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Judge poised to rule on Va. same-sex marriage ban

Herring will not defend anti-gay amendment

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Mark Herring, gay news, Washington Blade
Mark Herring, gay news, Washington Blade

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring on Jan. 23 announced he will not defend the state’s constitutional amendment that bans same-sex marriage.(Photo courtesy of Herring for Attorney General)

A federal judge appears ready to rule on the constitutionality of Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban in the wake of Attorney General Mark Herring’s announcement that he will not defend it.

Judge Arenda L. Wright of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Norfolk on Jan. 23 asked the parties in the lawsuit filed by two same-sex couples to file status reports on whether oral arguments that are scheduled to take place on Thursday “remains warranted.” She also told the litigants to tell the court whether it should “instead rule promptly on the briefs without a hearing.”

Lawyers for the plaintiffs — Timothy Bostic and Tony London of Norfolk and Carol Schall and Mary Townley of Richmond — filed their response to Wright’s order on Jan. 24. The judge ordered attorneys representing the defendant — Norfolk Circuit Court Clerk George Schaefer — to respond to Herring’s position that the state constitutional amendment that defines marriage in Virginia as between a man and a woman is unconstitutional by noon on Monday.

“The attorney general’s change in position should not delay this court’s resolution of plaintiff’s motions for a preliminary injunction and summary judgment,” wrote Bostic and London’s lawyers in the status report they submitted to Wright. “If anything, the attorney general’s change in position makes clearer the appropriateness of immediate relief.”

Herring’s decision not to defend the marriage amendment sparked immediate outrage among some Virginia Republicans and social conservatives.

“The attorney general’s decision to refuse to enforce a duly-adopted provision of the Virginia Constitution is frightening,” said state Del. Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah County) on Sunday during the Republican Party of Virginia’s weekly address.

Victoria Cobb, president of the Family Foundation of Virginia, echoed Gilbert in a statement her organization released after Herring’s Jan. 23 announcement.

State Del. Bob Marshall (R-Prince William County) equated the attorney general’s announcement during a Jan. 24 interview with Roll Call Editor-in-Chief Christina Bellantoni that aired on “The Kojo Nnamdi Show” on WAMU to a “Pearl Harbor attack on the people of Virginia.” Republican Party of Virginia Chair Pat Mullins is among those who have suggested that Herring should resign.

A Virginia House of Delegates committee on Jan. 24 approved a bill that Gilbert and Marshall introduced earlier this month that would allow any state lawmaker to defend a law if the governor and attorney general decline to do so. The two Republicans are among the 32 lawmakers who urged Gov. Terry McAuliffe on the same day to defend the state’s marriage amendment that voters in 2006 approved by a 57-43 percent margin.

“Attorney General Herring apparently is satisfied that the people of Virginia shall not be represented in court to defend the 2006 voter approved one-man, one-woman marriage amendment,” wrote the legislators in the letter of which the Washington Post obtained a copy.

McAuliffe, who took office slightly more than two weeks ago, supports marriage rights for same-sex couples.

“There are people who are going to attack me and try to say ‘well it’s about the duty of the attorney general [to defend the marriage ban,]” Herring told the Washington Blade during a Jan. 23 interview. “In fact what they’re really upset about is that they disagree with marriage equality. And that’s their right, but it’s not the law.”

Neighboring Maryland is among the 17 states and D.C. that have extended marriage rights to same-sex couples. Gays and lesbians in Florida, Pennsylvania, Arizona and other states have filed lawsuits seeking the ability to tie the knot in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision last June that found a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional.

The ACLU, Lambda Legal and the ACLU of Virginia last August filed a class action federal lawsuit on behalf of two lesbian couples from the Shenandoah Valley — including one who tied the knot in D.C. in 2011 — who are seeking marriage rights in the commonwealth. The first hearing in the case is expected to take place in the coming months.

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District of Columbia

Activists, policy makers mark Celebrate Bisexual Day in D.C.

