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Ethics board says Graham violated ‘code of conduct’

But gay Council member won’t face sanctions

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Jim Graham, Washington, D.C., gay news, Washington Blade
Jim Graham, gay news, gay politics dc

An ethics investigation against gay D.C. Council member Jim Graham was dismissed on Thursday. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The recently created D.C. Board of Ethics and Government Accountability says it found “sufficient evidence” that gay D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) violated the city’s code of conduct for a public official.

But in a 27-page opinion issued on Thursday, the three-member board declared that the improper actions it claims Graham took in 2008 to interfere with the selection of competing companies for lucrative Metro and D.C. Lottery contracts occurred before the city’s new ethics law went into effect last year.

Based on the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition on holding someone responsible for an action that wasn’t prohibited by law at the time the person committed the action, the board said it decided not to open a formal investigation into Graham’s alleged ethics breach and dismissed the case.

“[W]e find there to be sufficient evidence to conclude that Council member Graham committed one or more violations of the District of Columbia Code of Conduct, justifying a formal investigation and the issuance of Notice of Violation,” the board said in its opinion.

“However, Constitutional constraints concerning ex post facto application of the sanctions available to the board effectively prevent the board from imposing any sanction on Council member Graham for his misconduct,” the ruling states.

“Without the power to sanction Council member Graham, the Board concludes that there is little benefit to advancing the preliminary investigation to a formal investigation and issuing a notice of violation,” the board said. “Accordingly, this matter is DISMISSED,” it said.

Graham’s attorney, William W. Taylor III, said in a statement that he and Graham expected the Ethics Board to end its proceedings.

“It is disappointing and unfair, however, for the Board to purport to make “findings” which Mr. Graham has no opportunity to contest and had no notice would be at issue in this matter,” Taylor said.

The Board’s initial proceeding in the Graham case was to determine whether the board should conduct a “formal” investigation, not to determine whether Graham had committed ethical violations, Taylor said.

“Therefore, under its own rules, the Board was not permitted or required to make ‘findings’ about Council member Graham’s conduct,” he said.

The Board of Ethics, which is chaired by gay former D.C. Attorney General Robert Spagnoletti, began its probe into an alleged ethics breach by Graham after the completion of an earlier investigation conducted by a law firm on behalf of the Metro transit board.

That investigation found that Graham violated the Metro board’s ethics rules in his alleged dealings with a Metro contract. Graham was a member of the Metro board at the time the alleged improprieties took place in 2008.

The Metro board probe, and the Board of Ethics findings released this week, each claimed that Graham offered to support a bid for a lottery contract from a D.C. businessman if the businessman agreed to withdraw a separate bid for a contract from Metro. The Metro contract was for a major real estate development project on land owned by Metro.

The Ethics Board findings, among other things, allege that Graham wanted the Metro contract to go to another company whose two principal owners made campaign contributions to Graham in the past. Graham has vigorously denied his motive for favoring the bid from the opposing businessmen was based on their campaign contributions to him. He said he favored the opposing company because it was better qualified to carry out the development project.

In its ruling, the Ethics board said Graham violated three provisions in the Code of Conduct – he lost his independence and “impartiality,” he gave preferential treatment, and he damaged public confidence in government.

The Ethics Board’s findings prompted the Washington Post to publish an editorial Thursday night calling for Graham to resign from the Council.

“I am not resigning,” Graham said in a statement released on Friday.

“There has been no allegations or suggestion that a crime has been committed, or that there is an illegal financial request or laws that have been broken,” he said. “I categorically deny any connection between any campaign donation and my actions on these matters.”

Graham added, “I am now in discussions with my lawyer as to next legal steps.”

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Virginia

Va. students warn against ‘don’t say gay’ policies

New law requires parental notification of ‘sexually explicit content’ in classroom

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(Bigstock photo)

More than 600 students from across Virginia signed a letter from the Pride Liberation Project that calls for the Virginia Department of Education to clarify that teaching students about LGBTQ people and events is not “sexually explicit.”

Senate Bill 656, which Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed earlier this year, requires parents be notified when instructional materials contain “sexually explicit content” — without any input from students.

Current Virginia law defines “sexual conduct” as “masturbation, homosexuality, sexual intercourse, or physical contact in an act of apparent sexual stimulation or gratification.”

Because SB 656 does not itself specify what constitutes “sexually explicit content,” LGBTQ students and activists are concerned that the bill will rest on Virginia’s pre-existing definition of sexual conduct.

In their full letter, signees argued that “In effect, SB 656 can potentially be interpreted to define all references to people in same-sex relationships as inherently sexual.”

“Consequently, all references to LGBTQIA+ people in K-12 schools, including Supreme Court cases, historical events impacting LGBTQIA+ people, and discussions about queer authors, may be deemed as sexually explicit content under SB 656, effectively erasing LGBTQIA+ representation in our school curriculum,” reads the Pride Liberation Project’s press release.

