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Democrats lose big in Va.

Election results an ominous sign heading into midterms

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Terry McAuliffe speaks to supporters in Tysons Corner, Va., on Nov. 2, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

TYSONS CORNER, Va. — Democrats on Tuesday suffered stinging loses in Virginia that could prove ominous for the party heading into the 2022 midterm elections.

Republican Glenn Youngkin defeated Democrat Terry McAuliffe in the gubernatorial race by a 50.7-48.6 percent margin.

Republican Winsome Sears became the first woman elected Virginia’s lieutenant governor when she defeated state Del. Hala Ayala (D-Prince William County) by a 50.8-49.1 percent margin. Republican Jason Miyares beat incumbent Attorney General Mark Herring by a 50.6-49.3 percent margin.

Youngkin told his supporters in Chantilly early Wednesday morning that he will work to create “a Virginia where the Virginia promise comes alive for everyone who calls this Virginia home,” without specifically mentioning LGBTQ people.

“We will change the trajectory of this commonwealth and friends, we are going to start that transformation on day one,” he said. “There is no time to waste.”

McAuliffe on Wednesday conceded.

“While last night we came up short, I am proud that we spent this campaign fighting for the values we so deeply believe in,” he said in a statement. “We must protect Virginia’s great public schools and invest in our students. We must protect affordable health care coverage, raise the minimum wage faster, and expand paid leave so working families have a fighting shot. We must protect voting rights, protect a woman’s right to choose, and, above all else, we must protect our democracy.”

Youngkin during the campaign expressed support for Tanner Cross, a gym teacher at a Leesburg elementary school who was suspended in June after he spoke out against Virginia Department of Education guidelines that are designed to protect transgender and non-binary students. The former co-CEO of the Carlyle Group, a private equity firm, earlier this year also said he does not support allowing trans children to play on sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity.

The anti-LGBTQ Family Research Council, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has categorized as an extremist group, is among the groups that endorsed Youngkin, who also opposes marriage equality. Youngkin nevertheless told the Washington Post in a recent interview that it is “legally acceptable” in Virginia and he would “support that” as governor.

McAuliffe, who received the endorsement of both the Human Rights Campaign and Equality Virginia’s political action committee, during an Oct. 21 telephone interview with the Washington Blade described Youngkin as “the most homophobic, anti-choice candidate in Virginia history.”

McAuliffe sought to portray Youngkin as an acolyte of former President Trump. McAuliffe also criticized Youngkin over his call to ban the teaching of critical race theory in Virginia schools, even though it is not part of the statewide curriculum.

Youngkin’s campaign, for its part, has pointed out that HRC in 2019 named the Carlyle Group as a “Best Place to Work for LGBTQ Equality” in its annual Corporate Equality Index. Log Cabin Republicans is among the groups that endorsed Youngkin.

“Glenn Youngkin’s anti-equality, anti-choice, racist tactics sought to sow fear and confusion, turning Virginian against Virginian for political gain,” said interim HRC President Joni Madison on Wednesday in a statement. “His hateful policies and rhetoric will have a real, devastating impact on LGBTQ+ people, women, and people of color across the commonwealth. This is particularly true for transgender young people and their parents, who have faced an onslaught of targeted attacks that have put them in danger in their schools and communities.”

State Del. Danica Roem (D-Manassas), who is the first openly trans person seated in any state legislature in the U.S. won re-election in the 13th District. Republicans, however, appear to have regained control of the Virginia House of Delegates. Democrats still control the state Senate by a 21-19 margin.

Democrats in 2019 regained control of the General Assembly for the first time since the 1990s.

Outgoing Gov. Ralph Northam over the last two years has signed a series of LGBTQ rights bills that, among other things, added sexual orientation and gender identity to Virginia’s nondiscrimination law and banned so-called conversion therapy for minors. Madison said HRC will “fight alongside our members and partners to block anti-equality policies and overcome the forces that are trying to drag us backwards.”

“The movement for equality is on the right side of history,” added Madison.

Equality Virginia Executive Director Vee Lamneck echoed Madison.

“We know that the majority of Virginians support LGBTQ people. Virginians want to see their LGBTQ neighbors protected from discrimination. Virginians want to see their LGBTQ friends be able to get married and raise a family. And, we expect all of our elected leaders to hold true to these values of equality and fairness,” said Lamneck in a statement to the Blade. “We have worked hard for the protections that we now have in place, and together, with thousands of our supporters from every corner of the state, we will ensure that Virginia remains a welcoming place for all LGBTQ people.”

Bob Witeck, a longtime LGBTQ rights activist who lives in Arlington, on Wednesday in an email to the Blade conceded it “is a rough morning, given Virginia’s 12-year pattern of turning the commonwealth bluer.”

