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D.C. Council candidates court LGBT voters

Graham, Bonds face opposition in April primary

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Jim Graham, Anita Bonds, D.C. Council, gay news, Washington Blade, Democratic Party
Jim Graham, Anita Bonds, D.C. Council, gay news, Washington Blade, Democratic Party, LGBT voters

Council members Jim Graham and Anita Bonds are seeking re-election and facing Democratic opposition in the April primary. (Washington Blade file photos by Michael Key)

LGBT voters could play a key role in determining the nominees for at least three of the six D.C. Council seats up for grabs in the city’s April 1 Democratic primary, according to activists familiar with the candidates.

Similar to past years, nearly all of the candidates who are favored to win or who have a shot at winning their primary contests and the general election in November are strong supporters of LGBT rights.

In the April primary, D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large), Council member Mary Cheh(D-Ward 3), and Council member Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5) are considered strong favorites to win in the primary and general election. Cheh is running unopposed in the primary.

Mendelson and Cheh are longtime supporters of the LGBT community and McDuffie has been supportive on LGBT issues since winning his seat in a special election in 2012.

Council member Anita Bonds (D-At-Large) and four-term Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who’s gay, are running in competitive races in the primary, in the opinion of some political observers, although most knowledgeable observers consider them the clear front-runners.

Bonds, who has been involved in D.C. politics since the early 1980s, has a long record of support for LGBT rights. And Graham, the former head of the Whitman-Walker Clinic, has been among the Council’s strongest advocates on LGBT and AIDS issues during his more than 15 years as a Council member.

The remaining Council race on the primary ballot will be for an open seat in Ward 6, which is being vacated by Council member Tommy Wells, a Democrat who’s running for mayor. Three Democratic candidates running in the primary – Charles Allen, Wells’ former chief of staff; Darrel Thompson, and Shelonda Tillman – have expressed strong support on LGBT issues and are expected to compete for support from the large number of LGBT residents that live in Ward 6.

Graham’s longstanding reputation as a champion for his Ward 1 constituents — both gay and straight — would normally make him a shoo-in for winning election to a fifth term. But an 11-2 vote by his Council colleagues last spring to reprimand him on grounds that he violated the Council’s ethics rules in 2008 by improperly interfering with negotiations over a Metro development contract have raised questions over whether his support in the ward has eroded.

The Council’s vote to reprimand Graham came shortly after the city’s independent ethics board, headed by gay former D.C. Attorney General Robert Spagnoletti, issued an opinion saying Graham did not violate any laws but committed an ethical breach as a city official by intervening in the contract process.

Graham has disputed the claim that he did anything improper, saying he pushed for awarding the contract to one developer over another because the one he favored was better qualified to do the work on a project located in his ward.

Lesbian Democratic activist Barbara Helmick, a longtime resident of Ward 1, said she has voted for Graham in the past but is undecided on whether to vote for him this time.

“Certainly the ethics question has raised eyebrows,” Helmick said. “But Jim has done a lot as a Council member and he has basically done a good job for his constituents.”

Helmick, like other Ward 1 residents, said she’s looking at Graham’s two remaining opponents in the primary, civic activists Bryan Weaver and Brianne Nadeau. Both have been strong supporters of the LGBT community. A third opponent, Beverly Wheeler, a former aide to Council Chair Mendelson, dropped out of the race last week, citing family related issues.

Ward 1 is believed to have the largest concentration of LGBT residents among the city’s eight wards and is home to two LGBT community centers, one of which – Casa Ruby – reaches out to the LGBT Latino community. Activists say that Graham’s prospects for winning the primary would increase significantly if he can retain the support of LGBT voters who have backed him overwhelmingly in past elections.

No Republican, Statehood Green Party or Libertarian Party candidate entered the Ward 1 Council race this year, a development that means Graham would likely face one or more lesser known independent candidates in the November general election if he wins the Democratic nomination in the primary.

