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More than 100 attend Equality Virginia lobby day

Advocates from across the state traveled to Richmond



Equality Virginia, Richmond, gay news, Washington Blade
Equality Virginia, Richmond, gay news, Washington Blade

Equality Virginia supporters gather on the steps of the state capitol building in Richmond on Jan. 29. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

RICHMOND, Va.—Dozens of advocates from across the commonwealth gathered in the state capital on Tuesday for Equality Virginia’s annual legislative lobby day.

They spoke with lawmakers in support of Senate Bill 701, which would ban discrimination against LGBT state employees. Advocates also sought backing for measures that would define bullying in Virginia and require school districts to adopt policies that specifically prohibit students and school employees from engaging in it.

They lobbied against House Bill 1617 that would prohibit publicly funded colleges and universities from discriminating against any student group based on their “religious, political, philosophical, or other content of the organization or group’s speech.”

Equality Virginia Executive Director James Parrish told the Washington Blade during an interview at the Library of Virginia that the measure state Del. Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) introduced “sounds very well-meaning.” He added his organization sees “the flip side of that as saying colleges have to fund organizations that willingly discriminate,” while referring to the controversy over the Boy Scouts of America’s long-standing ban on openly gay scouts and scoutmasters.

“Equality Virginia believes it is not our place to tell private organizations what to do,” Parrish said. “It is our place to say public dollars shouldn’t fund those organizations.”

Aside from advocating for or against specific measures, advocates also attended workshops on a variety of topics that included the lack of legal protections for LGBT Virginians and transgender advocacy in the commonwealth. Congressman Bobby Scott, state Dels. Rob Krupicka (D-Alexandria) and Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax), gay state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) and Richmond City Council President Charles Samuels are among those who attended a post-lobby day reception at the Library of Virginia.

Parrish also announced that Newark (N.J.) Mayor Cory Booker will deliver the keynote address at Equality Virginia’s annual Commonwealth Dinner in Richmond on April 6.

“It’s an important issue to address — LGBT rights in general,” Fredericksburg attorney Jessica Jeanty told the Washington Blade. She met with state Del. Robert Orrock (R-Spotsylvania) and a legislative aide to state Sen. Ryan McDougle (R-Hanover) earlier in the day. “I was looking for a way to get involved, especially a way to get involved that’s effective. I think reaching out to state legislators is one of the most effective ways to make a difference in this area.”

The gathering took place four days after the state Senate passed SB 701 by a 24-16 vote margin. The Republican-controlled House of Delegates on Jan. 15 overwhelmingly approved gay interim Richmond Circuit Court Judge Tracy Thorne-Begland’s judgeship after blocking his nomination during a late-night vote last May that sparked outrage among LGBT advocates.

SB 701 faces an uphill battle in the House of Delegates, but state Sen. A. Donald McEachin (D-Henrico) told the Blade during an interview at his capitol office that he remains optimistic about the measure’s prospects in light of Thorne-Begland’s appointment.

“I’d like to believe there’s a new sense of enlightenment in the House,” he said. “I’m hopeful that same sense of enlightenment will continue. The bill is all about fairness; it’s all about making sure that no one in the state workforce should have to worry about being discriminated against because of who they are. And to that end, it’s something that Fortune 500 companies do that call Virginia home, so I’m hopeful the House will look at the totality of the circumstances and see a way to pass it.”

A. Donald McEachin, Henrico County, Virginia, Senate, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Sen. A. Donald McEachin (D-Henrico) (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Ebbin, who co-sponsored SB 701 with McEachin, said the four Republicans who voted for SB 701 indicate “we may do a little better in the House.”

“The subcommittee of the General Laws Committee we’ll go to has proved a very formidable obstacle in the past,” he conceded, while acknowledging the fact four Republican senators who voted for SB 701 indicate it may fair slightly better in the House than in previous years. “I’ve brought this forward every year since the Kaine administration and I’m committed to continuing to do so. We’re chipping away and I think eventually this will pass; eventually.”

Senate subcommittee approves ‘love shack’ bill

Ebbin spoke with the Blade hours after the Senate Courts of Justice Committee unanimously approved Senate Bill 939, which would repeal an 1873 law that criminalizes unmarried couples who live together.

Gov. Bob McDonnell told WTOP radio on Tuesday he supports the so-called “Love Shack” measure in spite of his views toward “cohabitators, homosexuals or fornicators” he expressed in his master’s thesis he wrote while attending Regent University in Virginia Beach. Ebbin said he remains “confident” that SB 939 will pass in the full Senate in the coming days.

“At this date, the House needs to acknowledge the reality of the 21st century,” he said. “I’m very optimistic they will.”

“Equality Virginia definitely supports getting rid of all these bills that are constitutionally irrelevant,” Parrish added. “We’re for getting all those laws off the books.”

