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Va. candidate calls conversion therapy ban, trans student policies ‘overreach’

Republican Bob Frizzelle is running against Del. Karrie Delaney

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Bob Frizzelle (Screen capture via YouTube)

The Republican who is seeking to unseat Virginia state Del. Karrie Delaney (D-Fairfax County), challenged her on social media for supporting a law that bans so-called conversion therapy for minors and efforts to protect transgender students from bullying and harassment.

Bob Frizzelle tweeted on Sept. 28 a video stating Virginia’s “new progressive laws” limit parents’ right to know if their child “changes their gender in school” or their right to take their child to “gender counseling.”

On Instagram and Facebook, Frizzelle criticized what he later told the Washington Blade was “overreach” by the state, and called out Delaney for supporting legislation that he felt stood between parents and their duty to ensure their children’s wellbeing.

“You have a minor child under the care and guidance of their parents until they reach 18 and the state steps in and decides what is allowed and not allowed in terms of gender counseling,” Frizzelle said.

“It seems conversion therapy is an exercise in cruelty and torture, and I’m not advocating that either, I wouldn’t want that,” he said. “But this is about counseling and parents being the main authority over what is best for their child instead of the state.”

The American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association and a host of therapeutic professional organizations oppose the use conversion therapy, stating it is ineffective, harmful and not evidence-based.

Currently, 20 states and numerous localities, including D.C., ban the use of this discredited practice.

Delaney voted for House Bill 386, sponsored by state Del. Patrick Hope (D-Arlington County), and helped make Virginia the first Southern state to ban conversion therapy for minors.

“For the record, I’m proud to have taken that vote,” Delaney told the Blade. “It’s a debunked, unethical practice that is proven to harm children.”

“In my view, it’s akin to fraud,” added Sasha Buchert, senior attorney for Lambda Legal’s D.C. office. “They’re attempting to implement a practice that has been shown not to provide effective treatment and is grounded not in science and medicine but in ideology.”

But, contrary to Frizzelle’s claim, parents can still take their children to LGBTQ counseling.

Both Delaney and Buchert emphasized the conversion therapy ban does not prevent parents from taking their children to a licensed therapist if they are struggling with understanding their gender identity or sexual orientation. They agreed that therapy must be evidence-based and proven, not abusive, or according to Buchert, “torture.”

According to a lawsuit filed in New Jersey in 2015 in which victims successfully shut down a religious organization practicing conversion therapy despite the state’s ban, “therapy” sessions involved “humiliating” acts, including reliving past abuse and enduring homophobic slurs as part of “talk therapy.”

“Remember, we’re talking about children,” Delaney said. “Hearing from some of those survivors, it’s pretty horrific.”

Last year, Delaney was one of four Democrats who killed House Bill 966, sponsored by state Del. Wendell Walker (R-Lynchburg), that would have allowed conversion therapy for minors if counseling involved “nothing more than ‘talk therapy.’”

“Anyone with any experience in this field knows it doesn’t have to be a physical type of therapy to do harm,” Delaney said. “‘Talk’ is a powerful tool. We license professions if there is harm that can be done. That applies to therapists in Virginia.”

Frizzelle also challenged Delaney’s support for the Virginia Department of Education model policies for protecting trans students from bullying and harassment in school. 

He said the policies enable schools to change a student’s information in their records, such as their pronouns, without notifying parents.

“I haven’t read the trans statute,” Frizzelle admitted candidly. “But I think the school may tell the parents only if it wants to. The school then gets to decide to tell parents, if it wants to, if there is a significant event regarding their child. Should the school have this discretion?”

However, nothing in the governing statute passed last year prevents parents from receiving information about their child, according to Delaney, who was one of the House bill’s numerous sponsors.

“This bill does not take away any parental rights,” Delaney said. “Parents are not barred from having access to information about their students. There’s nothing in this law that says parents cannot be informed about their student.”

Delaney pointed out the purpose of the statute is to direct the state Department of Education and local school boards to develop policies that, according to its text, “address common issues regarding transgender students in accordance with evidence-based best practices.”

The text also states school policies are to protect trans students in “compliance with applicable nondiscrimination laws.”

“The purpose of these policies is to maintain a safe and supportive learning environment that is free from harassment so these kids can learn,” Delaney said.

Buchert added that LGBTQ youth reported “in study after study” high rates of harassment, bullying and discrimination from other students, teachers and administrators, particularly if they also were students of color.

