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Conservatives blame pro-trans policy after assaults in Loudoun schools

‘Gender fluid’ 15-year-old accused of attacking female students

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The Loudoun County, Va., public school system’s recently adopted policy of allowing students to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity has come under fire over the past two weeks by outraged parents and conservative political activists following reports that a 15-year-old “gender fluid” boy allegedly sexually assaulted two girls in different high schools.

The parents of one of the girls released a statement through the Virginia-based Stanley Law Group blaming school officials for failing to put in place safeguards to prevent the boy, who they say was dressed in a skirt, from entering the girl’s bathroom to assault their daughter at Stone Bridge High School in Ashburn, Va., on May 28.

The statement accuses Loudoun County Schools officials and the Loudoun County Board of Education of failing to take steps to prevent the same 15-year-old boy from allegedly sexually assaulting another female student at Broad Run High School, also located in Ashburn, on Oct. 6 in a vacant classroom.

School officials acknowledge that the boy was transferred to the second school after law enforcement authorities released him from a juvenile detention facility following his arrest for the first case, in which the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office said he was charged with two counts of forceable sodomy against his female victim. 

“The sexual assault on our daughter and the subsequent sexual assault by the same individual were both predictable and preventable,” the parents’ statement says. “Subsequent to the sexual assault on our daughter, Loudoun County Public Schools formalized the policy regarding restroom use that was easily exploitable by a potential sexual assailant,” the statement continues. 

“Because of poor planning and misguided policies, Loudoun Schools failed to institute even minimal safeguards to protect students from sexual assaults,” says the statement.

Loudoun County Schools Superintendent Scott A. Ziegler apologized at an Oct. 15 news conference for what he acknowledged was the school systems’ mishandling of the two sexual assault cases. He noted that school officials should have publicly disclosed the two cases or at least alerted parents at the time they occurred. But he said a federal civil rights law known as Title IX that mandates how schools must respond to cases of sexual harassment appeared to prevent Loudoun school officials from initially disclosing the two cases of sexual assault until they were investigated by law enforcement authorities.

Ziegler said the school system was revamping its disciplinary procedures and its interaction with the Loudoun Sheriff’s Office to ensure that parents and students are alerted to potential danger similar to the cases where the 15-year-old boy allegedly assaulted the two female students.

Meanwhile, school officials and the LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Loudoun have pointed out that law enforcement officials have yet to confirm whether the 15-year-old boy charged in the two cases was actually dressed in women’s clothes during the first incident or whether he is trans or gender fluid.

Equality Loudoun’s president, Cris Candice Tuck, released a statement to the Washington Blade on Oct. 18 that she said was the first official known statement responding to the Loudoun school controversy from an LGBTQ organization.

“In light of the reporting of recent sexual assault allegations, the Board of Directors of Equality Loudoun wishes to extend our deepest sympathies to the victims of these heinous attacks and their families,” the statement says. “Equality Loudoun advocates for due process and justice for the victims regardless of whether the alleged perpetrator was a member of the LGBTQ+ community,” the statement continues. “Such actions have no place in our community, and Equality Loudoun does not condone any form of sexual violence, assault, or harassment,” it says.

“However, the accusations that the alleged perpetrator of these assaults is transgender or genderfluid have so far been unverified,” the Equality Loudoun statement asserts. “Attempts to shift blame of this incident to any individual, group, or policy – other than the alleged perpetrator – does a grave disservice to the victims of these crimes and already marginalized youth in our community.”

The statement adds, “We remind those advocating for change to the laws and policies that the initial assault predated any enactment of Policy 8040 by almost 4 months.”

The Equality Loudoun statement was referring to the fact that the Loudoun County School Board did not vote to approve the school system’s trans nondiscrimination policy until August of this year, more than three months after the first of the two sexual assault incidents occurred. 

The policy, among other things, allows transgender and genderfluid students to use the school bathrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity. The policy also requires that teachers, school administrators and fellow students address a trans or genderfluid student by their chosen name and pronouns.

“Inadvertent slips in the use of names and pronouns may occur,” the policy states. “However, staff or students who intentionally and persistently refuse to respect a student’s gender identity by using the wrong name and gender pronoun are in violation of this policy,” it states.

The statement says that rumors of a bathroom “pilot” program that predated the official approval of Policy 8040 that would have allowed female trans or genderfluid students to use the girls’ bathrooms “are simply untrue” and were never put in place.

