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Council approves trans birth certificate bill

Marriage officiant measure also advances in unanimous vote

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David Catania, D.C. Council, gay news, Washington Blade
David Catania, gay news, Washington Blade, 2013 Capital Pride Parade

Council member David Catania (I-At-Large) wrote the bill that makes it easier for trans people to obtain a new birth certificate. (I-At-Large) (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The D.C. Council on Wednesday gave final approval to a bill that supporters say will modernize and remove unnecessary hurdles in the process for transgender people to obtain a new birth certificate to reflect their gender.

The bill, which was written by Council member David Catania (I-At-Large), is called the JaParker Deoni Jones Birth Certificate Equality Amendment Act of 2013 in honor of the transgender woman who was murdered in February 2012 while waiting for a bus in Northeast D.C.

“Today the Washington, D.C. City Council modernized the policy making it clearer and easier for transgender people to change the gender on their birth certificate,” the National Center for Transgender Equality said in a statement.

The Council also gave final approval to the Marriage Officiant Amendment Act of 2013, which expands the list of people authorized to perform a wedding ceremony in the city.

Both bills received strong support from local LGBT advocacy organizations. The birth certificate measure received support from at least two national groups – the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force – which said the legislation would set a precedent for passing similar bills in other jurisdictions.

Among other things, the birth certificate bill repeals an existing city law that prevents transgender people from changing their birth certificate unless they undergo gender reassignment surgery. Transgender advocates and officials with the city’s Department of Health told a Council committee hearing earlier this year that gender reassignment surgery presents an unnecessary burden for many transgender people who can’t afford it or for whom it may not be medically safe.

Other experts testifying before a joint hearing of the Council’s Committee on Health and Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety said for many transgender people, surgery isn’t necessary for them to transition to another gender.

The bill also eliminates what supporters said was an unnecessary and burdensome requirement that transgender people seeking to change their name to reflect their gender announce the change in a paid advertisement in a newspaper or other publication.

The legislation’s key provision changes the D.C. Vital Records Act of 1981 to require the city’s registrar to issue a new birth certificate designating a new gender for “any individual who provides a written request and a signed statement from a licensed healthcare provider that the individual has undergone a gender transition,” according to a statement released by the Committee on Health.

The marriage officiant bill, which was authored by Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), would authorize same-sex or opposite-sex couples applying for a marriage license to designate a friend, parent, sibling or any other adult as a one-time “temporary officiant” empowered to perform the marriage ceremony.

The bill would also allow couples to serve as their own officiants, a provision that prompted Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) to vote against the bill at its first-reading vote two weeks ago. Bowser voted for the measure on Wednesday as did all other Council members.

Under current city law, couples planning to marry are limited to choosing a judge, a licensed clergy member, or a court appointed officiant that can only perform the marriage ceremony at the courthouse.

The Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, a non-partisan group, and the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club were among the local groups that pushed for passage of the two bills.

Mayor Vincent Gray has said he supports the two bills and would sign them as soon as they reach his desk. Under the city’s limited home rule charter, the bills must then go to Congress for a 30 legislative day review that Capitol Hill observers say is likely to be completed in November due to several scheduled congressional recesses.

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Local

LGBTQ seniors celebrated at Silver Pride

Community gathers for games, resource fair and tea dance

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Rayceen Pendarvis serves as the emcee for Silver Pride on June 20. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

“Joy in Justice” was the theme for this year’s Silver Pride celebration of seniors in the LGBTQ community. The event was hosted by Rayceen Pendarvis at the Pepco Edison Place Gallery (702 8th St., N.W.) on Thursday, June 20, and included a number of games, booths from vendors, and a tea dance. Sponsors included AARP of the District of Columbia; East River Family Strengthening Collaborative, Inc.; Anybill; Team Rayceen Productions and the Capital Pride Alliance. Music was provided by DJ Alex Love.

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Local

Camp Free2Be helping trans youth find community

‘A space where it’s completely safe to be their authentic selves’

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(Courtesy Camp Free2Be)

In 2019, Elizabeth Erion wished that her trans daughter had an opportunity to create community with other trans kids in the area.

“I knew there were a few sleep-away camps for gender-expansive youth, but they were too far away, and financially out of reach for our family,” Erion said. 

So she worked with another parent of a trans teen and formed Camp Free2Be. It started as a weeklong camp with eight campers and six junior counselors. This year, the camp will serve more than 60 campers. 

Erion said that queer students may have limited opportunities to meet students who are like them, which makes the work Camp Free2Be does so important. With the recent spike in anti-LGBTQ legislation around the country, a recent survey revealed that nearly half of trans youth feel unsafe in school.

