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Virginia gubernatorial candidates clash over marriage, anti-gay statements

Terry McAuliffe and Ken Cuccinelli debated each other in McLean in Fairfax County

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Terry McAuliff, Ken Cuccinelli II, Virginia, McLean, gay news, Washington Blade
Terry McAuliff, Ken Cuccinelli II, Virginia, McLean, gay news, Washington Blade

Virginia gubernatorial candidates Democrat Terry McAuliff, former DNC Chair and Republican Ken Cuccinelli, II, Attorney General for Virginia participate in a debate moderated by MSNBC’s Chuck Todd in McLean, Va., on Wednesday, September 25, 2013. (Photo by Nikki Kahn/POOL)

McLEAN, Va.—Former Democratic National Committee Chair Terry McAuliffe and Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli on Wednesday clashed over same-sex marriage and other gay-specific issues during the commonwealth’s latest gubernatorial debate that took place at the Capital One Conference Center in McLean.

“I do have some tremendous challenges because of the issues of economic development, job creation that I need to focus on, but I have come out for marriage equality,” McAuliffe said, noting the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ prompted him and his wife to back the issue. “The idea we could send men and women across the globe to fight for us and then they come back and they don’t have the same equal opportunities and equal rights I just think was plain wrong.”

McAuliffe added he would sign a same-sex marriage bill if one were to reach his desk, even though it remains highly unlikely the Republican-controlled General Assembly would approve such a measure. Cuccinelli pointed out a proposed constitutional amendment to overturn the commonwealth’s same-sex marriage ban that voters approved in 2006 would never go before the governor.

“I understand and respect the fact that this is a sensitive issue to a lot of Virginians,” Cuccinelli said. “But I’m one of those who do believe that the institution of marriage should remain between one man and one woman.”

The candidates’ comments come nearly two months after the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of two lesbian couples who are challenging the commonwealth’s gay nuptials ban and the state’s refusal to recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in other states. A gay couple from Norfolk in July filed a separate federal lawsuit against Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban in response to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that found the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional.

“This is a very important issue,” McAuliffe said.

Cuccinelli denies anti-gay comments

McAuliffe further accused Cuccinelli of promoting an “ideological agenda” on LGBT-specific and women’s issues.

The former DNC chair said defense contractor Northrup Grumman Corp. in 2010 threatened to abandon plans to relocate 300 employees to its northern Virginia headquarters after Cuccinelli directed colleges and universities in the commonwealth to remove sexual orientation and gender identity and expression from their non-discrimination policies. McAuliffe also accused his opponent of describing gay Virginians as “self-destructive and soulless human beings.”

“There are consequences to this mean-spirited attack on women’s health, on gay Virginians,” he said. “If we’re going to build a new economy in Virginia, we’re going to do it by bringing everyone together.”

Cuccinelli dismissed the Northrup Grumman claim, and described McAuliffe’s allegation he described gays and lesbians as “soulless” as “offensively false.”

LGBT advocates remain critical of Cuccinelli, GOP ticket

The Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce and NBC 4 took place two days after the release of a Washington Post-Abt SRBI poll shows McAuliffe ahead of Cuccinelli by a 47-39 point margin. 10 percent of respondents said they back Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Robert Sarvis.

Democrats and LGBT rights advocates have repeatedly criticized Cuccinelli over his position against nuptials for gays and lesbians and other LGBT-specific issues.

Chief Justice John Roberts last month denied Cuccinelli’s request to place a stay on a three-judge panel’s March ruling against Virginia’s anti-sodomy statute while the U.S. Supreme Court considers his appeal of it. Cuccinelli in July said during a debate against McAuliffe that Judy Woodruff of PBS NewsHour moderated that his “personal beliefs about the personal challenge of homosexuality haven’t changed.”

Advocates have also criticized Republican lieutenant gubernatorial candidate E.W. Jackson over his anti-gay statements that include comparing gay men to pedophiles and describing them as “very sick people.” The Chesapeake minister who will square off against state Sen. Ralph Northam (D-Norfolk) in November reiterated his opposition to same-sex marriage on September 22 as he spoke at a Shenandoah County church.

“The family was ordained by God,” Jackson said as the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported. “He ordained it one man and one woman in the bonds of holy matrimony. (In the Bible) I don’t hear anything about two people of the same sex being married.”

Northam challenged Jackson over his controversial statements against gays and lesbians, marriage and other issues during a debate at George Mason University’s Arlington campus on Tuesday.

“Our job as lieutenant governor is going to be to unite people and to move Virginia in a positive direction,” Northam said as the Washington Post reported. “Making statements against LGBT individuals, making statements against Democrats, they’re anti-God, that they’re anti-life. Those kind of statements, they’re all offensive.”