In a separate statement to the Blade, Equality Loudoun’s Cris Candice Tuck challenged claims by some parents and conservative political activists, some of whom are supporting Virginia’s GOP gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin over Democrat Terry McAulliffe, that the trans nondiscrimination policy is placing students at risk for sexual assault.

“The adoption of nondiscrimination policies are in no way endangering students,” Candice Tuck said. “Across the country, sexual assaults have occurred in schools for decades before any transgender inclusive policies were passed,” she said. “And in those counties and states where such protections have passed in recent years, there has been no verified incidence of anyone abusing such policies to commit such attacks in schools.”

Candice Tuck added, “The focus should be on improving systems of reporting, coordination, and investigation, protecting the victims of these attacks, and creating safer school environments by creating modernized areas and bathrooms that increase protection for all students, including LGBTQ+ students who are statistically more likely to be the victim of such a crime.”  

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District of Columbia

Dupont Circle ‘gayborhood’ preserved in Council redistricting bill

All of neighborhood remains in Ward 2

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Brooke Pinto, gay news, Washington Blade
Councilmember Brooke Pinto raised objections to dividing the Dupont Circle neighborhood into two different wards.

A bill approved by the D.C. Council in a first-reading vote on Tuesday to redraw the boundaries of the city’s eight wards keeps all of the Dupont Circle neighborhood, which LGBTQ activists have referred to as the city’s preeminent “gayborhood,” in Ward 2.

The redistricting plan approved by the Council included a change from an earlier proposal by a special redistricting subcommittee that called for transferring part of the North Dupont Circle neighborhood into Ward 1.

Councilmember Brooke Pinto, who represents Ward 2, joined many of her ward’s LGBTQ residents in raising strong objections to dividing the Dupont Circle neighborhood into two different wards.

A number of LGBTQ residents, including Mike Silverstein, one of five openly gay members of the nine-member Dupont Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commission, said the initial subcommittee proposal would unnecessarily split Dupont Circle’s historic “gayborhood,” which he said has served as a safe space for LGBTQ D.C. residents for decades.

“Excising this part of Ward 2 would arbitrarily cut off the LGBTQIA+ community that has such a rich and pronounced presence in North Dupont,” Pinto said in a statement her office released last month. “I will be working with my colleagues to ensure that this community remains in Ward 2,” Pinto said.

A spokesperson for D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large) said Mendelson worked with the three members of the redistricting subcommittee and other Council members to make some changes to the subcommittee’s initial release of three proposed maps with redrawn ward boundary lines. All three of the maps included plans to move the north part of Dupont Circle to Ward 1, each of which was dropped in the final proposal approved by the Council.

The Council is scheduled to hold a second and final vote on the redistricting measure later this month.

City officials have noted that a redrawing of the city’s ward boundary lines is needed to bring the city into legal conformance with the 2020 U.S. Census count for D.C., which shows shifts in population within the city.

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District of Columbia

U.S. Attorney’s Office declines to prosecute anti-gay assault case

D.C. police report says man beaten by neighbors in Northeast

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Antonio Zephir was beaten by neighbors. (Photo courtesy of Zephir)

The U.S. Attorney’s Office has declined to prosecute two women and a man who, according to a D.C. police report, assaulted a gay man after one of the women called him a “Jewish faggot” during an Oct. 13 incident on the grounds of a Northeast Washington apartment building where the victim and the two women live.

The victim, Antonio Zephir, 51, said one of the women, her daughter, and a man he believes to be the daughter’s father repeatedly punched him in the face after he shouted back at the mother in response to the anti-gay and anti-Jewish slur he says she hurled at him.

The incident took place outside the Northwood Gardens Apartments at 4870 Fort Totten Dr., N.E. at about 12:40 p.m. the police report says.

Zephir told the Blade this week that an official with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which prosecutes crimes committed by adults in D.C., informed him in a phone call that the office decided not to prosecute the case after police and prosecutors viewed a surveillance camera video that reportedly captured the entire incident.

He said the official, Crystal Flournoy, Deputy Chief of the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s Early Case Assessment Section, told him the video showed that he was the “aggressor” in the incident.

Zephir says he strongly disputes that characterization and believes the camera angle from the video may not have captured the full altercation in which he was assaulted first before attempting to defend himself.

A D.C. police spokesperson said police opened an investigation into the incident after Zephir called police immediately after the altercation. A police report lists the incident as a suspected anti-gay hate crime and lists the offense as a misdemeanor simple assault.

Zephir, who was treated and released from the Washington Hospital Center the day after the incident, suffered a fractured nose, a fractured bone surrounding one of his eyes, and other facial injuries, according to a hospital report he provided to the Blade. He said his doctor told him he may need facial surgery to treat ongoing effects from the injuries.

