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Critics falsely claim LGBTQ books promote pedophilia in Fairfax schools

Complaints by parents prompt removal of two titles for ‘detailed review’

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‘Lawn Boy’ by Jonathan Evison is one of two books targeted by critics in Fairfax.

A leader of a group that advocates for LGBTQ students in the Fairfax County, Va., public school system expressed concern this week that misinformed parents and news media outlets were incorrectly reporting that two controversial LGBTQ-themed books available in high school libraries promoted pedophilia. 

Following strong objections to the books by parents at a Sept. 23 meeting of the Fairfax County School Board, officials with Fairfax County Public Schools announced they had removed the books from the school libraries to reassess their suitability for high school students. 

The two books, “Lawn Boy,” a novel by author Jonathan Evison, and “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” which is described as an illustrated autobiography by non-binary author Maia Kobabe, each contain graphic descriptions of sexual acts. But supporters and opponents of the books strongly disagree over whether those depicted as having sex in books include children having sex with an adult.

During the Fairfax School Board meeting last week, Stacy Langton, a parent of two students attending a Fairfax County high school, described in detail a passage from “Lawn Boy” in which the book’s lead character tells a friend that when he was 10 years old, he engaged in oral sex with “the real estate guy” named Doug. 

Langston told school board members and many parents attending the meeting that the passage in “Lawn Boy,” “describes a fourth-grade boy performing oral sex on an adult male.” She said the other book, “Gender Queer,” “has detailed illustrations of a man having sex with a boy.” 

Robert Rigby, co-president of Fairfax Public Schools Pride, an LGBTQ advocacy group, strongly disputes Langston’s claims that the books depict sex between adults and children.

“I have read them cover to cover and this is simply not true,” he told the Washington Blade.

The Blade couldn’t immediately obtain copies of the two books, which have been sold out at local bookstores. Rigby, however, provided the Blade with excerpts of other passages of “Lawn Boy” that he said Langston and others attacking the book either have not read or have chosen to ignore. Those passages make it clear that the person with whom the fourth-grade boy had sex was another boy his own age that took place years earlier and there are no passages in “Lawn Boy” where adults have sex with children.

One of the passages from the book that opponents did not read at the school board meeting includes the book’s main character, Mike Munoz, telling how he liked going to a Bible study class as a 10-year-old kid because the boy he later says he had sex with was also attending the class. 

“All told, there were eight or nine other kids, including my hero, Doug Goble, long before he became the hottest real-estate agent in Kitsap County.”

Rigby said he and others who have read and viewed the illustrations in “Gender Queer” do not believe the comic book style drawings depicting sexual acts include a child having sex with an adult as claimed by opponents of the books.

“The scene published is a scene between genderqueer adults in their early 20s,” Rigby said. “Someone pointed out an imagined scene of a Greek vase in which some folks brought up the idea of Ancient Greek ‘pederasty,’” said Rigby, who added that the book could not be interpreted to show an adult having sex with a juvenile. “Instead, a genderqueer person is imagining themselves a genderqueer person in the scene,” he said.

“Our position on the books controversy is that it is not so much about the books,” said Rigby. “It is an effort to continue the crisis about schools over the next few months targeting libraries and LGBTQIA+ people,” with the aim, he said, to drive up conservative turnout for the November Virginia gubernatorial election. “We have seen this movie before in Fairfax,” he said.

Langston, the parent who spoke at the school board meeting, said she and other parents consider the two books to be a form of pornography because they include explicit descriptions or illustrations of sexual acts regardless of who is engaging in those acts.

“I’m not one of those activist moms or disgruntled moms,” she stated in an interview with Fox News. “This is not about being anti-gay, anti-trans or whatever. I would have been there and said every single word I said if this had been the depiction of a heterosexual couple with heterosexual acts – pornography is pornography and I don’t care what the gender is,” she told Fox News.

“And by the way, it’s even worse that the pornography involves children,” she said. “That takes it to a whole other level of evil.”

The Fairfax Public Schools released a statement announcing it had suspended circulation of the two books from its libraries.

“FCPS is in the process of convening two committees made up of staff, students and parents led by our Library Services Coordinator to assess the suitability of both texts for inclusion in our high school libraries,” the statement says. “The recommendation of the committees will be put forward to the Assistant Superintendent of Instructional Services who will make a final decision as to whether FCPS continues to provide access to these books in our high school libraries,” it says.

Both books have received the American Library Association’s Alex Award, an annual award that recognizes the year’s “ten books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults ages 12 through 18,” according to the Associated Press.  

