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Meet HRC’s new VP and the new head of Creating Change

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John Baez, Comings & Goings, gay news, Washington Blade

The ‘Comings & Goings’ column chronicles important life changes of Blade readers.

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].

John Baez, gay news, Washington Blade

John Baez (Photo courtesy of Baez)

Congratulations to John Baez named the Human Rights Campaign’s new vice president of marketing. HRC is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve equality for LGBTQ people.

Olivia Dalton, HRC’s senior vice president of communications and marketing, said, “In this role John will oversee marketing strategy, digital media efforts, and brand management. John is a creative and strategic thinker who brings more than 20 years of high-level experience in marketing, advertising and media. We are thrilled to have John on board helping to ensure we’re prepared to meet the challenges ahead in our fight for full equality.”

Baez previously worked for Viacom Velocity as vice president of marketing operations and strategy. He is the coauthor of “The Gay and Lesbian Guide to College Life.” He has also worked for Punkmouse as a founding partner and senior consultant.

Prior to that he worked for Clear Channel Advantage and was an adjunct lecturer and instructor at The City University of New York.

Congratulations also to Alex Misurella who recently moved to D.C. to become the Patron Services Associate at the Constellation Theatre Company. Constellation says its mission is, “to tell big, powerful stories in an intimate space. We spark curiosity and imagination with plays from all over the world that feature visual spectacle, original music, dynamic movement and passionate acting ensembles.” Constellation was founded in 2007 and its three eligible shows in 2017 received 19 Helen Hayes nominations.

Misurella brings real talent to his job. Although young he has already worked with a number of theater companies as an intern including Jacob’s Pillow and Barrington Stage Company. He has also been an administrator with Berkshire Pulse where he managed a dance studio. He graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s in theater from East Stroudsburg University where he received a President’s Outstanding Service Award.

Alex Misurella (Photo courtesy of Misurella)

Finally, congratulations also to Andy Garcia the next director of Creating Change for the National LGBTQ Task Force. In addition to running the annual Creating Change Conference, he will oversee the Creating Change Department, including its leadership development programming. The Creating Change Conference is the National LGBTQ Task Force’s annual gathering of nearly 4,000 advocates and activists, The Creating Change Conference is the foremost political, leadership, and skills-building conference for the LGBTQ social justice movement. Since 1988, Creating Change has created opportunities for thousands of committed people to develop and hone their skills, celebrate victories, build community, and to be inspired. More information can be found at CreatingChange.org.

Sue Hyde, founder of the conference, said, “It is my pleasure to welcome and celebrate Andy Garcia as he takes the wheel of the Creating Change Conference. His years and wealth of experiences and relationships in the LGBTQ movement will well serve Creating Change, the National LGBTQ Task Force, and the movement.”

Garcia previously worked with the Equality Federation as senior manager of leadership programs and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. He has held many roles within the LGBTQ movement including with the Pipeline Project and as program director at the Boston Alliance of GLBT Youth, including organizing the annual BAGLY Youth Prom, an event that annually draws 2,000 youth from throughout New England.

Andy Garcia (Photo courtesy of Garcia)

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Virginia

Va. students warn against ‘don’t say gay’ policies

New law requires parental notification of ‘sexually explicit content’ in classroom

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(Bigstock photo)

More than 600 students from across Virginia signed a letter from the Pride Liberation Project that calls for the Virginia Department of Education to clarify that teaching students about LGBTQ people and events is not “sexually explicit.”

Senate Bill 656, which Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed earlier this year, requires parents be notified when instructional materials contain “sexually explicit content” — without any input from students.

Current Virginia law defines “sexual conduct” as “masturbation, homosexuality, sexual intercourse, or physical contact in an act of apparent sexual stimulation or gratification.”

Because SB 656 does not itself specify what constitutes “sexually explicit content,” LGBTQ students and activists are concerned that the bill will rest on Virginia’s pre-existing definition of sexual conduct.

In their full letter, signees argued that “In effect, SB 656 can potentially be interpreted to define all references to people in same-sex relationships as inherently sexual.”

“Consequently, all references to LGBTQIA+ people in K-12 schools, including Supreme Court cases, historical events impacting LGBTQIA+ people, and discussions about queer authors, may be deemed as sexually explicit content under SB 656, effectively erasing LGBTQIA+ representation in our school curriculum,” reads the Pride Liberation Project’s press release.

Representation has been shown to positively increase academic performance, and LGBTQ youth already face exacerbated risks of suicide and mental health crisis. In Virginia specifically, the vast majority of LGBTQ students reported hearing anti-LGBTQ remarks at school, and 26 percent of LGBTQ students reported being “disciplined for public displays of affection (PDA) that did not result in similar action for non-LGBTQ students.” 

