-month review process and will be reinstated to Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) libraries,” Tuesday’s statement by the school system says.

“The decision reaffirms FCPS’s ongoing commitment to provide diverse reading materials that reflect our student population, allowing every child an opportunity to see themselves reflected in literary characters,” the statement continues. “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.

The statement says the final decision to reinstate the books was made by Noel Klimenko, the Fairfax County Public Schools’ assistant superintendent for its Instructional Services Department.

The two books have received favorable reviews in various literary publications. Both have received the American Library Association’s Alex Award, an annual award that recognizes the year’s 10 books written for adults that the association says have a special appeal to young adults ages 12 through 18.

“The robust committee process took place over several weeks and considered whether the books flouted regulations by being obscene or harmful to juveniles as defined by the Code of Virginia,” the school system statement says. “The members also considered the work in line with an excerpt from the FCPS Student Rights and Responsibilities Handbook pertaining to possessing obscene visual imagery as defined in the Code of Virginia,” the statement says.

“After careful consideration, neither books were deemed to have fallen foul of these regulations,” it concludes.

The decision by Fairfax school officials to reinstate the two books came about six weeks after more than 425 LGBTQ students and allies from over 30 Fairfax County public high schools sent a letter to the school board and the school system’s superintendent urging them to reinstate the two books.

The Pride Liberation Project, a coalition of LGBTQ and allied students in Fairfax County, organized the joint letter.

“Student representatives from over 30 schools, including nearly every high school in Fairfax County Public Schools, have signed this letter, and many of us are students of color, low-income, gender expansive and not out to our families and communities,” the letter states.

“We are writing to ask you to reject calls to remove Maia Kobabe’s ‘Gender Queer’ and Jonathan Evison’s ‘Lawn Boy’ from Fairfax County Public Schools libraries,” the letter says.

It points out that “hundreds of books in our schools already depict heterosexual relationships and physical intimacy,” and says singling out LGBTQ themed books with similar stories of intimacy for rejection is unfair.

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Transgender Zimbabwean woman in Md. wins asylum case

Mattie Tux Horton lives in Rockville

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Mattie Tux Horton, right, with her lawyer Ankush Dhupar in Los Angeles. (Photo courtesy of Mattie Tux Horton/Facebook)

A transgender woman from Zimbabwe who lives in Rockville won her asylum case in late October after living in the U.S. for the past five years. 

Mattie Tux Horton was represented by Ankush Dhupar from the Los Angeles law firm Paul Hastings LLP.

“I feel at ease,” said Horton. “Although a lot is going on in the [United States], it’s [significantly] different compared to where I’m coming from.”

Horton said that she now considers the U.S. to be her home. 

Although she has been living in Maryland for a while now, receiving asylum stripped away the anxiety associated with returning to Zimbabwe had the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency denied her request. 

With protection from the U.S. government, Horton gets to live in a safe environment and without the vile treatment she encountered in Zimbabwe because of her transness.

In her hometown of Bulawayo, Horton faced constant public humiliation and was once fired from her job as a graphic artist because of her dress presentation, according to an interview she did with Medium. 

She was attacked by a violent group of men in 2014, and was outed later that year following a holiday trip to South Africa, according to the interview. 

This incident garnered media attention and The Sunday News, a Zimbabwean newspaper, published an article in which it misgendered Horton throughout the entire piece. 

This prompted Horton to apply for a U.S. visa so she could attend an LGBTQ leadership conference in D.C. and remove herself from the cacophony in her town.

The Sunday News later ran a story about Horton’s departure in which they misgendered her again and referred to her as a “transgender man” and “alleged gay.”

Horton arrived in D.C. in December 2016 and began her asylum process there. 

While visiting a friend in Los Angeles, she connected with the city’s Human Rights First chapter that referred her to Dhupar, who represented her pro bono. 

Dhupar is a labor and employment law attorney at Paul Hastings LLC and he volunteered to work on Horton’s case as part of his firm’s partnership with Human Rights First to do pro bono LGBTQ advocacy work.

Horton’s asylum was his first ever immigration case.

While the legal underpinnings of immigration were new to him, Dhupar did not struggle to situate his modus operandi because of how compelling Horton’s case was.

“I always referred to the facts of the case because the law is geared towards helping situations like [Horton’s] where someone fears for their life in their home country,” said Dhupar. 

Dhupar also added that Horton’s case was a prime example of why the asylum process exists.

Horton submitted a psychological evaluation in February 2021 that would expedite her asylum case and grant her an interview notice sooner than usual. 

At that point she had lived in the U.S. for more than four years, but she still had to wait a couple more months before she was called for an interview. This caused Horton to feel trepid about whether her case was strong enough. 

“I went through depression and had psychological breakdowns,” said Horton. “I have friends who were called in for an interview months after moving here and didn’t have to wait five years [like I did].”

This hurdle, however, gave Horton and Dhupar adequate time to build an indisputable case. The two built a personal relationship that kept them vigilant despite the abounding uncertainty. 

“She was a perfect advocate for herself and took the initiative to make sure the case did not fall on the backburner,” said Dhupar. 

Now that she has won her case, Horton is taking time to relish on her recent success. 

“I’m going to take a breather,” she said.

She also plans to secure full-time employment in 2022 and build a makeup brand. Horton currently works part time as a steering committee member — a role she says is fulfilling — at the Black LGBTQIA+ Migrant Project- Transgender Law Center.

There, she links Black trans and gender nonconforming individuals to education, employment, legal and healthcare resources.

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