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Ralph Northam: Equality is the ‘sensible way to go’

Lieutenant gubernatorial candidate described E.W. Jackson’s comments as “divisive” and “offensive”

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Ralph Northam, Virginia, gay news, Washington Blade

Ralph Northam, Virginia, gay news, Washington Blade

Ralph Northam (Photo courtesy of the Ralph Northam campaign)

NORFOLK, Va.—Democratic Virginia lieutenant gubernatorial candidate Ralph Northam on Friday stressed during an interview with the Washington Blade that he feels ending anti-LGBT discrimination in the commonwealth is good for the state’s economy.

“We need to look at Virginia as a business model,” Northam said before a campaign stop in Danville as he discussed efforts that would ban discrimination against LGBT state employees. “If you run a business… you need to be all inclusive. You can’t sit there and say well we’ll take you, but we don’t want to take others. When it comes to that type of model, you certainly want to welcome women, you want to welcome the LGBT community. You want to welcome all people to the commonwealth. That’s the attitude and the philosophy that we need if we’re going to continue to be successful here in Virginia.”

Northam, a pediatric neurologist who grew up on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, has represented the Sixth Senate District that includes portions of Norfolk and Virginia Beach since 2008.

He referenced his marriage to his wife of 27 years as he discussed his support of marriage rights for same-sex couples.

Northam told this Blade his work as a physician has also shaped his views on the issue. He used the example of a gay or lesbian who is unable to visit their partner of 25 years in the hospital or make medical decisions on their behalf to highlight what he described the need to extend marriage rights for same-sex couples

“That’s just downright wrong,” Northam said.

Northam also discussed an ex-military servicemember whom he said he met during his 2011 re-election campaign.

He told the Blade the man asked him about his position on marriage rights for same-sex couples. Northam said the man began to cry after he began to explain his support of the issue because his son had come out to him as gay the week before and he did not know how to react.

“Marriage equality and equality’s for all people,” Northam said. “It’s just the sensible way to go in my view.”

Northam: Jackson’s comments are ‘divisive’ and ‘very offensive’

A poll that Roanoke College released on Oct. 30 showed Northam ahead of his Republican opponent, E.W. Jackson, by a 48-32 percent margin. A Washington Post/Abt SRBI survey unveiled earlier this week indicated he was ahead of Jackson by a 52-39 percent margin.

LGBT rights advocates and Democrats have repeatedly criticized Jackson, who is a minister from Chesapeake, for comparing gay men to pedophiles and describing them as “very sick people.” The Richmond Times-Dispatch in September reported that Jackson said during a speech at a Shenandoah County church that he disagrees with Pope Francis’ suggestion the Roman Catholic Church has grown “obsessed” with marriage rights for same-sex couples, abortion and contraception.

Jackson sought to distance himself from his anti-gay comments during interviews with Bruce DePuyt of News Channel 8 and other D.C. and Virginia television stations.

“Those types of comments are what I find and I think a lot of Virginians find ery offensive,” Northam told the Blade. “They’re divisive and there’s no place for them in the Senate of Virginia. And I don’t think there’s any place for them in Virginia.”

He also criticized Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who continues to trail former Democratic National Committee Chair Terry McAuliffe in the Virginia gubernatorial race, over his opposition to same-sex marriage and other LGBT-specific issues.

Northam further pointed out state Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg), who is running against state Sen. Mark Herring (D-Loudoun) to succeed Cuccinelli as attorney general, left the Senate floor when he and his colleagues earlier this year voted to approve gay Richmond Circuit Court Judge Tracy Thorne-Begland’s judgeship.

The Virginia House of Delegates in May 2012 blocked Thorne-Begland’s nomination after state Del. Bob Marshall (R-Prince William) claimed the then-Richmond prosecutor misrepresented himself when he failed to disclose his sexual orientation when he enlisted in the U.S. Navy in the late 1980s.

“People of Virginia need to know… that [lawmakers] need to be more open-minded when it comes to taking care of all Virginians,” Northam said.

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Virginia

Loudoun County removes LGBTQ book from school libraries

Superintendent overrules committee that called for retaining ‘Gender Queer: A Memoir’

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A Loudoun County, Va., School Board committee on Jan. 13 voted to uphold a decision by Loudoun County Public Schools Superintendent Scott A. Ziegler to remove from the school system’s high school libraries a controversial LGBTQ-themed book called “Gender Queer: A Memoir.”

The book is an illustrated autobiography by non-binary author Maia Kobabe that contains descriptions and comic book style drawings of sexual acts that e uses to tell the story of eir journey and struggle in discovering eir gender identity.

