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Second USAID-backed training in Colombia scheduled

Four-day gathering to take place in Cartagena from Aug. 28-Sept. 1.

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Wilson Castañera, Colombia, Caribe Afirmativo, gay news, Washington Blade

Wilson Castañera, Colombia, Caribe Afirmativo, gay news, Washington Blade

Wilson Castañeda of the Colombian LBGT advocacy group Caribe Afirmativo. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute next month will conduct its second training in Colombia that is designed to teach LGBT advocates how to become involved in their country’s political process.

An invitation sent to the Washington Blade on Monday said the Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute, along with Caribe Afirmativo, an LGBT advocacy group that works in cities along Colombia’s Caribbean coastline, and Colombia Diversa, a national LGBT rights organization based in Bogotá, the country’s capital, will conduct the training in Cartagena from Aug. 28-Sept. 1.

Running for political office, implementing an effective media strategy and connecting with voters are among the topics that will be discussed during the four day-gathering. A public event with openly LGBT politicians and elected officials is also expected to take place.

“The strengthening of the capacities of LGBT leaders who seek to rise to public office is essential to solidify the advances towards complete equality in Colombia,” the invitation reads.

The Cartagena gathering will take place roughly three months after 30 LGBT advocates from across Colombia attended a training in Bogotá that the Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute, Caribe Afirmativo and Colombia Diversa co-sponsored.

The Bogotá training was the first of the LGBT Global Development Partnership, a USAID-backed public private partnership designed to promote LGBT rights around the world, to take place. The Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute, the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, the Swedish International Development Corporation Agency, the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law and other groups will contribute $11 million over the next four years to LGBT advocacy groups in Colombia, Ecuador and other developing countries.

The Cartagena training will also take place slightly more than two months after gays and lesbians began to petition registrars and judges to legally recognize their relationships.

Colombia’s Constitutional Court in 2011 ruled same-sex couples could legally register their relationship in two years if the country’s lawmakers did not pass a bill that would extend to them the same benefits heterosexuals receive through marriage.

Colombian lawmakers in April overwhelmingly rejected a bill that would have extended marriage rights to gays and lesbians. The court’s June 20 deadline passed amid confusion as to whether gays and lesbians could actually tie the knot in the South American country because the Constitutional Court’s decision did not include the word “marriage.”

Several notaries said they would allow same-sex couples to enter into a “solemn contract” that is similar to an agreement into which two people enter whey they purchase a home together, as opposed to a civil marriage. A Bogotá judge last week said a gay couple could tie the knot in a ceremony that is scheduled to take place on July 24.

Advocate: LGBT advocates can learn from their U.S. counterparts

Caribe Afirmativo Director Wilson Castañeda Castro, who visited the United States in April with a group of other Colombian LGBT rights advocates on a State Department-sponsored trip, told the Blade during an interview at the Bogotá training that he feels his fellow activists can continue to learn from their American counterparts.

“In Colombia the LGBT community remains one of the most marginalized communities,” he said. “The U.S. visit allowed us to see first-hand experiences, situations, specific examples of people and institutions and organizations. We can take some of what we experienced [there] and apply it here in Colombia.”

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Glenn Youngkin sworn in as Va. governor

Republican backed teacher who opposed trans student guidelines

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Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin at his swearing in in Richmond, Va., on Jan. 15, 2022 (YouTube screenshot)

Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin took office on Saturday amid concerns that he will seek to curtail LGBTQ rights in the state.

“Today we gather not as individuals, not as Republicans and Democrats,” said Youngkin after his swearing in. “Today we gather as Virginians.”

Former Gov. Ralph Northam and U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) are among those who attended the ceremony that took place at the State Capitol. Terry McAuliffe, who Youngkin defeated in the general election, did not attend because of a COVID-19 scare.

Youngkin during his campaign against McAuliffe expressed support for Tanner Cross, a gym teacher at a Leesburg elementary school who was suspended from his job after he spoke out against Virginia Department of Education guidelines that are designed to protect transgender and non-binary students. Youngkin has also said he does not support allowing trans children to play on sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity.

Youngkin on Thursday named Elizabeth Schultz, an anti-LGBTQ former member of the Fairfax County School Board, to his administration.

“We will remove politics from the classroom and focus on the essentials,” said Youngkin in his inaugural speech, without specifically mentioning LGBTQ students.

He added “parents should have a say in what is taught in schools.”

Youngkin has also expressed his opposition to marriage equality, but stressed it is “legally acceptable” in Virginia and would “support that” as governor.