Bonds, meanwhile, is being challenged by four other Democrats in the primary in her race for one of two at-large Council seats that will be on the ballot in the November general election. In a process that has often confounded voters, one of the two seats is reserved for a non-majority party candidate under the city’s election law, which means a Democrat cannot compete for the second seat.

Gay D.C. Council member David Catania (I-At-Large) has held the so-called non-Democratic seat since 1997, when he won a special election to fill the then vacant seat. He has been re-elected four times since then, but this year Catania said he’s strongly considering giving up his Council seat to run for mayor.

As an independent, he doesn’t have to make a final decision on whether to seek re-election to the Council or enter the mayoral race until June. Many of the city’s political pundits believe Catania will run for mayor, clearing the way for others to compete for his Council seat.

Gay Republican activist Marc Morgan, a Ward 1 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner, is running unopposed in the Republican primary for one of the two at-large seats. Should Catania run for mayor, Morgan could be in a strong position to compete for the non-Democratic seat.

A Libertarian Party candidate, who is running unopposed in his party’s primary, and one of two Statehood Green Party candidates running in that party’s primary, will be competing with Morgan for the non-Democratic seat in the November election.

Another openly gay candidate, Libertarian Party activist Martin Moulton, is running unopposed in the Libertarian primary for the city’s U.S. shadow representative seat. Moulton is expected to compete for the shadow seat in the November general election against Democrat Franklin Garcia, who’s running unopposed in the Democratic primary in April.

Out of the four Democrats running against Bonds in the primary, Nate Bennett-Fleming, who currently holds the U.S. shadow representative seat, is considered to be her strongest opponent. Bennett-Fleming has expressed strong support for LGBT rights and won the endorsement of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest LGBT political group, when he ran for the seat in 2012.

The city created shadow U.S. Senate seats and one shadow House of Representatives seat as unpaid lobbying positions to advocate for D.C. statehood and voting representation in Congress.

Although some consider the shadow seats to be of little value because they have no official connection with the U.S. Congress, Bennett-Fleming received more than 43,000 votes when he won the Democratic primary for the seat in 2012. In the 2012 general election, Bennett-Fleming received nearly 207,000 votes.

When Bonds won the at-large seat in a special election last April she received 18,027 votes, or 31.4 percent, in a seven-candidate race with one of the lowest voter turnouts of any D.C. election ever held.

The voter turnout is expected to be larger in this year’s April 1 primary and Bonds’ wider name recognition and longstanding involvement in city politics gives her an edge over Bennett-Fleming and the other three candidates, according to most pundits. But Bonds and her LGBT supporters say she is waging an aggressive outreach effort to capture the LGBT vote to boost her re-election prospects.

Elissa Silverman, a Democrat who came in second behind Bonds in the 2012 special election, reportedly is considering changing her party affiliation from Democrat to independent to run for the non-Democratic at-large seat in the general election.

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Maryland

Judge rules trans teacher’s lawsuit against P.G. County can go to trial

Gay man files separate case charging discrimination

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Jennifer Eller, gay news, Washington Blade
Jennifer Eller alleges the P.G. County school system subjected her to discrimination and harassment. (Photo courtesy of Lambda Legal)

A federal judge in Maryland issued a ruling on Tuesday, Jan. 18, clearing the way for a lawsuit filed by transgender former English teacher Jennifer Eller in 2018 charging the Prince George’s County, Md., Public Schools with discrimination and harassment based on her gender identity to proceed to a trial.

In the ruling, Judge Theodore D. Chuang of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland denied key parts of several motions filed by attorneys representing the P.G. County Public Schools that in effect called for the dismissal of the lawsuit. The motions, among other things, claimed the lawsuit failed to provide sufficient evidence that Eller was subjected to discrimination and harassment, which forced her to resign due to a hostile work environment.