State Sen. Mark Herring (D-Loudoun) will square off against state Sen. Mark Obenshein (R-Harrisonburg) in November to succeed Cuccinelli as attorney general.

Cuccinelli: Marriage is ‘a very sensitive issue’

McAuliffe again sought to portray Cuccinelli as an extremist as he spoke to reporters after the debate. He also said his first executive order as governor would ban discrimination against gay state employees.

“As governor, we’ll work in a mainstream, partisan way,” McAuliffe said.

Cuccinelli told the Washington Blade as he spoke to reporters after the debate that the economy remains the top priority among the majority of Virginia voters. He remained ambiguous as to whether he feels his opposition to same-sex marriage and other LGBT-specific issues has received too much attention during the campaign.

“That’s a very sensitive issue, and I respect that,” Cuccinelli told the Blade as he discussed nuptials for gays and lesbians. “There are people who feel very strongly about it, and I respect that. And for those folks they want to hear about it, it is one of a range of issues.”

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Michael David Barber Moghul

    September 26, 2013 at 3:49 am

    Fascists holding bibles and wrapped in a flag running under the Republican banner.

    • Allie

      September 26, 2013 at 8:17 pm

      Amen

  2. Bruce Majors

    September 26, 2013 at 7:04 am

    It’s sad that the Republicans have Cucinelli and the Democrats are pushing a corrupt, embezzling fraud like Mcaullife, who takes federal subsidies to run companies that produce nothing and sell visas in shady schemes to wealthy immigrants who want to jump the line – on the crazy immigration laws McAullife’s party created (perhaps so they could make money selling variances). That’s why 40% of voters nationwide did not vote for Obama or Romney. And that’s why I and more and more people are supporting Robert Sarvis for Governor http://robertsarvis.com

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In plea deal, D.C. trans woman’s killers could be free in 3 years

Two in 2016 killing of Dee Dee Dodds guilty of voluntary manslaughter

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Deeniquia Dodds, gay news, Washington Blade
Deeniquia ‘Dee Dee’ Dodds was killed on July 4, 2016. (Photo via Facebook)

A D.C. LGBTQ anti-violence group will be submitting a community impact statement for a D.C. Superior Court judge scheduled to sentence two men on Dec. 10 for the July 4, 2016, shooting death of transgender woman Deeniquia “Dee Dee” Dodds in a case D.C. police listed as a hate crime.

Stephania Mahdi, chair of the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community’s Anti-Violence Project, told the Washington Blade the project has been in contact with the Office of the U.S. Attorney for D.C., which is prosecuting the case against the two defendants set to be sentenced this week, to arrange for the submission of a statement on the impact the murder of Dodds has had on the community.

The impact statement would also apply to the sentencing of two other men charged in the Dodds murder case who are scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 20.

The Dec. 10 sentencing for Jolonta Little, 30, and Monte T. Johnson, 25, was set to take place a little over two months after Little and Johnson pleaded guilty on Sept. 30 to a single count of voluntary manslaughter as part of a plea bargain deal offered by prosecutors.

In exchange for the guilty plea for voluntary manslaughter, prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office agreed to drop the charge of first-degree murder while armed originally brought against the two men. The plea agreement also called for dropping additional charges against them in connection with the Dodds murder, including robbery while armed, possession of a firearm during a crime of violence, and unlawful possession of a firearm.

In addition, the plea agreement includes a promise by prosecutors to ask D.C. Superior Court Judge Milton C. Lee, who is presiding over the case, to issue a sentence of eight years in prison for both men. Under the D.C. criminal code, a conviction on a voluntary manslaughter charge carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.

Johnson has been held without bond for five years and three months since his arrest in the Dodds case in September 2016. Little has been held without bond since his arrest for the Dodds murder in February 2017. Courthouse observers say that judges almost always give defendants credit for time served prior to their sentencing, a development that would likely result in the two men being released in about three years.

The plea deal for the two men came two and a half years after a D.C. Superior Court jury became deadlocked and could not reach a verdict on the first-degree murder charges against Johnson and Little following a month-long trial, prompting Judge Lee to declare a mistrial on March 6, 2019.

The two other men charged in Dodds’ murder, Shareem Hall, 27, and his brother, Cyheme Hall, 25, accepted a separate plea bargain offer by prosecutors shortly before the start of the 2019 trial in which they pled guilty to second-degree murder. Both testified at Johnson and Little’s the trial as government witnesses.

