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LGBTQ rights advocate John Burlison dies at 69

Served as co-chair of Maryland’s Free State Justice

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Burlison, gay news, Washington Blade
John S. Burlison was co-chair of Free State Justice Campaign.

John S. Burlison, a resident of North Bethesda, Md. who worked as a technical editor and writer and later as a software products manager and who served in the 1990s as a board member and co-chair of the Maryland LGBTQ rights group Free State Justice Campaign, died March 18 at his home of complications associated with abdominal cancer. He was 69.

Burlison was born in Moscow, Idaho, and attended high school in Potlach, Idaho before graduating from the University of Idaho with a bachelor’s degree in Speech Communication, according to a write-up released by his husband, Ron Dagani.

He studied at Illinois State University before beginning his professional career as a technical editor and writer at Battelle-Northwest Laboratories in Richland, Wash. He moved to Washington, D.C. in 1983 where he met Dagani, and the two have resided together in Maryland since 1984, the write-up says. Burlison and Dagani were married in 2013 on the 30th anniversary of their meeting each other.

According to Dagani, Burlison worked for several companies in the D.C. area that provide contract work for the federal government as a usability consultant and later as a software product manager. Among the firms he worked for were Computer Sciences Corporation and General Sciences Corporation.

He worked for the Federal National Mortgage Association known as Fannie Mae from 1997 until his retirement in 2007, Dagani’s write-up says.

The write-up, which Dagani said was prepared mostly by Burlison, notes that Burlison served for a number of years in the 1990s on the board of the Free State Justice Campaign and served for two years as the then Maryland gay rights organization’s co-chair as it advocated for LGBTQ rights legislation before the Maryland General Assembly. The organization later became Equality Maryland.

In the early 2000s Burlison took up square dancing with the D.C. Lambda Squares, an LGBTQ square dancing club for which he served on its board for nine years, the write-up says. He was an avid cyclist and traveled with friends on extended bicycle trips along the U.S. East Coast and throughout central Europe.

Dagani said religion and faith were an important part of Burlison’s life and that presented a conflict with his status as a proud gay man. According to Dagani, Burlison grew up in a religious Methodist home in Idaho but converted to the Mormon faith in the early 1970s shortly before he married a Mormon woman in 1973 who had been his childhood sweetheart, Susan Comstock.

The couple, who had four children, divorced while living in Washington State around the time Burlison was working for Battelle-Northwest Laboratories. Dagani said Mormon Church officials had earlier told Burlison, who loved his wife and told her he was gay before they married, that getting married would solve his “gay problem.” But church officials later excommunicated Burlison for homosexuality and “apostasy,” Dagani said.

When his wife remarried she and her new husband took legal action to arrange for the husband to adopt the children and deny parental rights for Burlison, Dagani said. But despite this trying experience, years later while living in Maryland in a fulfilling relationship with Dagani, Burlison returned to the Mormon Church in what turned out to be a supportive Kensington Ward congregation in Maryland near his and Dagani’s home.

“At first it was awkward and surreal – people who are rejected by a church do not normally re-enter the good graces of that community,” Dagani wrote in a draft obituary he plans to deliver when the coronavirus epidemic subsides and a memorial service for Burlison can be held. “But with time he found a place in the Kensington Ward, which he found to be warm, loving, and accepting of both of us,” Dagani wrote. “As one ward member told me recently, ‘John has touched the lives of so many current and past ward members,’” Dagani recounted.

Burlison also became involved with the LGBTQ Mormon group Affirmation, Dagani said.

“John was a sweet, gentle, loving, soft-spoken man with a whimsical sense of humor,” Dagani told the Washington Blade. “He was modest, often referring to himself as ‘an Idaho country farm boy.’ That he was, but he was also intelligent, smart, well-read, and curious about the world.”

Dagani, who noted that Burlison’s close friends addressed him by the nickname Happy, said he will miss his husband for his many talents, including his cooking and his “wacky, whimsical sense of humor…Most of all, though, I will miss his love. He was truly the love of my life,” said Dagani. “Thank you, Happy.”

Burlison was predeceased by his brother, Vernon Burlison Jr. In addition to his husband Ron Dagani, Burlison is survived by his siblings Grace Burlison Wallace, Frank Burlison, Katherine Clancy, Stephen Burlison, Patricia Finn, and John Michael Finn; his four children, Timothy Mauery, Sarah Mauery Foutz, Vernon Mauery, and Mary Mauery Haeberle; 23 grandchildren; and many friends.

Dagani said a celebration of Burlison’s life will be scheduled at a later date.

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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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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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Anti-LGBTQ group claims Va. marriage amendment repeal will legalize polygamy

State Sen. Adam Ebbin rejected claim during committee hearing

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(Bigstock photo)

A representative of an anti-LGBTQ group on Tuesday said the repeal of Virginia’s constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman would pave the way for the legalization of polygamy in the state.

“There are some, at least, very legitimate concerns about whether this would actually legalize polygamy, among other forms of marriage,” said Family Foundation of Virginia Legal Counsel Josh Hetzler.

Hetzler made the comment during a Virginia Senate Privileges and Elections Committee hearing on state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria)’s resolution to repeal the Marshall-Newman Amendment. Ebbin, who is the only openly gay member of the Virginia Senate, in response to the claim noted polygamy is a crime under Virginia and federal law.

“I take offense to the Family Foundation’s characterization that this would allow polygamy,” said Ebbin. “This has nothing to do with polygamy, what this has to do with is equality.”

Carol Schall, who, along with her wife, Mary Townley, joined a federal lawsuit that paved the way for marriage equality in Virginia, and outgoing Equality Virginia Executive Director Vee Lamneck are among those who testified in support of the resolution. The committee approved it by a 10-5 vote margin.

Virginia voters approved the Marshall-Newman Amendment in 2006.

Same-sex couples have been able to legally marry in Virginia since 2014.

The General Assembly last year approved a resolution that seeks to repeal the Marshall-Newman Amendment. It must pass in two successive legislatures before it can go to the ballot.

Ebbin earlier this month told the Washington Blade he remains “hopeful” the resolution will pass in the Democratic-controlled state Senate. Prospects that the resolution will pass in the Republican-controlled state House of Delegates are far less certain.

Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin before his election reiterated his opposition to marriage equality. Youngkin, however, stressed it is “legally acceptable” in Virginia and he would “support that” as governor.

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