 “Most of my LGBTQIA+ friends are already struggling with their mental health,” said one Loudoun County student in the Pride Liberation Project press release. “I’m scared about the message these guidelines could send and losing the already limited affirming representation in my class.” 

Another student from Richmond said that they “didn’t want to see their friends who are from homes that aren’t accepting not see themselves reflected at school.” 

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District of Columbia

SMYAL announces new executive director

Erin Whelan to start Sept. 1

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Erin Whelan (Photo courtesy of SMYAL)

SMYAL on Thursday announced Erin Whelan will become the organization’s new executive director on Sept. 1.

SMYAL’s mission is to support and empower LGBTQ youth ages 6-24.

A press release that announces Whelan’s appointment notes the organization over the last five years has grown “exponentially.” Its services include affirming programs, housing support, leadership training and mental health services, designed to help LGBTQ youth develop advocacy skills and an educated, welcoming community.   

Whelan most recently served as the director of housing and homeless services at LifeWorks, an Austin, Texas,-based nonprofit that provides youth with housing and services. She has worked in nonprofit management for almost 20 years, and SMYAL’s press release highlighted her commitment to antiracism, equity and the LGBTQ community. 

“Erin Whelan is a compassionate and strong leader who I am confident is the right person to lead SMYAL,” board chair Rob Cogorno said. “I could not be more proud of the tremendous growth in services for our LGBTQ youth and of the SMYAL staff’s hard work that made that growth possible. Erin’s extensive experience in service to youth in need and her passion for that work will help guide SMYAL in continuing its excellent work in this challenging time for LGBTQ youth in our region and across the country.” 

Whelan in the press release shared her enthusiasm for stepping into leadership with this driving purpose. 

“I am beyond excited and honored to join SMYAL as the new executive director. My work has been committed to understanding and seeing the world through the lens of the most marginalized youth and young adults and being a fierce advocate for LGBTQ youth,” Whelan said. “I believe all LGBTQ youth deserve an opportunity to build a life they love and a chance to feel celebrated and affirmed for exactly who they are and strive to be. From the moment I stepped into the SMYAL community, it felt like exactly where I wanted to be. SMYAL creates a community for queer and trans youth where they can feel radically accepted and safe to step into their true selves.” 

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National

Judge: West Virginia Medicaid must cover transgender care

Fain v. Crouch is litigation challenging blanket exclusions of coverage for gender-confirming care in West Virginia’s state health plans

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A U.S. District Court judge ruled Tuesday that West Virginia’s Medicaid program could no longer discriminate by excluding coverage for gender-confirming surgical care for transgender West Virginia Medicaid participants. 

U.S. District Court Judge Robert C. Chambers also certified the lawsuit as a class action, covering all transgender West Virginians who participate in Medicaid.  In the lawsuit brought in November of 2020 by Lambda Legal, Nichols Kaster, and The Employment Law Center, the plantiffs challenged the state’s ban on gender-confirming care in West Virginia’s Medicaid and state employee health plans.

“We applaud Judge Chamber’s decision to remove the discriminatory barrier to accessing medically necessary, gender-confirming surgical care for all transgender West Virginia Medicaid participants. Protecting and advancing health care for transgender people is vital, sound, and just. Transgender West Virginia Medicaid participants deserve to have equal access to the same coverage for medically necessary healthcare that cisgender Medicaid participants receive as a matter of course,” said Avatara Smith-Carrington, Staff Attorney at Lambda Legal. 

Fain v. Crouch is a class action litigation challenging blanket exclusions of coverage for gender-confirming care in West Virginia’s state health plans. The blanket exclusions of coverage for care are stated expressly in the health plans offered to Medicaid participants and to state employees. West Virginia’s state health plans serve approximately 564,000 Medicaid participants and15,000 state employees.

“I am excited to finally have access to the healthcare I deserve. The exclusion negatively affects my health and wellbeing as well as the health and wellbeing of other transgender Medicaid participants in our community. Gender-confirming care is healthcare, and it is lifesaving,” said plaintiff Shauntae Anderson, West Virginia Medicaid participant.  

“This is a victory not only for me but for other transgender Medicaid participants across West Virginia. This decision is validating, confirming that after years of fighting to prove that gender-confirming care is medically necessary, we should have access to the same services that West Virginia Medicaid already provides to cisgender participants. Transgender West Virginians should never feel as if our lives are worth less than others,” said plaintiff Christopher Fain, West Virginia Medicaid participant. 

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