“Camps like ours offer trans and nonbinary youth a space where it’s completely safe to be their authentic selves; to wear clothes they might not normally feel able to wear; to try out a new name or pronouns; to meet other kids who know exactly what it’s like to be gender diverse.”

To continue to build queer youth community, the camp is led by junior counselors from 15-18, who are also trans or non-binary. Applications are still being accepted with a June 23 deadline. Counselors who participate in both weeks of the camp will receive a $150 stipend for their participation. 

“[Junior counselors] serve as role models for our younger campers, while also making friends and developing leadership skills.”

This day camp is located in Arlington, in walking distance from the Metro. Campers will engage in STEM, arts and crafts, outdoor games, theater, and more at the camp. Once a day, the entire camp gathers for a lesson on LGBTQ history. 

“These are lessons our youth probably won’t be given in school, and they are important in showing them that they are part of a larger community with a rich history.”

For Erion, the most rewarding parts of the camp are the unscheduled and spontaneous conversations she overhears from campers. 

“While doing arts and crafts or playing board games, they will casually talk about issues unique to growing up trans or nonbinary. They are learning from each other and finding out that they have shared experiences.” she said. 

One of the best parts of the camp is that it will cost parents nothing. Camp Free2Be is in partnership with SMYAL to make the camp free for campers and junior counselors. 

This year, camp will run through two back-to-back weeks, July 15-19 and July 22-26. Registration closes June 23 and can be found at campfree2be.org. If you have already planned your summer, be on the lookout in January 2025 for summer 2025 registration.

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Virginia

Suspect in 1996 murder of lesbian couple in Shenandoah National Park identified

Convicted serial rapist died in prison in 2018

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Laura 'Lollie' Winans and Julianne 'Julie' Williams (Photo courtesy of the FBI)

The FBI has identified a then-48-year-old man from Ohio who it describes as a convicted serial rapist as the person it believes committed the May 1996 murder of a lesbian couple at their campsite in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.

In a statement released on June 20, the FBI says newly analyzed DNA evidence and an extensive review of other evidence surrounding the 28-year-old murder case has enabled it to identify Walter Leo Jackson, Sr., as the prime suspect in the murders of Laura “Lollie” Winans, 26, and Julianne “Julie” Williams, 24. 

The FBI statement says the two women’s bodies were found on June 1, 1996, after an extensive search by rangers with the National Park Service after family members reported them missing. 

“In 2021, a new FBI Richmond investigative team was assigned to conduct a methodic review of the case,” the statement says. “FBI special agents, intelligence analysts, and other FBI Richmond employees reassessed hundreds of leads and interviews,” according to the statement. “They spent countless hours to identify and prioritize evidence from the crime scene to retest and submit the items to an accredited private lab.”

It says the lab successfully extracted DNA from several items of evidence and, with help from Virginia State Police, and through the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System a positive DNA match to Jackson was obtained. 

“Those results confirmed we had the right man and finally could tell the victim’s families we know who is responsible for this heinous crime,” Stanley M. Meador, the FBI Richmond special agent in charge, said in the statement. 

“After 28 years, we are now able to say who committed the brutal murders of Lollie Winans and Julie Williams in Shenandoah National Park,” U.S. Attorney Christopher R. Kavanaugh said in the statement. “I want to again extend my condolences to the Winans and Williams families and hope today’s announcement provides some small measure of solace,” he said. 

The FBI statement says Jackson, who died in prison in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, in March 2018, had a lengthy criminal record that included kidnapping, rapes, and assaults. It says Jackson worked as a residential painter and “was an avid hiker and was known to visit Shenandoah National Park.”

Walter Leo Jackson, Sr. (Photo courtesy of the FBI)

The FBI has stated in past statements regarding the two women’s murders that it did not have evidence to classify the murders as a hate crime in which Jackson targeted the women because of their sexual orientation. 

Media reports at the time of the murders identified Williams as a native of Minnesota who moved to Vermont, where she helped form a group supportive of LGBTQ people with a Presbyterian church ministry. Winans was a wilderness guide in Michigan and met Williams through an outdoor program in Minnesota called “Woodswomen,” media reports said. 

A report in the Advocate published before the FBI’s identification of Jackson as the man responsible for the women’s murders, said the two women had been dating for about two years before their murders. It reported they had planned to move in together that summer to a home in Huntington, Vt., and that Williams had recently accepted a new job as a geologist at a location near Lake Champlain in Vermont. 

“The FBI will continue to work with law enforcement partners to determine if Jackson is responsible for other unsolved crimes,” the FBI’s June 20 statement says. “Anyone with information on Jackson should call 1-800-CALL FBI or submit it online at tips.fbi.gov,” the statement concludes.

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