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Virginia ‘ex-gay’ group to defy new ban on conversion therapy

‘Brothers on a Road Less Traveled’ maintains it doesn’t accept minors

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People Can Change, Inc. abruptly ‘rebranded’ to Brothers Road after a complaint by LGBT advocacy groups. (Screen capture via YouTube)

A Virginia-based group that runs personal workshops for gay men “who are conflicted over their same-sex attractions” said Tuesday it has no plans whatsoever to cease or change operations in the aftermath of Gov. Ralph Northam signing into law a prohibition on widely discredited conversion therapy.

“I don’t see how this applies to us at all,” said Rich Wyler, founder and director of “Brothers on a Road Less Traveled,” one of the more prominent groups that conducts programs seen as reparative therapy and promises men an alternative to identifying as gay.

Asked by the Washington Blade to affirm that means “Brothers on a Road Less Traveled” won’t change anything in aftermath of the new Virginia law, Wyler replied, “That’s correct.”

Northam on Tuesday signed the bill prohibiting conversion therapy for youth, making Virginia the first state in the South with such a ban. A total of 20 states and D.C. have similar laws on the books.

The practice of therapy aimed at changing an individual’s sexual orientation or transgender status is considered ineffectual at best and harmful at worst. Major medical and psychological institutions — including American Psychological Association, the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics — widely reject the practice.

But Wyler via email to the Washington Blade rejected on two grounds the idea the new Virginia law applies to “Brothers on a Road Less Traveled,” even though the organization is headquartered in Ruckersville, Va.

First, Wyler disputed the idea the organization offers “conversion therapy” as prohibited under the new Virginia law.

Instead, Wyler called the organization a “peer-support group” and said it runs “personal-growth workshops especially for men who are conflicted over their SSA who are looking for peace within the boundaries of their faith and values.”

Second, Wyler insisted the group has “never allowed minors in our program nor reached out to them in any way,” pointing to a post on the organization’s website asserting “Brothers on a Road Less Traveled” requires all participants to be at least age 21 and the average age is 36. 

Bans on conversion therapy in other states also don’t seem have hampered “Brothers on a Road Less Traveled,” which operates workshops across the nation and online through webinars. Among the states where an upcoming workshop is scheduled is Utah, where Gov. Gary Herbert recently prohibited conversion therapy for youth through regulation. 

“Brothers on a Road Less Traveled” also operates internationally. Another workshop is scheduled in Poland, which has become renowned for its homophobia now that one-third of the country has been designated as “LGBT-free zones.”

The new Virginia ban on conversion therapy, much like laws in other states, is limited in scope.

For starters, it applies only to medical and mental health practitioners, threatening to revoke their licenses if they engage in conversion therapy. Other organizations and individuals, including churches and clergy, are allowed to engage in the practice or otherwise LGBTQ people not to be LGBTQ.

Ministers would likely have a First Amendment right consistent with their religious beliefs to encourage LGBTQ people, including LGBTQ youth, to change their sexual orientation or gender identity despite those being innate characteristics.

Further, the measures apply only to youth. Even medical and mental health practitioners can offer conversion therapy to adults — and take money for the practice — if those adults on their own volition wish to undergo the practice despite evidence demonstrating it’s ineffective.

“No person licensed pursuant to this subtitle or who performs counseling as part of his training for any profession licensed pursuant to this subtitle shall engage in conversion therapy with a person under 18 years of age,” the Virginia law says. “Any conversion therapy efforts with a person under 18 years of age engaged in by a provider licensed in accordance with the provisions of this subtitle or who performs counseling as part of his training for any profession licensed pursuant to this subtitle shall constitute unprofessional conduct and shall be grounds for disciplinary action by the appropriate health regulatory board within the Department of Health Professions.”

Likely because they’re limited in scope, the state laws are uncontroversial. Numerous governors — Democratic and Republican alike — have signed them into law. Although former Maine Gov. Paul LePage vetoed the measure in the state, the move was corrected by subsequent Gov. Janet Mills, who signed the legislation into law.

Formerly known as “People Can Change,” the Virginia-based group “Brothers on a Road Less Traveled” has faced challenges to its operations before. In 2016, the Human Rights Campaign filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, accusing the group of illegally engaging in fraud. 

But years later, “Brothers on a Road Less Traveled” is still in operation and the only thing that appears to have changed about the organization is it’s name. The FTC has refused to comment to the Washington Blade on the state of the complaint filed by the Human Rights Campaign.

