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Year in review: Va. prosecutor becomes state’s first gay jurist

Richmond Circuit Court approved the nomination of Tracy Thorne-Begland, chief deputy commonwealth attorney for the city of Richmond

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A Richmond prosecutor in June became Virginia’s first openly gay judge.

The Richmond Circuit Court approved the nomination of Tracy Thorne-Begland, chief deputy commonwealth attorney for the city of Richmond, nearly a month after members of the House of Delegates rejected it.

“I am humbled by the Circuit Court’s decision,” Thorne-Begland said in a statement. “I look forward to serving the citizens of the city of Richmond as a jurist, and over the coming months I hope that my service provides comfort to all Virginians that I remain committed to the faithful application of the laws and constitutions of Virginia and the United States of America.”

Del. Bob Marshall (R-Prince William County) stressed before the May 15 vote in the House of Delegates that Thorne-Begland, who is a former Navy pilot, “misrepresented” himself when he failed to disclose his sexual orientation when he enlisted in 1992. State Sen. A. Donald McEachin (D-Henrico,) who sponsored his nomination in the state Senate, applauded the Circuit Court judges for recognizing “Mr. Thorne-Begland’s skill, qualifications and competency and putting aside bigotry, prejudice and false excuses” in a statement after they approved his nomination.

Equality Virginia, state Sen. A. Donald McEachin and Gov. Bob McDonnell also applauded Thorne-Begland’s appointment. Former Attorney General Richard Cullen and former Virginia Bar Association President James Meath are among those who backed his nomination.

The Richmond Circuit Court had the authority to appoint Thorne-Begland on an interim basis because lawmakers did not fill the vacancy. Lawmakers could rescind the temporary appointment once they reconvene next month.

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District of Columbia

D.C. ceremony welcomes affirming church as ‘full standing’ UCC congregation

Bishop Abrams officially installed as pastor of UCC Empowerment Liberation Cathedral

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Bishop Allyson Abrams (far right) was installed as pastor of UCC Empowerment Liberation Cathedral.

The Mt. Rainier, Md.-based Empowerment Liberation Cathedral, which Washington Blade readers have selected for five years as the D.C. area’s Best LGBTQ Church, was honored as an official United Church of Christ congregation in a ceremony on Sunday, Feb. 25, at the Plymouth United Church of Christ on North Capitol Street in D.C.

The ceremony, organized by the Potomac Association of the United Church of Christ, which admitted Empowerment Liberation Cathedral as a UCC congregation last fall, also officially installed lesbian Bishop Allyson Abrams as pastor of the now UCC-affiliated Empowerment Liberation Cathedral.

Abrams founded Empowerment Liberation Cathedral in 2014 at its original location in Silver Spring, Md., as a nondenominational Protestant church that she declared would be a welcoming and affirming congregation “where all of God’s children are welcomed,” including LGBTQ people of faith. Washington Blade readers have also named Abrams the D.C. area’s Best Clergy for seven years.

Although many consider Empowerment Liberation Cathedral a “gay” church, one of its spokespersons, Kendrick Keys, told the Washington Blade ELC considers itself a welcoming church and congregation open to everyone, even though he said a majority but not all of its members are LGBTQ.  

A biography of Abrams prepared by the LGBTQ Religion Archives Network says her founding of Empowerment Liberation Cathedral came one year after she resigned as pastor of the Zion Progress Baptist Church in Detroit in 2013 and two years after she was consecrated as a bishop at Pneuma Christian Fellowship, a religious order in Orange County, Calif.

The biography says Abrams created a stir in 2013 shortly before her resignation as pastor of Zion Progressive Baptist Church, when she announced to the congregation that she had just married another female bishop, Diana Williams, who at the time was Bishop Emeritus of the Imani Temple African American Catholic Congregation.

A short time after that, Abrams and Williams moved to the D.C.-Maryland area where Abrams mapped out plans to open the Empowerment Liberation Cathedral known as ELC.

 “Bishop Abrams came to the Washington, D.C. area with a new blitz about her marriage to another female bishop,” a statement released by ELC says. “She was outcast by many organizations and religious groups for declaring you could be gay and Christian,” the statement says.

“When Abrams decided to open a church in the Washington Metropolitan Area many media outlets discussed her keeping her faith and opening a church for those who have been marginalized and disenfranchised from the church and from their legacies in churches across America,” the statement continues.

“Bishop Abrams has remained on the forefront of ministry and has united with a denomination that believes in justice and equality for all – the United Church of Christ,” says the statement.

It was referring to the United Church of Christ’s status as an LGBTQ-affirming church that welcomes LGBTQ people into its services and congregations.

A separate ELC statement says among those attending and participating in the Feb. 25 ceremony at Plymouth Church were pastors, bishops, ministers, parishioners, community leaders, organizations affiliated with ELC and the United Church of Christ’s Potomac Association.

Among them was Japer Bowles, director of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs, who delivered a statement from Bowser.