Advocates: Va. LGBT rights movement continues to make strides

A House of Delegates subcommittee earlier this month killed a proposal that would have repealed the commonwealth’s voter-approved constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, but advocates maintain SB 701 and Thorne-Begland’s appointment prove the state’s LGBT rights movement continues to move forward.

“It is definitely progress, especially since both were so difficult,” Jeanty said. “I was shocked to hear that there was any kind of contention about Tracy Thorne-Begland at all, so to see that he finally has a full-time judgeship is great. I think that’s progress. I also think that SB 701 is progress, but I think there’s much more to go. There are many more bills that need to be passed. It’s a little bit of progress, but we still need more.”

Joyce Scher, co-founder of Mothers and Others of Virginia, agreed.

“I’m thrilled about Tracy, just absolutely thrilled,” she told the Blade during the Equality Virginia reception. “Sorry that everybody had to work so hard because he was so worthy of having that job.”

Ebbin, who is the first openly gay person elected to the Virginia Legislature, said he feels his Richmond colleagues have begun to respond favorably to LGBT-specific issues.

“I don’t bring up gay issues with everyone, but I think just being here — and they know who I am, does make a difference and over time things can only get better,” Ebbin said. “People say how can you stand being in Richmond. I say I love being here knowing that I can grab that microphone anytime I want when people say anything that needs to be reacted to. There’s no place I’d rather be than watching Virginia wake up from history.”

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District of Columbia

White House officials, HHS secretary praise local monkeypox response

D.C. Health points to data showing sharp decline in new cases



HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra praised D.C. Health’s response to monkeypox.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and two leaders of the White House monkeypox response team joined officials with the D.C. Department of Health on Thursday for a visit to D.C.’s recently opened Monkeypox Vaccine Clinic on Martin Luther King Jr. Ave., S.E. in Ward 8.

In a briefing for reporters, who were invited to join Becerra and the White House officials on a tour of the clinic, the D.C. and federal officials pointed to a sharp decline in new monkeypox cases in D.C. as a sign of a successful federal and local government partnership in dramatically boosting the number of people at risk for monkeypox who have been vaccinated.

“I welcome you all to our Ward 8 Monkeypox Vaccine Clinic,” said Dr. Sharon Lewis, Interim Director of the D.C. Department of Health, which is also referred to as D.C. Health.

“Please take note that D.C. Health was very active in initiating back in May” the city’s effort to address monkeypox, she said. “We started our planning and as soon as we were aware of the first case in June, we had actually set up vaccines and were ready to implement our plan.”

Dr. Anil Mangla, the State Epidemiologist for the D.C. Department of Health, told the gathering the number of D.C. monkeypox cases peaked during the week of July 17, and new cases in the District have declined since then by an average of over 20 percent per week.

“I would call it our success story in D.C.,” Mangla said. “So, our cases peaked nine weeks ago, the week of July 17. If you look at the national trends and statistics, the nation essentially peaked about six weeks ago, so we were already three weeks in advance,” he said.

Mangla pointed out that the clinic where the HHS and White House officials visited on Thursday at 3640 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave., S.E. and the city’s two other Monkeypox vaccination clinics are walk-in facilities where D.C. residents can go for a vaccination without an appointment. The other two are located at 1900 I St., N.W. and 7530 Georgia Ave., N.W.

Becerra praised Mangla and his boss, Dr. Lewis, and their team of public health officials for aggressively reaching out to those at risk for monkeypox, including gay and bisexual men, to encourage them to get vaccinated and promptly treating those who tested positive for the monkeypox virus.

“So, let me first say to Director Lewis, Dr. Mangla, and to all your team, thank you for being affirmative in bringing in the steps to stop monkeypox,” Becerra said. “And more importantly, to go where the people are rather than waiting for the people to come to you.”

He said D.C. efforts in addressing monkeypox were among the efforts in other cities and states across the country where a joint federal-local partnership was taking place. 

“We need strong partnerships,” he said. “We need your help, because you know the many trusted voices in the communities that you’ve got more of than we would,” he said. “We’ll provide the vaccine,” said Becerra, noting that the Biden administration in partnership with various federal agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration, has distributed more than a million vaccine doses nationally.

Among the White House officials who spoke at the briefing and joined the tour of the Ward 8 Monkeypox Vaccination Clinic was Robert Fenton, who President Biden on Aug. 2 named as White House National Monkeypox Response Coordinator. Also speaking was Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, who Biden named as White House National Monkeypox Response Deputy Coordinator.

A statement released by the White House at the time Biden appointed the two men says Fenton has served as Regional Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Region 9 in the western part of the U.S. and was considered one of the nation’s most experienced emergency management leaders.

The statement says Daskalakis, a leading public health expert, is currently the Director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of HIV Prevention.