The Human Rights Campaign didn’t respond to the Blade’s request to comment on “Brothers on a Road Less Traveled” remaining in operation in the aftermath of the new Virginia law.

Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, warned “Brothers on a Road Less Traveled” it may still be running afoul of the law if it’s charging money for its practices.

“If they are not targeting minors, the law does not directly affect them; however, if they are charging money, they are likely violating Virginia’s consumer fraud laws and can be sued by anyone who pays them money in exchange for their bogus claims that they can help a gay person become straight,” Minter said. 

Minter concluded under its earlier moniker “People Can Change,” one of the group’s founders Dave Matheson has publicly admitted its claims it can help people change their sexual orientation are false.

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District of Columbia

D.C.’s Capital Pride to resume ‘large-scale’ outdoor events

Organizers say one of the largest ever parades and festivals set for June

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Happy days are here again? Scenes like this from 2019 could be back in 2022. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Capital Pride Alliance, the group that organizes D.C.’s annual LGBTQ Pride events, has announced on its website that it plans to resume the city’s Pride Parade and Festival in June 2022 that traditionally has attracted tens of thousands of participants after canceling the two events in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID pandemic.

“The Capital Pride Alliance is excited to announce the highly anticipated return of our annual large-scale outdoor Pride Celebration in June 2022!” the group says on its website. “Registration for the Capital Pride Parade on June 11, 2022, and the Capital Pride Festival on June 12, 2022, will be open soon,” the website message says.

Ryan Bos, the Capital Pride Alliance executive director, told the Washington Blade the group met with D.C. government officials on Monday to coordinate plans for the upcoming outdoor events in June. He said an updated announcement with more details of the events would be released later this week or early next week.

The Capital Pride website message focuses on the parade and festival.

“Join the LGBTQ+ community for the return of the historic Capital Pride Parade,” the website message says. “In 2022, a modified route will honor our history and acknowledge the evolution of the LGBTQ+ neighborhoods in Washington, DC, while respecting the origins and importance of taking to the streets in our fight for equality,” it says.

“Be prepared to experience one of the largest Pride Parades to ever take place in the United States Capital,” the message adds.

The message says the Pride Festival will resume at its traditional location on Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. near the U.S. Capitol that it refers to as America’s Mainstreet.

“Enjoy a full day of entertainment on three stages, food, drink and advocacy with over 300 exhibitors,” the website message says. “The Festival is the largest annual event in the national capital region,” the message continues, adding that the Capital Pride Concert will also return this year at its usual locations at the site of the festival.

“You will experience entertainment on three stages, from international headliners to our best local regional LGBTQ+ talent,” according to the Capital Pride website message. It says concert performances will take place from 12-10 p.m. And a “Capitol” Sunset Dance Party will take place at the festival site from 8-10 p.m.

“The concert may end but the dancing will continue,” the message says. “Enjoy the electronica sounds of an international DJ sensation while you dance in the middle of America’s Main Street on Pennsylvania Avenue, with the sun setting on the U.S. Capitol.”

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and the city’s public health officials ended the city’s COVID-related restrictions on the number of people allowed to attend outdoor events as well as indoor entertainment events last May as the number of COVID infections began to decline.

But as the number of Omicron variant cases of the COVID virus increased dramatically in the fall of 2021, the mayor resumed the requirement of the use of face masks in all indoor public places.

Also put in place earlier this month by the city was a requirement that restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and other entertainment establishments require customers to show proof of vaccination as a condition for admission to the establishments. Bowser, however, has said the city was not considering resuming restrictions on the number of people allowed in establishments such as restaurants and bars or outdoor stadiums.

Capital Pride Alliance has not said whether it will put in place a vaccination requirement for admission to the Pride festival and parade as well as some of its planned indoor events. With the number of Omicron related COVID cases beginning to drop in the past two weeks in D.C. and the surrounding suburbs, the prospect of a resumption in restrictions on the number of people allowed to assemble at outdoor events like the Pride Parade and Festival appears to be less likely.

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Virginia

Man who killed one in 2000 Roanoke gay bar shooting dies in prison

One of the worst bias attacks targeting LGBTQ community

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Ronald Edward Gay died while serving life sentences for attacking a Virginia gay bar. (Washington Blade clipping from Sept. 29, 2000)

A man sentenced to four consecutive life terms in prison for the September 2000 shooting at a gay bar in Roanoke, Va., in which one man lost his life and six others were wounded, died of natural causes on Jan. 15, according to the Virginia Department of Corrections.

