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Blade Foundation awards two journalism fellowships

Students to spend 12 weeks learning, reporting



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The Blade Foundation, a non-profit that works to educate the next generation of LGBTQ journalists and to fund enterprise projects into queer topics, announced this week it has awarded two $2,000 fellowships to aspiring journalists.

The first is a reporting fellowship focused on topics of interest to the D.C. LGBTQ community funded by a grant from the DC Front Runners Pride Run Foundation, which presented the Foundation with a $2,000 donation at last June’s Pride Run 5K.

The fellowship goes to Michelle Siegel, who is studying multi-platform investigative journalism at the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism.

“I moved to the Washington, D.C. area last year in hope of finding the support system of resources, mentors and fellow LGBTQ journalists that I never had out in rural Michigan, so receiving a Blade Foundation Reporting Fellowship is, quite literally, my dream come true,” Siegel said. “I am grateful to the Blade Foundation and the DC Front Runners for making this opportunity available to me, and I am excited to become a better reporter through working with the Blade.”

“We are thrilled to support the Blade Reporting Fellowship through proceeds from the DC Front Runners Pride Run Foundation. We offer our warmest congratulations to Michelle upon her selection and wish her well as she pursues her journalism studies with this valuable hands-on experience at the Blade Foundation,” said Pride Run Foundation Directors Rob Geremia and Ivan Cheung.

Siegel will start her fellowship in March and work for 12 weeks mentored by Blade staff.

The second fellowship is the Blade Foundation Steve Elkins Memorial Journalism Fellowship, named in honor of Elkins, a journalist and co-founder of the CAMP Rehoboth LGBT community center, who passed away in March 2018. Elkins served as editor of Letters from CAMP Rehoboth in Delaware for many years as well as executive director of the center.

The fellow covers issues of interest to the LGBTQ community of Delaware for 12 weeks during the summer months. Topics include coverage of legislative and political issues out of Dover; LGBTQ business issues in Wilmington; the summer beach season in Rehoboth and more. Stories are published in the Washington Blade online and print editions. The fellowship is funded by Rehoboth community donations at an annual summer kickoff event in May. This year’s event is slated for May 15. Details to come soon.

The Elkins Memorial fellowship goes to Joshua Keller, a student at Washington University in St. Louis and native of Northern Virginia. His fellowship will commence in late May.

“I feel so honored to receive the Steve Elkins Memorial Fellowship,” Keller said. “I look forward to working with the Blade and Delaware’s LGBTQ community.”

“I can only imagine how excited Steve would be to know the Fellowship named in his honor will continue to support young journalists,” said Murray Archibald, Elkins’s husband and co-founder of CAMP Rehoboth. “I look forward to congratulating Joshua in person, and sharing with him a little of Steve’s passion for his life’s work.”

Kevin Naff, executive director of the Blade Foundation, congratulated the students and thanked donors.

“First, congratulations to Michelle and Joshua, we look forward to seeing what they can do this spring in highlighting the stories of our community,” Naff said. “And thank you to everyone at Front Runners for donating to the Blade Foundation and thanks to the generous LGBTQ community in Rehoboth Beach for opening their wallets to fund this important work.”

To donate to the Blade Foundation, please visit

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

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



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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



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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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



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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