“Widely known as a national expert on health issues affecting the LGBTQIA+ communities, his clinical practice has focused on providing care for the underserved LGBTQIA+ communities,” the White House statement says.

In his remarks at the briefing on Thursday, Daskalakis also praised D.C. Health officials and the communities they have reached out to for encouraging behavioral changes among the groups most at risk for monkeypox.

“So, the clear message is that gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men, transgender individuals, and other gender diverse folks who have sex with men are not only getting the vaccine and testing, but also what they can do in their daily lives to be able to prevent infection,” he said. “I think that is another testament to the work you’ve done and is another example of the great partnership between federal public health and local public health.”

The D.C. Department of Health’s most recent data on monkeypox cases in the city shows that as of Sept. 15, the city had a cumulative total of 488 cases, with 19 hospitalizations and no deaths. Out of the 488 total, 97.3 percent were male, and 1.2 percent were female.

Regarding the sexual orientation of those who make up the 488 cases, 48 percent were listed as gay, 5.7 percent as bisexual, 3.9 percent as straight/heterosexual, 1 percent as “other,” and 41.4 percent as “Unknown.” The data released included an asterisk for the number of lesbian cases, which a footnote says could be four or fewer such cases.

At the briefing on Thursday, the Blade asked Dr. Mangla, the D.C. Health epidemiologist, to explain why he thought the number of D.C. monkeypox cases in gay men and other men who have sex with men were initially listed by D.C. Health officials to be over 90 percent of the total cases. But in recent weeks, the Blade pointed out, the data show the number of “gay” cases were at about 50 percent or a little lower and a new category of “unknown” sexual orientation cases was in the 40 percent to 50 percent range.

Mangla said he thought the discrepancy was due to a flaw in the data gathering during the early stage of the monkeypox outbreak in D.C. that has since been corrected. “It took us a few weeks to make that kind of adjustment and to say we are now confident enough that the data is accurate for policy decisions and anything else,” he said.

He did not say whether he or D.C. Health knows which demographic groups made up the “Unknown” category of 41.4 percent in the most recent data released.

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FreeState Justice files lawsuit against former executive director

Jeremy LaMaster allegedly launched ‘coordinated attack’ on organization’s operations



Former FreeState Justice Executive Director Jeremy LaMaster (Photo courtesy of Jeremy LaMaster)

FreeState Justice on Wednesday filed a federal lawsuit against its former executive director who has accused its board of directors of having a “white supremacist culture.”

The lawsuit, which FreeState Justice filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, notes the board on Sept. 16 informed Jeremy LaMaster that “they were relieved of their duties, and the final two weeks of their employment were to be spent cooperating in the transition of FreeState’s operations.”

“LaMaster abruptly left the meeting early and immediately began a coordinated attack on FreeState’s operations; in particular, its IT assets,” reads the lawsuit. “When FreeState discovered LaMaster’s improper interference, it terminated their employment effective immediately, ordered them to cease and desist and to rectify their actions. LaMaster did not abide and continued to hijack and misappropriate FreeState’s IT infrastructure and documents.” 

The lawsuit alleges that LaMaster “unilaterally and without authorization changed user permissions and shared login information so only they had access to numerous systems and accounts.” 

“They also removed employees’ administrative access to numerous systems and accounts, leaving such access to only themself,” reads the lawsuit. “In doing so, LaMaster has left FreeState’s employees with little to no access to client files, case files, dashboard reports,and case notes. LaMaster also changed the password to FreeState’s WordPress account, leaving LaMaster in sole control of FreeState’s website.” 

LaMaster, who uses nonbinary and binary pronouns, in a message they sent from his FreeState Justice email account on Monday announced their resignation after they said the board declined to step down.

“This morning, I requested the FreeState Justice board of directors to submit their immediate resignations due to persistent violations of our board handbook, consistent failures in their fiduciary responsibilities, and using positions of power to engage in partisan lobbying within FreeState Justice and their repeated refusal to add new members and leadership to the board,” wrote LaMaster.

LaMaster in their email noted they “exhausted every avenue over the past two years to get our board fully staffed and running, and I made good faith efforts to work with the board to ensure that our clients and low-income LGBTQ Marylanders remained at our center.” 

“Instead, the board has refused to accept any new board members since 2021 and refused to staff and run core board activities as per our handbook,” wrote LaMaster. “Instead, they have worked to consolidate power and amend the board handbook in secret to lower the minimum number of board members required and ensure that our policy positions prioritize relationships with legislators, not the best interests of our clients and community. I have provided clear warnings and consistent concerns over these issues that were repeatedly ignored.”

“These are the hallmarks of white supremacist culture: The concentration of power, power hoarding, defensiveness, right to comfort, fear of open conflict, hyper-individualism, and a false sense of urgency,” added LaMaster.