BiPlus Organizing US hosted event at HRC

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Adrian Shanker, senior advisor for LGBTQI+ health equity in the U.S.Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health, speaks at a Bisexual Awareness Day event at the Human Rights Campaign on Sept. 23, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Cal Benn)

BiPlus Organizing US on Saturday hosted a Celebrate Bisexual Day event at the Human Rights Campaign.

Fiona Dawson, co-founder of BiPlus Organizing US, and Mélanie Snail, committee member of the organization, emceed the event. HRC Senior Vice President of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Rebecca Hershey welcomed attendees. 

Heyshey discussed her journey as a bisexual, mixed race, Jewish woman. Hershey paraphrased Adrienne Maree Brown, stating “change is coming, we are creating change.” 

PFLAG Learning and Inclusion Manager Mackenzie Harte gave a presentation on the history of bisexual identities, defined terms surrounding gender and sexuality and went over statistics of discrimination and health disparities that bisexual individuals face.

Harte’s presentation noted 48 percent of bisexual individuals reported an annual income of less than $30,000, compared to 30 percent of gay men, 39 percent of lesbians and 28 percent of all adults in the U.S. 

Harte went on to say 28 percent of bisexual students report having attempted suicide; and bisexual people have a higher risk of mood disorders, substance abuse and mental illness than their lesbian, gay, or straight cohorts. Bisexual people of all genders face higher rates of sexual assault than those same peers. One reason for these statistics is isolation: 39 percent of bisexual men and 33 percent of bisexual women report not being out to any health care provider, and only 44 percent of bisexual youth report having an adult they could turn to if they were sad. 

Harte also spoke about the Bisexual Manifesto, which the Bay Area Bisexual Network wrote in 1990. 

“The bisexual manifesto very intentionally was not binary,” Harte said.

They said the text works against the stigma and stereotypes that claim bisexuality is confined to “male, female.” 

Tania Israel, a bisexual advocate and psychology professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, shared some of her bisexual haikus, which she calls, “bikus.”

Dawson moderated the next panel.

Panelists included Nicole Holmes, a bisexual advocate and public health professional, National Center for Transgender Equality Communications Director Leroy Thomas and NCTE Policy Counsel Kris Tassone. 

The panel talked about how shame and stigma drive the statistics that negatively impact the bisexual community. Another word that came up as a driving force was “intersectionality.” 

Holmes said that when it comes to intersectionality, it’s important to not just “list identities,” but to look deep into “the purpose behind why we are talking about intersectional identities” in the first place.

Adrian Shanker, senior advisor on LGBTQ+ Health Equity for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, spoke about health equity for the bisexual community. 

“Striving for health equity remains a core priority. It also remains an unmet dream,” said Shanker. “Queer people have always had to be our own health advocates.” While health equity may not be here yet, Shanker says there is much in the works for the LGBTQ community, bisexuals specifically. 

Shanker cited a National Cancer Institute funding opportunity that invites research proposals to cancer care for sexual and gender minorities, stating bisexual specific proposals are welcome. The impending potential government shutdown may postpone it. 

The Biden-Harris administration is also working to ban so-called conversion therapy at the federal level. Additionally, 988, the national suicide prevention hotline, began a program to offer specialized support for LGBTQ youth and young adults last year. 

Shanker said bisexual people should prioritize preventative screenings for skin cancer, oral cancer, lung cancer, regular cervical and anal pap tests, mammograms, prostate exams and colonoscopies. 

“If you have a body part, get it screened,” said Shanker. 

Megan Townsend, senior director of entertainment research and analysis for the GLAAD Media Institute, did a presentation on bisexual representation in the media and opportunities for advancement. 

 “I want to see bi+/pan colors displayed on the White House,” said Dawson. “I want every national LGBTQIA+ organization to be talking about us, to put our concerns front and center.”

The data presented can be found here.