In dramatic testimony, Cyheme Hall told the jury that it was Johnson who fatally shot Dodds in the neck at point blank range after he said she grabbed the barrel of Johnson’s handgun as Johnson and Hall attempted to rob her on Division Ave., N.E., near where she lived. Hall testified that the plan among the four men to rob Dodds did not include the intent to kill her.

In his testimony, Hall said that on the day of Dodd’s murder, he and the other three men made plans to commit armed robberies for cash in areas of D.C. where trans women, some of whom were sex workers, congregated. He testified that the four men got into a car driven by Little and searched the streets for victims they didn’t expect to offer resistance.

D.C. police and the U.S. Attorney’s office initially designated the murder charge against Little and Johnson as an anti-trans hate crime offense based on findings by homicide detectives that the men were targeting trans women for armed robberies. But during Johnson and Little’s trial, Judge Lee dismissed the hate crime designation at the request of defense attorneys on grounds that there was insufficient evidence to support a hate crime designation.

At the request of prosecutors, Judge Lee scheduled a second trial for Johnson and Little on the murder charge for Feb. 25, 2020. But court records show the trial date was postponed to June 22, 2020, and postponed several more times – to Jan 11, 2021, and later to Feb. 17, 2022, due to COVID-related restrictions before the plea bargain offer was agreed to in September of this year.  The public court records do not show why the trial was postponed the first few times prior to the start of COVID restrictions on court proceedings.

Legal observers have said long delays in trials, especially murder trials, often make it more difficult for prosecutors to obtain a conviction because memories of key witnesses sometimes become faulty several years after a crime was committed.

“The D.C. Anti-Violence Project is disappointed to hear about the unfortunate proceedings in the case to bring justice for Dee Dee Dodds,” Mahdi, the Anti-Violence Project’s chair, told the Blade in a statement.

“A plea bargain from first-degree murder to voluntary manslaughter as well as a reduction of years in sentencing from 30 to 8 communicates not only a miscarriage of justice, but a message of penalization for victims who attempt to protect themselves during a violent assault,” Mahdi said. “The continual impact of reducing the culpability of perpetrators who target members of specifically identified communities sends a malicious message to criminals that certain groups of people are easier targets with lenient consequences,” she said.

“As a result of this pattern, the D.C. community has failed to defend the life and civil rights of Dee Dee Dodds and leaves criminally targeted LGBTQ+ community and other cultural identity communities critically undervalued by stewards of justice in the nation’s capital,” Mahdi concluded.  

William Miller, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, has declined to disclose the reason why prosecutors decided to offer Johnson and Little the plea bargain deal rather than petition the court for a second trial for the two men on the first-degree murder charge.

Attorneys familiar with cases like this, where a jury becomes deadlocked, have said prosecutors sometimes decide to offer a plea deal rather than go to trial again out of concern that another jury could find a defendant not guilty on all charges.

During the trial, defense attorneys told the jury that the Hall brothers were habitual liars and there were inconsistencies in their testimony. They argued that the Halls’ motives were aimed strictly at saying what prosecutors wanted them to say so they could get off with a lighter sentence.

The two prosecutors participating in the trial disputed those claims, arguing that government witnesses provided strong evidence that Johnson and Little should be found guilty of first-degree murder and other related charges.

Before the jury announced it was irreconcilably deadlocked on the murder charges, the jury announced it found Little not guilty of seven separate counts of possession of a firearm during a crime of violence and found Johnson not guilty of five counts of possession of a firearm during a crime of violence.

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Howard County activists and allies hit back at censorship, hate

More than 100 people attended ‘We ARE the People’ rally

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(Photo by Bob Ford)

A diverse crowd of 100 to 200 folks gathered at the Columbia Lakefront on Saturday to attend a rally to push back against censorship in the county’s public schools as well as homophobia and transphobia emanating from a group of conservative parents.

The rally called “We ARE the People” was organized in response to the comments and actions by members of a Maryland-based conservative group “We the People 2” that among other things are anti-masks, anti-vaccinations and are opposed to teaching racial history in the schools. They also oppose two books that are in Howard County Public Schools library shelves: “Gender Queer” and “Lawn Boy.”

Speakers at a We the People 2 rally last month at an Elkridge warehouse condemned the books, which contain LGBTQ characters, as sexually explicit. The group later filed police reports against the Board of Education alleging the books constitute pornography with “graphic sexual content and materials being used and disseminated in public schools,” according to the group’s press release.  A flier announcing this action used the loaded terminology, “We must not allow our children to be abused and victimized.”