“It leads you to missing school, it makes you not want to come to your gym class, it makes you fearful and leaves you pushed out into the school-to-prison pipeline,” she said.

Buchert also looked at the student privacy aspect of the law as necessary to protect LGBTQ students until they are ready to come out to their friends and family.

She said part of protecting students is giving them a safe space to learn more about themselves and who they are in the world, instead of forcing them out of the closet before they are ready.

“Your family may not be prepared or well-suited to help you navigate those unique struggles,” Buchert said, pointing out that while some parents are understanding and supportive, others might push the child out of the home to fend for themselves.

“And that’s why the LGBTQ youth homeless rate is so high,” Buchert said. “Forcibly outing them before they or their families are ready can be extremely harmful. The things Frizzelle is supporting would cause serious harm to LGBTQ youth and their families.”

Both Virginia’s conversion therapy ban and trans student protections passed with bipartisan support, and Delaney said they were examples of legislators doing their job to protect vulnerable children in the commonwealth.

But Frizzelle was still uncomfortable with how he perceived rights were balanced in these bills.

“I think this is such a thorny issue because you want to treat everyone with respect,” Frizzelle told the Blade. “And the reason I made the video and I have the objection is I’m uncomfortable with parents being separated from their children’s care by the state like this. I think that is not the proper function of the state.”

Delaney pointed it this in fact is the proper role of the state: To protect children whom studies have shown to be vulnerable targets of harassment, discrimination and abuse.

“What we’re trying to do as a legislature is protect these children,” Delaney said. “And Frizzelle is dividing parents over a problem that is manufactured and not based in fact, and that is very sad.”

Equality Virginia Executive Director Vee Lamneck agreed that the government has the authority and the duty to protect vulnerable people from harm. They also stated the government has the additional responsibility of ensuring everyone can benefit equally from public goods, such as receiving an education free from harassment.

“The government has the authority—and is supposed to use it—to protect vulnerable people from harm,” Lamneck said. “Laws that ensure transgender students can benefit from public education, and that LGBTQ young people are not subjected to practices that are known to cause lasting psychological damage, fall squarely within that authority and obligation.”

“No one, including parents, should be permitted to endanger the health and wellbeing of children in the ways prohibited by those laws,” added Lamneck.

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Maryland

Bomb threat shuts down Takoma Park holiday drag show

MotorKat evacuated when Tara Hoot was performing

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Tara Hoot was performing at MotorKat in Takoma Park, Md., on Dec. 9, 2023, when a bomb threat forced the business' evacuation. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Police cordoned off a popular strip in Takoma Park on Saturday after a bomb threat shut down businesses, including a holiday performance by drag artist Tara Hoot.

MotorKat General Manager Mike Rothman told the Washington Blade that Takoma Park police notified them of a bomb threat to their business around noon.

Tara Hoot was delivering a holiday brunch performance at the MotorKat when the evacuation order came in.

Rothman said they were notified “five minutes into her final performance.” Tara Hoot herself told the audience to leave for their safety.

Police proceeded to tape off the area and evacuated all businesses between Eastern and South Carroll Avenues, including TakomaBevCo, which is co-owned by MotorKat Wine Director Seth Cook.

Cook told the Blade that police brought in “bomb-sniffing dogs” to clear the area before allowing businesses to reopen around 2 p.m.

“The timing is unfortunate as this is one of the busiest weekends before the holidays,” Cook said.

Rothman was also disappointed by the lost revenue due to what ultimately was a false threat, but he was firm that the Takoma Park LGBTQ community is resilient and would continue to thrive despite this setback.

“Takoma Park is a pretty proud and resilient community,” he said. “I don’t expect people to lay down and be scared by this.”

MotorKat and TakomaBevCo reopened for business around 3 p.m.

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Comings & Goings

Jimmy Alexander joins WTOP News as a feature reporter

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Jimmy Alexander (Photo courtesy of Jimmy Alexander)

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]

Congratulations to Jimmy Alexander who has been hired at WTOP News as a feature reporter. Over the last four years Alexander has been covering stories as varied as the Jan. 6 insurrection to the 17th Street High Heel Race. He has been working as a co-host on the Jack Diamond Morning show on Cumulus Media, Manning Media. On his acceptance of the new position Alexander said, “I’m thrilled that at WTOP News, I will be able to focus on events and people that bring hope to your heart and a smile to your face.”