Lieutenant Gov. Winsome Sears and Attorney General Jason Miyares also took office on Saturday.

Winsome, a former member of the Virginia House of Delegates, is the first woman and first female of color elected lieutenant governor. Miyares, a former House member whose mother was born in Cuba, is Virginia’s first Latino attorney general.

Youngkin in his inaugural speech noted “the people of Virginia just elected the most diverse leadership” in the state’s history. Youngkin’s first executive order ends “the use of” so-called “critical race theory” (which is not taught in Virginia schools) and other “divisive concepts” in Virginia’s public schools.

The General Assembly’s 2022 legislative session began on Wednesday.

Republicans control the House by a 52-48 margin. Democrats have a 21-19 edge in the Virginia Senate.

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Murdered Honduran transgender activist buried

Thalía Rodríguez shot outside her home on Monday

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The funeral of Thalía Rodríguez in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, on Jan. 11, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Reportar sin Miedo)

The Washington Blade on Thursday published a Spanish-language version of this story from Reportar sin Miedo, the Blade’s media partner in Honduras.

A prominent transgender activist in Honduras who was murdered on Monday has been buried.

Reportar sin Miedo reported activists are among those who attended Thalía Rodríguez’s funeral that took place in Tegucigalpa, the country’s capital, on Tuesday.

Rodríguez led Asociación Cozumel Trans, a Honduran trans rights group.

The U.S. Embassy in Honduras, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights in Honduras and the U.N. Refugee Agency have all condemned Rodríguez’s murder. U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power in a tweet said she was “horrified” by the murders of Rodríguez and Pablo Hernández, a leader in Honduras’ indigenous Lenca community who was killed on Sunday near San Marcos de Caiquín, a municipality in the country’s Lempira department, while he was on his way to church.

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Va. school board names new chair who called for burning books

Kirk Twigg backed torching of materials with “sexually explicit” content

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(Screenshot via WUSA)

The Spotsylvania County School Board voted Monday to name Kirk Twigg, who advocated for burning books he deemed “sexually explicit” in November, as its new chair. 

His win gives conservatives the majority on the board as Republicans across the country continue an effort to ban books dealing with LGBTQ issues and racism from schools. 

Spotsylvania County has been involved in the controversy from the beginning, voting last year to remove books containing “sexually explicit” materials — only to rescind the order a week later.  

Monday’s board meeting, Twigg’s first as chair, would prove to be disorganized and, at times, unruly. 

Twigg’s first order of business was to call an unscheduled, closed-door session, which may have violated Virginia’s open meeting requirements. According to Virginia Code, a closed meeting cannot be called without a public body approving a motion that states the subject matter and the purpose of the meeting, as well as an applicable exemption from open meeting requirements.    

After the board returned from the closed-door session, Twigg said well-regarded Superintendent Dr. Scott Baker would be fired without cause. Baker had already announced he would be resigning at the end of the school year in December. 

After Baker decided to resign, a longtime Spotsylvania resident penned a letter in the Free Lance-Star, calling him “the finest superintendent, by far.”

“Dr. Baker is trusted and respected by parents, students and employees of Spotsylvania Schools; and he never lost sight of his mission for good reason,” it read. “He did so despite the noise and disruption from those few board members dedicated to bringing political disruption and dissidence into our public educational system. Shame on the few.”

As Twigg made the announcement, another member of the board interrupted him, saying: “Um, Mr. Twigg, no he is not. You need to make a motion — there needs to be a motion and a vote.”

Board members continued to speak over each other as conservative members attempted a vote. But Board Member Nicole Cole told the chairman she had comments. 

“I believe that the board members who have lodged this termination owe our citizens and our students of Spotsylvania County a justification for firing Dr. Baker,” said Cole. “You have not stated any justification or ability to fill the position. How is this good for the students, the children of Spotsylvania? How does this make sense?”

In a rebuke of the chaotic meeting, she added that Twigg “couldn’t even properly chair a meeting.”

After approximately 7 minutes of heated discussion where members from both sides got noticeably frustrated, the board voted 4-3 to fire Baker. 

Twigg, Lisa Phelps, April Gillespie and Rabih Abuismail, who also advocated for burning books, voted in favor. 

The Free Lance-Star reported that Baker was escorted from the building before the board returned from the second closed-door meeting. 

An emergency meeting has been scheduled for Friday to name an interim superintendent.

“It’s just very sad to hear that a superintendent who has been fully engaged in this community for 10 years is just let go with no rhyme or reason,” said Board Member Dawn Shelley, while noting Baker’s accomplishments. 

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