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W.Va. voters elect first openly gay state lawmaker

Stephen Skinner will represent portions of Jefferson County in the West Virginia House of Delegates

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Stephen Skinner, gay news, West Virginia, Washington Blade
Stephen Skinner, gay news, West Virginia, Washington Blade

West Virginia Del. Stephen Skinner (D-Shepherdstown) is the first openly gay person elected to the state legislature. (Photo courtesy of Stephen Skinner)

A West Virginia lawyer on Tuesday became the first openly gay person elected to his state’s legislature.

Stephen Skinner will represent Harper’s Ferry, Shepherdstown and surrounding areas of Jefferson County in the far Eastern Panhandle in the West Virginia House of Delegates after defeating Republican Elliot Simon.

“It feels great,” Skinner told the Washington Blade on Thursday as he discussed his election. “Certainly we can recognize it is historic, but we also must remember that it’s about serving the constituents. This is about getting the votes from folks who have the same everyday problems as anybody.”

Skinner is among the hundreds of openly LGBT candidates across the country who won their respective campaigns on Tuesday. These include gay Florida state Rep.-elect Joe Saunders and Stacie Laughton, a Nashua, N.H., selectman who on Tuesday became the first openly transgender person elected to state office in the U.S. after voters elected her to the New Hampshire House of Representatives.

Skinner, who founded Fairness West Virginia, a statewide LGBT advocacy group, told the Blade there were what he described as “some rumblings about” his homosexuality “on the edges” during the campaign. He cited lesbian Wisconsin Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin’s historic election to the U.S. Senate on Tuesday as proof that voters are increasingly able to look beyond a candidate’s sexual orientation.

“We’re at a point in time at least in this part of West Virginia where if my opponent or outside forces had attempted to make it an issue, it would have backfired,” said Skinner.

Joe Racalto, executive director of Fairness West Virginia, applauded Skinner’s election. His organization will honor him, among others at its annual gala in Charleston, the state capital, on Saturday.

“History was made today in West Virginia,” said Racalto in a statement late on Nov. 6. “Delegate-Elect Skinner is proof that people should be judged by their ideas and vision, not who they love. West Virginians should be applauded for breaking this important barrier.”

Coy A. Flowers, president of Fairness West Virginia’s Board of Directors, agreed.

“On behalf of the nearly 40,000 West Virginians who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender and for the over 3,000 same sex couples who are raising children in this state, we are ecstatic that our community finally has a true seat at the table in the West Virginia Legislature,” said Flowers. “Finally, our legislative elected officials will be held accountable on issues of fairness and equality for all our state’s citizens.”

Skinner noted the economy and jobs were the top issues among his soon-to-be constituents during the campaign. He also said health care and increased traffic associated with an influx of new residents who often commute into the nation’s capital are also a concern.

“We’re just 65 miles up the Potomac [from D.C.,]” he said. “Development’s a big issue, but we also have gambling is an enormous issue because we derive a lot of our revenue from the Charles Town races. In my district we have two MARC train stations, so we have lots of commuters. Lots of folks work on the Hill and live out here. We’re constantly dealing with the issues of being a community that still retains a lot of its rural character, but is very connected into the D.C. metro area.”

Skinner added the district’s geographical isolation from Charleston and other parts of the state remains an issue.

“We feel very disconnected from the state capital,” he said, noting it takes him less time to drive to Manhattan and five other state capitals than it does to Charleston. “The issues in the rest of the state aren’t necessarily our issues — and vice versa. But we’re experiencing tremendous population growth and it’s sometimes from within in the state and for a lot of people they’re simply living here because it’s affordable housing and a great place to live.”

Home prices in Jefferson County are the highest per capita in West Virginia, while its population is statistically the most educated in the state. Skinner said there are also a lot of “folks who are forward thinking” in Jefferson County.

“We have to make sure the legislators in the Eastern Panhandle are making sure that we are able to have the data to show to the rest of the state the difference, but also that we are generating a huge amount of the revenues for the state,” he said. “We need to make sure that we are getting the correct amount back.”

Skinner said he and other LGBT advocates will continue to push for a bill that would add sexual orientation to West Virginia’s non-discrimination law. He noted he will also work with his soon-to-be colleagues in Charleston on the implementation of expanded Medicare coverage under the health care reform law President Obama signed in 2010.

West Virginia is also about to implement what Skinner described as an “enormous” reform of the state’s education system.

“Having more autonomy and less centralization in a state like West Virginia is going to be pretty important for our future success,” he said.