Chuang also ruled against a separate motion introduced by Eller’s attorneys calling for him to issue a summary judgement decision affirming all the lawsuit’s allegations that would have ended the litigation in Eller’s favor without the need to go to trial.

Eller’s lawsuit charges that school officials acted illegally by failing to intervene when she was subjected to a hostile work environment for five years that included abuse and harassment by students, parents, fellow teachers, and supervisors and retaliation by school administrators.

The lawsuit alleges that the school system and its administrators in its actions against Eller violated Title VII of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX of the federal Education Amendments Act of 1972, the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution, the Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act, and the nondiscrimination provision of the Prince George’s County Code.

“We think the judge did as best he could,” said Omar Gonzales-Pagan, an attorney with the LGBTQ litigation group Lambda Legal, which, along with the D.C. law firm Arnold & Porter, are representing Eller in her lawsuit.

“The takeaway is that the case is now in a posture to proceed to trial,” Gonzales-Pagan told the Washington Blade. “The court found that the alleged facts and the information as discovered throughout the case in the discovery process is sufficient to allow a jury to find whether Jennifer Eller was subjected to a hostile work environment and constructive discharge and retaliation unlawfully by the defendants,” he said.

By the term constructive discharge, Gonzales-Pagan was referring to the lawsuit’s charge that Eller was forced to resign from her teaching job in 2017 after being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder due to the alleged abuse she faced on the job.

P.G. County Public Schools officials have declined to comment on the lawsuit on grounds that the school system has a longstanding policy of not discussing pending litigation. However, in its response to the lawsuit in court filings, school system officials have denied Eller’s allegations of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation.

“For years, I was aggressively misgendered, attacked and harassed in the hallways and even in my own classroom by students, peers and supervisors,” Eller said in a statement released by her attorneys.

“My pleas for help and for sensitivity training on LGBTQ issues for students and staff, were ignored,” Eller said in her statement. “The relentless harassment stripped me of the joy of teaching and forced me to resign,” she said. “It is time for Prince George’s County Public Schools to be held accountable.”

The lawsuit says the harassment and discriminatory action against her began in 2011 when she began presenting as female during the school year. It says school officials initially responded to her complaints about the harassment by demanding that she stop dressing as a woman and return to wearing men’s clothes, which she refused to do.

In a separate action, gay former Spanish teacher Jared Hester filed on his own without an attorney a lawsuit in the Maryland federal court charging the P.G. County Public Schools with failing to take action to prevent him from being subjected to discrimination and harassment similar to some of the allegations made in Eller’s lawsuit.

Hester told the Blade that he was subjected to harassment by students who repeatedly called him “faggot,” but school officials, including the principal of the middle school where he taught, refused to take action to stop the harassment.

He provided the Blade with copies of earlier complaints he filed against school system officials with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights, and the P.G County Public Schools’ internal Office of Equity Assurance. Each of the three agencies issued rulings against Hester’s complaints, with two of them saying sufficient evidence could not be found to support his allegations.

The EEOC, in a Nov. 3, 2021 “dismissal” notice, told Hester the EEOC “will not proceed further with its investigation, and makes no determination about whether further investigation would establish violations of the statute.” The notice added, “This does not mean the claims have no merit” or that the respondent, meaning the P.G. County Public Schools, “is in compliance with the statutes.”

The notice did not give a reason for why it chose to end its investigation into Hester’s complaint, but it said his filing with the EEOC cleared the way for him to file a lawsuit to further his case against the school system. 

Hester told the Blade he reached out to Lambda Legal to represent him in his lawsuit, but the LGBTQ litigation group declined to take on his case without giving a reason. Gonzalez-Pagan, the Lambda attorney working on the Eller case, said he was unfamiliar with Hester’s request for representation. Another Lambda official couldn’t immediately be reached to determine the reason for its decision not to represent Hester.