A spokesperson for the Department of Corrections told WSLA 10 TV News that Ronald Edward Gay died while being treated at a hospital near the Deerfield Correctional Center, a state prison where he had been living as an inmate. He was 75. 

Witnesses and law enforcement officials reported at the time of the shooting that a middle-aged man later identified as Gay arrived alone at Roanoke’s Backstreet Café, a popular gay bar, on the night of Sept. 22, 2000.

According to an account by an eyewitness to the incident who spoke last week with the Roanoke Times newspaper, after ordering a beer and standing next to the bar for a short time, Gay reached into the long trench coat he was wearing, pulled out a 9mm pistol, and fired a round “straight into the chest of 43-year-old Danny Overstreet, before opening fire on the rest of the bar.”

Overstreet, a beloved regular patron at the Backstreet Café, died at the scene of the shooting. Six others, who were wounded by bullets fired by Gay, later recovered, but they and many others who were present and witnessed the shooting were left emotionally scarred, the Roanoke Times reported.

In the weeks following the shooting, news media outlets, including the Washington Blade and the Washington Post, reported findings of an investigation by local police that Gay told police he went to Backstreet specifically to target gay people because he became bitter after years of being taunted and teased for his last name of “Gay.”

The Roanoke Times reported that, among other things, Gay told police “God told him to do it” and that he once wrote that there was an evil inside of him telling him “to shoot or have no rest.”

Gay later pleaded guilty to multiple charges against him, including murder. On July 23, 2001, he was sentenced to four consecutive life sentences in prison for the shooting incident and the murder of Overstreet.

The Backstreet incident in Roanoke was considered by LGBTQ rights advocates and others to be one of the worst incidents in which LGBTQ people were targeted for a shooting until the June 2016 shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., in which 49 people died and 53 more were wounded in a mass shooting by 29-year-old Omar Mateen.

Mateen, who was shot and killed by Orlando police after a three-hour standoff, told police in a phone call from inside the nightclub after the shooting began that he swore allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and his attack against the gay nightclub was motivated by the U.S. military intervention in Iraq and Syria. The FBI later classified the incident as a terrorist attack.

The Roanoke Times reported that the shooting incident at Backstreet Café prompted LGBTQ residents and allies to gather in the days and weeks after the incident for vigils and marches. About 1,000 people walked through the streets of downtown Roanoke to honor the life of Overstreet and to urge Congress to pass federal hate crimes legislation, the newspaper reported.

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Local

Va. senator introduces anti-transgender student athlete bill

Democrats have vowed to thwart anti-LGBTQ measures in state Senate

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A Virginia lawmaker has introduced a bill that would ban transgender students from joining school sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity.

Senate Bill 766, which state Sen. Jennifer Kiggans (R-Virginia Beach) introduced on Friday, would require “each elementary or secondary school or a private school that competes in sponsored athletic events against such public schools to designate athletic teams, whether a school athletic team or an intramural team sponsored by such school, based on biological sex as follows: (i) ‘males,’ ‘men,’ or ‘boys’; (ii) ‘females,’ ‘women,’ or ‘girls’; or (iii) ‘coed’ or ‘mixed.'”

“Under the bill, male students are not permitted to participate on any school athletic team or squad designated for ‘females,’ ‘women,’ or ‘girls’; however, this provision does not apply to physical education classes at schools,” adds the bill. “The bill provides civil penalties for students and schools that suffer harm as a result of a violation of the bill. Such civil actions are required to be initiated within two years after the harm occurred.”

Kiggans introduced her bill less than a week after Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin took office.

Youngkin during his campaign said he does not support allowing trans children to play on sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity. Elizabeth Schultz, an anti-LGBTQ former member of the Fairfax County School Board, has been named the Virginia Department of Education’s Assistant Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The General Assembly’s 2022 legislative session began on Jan. 12 with Republicans in control of the state House of Delegates. Democrats still control the state Senate, and they have pledged to thwart any anti-LGBTQ bills.

“Let’s be clear: This is part of an ongoing, nationwide effort to exclude trans people from enjoying the benefits of sports like their cisgender peers,” tweeted the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia on Friday after Kiggans introduced SB 766. “We won’t tolerate this.”

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