Alexander is a versatile multimedia broadcaster with more than two decades of experience covering both major news events in Washington D.C., and important human-interest stories outside the Beltway. He is an engaging interviewer with a track record of having compelling conversations with the biggest names in government and show business, from presidents to Paul McCartney. Prior to this he worked as a freelance feature reporter with WDCW50-DC News Now. He is also with Writer-20, Twenty Country Countdown, United Stations Radio Networks. There he developed a concept for a countdown show featuring country music’s weekly top songs on-air and online and prepared weekly scripts for a three-hour show. 

Alexander conducted the only Jan. 6, 2021 interview with “The QAnon Shaman” Jacob Chansley. Since 2016, he has served by request of the D.C. mayor as official host of the 17th Street High Heel Race, the city’s second largest LGBTQ event of the year. He is featured in the documentary “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work,” and is a frequent guest on CNN’s Morning Show “New Day.” He covered White House visits by Queen Elizabeth, the Pope, and the yearly Easter Egg Roll. He also won $10,000 on the game show “Pyramid.” 

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Maryland

LGBTQ University of Maryland students prepare to celebrate Hanukkah

Eight-day festival to begin Thursday night

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

A number of Hanukkah events for LGBTQ students will take place at the University of Maryland this week.

Queer Jewish students and allies are welcome to attend Crazy Cozy Chill Chanukah Celebration on Sunday at the University of Maryland Hillel. Hamsa, home to queer Jewish life on campus, hosted a study break with hot drinks, snacks and games and a chance to welcome Hanukkah early. 

The first night of Hanukkah is Thursday.

Chabad UMD is hosting a menorah lighting on Thursday in front of McKeldin Library and plans to mention the war between Israel and Hamas, according to Rabbi Eli Backman of Chabad UMD. The event is going to be a focus on the positivity and the message of the Hanukkah story.  

“We’ve been around for thousands of years and all those who’ve tried to make sure that we didn’t live to see the next generation (is) no longer here,” Backman said. “That message will really resonate at home for the holiday.”

The story of the Maccabees is one of the few stories where Jewish people fought, Backman said. In Jewish history, people don’t see a military response in many of the other holiday moments. 

“It should give us a boost of energy,” Backman said. “A boost of strength (and) a boost of hope.”

Part of the Hanukkah story’s message is that Jewish people were in a position that they needed to form a military to secure their borders, Backman said. And they succeeded. 

For some, celebrating Hanukkah depends on the people they’re around, Florence Miller, a sophomore English and Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies who is Hamsa’s president, said.

Miller is agnostic and does not find themself to be a religious person, but the thing that has kept their Jewish faith is the people about whom they care are Jewish and the sense of community that comes from being Jewish.

“I just wanted to do a Hanukkah event,” Miller said. “It’s been a good refresher with how the semester has been.”

Miller last year attended a Hanukkah party and played a game of dreidel, a spinning top with four sides marked with a Hebrew letter. The people who were in attendance wanted to bet something, but the only thing they could find were pinto beans. 

“When I took them out of my pocket one got stuck in there,” Miller said. “I still have that bean.”

For some Jewish students it’s important to go to Hanukkah events like Hamsa’s celebration to be around like-minded Jewish people, Yarden Shestopal, a sophomore American Studies major, said. 

“Which is why I like Hamsa,” Shestopal said. “Since we’re all queer people or allies we kind of share that mentality of acceptance.”

Being part of the Jewish community at the University of Maryland has opened Shestopal up to how diverse the LGBTQ and Jewish communities are. Shestopal this year, however, debated whether or not to put his menorah up on the windowsill of his apartment because of the rise in anti-Semitism due to the war in Israel.  

“I’m pretty sure I am going to put the menorah in my window,” Shestopal said. “The only way to combat anti-Semitism is to stay visible.” 

Several University of Maryland students lived in Israel before or during their time at the university. 

Elisheva Greene, a junior animal science major, went to seminary, a school for women to learn about Torah, during the pandemic. Greene said celebrating Hanukkah while a war is happening is going to be a similar feeling. 

“I’m able to do what I can from over here by supporting my family and friends,” Greene said. “The biggest thing I can be doing is living my life as a Jewish person and showing that I express my Judaism and I’m not afraid.”

Greene recalled they could not go more than 1,000 feet from home for two months and Hanukkah took place during that time. While it was difficult, Greene said people still put their menorahs on their windowsill.  

“Knowing the resilience the Israelis have and the fact people like to show their Jewishness (is not) gonna stop me,” Greene said. “Like there’s a war going on but you’re gonna be a Jew and you’re gonna flaunt that.”

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