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FreeState Justice outlines 2022 legislative priorities

Bills introduced to repeal ‘unnatural or perverted sexual practice’ law

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conversion therapy, gay news, Washington Blade

FreeState Justice has outlined its legislative priorities for the Maryland General Assembly’s 2022 legislative session that began on Jan. 12.

State Sen. Clarence Lam (D-Baltimore and Harford Counties) has introduced Senate Bill 22, which would repeal a provision of Maryland law that bans “unnatural or perverted sexual practice.” State Dels. David Moon (D-Montgomery County), Lorig Charkoudian (D-Montgomery County) and Julie Palakovich Carr (D-Montgomery County) have introduced an identical bill in the House of Delegates.

A bill that repealed Maryland’s sodomy law took effect in 2020 without Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s signature, but the “unnatural or perverted sexual practice” provision that criminalizes oral sex and bestiality remains in place.

FreeState Justice Policy Director C.P. Hoffman on Jan. 12 noted during a virtual briefing that prosecutors rarely bring charges under the law. Hoffman nevertheless pointed out four men who were arrested at a video store in Harford County in May 2021 were indicted under it.

“Its really just offensive that this is being used against queer people in 2021,” said Hoffman. “So we want to see it repealed.”

Hoffman and their FreeState Justice colleagues also noted the ability for transgender Marylanders to more easily obtain official documents that correspond with their gender identity is another legislative priority.

Maryland since 2019 has allowed trans and non-binary people to receive a driver’s license with an “X” gender marker.

Hoffman said FreeState Justice will support bills that would allow Marylanders to change their name on their marriage certificate without a court order or getting divorced and remarry. FreeState Justice will also back a measure that would allow trans parents to amend their child’s birth certificate to accurately reflect their gender identity.

“We’re trying to clean that up to make one consistent policy that allows for trans folks to do this,” said Hoffman.

FreeState Justice Executive Director Jeremy LaMaster during the briefing noted another legislative priority is the Inclusive Schools Act, which would require Maryland public schools to implement a uniform non-discrimination policy through the state’s Department of Education. FreeState Justice Policy Coordinator Jamie Grace Alexander highlighted the organization will also urge lawmakers to expand access to PrEP and PEP in Maryland and to support legislation that would, among other things, prohibit housing incarcerated trans women with men.

“The conditions for transgender people — especially transgender women — while they’re incarcerated are extremely grim and dark,” said Alexander.

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Virginia

Mother says teen boy charged with assault in girl’s bathroom at Va. school is straight

Earlier reports that Loudoun County student was gender fluid triggered backlash

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Two sexual assaults by the same teen in Loudoun County schools attracted widespread media attention. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

In a little-noticed interview last November with the British online newspaper, DailyMail.com, the mother of a 15-year-old boy charged with sexually assaulting a girl last May in the girl’s bathroom at a Loudoun County, Va., high school that the two students attended said her son identifies as heterosexual.

The May 28, 2021, sexual assault first surfaced in the news media in October at the same time law enforcement authorities disclosed that the boy allegedly sexually assaulted a girl on Oct. 6 in a vacant classroom at another high school to which he was transferred.

The disclosure of the two assaults triggered a furious backlash by some parents and conservative political activists against a Virginia school policy allowing transgender and gender fluid students to use the bathroom that conforms to their gender identity.

“First of all, he is not transgender,” the boy’s mother told DailyMail.com in a Nov. 2 interview. “And I think this is all doing an extreme disservice to those students who actually identify as transgender,” the newspaper quoted her as saying.

The mother, who agreed to the interview on grounds that she was not identified to protect the identity of her son, said her son identifies as heterosexual and absolutely does not identify as female.

LGBTQ activists have said the backlash against both the Virginia state and Loudoun County transgender non-discrimination policies — which spread to school districts across the country that have similar policies — was fueled by what they have said all along was unsubstantiated claims that the boy was transgender or gender fluid.