Among the speakers at the Elkridge rally was Republican Gordana Schifanelli who is running for lieutenant governor on the ticket with Daniel Cox. Another speaker, George Johnson, a teacher from Baltimore City, was heard on a video of the event saying, “We’re doing God’s work because Marxism, homosexuality and transgenderism is the devil.”

In response, the pro-LGBTQ rally in Columbia announced the following:

We are taking a stance against hate in the community as we raise our voices in support of equity in our schools. Attacks on teachers and school staff have prompted us to stand united and drown out the noise.

In addition, We ARE the People states:

We stand for LGBTQ+ students and educational professionals

Teaching accurate history to our students

Supporting equitable practices in our schools

Providing students with relevant LGBTQ+ media through their school libraries

The two-hour rally, which was attended by several county council members, featured speakers representing a wide swath of community, educational, religious and political organizations. They included: Community Allies of Rainbow Youth (CARY), Black Lives Activists of Columbia (BLAC), Absolutely Dragulous, Howard County Schools, PFLAG-Columbia/Howard County, IndivisibleHoCoMd, Columbia Democratic Club, Howard Progressive Project, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia (UUCC), HoCo Pride, Progressive Democrats of Howard County, and the Columbia United Christian Church.

Many of the speakers denounced the censorship of materials that are needed by many LGBTQ students. Genderqueer and non-binary students, they point out, are most vulnerable and need affirming literature to help with their development and self-acceptance. The speakers also decried hate speech, which has surfaced again, as well as the opposition to teaching history as it relates to race.

Others argued that the community must not sit back and take it from extremist groups.

“You are all defenders,” said Cynthia Fikes, president of the Columbia Democratic Club, in a fiery speech. “But to succeed a strong defense also needs a strong offense.”

The two books in question were recently the center of controversy in the Fairfax County (Va.) school system. The books were removed in September from the shelves of the high schools pending a comprehensive review following opposition from a parent at a school board meeting. It should be noted that both books were previous winners of the American Library Association’s Alex Awards, which each year recognize “10 books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18.”  

The board established two committees consisting of parents, staff and students to assess the content of the books and make recommendations to the assistant superintendent of instructional services who would make the final determination.

One committee found that “Lawn Boy” includes themes that “are affirming for students” with marginalized identities. “There is no pedophilia in the book,” the committee added. The other committee found that “Gender Queer” depicts “difficulties non-binary and asexual individuals may face.” The committee concluded that “the book neither depicts nor describes pedophilia.” The books were restored to the shelves.

“As this backlash against LGTBQ+ literature demonstrates, we must be ready to stand up and defend the progress we have made,” said Jennifer Mallo, member of the Howard County Board of Education, expressing her own point of view. “We must ensure our elected officials understand and share our values and will fight for our marginalized students.”

The enthusiastic crowd was clearly pleased with the event.

“Today’s rally was meant to inspire our community to take action,” said Chris Hefty, who was the lead organizer of the rally and the emcee. “Action that protects our youth. Action that protects our educators and admins. This action comes in the form of advocacy, communication with elected officials so they know your voice, and through well informed voting to ensure those who represent us are those we know will support us. We shared a message of love, acceptance, and warmth.”

Hefty adds, “The unity we facilitated through this rally was a sight to behold. As the lead organizer I couldn’t have been more pleased! In the future we will be sure to better meet the needs of all our community members. We thank all those in our community for their support and feedback and look forward to accomplishing great things together moving forward.”

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Comings & Goings

Nathanson takes role at Outright Action

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Rikki Nathanson

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, gotten 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 Rikki Nathanson on her new position as Senior Advisor – Global Trans Program with OutRight Action International in New York. Nathanson will be based in D.C.  

 “I am absolutely thrilled to be taking on this new role as Senior Advisor in OutRight’s Global Trans Program,” said Nathanson. “I have finally found the perfect fit for me: as a trans woman who has been fighting for equality not only for myself, but for others globally, this position is not only a job, it’s intrinsically part of who I am. So, what better way to live, nurture and grow myself.” 

Nathanson will be working closely with all program staff to ensure a cohesive and intentional approach to gender issues throughout OutRight’s programs, including its approach to gender ideology movements. She will lead new initiatives on gender advocacy and policy change, focused but not limited to legal gender recognition and anti-discrimination legislation and policies.

Prior to this Nathanson was director of housing programs at Casa Ruby in D.C. She has also held a number of other positions including: founder/executive director of Trans Research, Education, Advocacy & Training (TREAT), Zimbabwe; chairperson Southern Africa Trans Forum, SATF, Cape Town, South Africa; executive director, Ricochet Modeling Agency, Zimbabwe; and company secretary for Dunlop Zimbabwe Limited, Zimbabwe. 

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