Representation has been shown to positively increase academic performance, and LGBTQ youth already face exacerbated risks of suicide and mental health crisis. In Virginia specifically, the vast majority of LGBTQ students reported hearing anti-LGBTQ remarks at school, and 26 percent of LGBTQ students reported being “disciplined for public displays of affection (PDA) that did not result in similar action for non-LGBTQ students.” 

 “Most of my LGBTQIA+ friends are already struggling with their mental health,” said one Loudoun County student in the Pride Liberation Project press release. “I’m scared about the message these guidelines could send and losing the already limited affirming representation in my class.” 

Another student from Richmond said that they “didn’t want to see their friends who are from homes that aren’t accepting not see themselves reflected at school.” 

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District of Columbia

SMYAL announces new executive director

Erin Whelan to start Sept. 1

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Erin Whelan (Photo courtesy of SMYAL)

SMYAL on Thursday announced Erin Whelan will become the organization’s new executive director on Sept. 1.

SMYAL’s mission is to support and empower LGBTQ youth ages 6-24.

A press release that announces Whelan’s appointment notes the organization over the last five years has grown “exponentially.” Its services include affirming programs, housing support, leadership training and mental health services, designed to help LGBTQ youth develop advocacy skills and an educated, welcoming community.   

Whelan most recently served as the director of housing and homeless services at LifeWorks, an Austin, Texas,-based nonprofit that provides youth with housing and services. She has worked in nonprofit management for almost 20 years, and SMYAL’s press release highlighted her commitment to antiracism, equity and the LGBTQ community. 

“Erin Whelan is a compassionate and strong leader who I am confident is the right person to lead SMYAL,” board chair Rob Cogorno said. “I could not be more proud of the tremendous growth in services for our LGBTQ youth and of the SMYAL staff’s hard work that made that growth possible. Erin’s extensive experience in service to youth in need and her passion for that work will help guide SMYAL in continuing its excellent work in this challenging time for LGBTQ youth in our region and across the country.” 

Whelan in the press release shared her enthusiasm for stepping into leadership with this driving purpose. 

“I am beyond excited and honored to join SMYAL as the new executive director. My work has been committed to understanding and seeing the world through the lens of the most marginalized youth and young adults and being a fierce advocate for LGBTQ youth,” Whelan said. “I believe all LGBTQ youth deserve an opportunity to build a life they love and a chance to feel celebrated and affirmed for exactly who they are and strive to be. From the moment I stepped into the SMYAL community, it felt like exactly where I wanted to be. SMYAL creates a community for queer and trans youth where they can feel radically accepted and safe to step into their true selves.” 

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National

Judge: West Virginia Medicaid must cover transgender care

Fain v. Crouch is litigation challenging blanket exclusions of coverage for gender-confirming care in West Virginia’s state health plans

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A U.S. District Court judge ruled Tuesday that West Virginia’s Medicaid program could no longer discriminate by excluding coverage for gender-confirming surgical care for transgender West Virginia Medicaid participants. 

U.S. District Court Judge Robert C. Chambers also certified the lawsuit as a class action, covering all transgender West Virginians who participate in Medicaid.  In the lawsuit brought in November of 2020 by Lambda Legal, Nichols Kaster, and The Employment Law Center, the plantiffs challenged the state’s ban on gender-confirming care in West Virginia’s Medicaid and state employee health plans.

“We applaud Judge Chamber’s decision to remove the discriminatory barrier to accessing medically necessary, gender-confirming surgical care for all transgender West Virginia Medicaid participants. Protecting and advancing health care for transgender people is vital, sound, and just. Transgender West Virginia Medicaid participants deserve to have equal access to the same coverage for medically necessary healthcare that cisgender Medicaid participants receive as a matter of course,” said Avatara Smith-Carrington, Staff Attorney at Lambda Legal. 

Fain v. Crouch is a class action litigation challenging blanket exclusions of coverage for gender-confirming care in West Virginia’s state health plans. The blanket exclusions of coverage for care are stated expressly in the health plans offered to Medicaid participants and to state employees. West Virginia’s state health plans serve approximately 564,000 Medicaid participants and15,000 state employees.

“I am excited to finally have access to the healthcare I deserve. The exclusion negatively affects my health and wellbeing as well as the health and wellbeing of other transgender Medicaid participants in our community. Gender-confirming care is healthcare, and it is lifesaving,” said plaintiff Shauntae Anderson, West Virginia Medicaid participant.  

“This is a victory not only for me but for other transgender Medicaid participants across West Virginia. This decision is validating, confirming that after years of fighting to prove that gender-confirming care is medically necessary, we should have access to the same services that West Virginia Medicaid already provides to cisgender participants. Transgender West Virginians should never feel as if our lives are worth less than others,” said plaintiff Christopher Fain, West Virginia Medicaid participant. 

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