“I suspect Youngkin will not lead like a culture warrior,” he added. “However, the other two statewide officials, Winsome Sears (lieutenant governor) and Jason Miyares (attorney general) are mirrors of Trump and can cause more significant setbacks, especially Miyares in his role.”

Witeck said he agrees with Tré Easton, a senior advisor for Battle Born Collective, who told the New York Times that Democrats “can’t scare people into the polls. You have to give people something to vote for.”

“Youngkin and the GOP have picked up on some powerful grievances among white voters and parents that we will need to combat persuasively,” said Witeck. “Virginia was definitely a battleground for LGBTQ families and citizens since it turned on control of schools, and fear of trans kids once again as well as curricula.”

Charlotte Clymer, a trans activist, on Wednesday said the Virginia election results are not “about McAuliffe’s platform” and are “not a reflection on the extraordinary success of Virginia Democrats in the legislature over the past two years.”

“It’s about the central messaging,” said Clymer in a series of tweets. “Voters need a lot more from Democratic candidates than simply being anti-Trump.”

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Howard County activists and allies hit back at censorship, hate

More than 100 people attended ‘We ARE the People’ rally

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(Photo by Bob Ford)

A diverse crowd of 100 to 200 folks gathered at the Columbia Lakefront on Saturday to attend a rally to push back against censorship in the county’s public schools as well as homophobia and transphobia emanating from a group of conservative parents.

The rally called “We ARE the People” was organized in response to the comments and actions by members of a Maryland-based conservative group “We the People 2” that among other things are anti-masks, anti-vaccinations and are opposed to teaching racial history in the schools. They also oppose two books that are in Howard County Public Schools library shelves: “Gender Queer” and “Lawn Boy.”

Speakers at a We the People 2 rally last month at an Elkridge warehouse condemned the books, which contain LGBTQ characters, as sexually explicit. The group later filed police reports against the Board of Education alleging the books constitute pornography with “graphic sexual content and materials being used and disseminated in public schools,” according to the group’s press release.  A flier announcing this action used the loaded terminology, “We must not allow our children to be abused and victimized.”

Among the speakers at the Elkridge rally was Republican Gordana Schifanelli who is running for lieutenant governor on the ticket with Daniel Cox. Another speaker, George Johnson, a teacher from Baltimore City, was heard on a video of the event saying, “We’re doing God’s work because Marxism, homosexuality and transgenderism is the devil.”

In response, the pro-LGBTQ rally in Columbia announced the following:

We are taking a stance against hate in the community as we raise our voices in support of equity in our schools. Attacks on teachers and school staff have prompted us to stand united and drown out the noise.

In addition, We ARE the People states:

We stand for LGBTQ+ students and educational professionals

Teaching accurate history to our students

Supporting equitable practices in our schools

Providing students with relevant LGBTQ+ media through their school libraries

The two-hour rally, which was attended by several county council members, featured speakers representing a wide swath of community, educational, religious and political organizations. They included: Community Allies of Rainbow Youth (CARY), Black Lives Activists of Columbia (BLAC), Absolutely Dragulous, Howard County Schools, PFLAG-Columbia/Howard County, IndivisibleHoCoMd, Columbia Democratic Club, Howard Progressive Project, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia (UUCC), HoCo Pride, Progressive Democrats of Howard County, and the Columbia United Christian Church.

Many of the speakers denounced the censorship of materials that are needed by many LGBTQ students. Genderqueer and non-binary students, they point out, are most vulnerable and need affirming literature to help with their development and self-acceptance. The speakers also decried hate speech, which has surfaced again, as well as the opposition to teaching history as it relates to race.

Others argued that the community must not sit back and take it from extremist groups.

“You are all defenders,” said Cynthia Fikes, president of the Columbia Democratic Club, in a fiery speech. “But to succeed a strong defense also needs a strong offense.”

The two books in question were recently the center of controversy in the Fairfax County (Va.) school system. The books were removed in September from the shelves of the high schools pending a comprehensive review following opposition from a parent at a school board meeting. It should be noted that both books were previous winners of the American Library Association’s Alex Awards, which each year recognize “10 books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18.”  

The board established two committees consisting of parents, staff and students to assess the content of the books and make recommendations to the assistant superintendent of instructional services who would make the final determination.

One committee found that “Lawn Boy” includes themes that “are affirming for students” with marginalized identities. “There is no pedophilia in the book,” the committee added. The other committee found that “Gender Queer” depicts “difficulties non-binary and asexual individuals may face.” The committee concluded that “the book neither depicts nor describes pedophilia.” The books were restored to the shelves.

“As this backlash against LGTBQ+ literature demonstrates, we must be ready to stand up and defend the progress we have made,” said Jennifer Mallo, member of the Howard County Board of Education, expressing her own point of view. “We must ensure our elected officials understand and share our values and will fight for our marginalized students.”