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Delaware

Flight attendants union endorses Sarah McBride

Del. lawmaker would be first transgender member of Congress

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Delaware state Sen. Sarah McBride speaks at the LGBTQ+ Victory Fund National Champagne Brunch in D.C. on April 10, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Delaware congressional candidate Sarah McBride has earned the support of the Association of Flight Attendants, the nation’s most prominent flight attendant union.

It’s the second big labor endorsement for McBride after the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 27’s endorsement. The Association of Flight Attendants praised her for spearheading efforts to bring paid family and medical leave to Delaware, which will take effect in 2026. 

“Sarah’s record in the Delaware Senate shows that she understands how to work collaboratively, build power and make big things happen,” the union’s president, Sara Nelson, wrote in a press release shared exclusively with the Washington Blade. “That’s the kind of leader we need in Congress, and we’re proud to endorse her candidacy.”

McBride also announced her support for creating a list of abusive passengers and banning them from flying. Each airline has a list of passengers banned from flying, but airlines don’t share the lists with each other, though Delta Air Lines has asked them, because of “legal and operational challenges,” as a representative for the airline industry trade group Airlines of America told a House committee in September 2021.

“Right now, someone can be violent towards a flight attendant or another passenger and walk directly off of that flight and onto one with a different airline to endanger more people,” an Association of Flight Attendants spokesperson wrote in a statement. 

The Protection from Abusive Passengers Act would put the Transportation Security Administration in charge of building the database of passengers fined or convicted of abuse and has bipartisan support but has sat idly in committee since March. It failed to pass last year, and civil rights groups including the American Civil Liberties Union have charged that the list would disproportionately target people of color and strip and a better step to reducing hostility would be making flights more comfortable. Reports of defiant and unruly passengers have more than doubled between 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, and 2022.

“I thank the Association of Flight Attendants for endorsing our campaign,” McBride wrote in the press release. “It’s important that we recognize and celebrate the symbiotic relationship between strong, unionized workforces and the continued growth of employers here in our state.”

The union representing 50,000 flight attendants across 19 airlines is putting pressure on airlines to grant union demands in contract negotiations. At American Airlines, unionized flight attendants voted to authorize a strike — putting pressure on the airline to accede to its demands. Flight attendants at Alaska Airlines say they are ready to strike but have not voted to authorize one yet. United Airlines flight attendants picketed at 19 airports around the country in August, ratcheting up the pressure. 

The union’s endorsement adds to a growing list of McBride endorsements, including 21 Delaware legislators, the United Food and Commercial Workers, the Human Rights Campaign, EMILY’s List, and Delaware Stonewall PAC. McBride, who would be the first openly transgender politician in Congress, has powerful connections in Washington — including with the White House — and is favored to win Delaware’s lone House seat. 

A poll commissioned by HRC shows her leading the pack of three candidates vying for the seat — 44 percent of “likely Democratic voters” told pollster company Change Research, which works with liberal organizations. The poll of 531 likely Delaware Democratic primary voters, though, was conducted only online — meaning those with less familiarity or access to the internet may not have been counted — and Change Research’s methodology for screening likely voters is unclear. The company also did not provide a breakdown of respondents by age, gender, and race, but says it uses an algorithm to make the results representative.  

Nelson said McBride’s time in Delaware’s state Senate shows her prowess in building power and working collaboratively.  

“That’s the kind of leader we need in Congress, and we’re proud to endorse her candidacy,” she wrote.

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Virginia

Lawsuit seeks to force Virginia Beach schools to implement state guidelines for trans, nonbinary students

Va. Department of Education released new regulations in July

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(Bigstock photo)

Two parents in Virginia Beach have filed a lawsuit that seeks to force the city’s school district to implement the state’s new guidelines for transgender and nonbinary students.

NBC Washington on Friday reported Cooper and Kirk, a D.C.-based law firm, filed the lawsuit in Virginia Beach Circuit Court.

The Virginia Department of Education in July announced the new guidelines for which Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin asked. Arlington County Public Schools, Fairfax County Public Schools and Prince William County Schools are among the school districts that have refused to implement them. 

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