FreeState Justice in response to LaMaster’s allegations said it fired them on Sept. 16 “after prolonged and thoughtful deliberation” and further noted their statement “does not reflect the views or ideals of FreeState Justice’s board and staff.” FreeState Justice has named Phillip Westry as LaMaster’s successor.

The lawsuit alleges LaMaster “has commandeered” Westry’s Google account, “rendering him unable to access his emails, internal work calendars, and collaborative documents shared and worked on via Google Drive.” 

“LaMaster also now has unfettered and improper access to employee lists, donor lists, volunteer lists, mailing lists, client lists, and pro bono attorney lists,” reads the lawsuit. 

“Despite FreeState’s insistence that they cease their unlawful activities and restore operations immediately, LaMaster proceeded to upload a defamatory post to FreeState’s website and disseminated it to approximately 43,000 recipients on FreeState’s mailing list, which they accessed without authorization,” it notes. “The post, titled, ‘Whistleblowing: Public Call for the Resignation of the FreeState Board of Directors’ falsely depicts the circumstances surrounding their departure from FreeState by stating that they resigned, without basis alleged that the Board engaged in ethical violations, and likened FreeState’s Board to White Supremacists, claiming they supported white supremacist culture and practices, and were not ‘anti-racist.’ This is false, defamatory, and denigrating of FreeState and its board members, and extraordinarily damaging for a social justice organization.” 

The lawsuit further notes that because “LaMaster did not comply with FreeState’s cease and desist letter, because LaMaster continues to infiltrate FreeState’s systems and accounts, and because LaMaster, after receiving FreeState’s cease and desist letter published a post defaming FreeState, and without authorization, posted it to FreeState’s website, and disseminated it to its mailing list of approximately 43,000 people with his FreeState email address, FreeState has no choice but to seek judicial intervention to prevent further unlawful conduct, and irreparable harm to FreeState.”

“FreeState requests an immediate hearing on this matter,” reads the lawsuit. “It can be reasonably presumed that LaMaster will continue to use FreeState’s proprietary information to interfere with FreeState’s business relations and continue to interfere with FreeState’s possessory interests in its systems and accounts, depriving FreeState personnel of access to the accounts, documents, and files they need to perform their work.”

The Washington Blade has reached out to LaMaster for comment on the lawsuit. 

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Comings & Goings

O’Connor moves from Logo to L’Oréal



Zachary O'Connor

The Comings & Goings column is about sharing the professional successes of our community. We want to recognize those landing new jobs, new clients for their business, joining boards of organizations and other achievements. Please share your successes with us at: [email protected].

 The Comings & Goings column also invites LGBTQ college students to share their successes with us. If you have been elected to a student government position, landed an exciting internship, or are graduating and beginning your career with a great job, let us know so we can share your success. 

Congratulations to Zachary O’Connor on his new position as Director of Global Digital Content & Social, L’Oréal Group. 

“Working at Logo for the past seven years was an incredible opportunity,” O’Connor said. “I was able to make my mark on the historic brand, and help it transition from a TV network to a strong digital brand for the LGBTQ+ community. Queer media’s existence is important, and I wish Team Logo the best of luck as I move on to a new and exciting chapter in my career.” 

O’Connor held a number of roles at Logo over seven years including: Manager of Social Media, Digital, and before that he served as Senior Social Media Coordinator. Prior to that he was with the American Association of State Highway & Transportation Officials, as Communications and Publications Specialist.  He has received a number of awards and honors, including being nominated as Outstanding Online Journalism – Video or Multimedia, for a GLAAD Media Award; Webby Award for Best Documentary (Single or Series), “Logo’s Meet the Logo Legends: Brooklyn Trans Liberation.” 

O’Connor earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from American University, School of Public Affairs in D.C.  

Congratulations also to Viet Tran on his new position as Press Secretary, Office of Communications, U.S. Office of Personnel Management. On taking the position Tran said, “It’s an honor to serve as a political appointee in the Biden administration. As press secretary for the Office of Personnel Management, I look forward to working with the OPM team to support the agency’s mission and the Biden administration’s commitment to building a federal workforce that reflects the diversity of America.”

Prior to taking this role, Tran held positions at a number of different organizations, including: Senior Consultant, RALLY; Media Relations Director, Dot Movement Digital; Press Secretary, Human Rights Campaign; Media Relations Specialist, DAWN Design Studios; and Communications Manager, Center for the Study of Social Policy. As a volunteer he has served on the Board of Directors, Stonewall Sports; speechwriter and media adviser, AAPIs for Biden, Biden-Harris Campaign; and on the board of directors, Conference on Asian Pacific American Leadership. 

Tran earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from UC, San Diego. 

Viet Tran
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