In a Dec. 7 email, a copy of which Zephir sent to the Blade, D.C. Police Lt. Scott Dowling informed Zephir that the U.S Attorney’s Office declined to process an affidavit submitted by police requesting the case be prosecuted.

“[T]he affidavit submitted to the United States Attorney’s Office was declined, meaning that their office is not willing to move forward with criminal charges,” Dowling told Zephir in his email message. “As a result, there will be no arrests relating to the offense you reported,” Dowling said. “As the Affidavit was declined, our investigation is closed,” Dowling wrote in the message.

“The U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute this matter after reviewing the evidence,” William Miller, a spokesperson for the office, told the Blade in a statement on Wednesday. “Beyond that, we typically do not comment on charging decisions and have no further comment,” Miller said.

Zephir said he doesn’t think the video, which he hasn’t seen, shows that one of the two women involved in the altercation was the first to assault him. He identified her in court papers he filed seeking a stay away protection order as Aurlora Ellis.

Court records show that a D.C. Superior Court judge on Nov. 30 issued a “Consent Stay Away Order” requiring Ellis and her daughter, identified as Latera Cox, and a woman who Zephir says lives at Ellis’s apartment, to “stay at least 100 feet away from Plaintiffs Zephir or Johnson.”

Steve Johnson, who is cited in the stay away order, is Zephir’s roommate who the police report says attempted to stop the Oct. 13 altercation in which Zephir says he was assaulted.

The court order further states that the three women “shall not contact Plaintiffs Zephir or Johnson in any manner, including but not limited to by telephone, in writing, and in any manner directly or indirectly through another person, including social media,” and that the order will remain in effect for one year.

“Ms. Ellis was the person who made those threats and slurs against me,” Zephir said. “I responded with not-so-kind words. She ran towards me and assaulted me with hard punches toward my face,” Zephir recounted. “I punched back in an attempt to defend myself,” he said.

According to Zephir, during the altercation Ellis told him, “Call the police, you bitch faggot. They’re not going to do anything. This isn’t over yet.” He said he continues to worry that Ellis’s comment that the matter “isn’t over yet” was a threat and that she may try to harm him again.

Ellis couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

Zephir said the October altercation wasn’t the first time Ellis has acted in a hostile way toward him.

“For several months, every time Ms. Ellis sees me, she shouts homophobic slurs and I continued to ignore her,” he told the Blade in October after contacting the Blade about the incident.

On Tuesday, Zephir told the Blade that Ellis later apologized for the altercation and asked him to drop the charges he filed against her with D.C. police. He said he declined her request, but said he’s now dismayed that the U.S. Attorney’s Office has refused to prosecute what he calls a “serious hate crime” against him.

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District of Columbia

Dignity Washington opens new center in Dupont Circle

Proceeds from sale of old building used to expand programming

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Dignity Washington President Tom Yates. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The local LGBTQ Catholic organization Dignity Washington recently opened its new Dignity Center office and community meeting space at a Dupont Circle condominium building that includes first-floor offices for small businesses and community organizations.

Dignity Washington President Tom Yates said the new space at the Imperial House condominium building at 1601 18th Street, N.W., is currently being used as Dignity’s office headquarters and for meetings of the group’s board and committees. He said as COVID-related restrictions are relaxed the space will be used for various events and possible use by other LGBTQ community organizations.

Yates said the group purchased the 1,700-square-foot office space in March of this year, eight months after selling its former Dignity Center building at 721 8th St., S.E., in the Barracks Row section of Capitol Hill. Dignity officials have said the Capitol Hill building was larger than the space the group needed and the proceeds from its sale would provide funds to expand its programs.

“Dignity Washington, making use of the fiscal support made possible by the change of properties, hopes to become more active speaking truth to power of the Catholic Church,” Yates told the Blade. “The new facility is only a handful of blocks from the Cathedral of St. Matthew,” he said, referring to one of the city’s largest Catholic churches.

Noting the Catholic Church’s historic lack of support for the LGBTQ community, Yates said the proximity of the new Dignity Center would help the group’s mission of showing “the local same-sex community that one can be both Catholic and same-sex loving.” 

Yates said Dignity Washington, founded in 1972, is the largest chapter of the national LGBTQ Catholic organization Dignity USA. 

Dignity Washington, among other things, organizes a weekly 6 p.m. Sunday Mass for LGBTQ Catholics and their friends and families at St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church at 1830 Connecticut Ave., N.W.

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