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The White House

VP Harris to oversee White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention

Goal is to implement and expand upon legislation, executive actions

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U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, September 2023. (Official White House photograph by Lawrence Jackson)

The White House announced Thursday evening that President Joe Biden on Friday will establish the first-ever White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention, to be overseen by Vice President Kamala Harris.

The office will focus on implementing and expanding upon executive and legislative actions, including the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, “to reduce gun violence, which has ravaged communities across the country.”

Serving under Harris will be Stefanie Feldman, “a longtime policy advisor to President Biden on gun violence prevention,” and “leading gun violence prevention advocates Greg Jackson and Rob Wilcox.”

“Every time I’ve met with families impacted by gun violence as they mourn their loved ones, and I’ve met with so many throughout the country, they all have the same message for their elected officials: ‘do something,'” Biden said in a statement.

The president noted his signing of last year’s bipartisan gun violence prevention law, a flagship legislative accomplishment for the administration, along with his issuance of more executive actions than any president in history to address this problem.

Calling these “just the first steps,” Biden said the establishment of the White House Office on Gun Violence Prevention will “build upon these measures and keep Americans safe.”

He also urged Congress to do more by passing legislation requiring universal background checks, and baning assault weapons and high capacity magazines.

In a statement, Harris said, “This epidemic of gun violence requires urgent leadership to end the fear and trauma that Americans experience every day.”

“The new Office of Gun Violence Prevention will play a critical role in implementing President Biden’s and my efforts to reduce violence to the fullest extent under the law,” she said, “while also engaging and encouraging Congressional leaders, state and local leaders, and advocates to come together to build upon the meaningful progress that we have made to save lives.”

“Our promise to the American people is this: we will not stop working to end the epidemic of gun violence in every community, because we do not have a moment, nor a life to spare,” the vice president said.

Then Vice President Biden hugs Brandon J. Wolf as he talks with family members of the victims and survivors in the June 12th mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, at the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida, June 16, 2016.
Wolf, a Pulse survivor, was recently appointed National Press Secretary of the Human Rights Campaign.
(Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)
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Congress

House GOP sinks their own spending bill, Dems object to anti-LGBTQ riders

Vote was 216-212

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U.S. Capitol
U.S. Capitol (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A group of four hardline House Republicans on Thursday joined Democratic colleagues to sink their own spending bill, a $886 billion military appropriations package full of riders from GOP members that include anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ provisions.

The 216-212 vote raised the likelihood of a government shutdown if lawmakers are unable to forge a path forward before the end of September.

“Instead of decreasing the chance of a shutdown, Speaker McCarthy is actually increasing it by wasting time on extremist proposals that cannot become law in the Senate,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said.

His counterpart in the House, Republican Speaker Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) expressed frustration with his own caucus, characterizing the impasse he has reached with colleagues as “frustrating in the sense that I don’t understand why anybody votes against bringing the idea and having the debate.”

“And then you got all the amendments if you don’t like the bill,” he continued. “This is a whole new concept of individuals that just want to burn the whole place down — it doesn’t work.”

A group of 155 House Democrats on Thursday issued a letter objecting to anti-LGBTQ provisions in the bill, the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act, addressing the message to U.S. Sens. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), chair and ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and U.S. Reps. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) and Adam Smith (D-Wash.), chair and ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee.

The effort was led by Congressional Equality Caucus Chair U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and the co-chairs of the Caucus’s Transgender Equality Task Force, U.S. Reps. Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.) and Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.).

Specifically, the letter argues several anti-equality amendments would “actively target LGBTQ+ service members and LGBTQ+ dependents and threaten the recruitment, retention, and readiness of our Armed Forces.”

Among these are riders prohibiting coverage of gender affirming healthcare interventions for service members and their dependents; banning LGBTQ Pride flags, drag shows and other events; and restricting funding for certain books in schools operated by the Department of Defense Education Activity.

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Canada

Eight jailed across Canada during anti-LGBTQ sex ed rallies

Prime minister condemned bigotry; counterprotests outnumbered demonstrations

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Protests sparked across Canada over gender policies in schools took place on Sept. 20, 2023. (Screenshot/YouTube CBC)

A highly coordinated series of anti-LGBTQ protests rocked more than 80 cities across Canada on Wednesday, in a significant escalation of tactics by Canada’s anti-LGBTQ extremists.

The coordinated protests dubbed 1 Million March 4 Children are demanding an end to discussions on sexual orientation and gender identity in Canadian classrooms. They come as several Canadian provinces have enacted policies that require students to have parental permission to change their preferred name or pronoun used in schools, and shortly after the federal Conservative Party adopted a series of anti-trans policies at its national convention.