Although the book has received an American Library Association award for its relevance to young adults, critics in school systems throughout the country have said its sexually explicit content is not suitable for school libraries.  

The action by the School Board committee came after Ziegler asked a separate school system committee to review the book to determine if its content was appropriate for school libraries. Loudoun Public Schools spokesperson Wayde Byard told the Washington Post the committee, in a split vote, recommended that the book be retained in high school libraries.

According to Byard, Ziegler overruled the committee’s recommendation and ordered that the book be removed from the libraries. Byard said that decision was then appealed to a School Board appeals committee, which voted 3-0 to uphold Ziegler’s decision.

The decision by Ziegler to remove the book from school libraries took place about two months after Fairfax County, Va., Public Schools officials decided to return “Gender Queer” and another LGBTQ-themed book called “Lawn Boy” to their high school libraries after temporarily pulling the two books in response to complaints by some parents and conservative activists.

Two committees appointed by Fairfax school officials to review the two books that consisted of educators, school officials, parents, and students concluded that, while the books contained sexually explicit content, it did not cross the line as pornography or depictions of pedophilia as some opponents claimed.

“The decision reaffirms Fairfax County Public Schools’ ongoing commitment to provide diverse reading materials that reflect our student population, allowing every child an opportunity to see themselves reflected in literary characters,” a statement released by Fairfax school officials explaining their decision to retain the two books in their libraries said.

“Both reviews concluded that the books were valuable in their potential to reach marginalized youth who may struggle to find relatable literary characters that reflect their personal journey,” the statement says.

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Va. bill would restrict transgender students access to school bathrooms

State Del. John Avioli (R-Stanton) introduced House Bill 1126

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The Virginia Capitol (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A Virginia lawmaker has introduced a bill that would restrict the ability of transgender students and school board employees to use bathrooms and other facilities in public schools that are consistent with their gender identity.

House Bill 1126, which state Del. John Avoli (R-Stanton) introduced, would require “each school board to adopt policies to require each student and school board employee to have access to restrooms, locker rooms and other changing facilities in public school buildings that are shared only by members of the same biological sex; lodging accommodations during school-sponsored trips that are shared only by members of the same biological sex; and a single-user restroom, locker room, or other changing facility in a public school building, upon request, if the school can reasonably accommodate such a request.”

Avoli introduced HB 1126 on Jan. 12 on the same day the Virginia General Assembly’s 2022 legislative session began with Republicans in control of the House of Delegates. Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin took office on Jan. 15.

State Sen. Travis Hackworth (R-Tazewell County) last month introduced Senate Bill 20, which would eliminate the requirement that school districts must implement the Department of Education’s trans and non-binary student guidelines. State Del. Danica Roem (D-Manassas), who in 2018 became the first openly trans person seated in any state legislature in the U.S., told the Washington Blade last week that she expects SB 20 “would be dead on arrival” in committee.

Equality Virginia, a statewide LGBTQ rights group, on its website notes HB 1126 is among the bills that it opposes.

Democrats still have a 21-19 majority in the state Senate, and they have signaled they will oppose any effort to curtail LGBTQ rights in Virginia. Outgoing Equality Virginia Executive Director Vee Lamneck last week said their organization “will work with the Senate’s pro-equality majority to act as a crucial back stop against harmful legislation and efforts to roll back our hard-earned wins passed during the last two years.”

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Equality Virginia announces new executive director

Narissa Rahaman will succeed Vee Lamneck

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Narissa Rahaman (Photo courtesy of Equality Virginia)

Equality Virginia on Saturday announced Narissa Rahaman will be the organization’s new executive director.

Rahaman, who was previously the Human Rights Campaign’s Associate Regional Campaign Director, will succeed outgoing Executive Director Vee Lamneck on Feb. 2. Rahaman was born in Barbados and raised in Florida.

“Narissa also has 10+ years of experience in long-term strategic planning, multi-state organizing efforts, coalition management, and staff development, which make her an exceptional individual for the role of executive director,” said Equality Virginia in its announcement. “We are confident that under her leadership, the organization’s success and impact will continue to flourish as will our commitment to racial justice.”

Equality Virginia announced Rahaman will succeed Lamneck on the same day that Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin took office amid concerns he will seek to curtail LGBTQ rights in Virginia.

Equality Virginia’s annual lobby day will take place virtually on Jan. 25. The organization’s annual Commonwealth Dinner is scheduled to take place in Richmond on March 26.

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