A review by the publication Book Browse describes “Lawn Boy” as a “funny, angry, touching, and ultimately deeply inspiring novel” that takes the reader “into the heart and mind of a young man on a journey to discover himself, a search to find the secret to achieving the American dream of happiness and prosperity.”

A review by the Cartoon Art Museum based in San Francisco describes “Gender Queer” as an “intensely cathartic autobiography” by author Maia Kobabe that tells of a “journey of self-identity, which includes the mortification and confusion of adolescent crushes, grappling with how to come out to family and society.” The review says that the book, which starts as a way for the author to explain what it means to be nonbinary and asexual, becomes more than just a personal story.

“It is a useful and touching guide on gender identity – what it means and how to think about it – for advocates, friends, and humans everywhere.”

Rigby and Fairfax County School Board member Karl Frisch, who is gay, have said they have become the target of hostile social media postings by opponents of the two books. The Associated Press reported that Frisch “offered a defense of sorts” for the two books in a Twitter message he posted following the school board meeting in which the subject of the books came up. 

He stated, “nothing will disrupt our Board’s commitment to LGBTQIA+ students, families and staff. Nothing,” the AP quoted his message as saying. But the AP said he wasn’t explicit about whether his tweet was referring to the attacks against the two books and he declined comment when contacted by the AP.

“The past 36 hours have been surreal,” Frisch stated in another social media posting. “Led by a local, right-wing, anti-schools advocate who claimed I was defending pornography and perversion, I’ve received nearly 1,000 comments, emails, voicemails, etc. from around the world attacking me as some sort of child predator,” he wrote. 

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Virginia

Va. Senate subcommittee tables anti-transgender student athlete bill

Virginia Beach Republican introduced SB 766

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transgender, Gender Conference East, trans, transgender flag, gay news, Washington Blade
(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A Virginia Senate subcommittee on Thursday tabled a bill that would have banned 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 earlier this month, would have required “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.’”

“SB 766 (trans sports ban) was passed by indefinitely (it died!) after a long line of speakers testified against it, affirming trans students’ rights to participate in sports just like their cisgender peers,” tweeted the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia after the vote. “Trans students belong in sports. Period.”

Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin during his campaign said he does not support allowing trans children to play on sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity.

The General Assembly’s 2022 legislative session began on Jan. 12 with Republicans in control of the House of Delegates. Democrats still control the Senate by a 21-19 margin.

A bill that would have eliminated the requirement that school districts implement the Virginia Department of Education’s trans and non-binary student guidelines died in a Senate subcommittee on Thursday. The Senate General Laws and Technology on Thursday also tabled a religious freedom measure that would have undermined Virginia’s LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination law.

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Maryland

Hyattsville mayor dies by suicide

Kevin Ward and husband adopted son in D.C. in 2012

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Hyattsville Mayor Kevin Ward (Photo courtesy of the city of Hyattsville)

The city of Hyattsville released a statement on Wednesday afternoon announcing that their city’s openly gay Mayor Kevin Ward had died one day earlier by an apparent suicide.

“The city of Hyattsville reports with great sadness that our beloved Mayor Kevin Ward passed away yesterday, Jan. 25, from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound,” the statement says.

“Mayor Ward was a valued and trusted leader and a fierce advocate for all the people of Hyattsville,” the statement continues. “We are heartbroken at this loss and extend our deepest sympathy to the mayor’s family,” it says.

“No further information is available at this time,” the statement adds. “Details about services and remembrances will be shared when they are available.”

The Washington Post reported that U.S. Park Police disclosed that Ward was found deceased in Fort Marcy Park in McLean, Va., with a “self-inflicted gunshot wound.”

Ward, 44, became acting mayor of Hyattsville on Jan. 1, 2021, following the resignation of former Mayor Candace Hollingsworth. He was next in line to become mayor under the city’s political system in his then-position as president of the Hyattsville City Council.

He won election to complete the remainder of Hollingsworth’s term through 2023 in a May 11, 2021, special election, receiving 57.8 percent of the vote in a three candidate race, according to the Hyattsville election board. His closest opponent, Joseph Solomon, received 31.7 percent of the vote.

Nearby fellow gay mayors — Patrick Wojahn of College Park and Jeffrey Slavin of Somerset — said they got to know Ward through Maryland political circles and thought very highly of him.

“He was insightful, smart and dedicated,” Wojahn said. “He always seemed very confident and together as a person. And he had a great sense of humor.”

Slavin said he shared that remembrance of Ward, adding that he found Ward to be a “very nice person” dedicated to the people he served both as mayor and during his two terms on the Hyattsville City Council.