According to its website, 1 Million March 4 Children is calling for “the elimination of the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) curriculum, pronouns, gender ideology and mixed bathrooms in schools.” The website also lists among its supporters numerous groups that were opposed to masking policies during the COVID-19 pandemic, anti-vaccine groups, groups that promote conspiracy theories, and groups that support the truck convoys that laid siege to Ottawa and several U.S. border crossings last year.

Protests happened from coast to coast, in big cities, suburbs and small towns, but in most cases, they were met with coordinated counter-protests in support of LGBTQ rights who greatly outnumbered the protesters. 

CBC reported that counter-protesters numbered roughly double the anti-LGBTQ protesters in St. John’s, Newfoundland.  

Inclusive sex education has long been part of school curriculums in most provinces in Canada and has generally enjoyed support from all major political parties.

While the protests where mostly peaceful, at least four anti-LGBTQ protesters were arrested after getting into altercations with counter-protestors in British Columbia, and police advised that the protest in front of the provincial legislature had become “unsafe.”

Police in Nanaimo, British Columbia, tackled and arrested one man who attempted to flee after allegedly getting into a physical altercation at City Hall. Two protestors were also arrested in Victoria, British Columbia, as they demonstrated in front of the provincial legislature, and another protester was arrested in Vancouver. Police in both cities did not provide additional information.

Ottawa police also arrested two protesters for allegedly inciting hatred and another for causing a disturbance in at the protest in front of Parliament.

And Toronto police arrested 47-year-old protester Julia Stevenson for allegedly bringing a weapon to the demonstration outside the provincial legislature. Police did not give further details about what kind of weapon she is alleged to have been carrying.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who was at the U.N. General Assembly in New York, condemned the anti-LGBTQ protests in a tweet on X, formerly Twitter.

“Let me make one thing very clear: Transphobia, homophobia and biphobia have no place in this country. We strongly condemn this hate and its manifestations, and we stand united in support of 2SLGBTQI+ Canadians across the country — you are valid and you are valued,” he wrote.

Conservative Party leader Pierre Poilievre did not put out any statement on the protests, nor did deputy leader Melissa Lantsman, who is openly lesbian and has previously spoken out on LGBTQ issues on behalf of the party. 

The leader of the left-leaning New Democratic Party Jagmeet Singh joined the counter-protestors who demonstrated in Ottawa and marched toward Parliament Hill.

“We know that there’s a lot of folks that don’t feel safe because of the rise in hate and division that’s targeting vulnerable people,” Singh told CTV. “But then you see a lot of people coming together, and it shows the strength of solidarity, of us supporting each other, of having each other’s back.”

Alberta Teachers’ Association President Jason Schilling says the protesters are part of a North America-wide movement fomenting hatred against queer people using misinformation and lies.

“Using ‘parental consent’ as camouflage, this rally was part of a coordinated strike across North America to promote misinformation, intolerance and hate toward the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, as well as toward teachers who work to protect the safety and well-being of all students,” Schilling said in a statement.

In many cities, the anti-LGBTQ protests were officially condemned by mayors and school boards.

Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow, who has publicly supported LGBTQ rights since the 1980s, issued a strong statement condemning the protests

“We stand against all forms of discrimination, hatred and bigotry, and for the safety and well-being of all young people. Some wish to target our schools and libraries to spread hate. We know these must be spaces that welcome everyone, especially students,” Chow wrote.

The city of Whitehorse, Yukon, issued a statement condemning bigotry in advance of the protests.

“While the city supports people’s right to organize and protest, we stand by our 2SLGBTQIA+ community members and their right to live their true selves safely and free of harassment and hate. The promotion of anti-2SLGBTQIA+ ideas has no place in our community and messages that target fellow community members will not be tolerated,” the statement says.

However, New Brunswick Primer Blaine Higgs, who was the first to introduce a “parental consent” policy for trans students, joined the protesters in front of the provincial legislature in Fredericton. 

“I think our parents should become knowledgeable about what their kids are being taught and what is important for them to learn in schools and what’s important for parents to make decisions on with kids that are under 16-years-old,” Higgs told reporters.

British Columbia Conservative Party leader John Rustad went further in a statement on the protests. While he says he doesn’t “officially” support the protests, if his party wins next year’s election, he promised to cancel the province’s sex ed curriculum and implied he would ban transgender girls from sports.

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