“As Mayor of Washington, D.C., I congratulate Empowerment Liberation Cathedral as you join the United Church of Christ (UCC) family and install Bishop Alyson Abrams as pastor,” the statement says. “As you gather to celebrate this momentous occasion, may both pastor and congregation be inspired to even higher heights of achievement and service to our communities,” the mayor’s statement says.

The Capital Pride Alliance, the group that organizes D.C.’s annual LGBTQ Pride parade and festival, issued its own statement congratulating Empowerment Liberation Cathedral. The statement mentions that in 2016, Capital Pride honored Bishop Abrams as a Capital Pride Hero “in acknowledgement of her work in the faith community for the acceptance and affirmation of LGBTQ+ Christians.”

ELC spokesperson Keys said the church holds its weekly Sunday services at the Mt. Rainier Arts Center at 3311 Rhode Island Ave., Mt. Rainier, Md.

He said a nonprofit community services organization created by ELC called Empowerment Justice Center, is located at 1015 15th Street, N.W., Room 653 in D.C. The church office is also at that location, Keys said. 

Further information about church services and events can be obtained by contacting ELC at 202-798-4371 or at empowermentliberationcathedral.org.

But Keys said the church’s location in Maryland had not been updated on the website, which lists its former location in Lanham, Md., rather than its current location in Mt. Rainier.

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Virginia

Va. lieutenant governor misgenders Danica Roem

Manassas Democrat is first trans person elected to state Senate

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Virginia Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears speaks at CPAC in 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Virginia Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears on Monday misgendered state Sen. Danica Roem (D-Manassas) on the Virginia Senate floor.

WVTF Richmond Bureau Chief Brad Kutner in an X post said Earle-Sears, who is a Republican, referred to Roem, who is a transgender woman, as “sir” during a debate on House Bill 964, which would allow attorneys to serve as the executive director of the Virginia Board of Medicine. 

Kutner said the Senate went “recess twice after reportedly ‘Sears refused to apologize.'”

“I’m not here to upset anyone, I’m here to do the job the people of Virginia have called me to do,” Earle-Sears later said, according to Kutner.

Roem in 2018 became the first trans person seated in a state legislature in the country when she assumed her seat in the Virginia House of Delegates.

Voters in the 30th Senate District last November elected her to the Senate. Roem is the first trans person seated in the chamber.

The Washington Blade on Monday reached out to Roem, but she declined comment.

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District of Columbia

GW transgender, nonbinary student group criticizes Utah governor’s on campus comments 

Spencer Cox decried ‘genital-mutilation surgeries’

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Republican Utah Gov. Spencer Cox (Photo courtesy of Cox's office)

A George Washington University transgender and nonbinary student group has criticized Republican Utah Gov. Spencer Cox’s comments about gender-affirming health care that he made last week during an on-campus.

The GW Hatchet reported Cox on Feb. 21 described gender-affirming health care as “genital-mutilation surgeries” during a “Disagree Better” event the university’s School of Media and Public Affairs hosted. Jonah Goldberg, a conservative writer and commentator, and NPR “Morning Edition” host Michel Martin also participated in the event that Frank Sesno, a GWU School of Media and Public Affairs professor who was previously CNN’s Washington Bureau chief, moderated.

The Transgender and Nonbinary Students of GW in a post to its Instagram page said it is “hurt, ashamed and frustrated that such harmful language was allowed to be given a platform on our campus.”

“Fear mongering claims that young trans people are ‘mutilating our bodies’ are factually incorrect and damaging to our community,” said the group in its post that notes the event took place days after Nex Benedict, a nonbinary student in Oklahoma, died after a fight in their high school’s bathroom. “Gender-affirming care for minors saves lives, and is approved by reputable institutions, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and American Psychiatric Association.”

The GW Hatchet notes Cox told Sesno that he invited trans youth and their families to the Governor’s Mansion in Salt Lake City “to discuss state measures that pertain to transgender people, a conversation that he said led to legislative change.” 

Cox in 2022 vetoed a bill that banned trans students from playing on sports teams that correspond with their gender identity. The Utah Legislature later overrode his veto.

The governor last year signed a bill that bans gender-affirming health care for minors in his state. Cox last month signed a bill that prevents trans and nonbinary people from using restrooms and locker rooms in public schools and government buildings that correspond to their gender identity.

The GW Hatchet reported Cox in response to a student’s question said “no one” in Utah has died by suicide because they were unable to access gender-affirming care.

“I care deeply about these kids. I love these kids. I want these kids to thrive. I want these kids to be successful,” Cox said, according to the GW Hatchet. “I think there’s a better way to do that than by having genital-mutilation surgeries before they’re 18 and old enough to have a rational decision, to actually make a decision for themselves. And so we can disagree with that.”

“As the only trans student org at GW, we refuse to let our community have their right to exist be put up for debate and threatened by disinformation,” said the Transgender and Nonbinary Students of GW in their statement. “We call on GW administration to consider ways in which they can repair the harm caused by Gov. Cox’s statements on campus, and make the safety of their trans students, faculty and staff a priority in a sociopolitical climate that is fixated on our eradication.”

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