“There was noting in his public life that would have predicted this,” said Slavin in referring to Ward’s sudden passing.

The Washington Blade first reported on Ward in 2012 in a feature story on Ward and his then-domestic partner Chad Copeland when the two attended a ceremony at the D.C. Superior Court to complete the process of adopting their then-5-year-old son Norman. Ward and Copeland were among several gay couples who had their adoption papers signed by a judge at the ceremony.

On the website for his mayoral election campaign last year Ward said he and his family made Hyattsville their home in 2014 after he and his husband adopted their two sons.

“I am a pretty straightforward person,” he said in message to voters on his campaign website. “I believe in listening more than talking. But when I talk, I am not one to mince words or tell people what they want to hear,” he said. “I believe in doing the work. I believe that if I can help someone, then I can change her or his life,” he continued.

“This is why I dedicated my career to providing the best technology to education and to human services, to help as many people as I can,” he said.  

Ward was referring to his career in the field of educational and human services technology.

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District of Columbia

ANC supports license for Capitol Hill LGBTQ bar

Lesbian owners back ‘settlement agreement’ with restrictions on hours

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AYA, gay news, Washington Blade
Rachel Pike and Jo McDaniel are the bar industry veterans behind As You Are Bar. (Photo courtesy Pike and McDaniel)

The Capitol Hill Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6B voted unanimously on Tuesday night to support a liquor license for the LGBTQ-owned As You Are Bar, which plans to open in a two-story building at 500 8th St., S.E. in a commercial section of Capitol Hill known as Barracks Row.

The ANC’s decision to support the license took place at a virtual meeting attended by nearby residents and supporters of the bar after its owners, lesbian activists Jo McDaniel and Rachel Pike, agreed to the terms of an ANC settlement agreement that calls for restrictions in the hours the bar can offer dancing, entertainment, and music from a DJ.

The agreement means the ANC will not file a protest against the license before the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, a development that would have delayed a decision on the license by the ABC Board by as much as seven months. A protest by the ANC could have cost the bar thousands of dollars in legal fees to contest the protest by providing legal arguments seeking the approval of the license.

The ABC Board makes the final decision on whether to approve all liquor licenses in the city.

McDaniel and Pike have said they plan to operate an upstairs dance bar during evening hours and a café on the first floor during the day as well as in the evenings that will be an inclusive space that “welcomes anyone of any walk of life that will support, love, and celebrate the mission of queer culture.”

The two, who are business and life partners, say As You Are Bar will welcome people of all ages, genders, sexual orientations and gender identities as well as drinkers and non-drinkers as customers.

They have also told the ANC and nearby residents they have taken steps to soundproof the building, which they are renting, to ensure their plans to operate a dance bar with music from a DJ on the second floor will not disturb nearby residents.

Under terms of the settlement agreement, which was posted on the ANC’s website prior to the start of the meeting, the bar’s operating hours will be from 12 p.m. to 12 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and 12 p.m. to 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. Under D.C. law, bars are allowed to remain open for the sale of alcoholic beverages until 2 a.m. during weekdays and 3 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

The Settlement Agreement further calls for As You Are Bar to restrict the hours of consumption of alcohol from 12 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 12 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. It calls for allowing live entertainment and dancing (indoors only) from 12 p.m. to 12 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and from 12 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.

However, the agreement says DJ and amplified music will not be permitted after 8 p.m. on weekdays.

 McDaniel told the Blade that at the request of As You Are Bar’s attorney Richard Bianco, the ANC agreed to modify that restriction at the Tuesday night meeting to allow the bar to play “conversational” background music after 8 p.m. until closing time on weekdays.

 Among other things, the agreement requires the bar comply with a noise mitigation provision to “ensure that sound, noise, and vibrations are not audible or felt beyond the curb or any other premises at any time.” It also calls on the bar to provide an “appropriate number of staff” to monitor patrons as they leave the bar through the 8th Street entrance to “prevent loud voices and littering.”

Under rules established by the ABC Board and the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration or ABRA, if a settlement agreement is reached between an applicant for a liquor license and the ANC, a protest against the license by groups of five or more citizens is not allowed. Protests could still be filed by community-based civic groups and residents of an “abutting” house or residential facility.

In the case of As You Are Bar, no citizens group has emerged to oppose the license. There is just one abutting townhouse on E Street whose owner has expressed general support for the settlement agreement, according to McDaniel. But the resident has indicated she will not rule out a possible protest until Feb. 7, which is the deadline for filing a protest under ABRA’s rules.

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