Conservative activists who strongly oppose the school systems’ trans supportive bathroom policies have said it was those policies that enabled the 15-year-old boy, who police say was wearing a skirt at the time of the May 28 sexual assault incident, to enter the girl’s bathroom to target the girl.

Since that time, testimony in a Loudoun County Juvenile Court where the boy was being prosecuted revealed that the 14-year-old girl who brought the charges against him said she and the boy had two consenting sexual encounters in a girl’s bathroom at Stone Bridge High School in Ashburn, Va., prior to the incident in which the boy allegedly assaulted her. 

According to the Washington Post, whose reporter attended one of the juvenile court hearings, the girl testified that she agreed to meet the boy in the girl’s bathroom after he requested a third sexual encounter there, but she told him she did not want to have sex at that time.

“The girl previously testified in court that the defendant threw her to the ground in the bathroom and forced her to perform two sexual acts on him after she told him that she was not interested in sex on that occasion,” the Post reported in a story last week about the final outcome of the case.

At a Jan. 12 sentencing hearing, Loudoun County Juvenile Court Chief Judge Pamela Brooks placed the boy on the Virginia sex offender registry for life, the Post reported. After ruling in an earlier hearing in November that the evidence confirmed that the boy was responsible for sexually assaulting the two girls, Brooks sentenced the boy to a residential treatment facility rather than a juvenile detention facility and required that he remain on probation until he turns 18, the Post reported.

“He’s a 15-year-old boy that wanted to have sex in the bathroom, with somebody that was willing,” the boy’s mother told DailyMaiI.com. “And they’re twisting this just enough to make it a political hot button issue,” she said.

In her interview with the newspaper, the mother said her son wasn’t gender fluid despite the reports, which she confirms, that he wore a skirt at the time of the first of the two sexual assaults.

“He would wear a skirt one day and then the next day, he would wear jeans and a T-shirt, a Polo or hoodie,” she told the newspaper. “He was trying to find himself and that involved all kinds of styles. I believe he was doing it because it gave him attention he desperately needed and sought,” she said.

The mother acknowledged in the interview that her son was deeply troubled, saying he had a long history of misbehavior, including sending nude photos of himself to a girl when he was in the fifth grade.

On Jan. 12, the same day as the boy’s sentencing hearing, Virginia House of Delegates member John Avoli (R-Stanton) introduced a bill calling for restricting the ability of transgender students from using bathrooms and other facilities in public schools that are consistent with their gender identity.

A separate bill introduced last month by Virginia State Sen. Travis Hackworth (R-Tazewell County) calls for eliminating the requirement that Virginia school districts adopt the state Department of Education’s nondiscrimination policies for trans and non-binary students.

Although Virginia’s newly inaugurated Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin and the GOP-controlled House of Delegates could move to advance the two bills, LGBTQ activists note that the state Senate remains in Democratic control and would block the two bills from being approved by the General Assembly.

Cris Candice Tuck, president of the LGBTQ group Equality Loudoun, told the Blade she expects opponents of LGBTQ nondiscrimination policies in the Loudoun County Public Schools and other school systems in Virginia to continue to use the sexual assault case of the Loudoun boy as a pretext to repeal LGBTQ and trans supportive policies. 

“We firmly believe it should have absolutely no bearing as the perpetrator was not transgender, non-binary, or gender fluid, and so that doesn’t apply to this policy at all,” Tuck said. “A single conviction of an individual who is not even part of the group in question is no reason to invalidate the rights and expose to potential violence the hundreds of students who identify as transgender or non-binary,” Tuck said in an email message.

“Currently, the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts of America, and hundreds of cisgender teachers, clergy, and coaches are embroiled in legal battles nationwide involving sexual molestation, rape, and abuse of children across the country that has been ongoing for decades,” Tuck said. “Yet no one is proposing restroom restrictions for any of those groups. A double standard cannot exist for the LGBTQ+ based on fear mongering, misinformation, and discrimination.”

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