The enthusiastic crowd was clearly pleased with the event.

“Today’s rally was meant to inspire our community to take action,” said Chris Hefty, who was the lead organizer of the rally and the emcee. “Action that protects our youth. Action that protects our educators and admins. This action comes in the form of advocacy, communication with elected officials so they know your voice, and through well informed voting to ensure those who represent us are those we know will support us. We shared a message of love, acceptance, and warmth.”

Hefty adds, “The unity we facilitated through this rally was a sight to behold. As the lead organizer I couldn’t have been more pleased! In the future we will be sure to better meet the needs of all our community members. We thank all those in our community for their support and feedback and look forward to accomplishing great things together moving forward.”

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Comings & Goings

Nathanson takes role at Outright Action

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Rikki Nathanson

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] 

The Comings & Goings column also invites LGBTQ+ college students to share their successes with us. If you have been elected to a student government position, gotten an exciting internship, or are graduating and beginning your career with a great job, let us know so we can share your success. 

Congratulations to Rikki Nathanson on her new position as Senior Advisor – Global Trans Program with OutRight Action International in New York. Nathanson will be based in D.C.  

 “I am absolutely thrilled to be taking on this new role as Senior Advisor in OutRight’s Global Trans Program,” said Nathanson. “I have finally found the perfect fit for me: as a trans woman who has been fighting for equality not only for myself, but for others globally, this position is not only a job, it’s intrinsically part of who I am. So, what better way to live, nurture and grow myself.” 

Nathanson will be working closely with all program staff to ensure a cohesive and intentional approach to gender issues throughout OutRight’s programs, including its approach to gender ideology movements. She will lead new initiatives on gender advocacy and policy change, focused but not limited to legal gender recognition and anti-discrimination legislation and policies.

Prior to this Nathanson was director of housing programs at Casa Ruby in D.C. She has also held a number of other positions including: founder/executive director of Trans Research, Education, Advocacy & Training (TREAT), Zimbabwe; chairperson Southern Africa Trans Forum, SATF, Cape Town, South Africa; executive director, Ricochet Modeling Agency, Zimbabwe; and company secretary for Dunlop Zimbabwe Limited, Zimbabwe. 

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SMYAL Director Shakir to step down Dec. 31

Board to launch Executive Search beginning in January

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SMYAL Executive Director Sultan Shakir addresses the crowd at the 2021 Fall Brunch. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Sultan Shakir, who has served as executive director of D.C.’s LGBTQ youth advocacy organization SMYAL since August 2014, announced on Friday that he will be stepping down from his position effective Dec. 31.

In a Dec. 3 announcement, SMYAL said details of Shakir’s future career plans would be announced in the coming weeks.

“While we are sad to see Sultan leave, we wish him nothing but the same success in his new endeavor as he had at SMYAL,” said Rob Cogorno, SMYAL’s board chair. “His leadership and vision enabled SMYAL to expand greatly needed services to LGBTQ youth in the DC metro area throughout his tenure,” Cogorno said.

“I am immensely proud of the work we have been able to accomplish together in my time at SMYAL,” Shakir said in a statement released by SMYAL. “SMYAL has been an integral and vital resource in the DMV community for over 37 years, and while we have come a long way in combating homophobia, transphobia, racism, sexual health stigma, homelessness, violence against the LGBTQ community, and oppression, we have a long way to go,” he said.

“This work has never been about one person,” said Shakir. “SMYAL was founded by our community and we’re still around because of our community,” he said. “I leave knowing that the commitment and passion of the SMYAL Board, staff, volunteers, and youth leaders have created a solid foundation from which our work will continue to grow until LGBTQ youth no longer need us.”

The SMYAL statement says that under Shakir’s tenure, SMYAL, which stands for Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders, expanded its programs and services for LGBTQ youth. Among other things, in 2017 SMYAL opened its first of several housing facilities for homeless LGBTQ youth that include culturally competent case management, education and employment assistance.

“The Youth Housing Program now comprises five programmatic models that serve a combined 61 youth residents,” the statement says.

It points out that also under Shakir’s leadership, SMYAL expanded the age range of the youth its programs serve under a new Little SMYALs program, which welcomes LGBTQ youth ages 6-12. And earlier in 2021 under Shakir’s guidance, SMYAL began a new Clinical Services Department “which provides affirming and accessible mental health counseling,” the statement says.

“The SMYAL Board of Directors will officially launch an Executive Search beginning in January 2022 and expects to have named a new Executive Director by summer 2022,” the statement says. It says the board will soon name an interim executive director to work with SMYAL’s Deputy Executive Director, Jorge Membreno, and the organization’s leadership team to oversee the day-to-day activities until a new executive director is named.

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