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Man who shouted slurs at Alexandria gay couple found not guilty of assault

But judge rules neighbor guilty of misdemeanor disorderly conduct

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The July incident was captured on a Ring doorbell camera.

An Alexandria, Va., General District Court judge on Monday, Nov. 8, issued a verdict of not guilty for 57-year-old Thomas Wood on a charge of misdemeanor simple assault against a gay man that police and prosecutors listed as a hate crime.

Following a four-and-a-half-hour nonjury trial, Judge Thomas Kelley Jr. ruled that two video and audio recordings that captured Wood repeatedly shouting anti-gay slurs at his two next door neighbors, Kyle Metz and Metz’s husband, Leo Liu Metz, in a July 3 incident did not provide sufficient evidence to prove Wood physically assaulted either of the two gay men or committed a simple assault under Virginia law.

Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Joe Cahoon, who acted as the lead prosecutor in the case, argued that both Kyle and Leo Metz testified at the trial that Wood raised and swung his arms over a fence that separated the properties of Wood and the Metz’s. He said Wood would have struck Leo Metz if Kyle Metz had not pulled Leo away from the fence.

In a separate verdict, Judge Kelley found Wood guilty of disorderly conduct, the second of the two charges filed against him by prosecutors in connection with the July 3 incident. The misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge was not classified as a hate crime under Virginia law.

Under Virginia law, misdemeanor cases such as simple assault or disorderly conduct are brought to trial before a judge without a jury.

While finding Wood not guilty of the hate crime assault charge, Kelley stated from the bench while delivering his verdict that he disagreed with arguments made by Wood in his testimony as a witness and by Wood’s attorney that the altercation was only and exclusively about a dispute over Wood’s parking space in an alley that separates Wood’s house from the house where Kyle and Leo Metz live.

“There is nothing that is said about parking,” Kelley said in referring to the two video recordings with full sound that captured Wood shouting the word “faggots” and asking which of the two gay men was the “wife,” among other insults.

“Are you the wife?” Wood is heard yelling on the video and audio recording. “Are you fucking him every night?” Wood shouts multiple times as captured by the recording. 

“It is all about sexual orientation,” Kelley said from the bench while announcing his verdict, even though the hate crime designation ended when Kelley found Wood not guilty on the assault charge.

Minutes later, Kelley handed down a sentence for Wood on the disorderly conduct conviction that includes a $1,000 fine, 90 days in jail with all 90 days suspended, one year of unsupervised probation, and a requirement that Wood undergo counseling for anger management.

Under court rules, Wood could be ordered to serve some or all of the suspended 90 days of incarceration if he violates the terms of his probation.

At the request of Kyle and Leo Metz, and without objection from Wood’s attorney, B.R. Hicks, Kelley approved a stay-away protection order that prohibits Wood from threatening, intimidating or approaching the two gay men.

The dispute between Wood and Wood’s wife, Mary Wood, and the Metz’s began in April of this year, according to testimony at the Nov. 8 trial. Thomas and Mary Wood testified during the trial that the dispute began when the Metz’s moved into the house in Old Town Alexandria on Duke Street next door to the house they had been renting.

According to the Woods, the Metz’s placed a large planter at the edge of their property line that made it very difficult for the Woods to park their car in a space on their own property. Both Woods testified that in the weeks prior to the July 3 incident, they repeatedly and politely came to the front door of the Metz’s house to ask them if they could move the planter to make more room for them to park their car.

But the Metz’s testified that Thomas Wood yelled both anti-gay and anti-Asian slurs at them for at least a month or more prior to the July 3 incident that led to the assault and disorderly conduct charges against Thomas Wood. Leo Metz is Asian American.

The July 3 incident received widespread publicity on social media and on local TV news broadcasts when the Metz’s released the video and audio recording of the incident captured on their Ring camera video surveillance system. A second video of the incident was taken by another nearby neighbor, Julia Kennedy, who testified at the trial that she witnessed what she believed to be Thomas Wood subjecting Kyle and Leo Metz to homophobic slurs during the July 3 incident.

Prosecutor Cahoon played both videos on a large video screen several times during the trial. He noted that Thomas Wood’s loud and prolonged shouting of anti-gay slurs and other insults that the Metz’s interpreted to be threats reverberated across the neighborhood, creating a disturbance that clearly constituted disorderly conduct.

Defense attorney Hicks pointed to Thomas Wood’s testimony in which Wood claimed he was shouting the word “maggot” and not “faggot” most of the time when he became outraged that he could barely park his car in the space on his own property because of the Metz’s planter blocking access to his parking space. The Metz’s have said the planter was completely within their property line.

They testified that the incident began about 9:30 p.m. on July 3 when they heard a loud crashing sound outside their house and became worried that someone hit their own car. Before going outside, they said they watched the video from the Ring camera linked to their cell phones and saw Thomas Wood shouting insults over the fence that separates the two houses.

The two gay men testified that they then went outside to find out what was happening, and immediately were subjected to anti-gay insults by Wood.

In response to questions from defense attorney Hicks, Wood insisted he is not homophobic and his anger on the night of the incident was based completely on the parking dispute and not on the sexual orientation of Kyle and Leo Metz.

“He is not a homophobe at all,” defense attorney Hicks told the Washington Blade after the trial.

A friend of the Metz’s who attended the trial told the Washington Blade that the parking space on the Wood’s property was too small for their car and that they, not the Metz’s, were responsible for their parking problems.

Although Kyle and Leo Metz testified that Wood reached over the fence and attempted to assault Leo, which prosecutor Cahoon said constituted a simple assault under Virginia law, defense attorney Hicks argued that nowhere on the two videos was there any image showing an assault or an attempted assault.

Prior to the judge’s verdict, Hicks argued that Wood should not be convicted of a hate crime because his words of “anger” were protected under the free speech provisions of the U.S. Constitution, even though his words were not “politically correct.”

Hicks couldn’t immediately be reached after the trial to determine if Wood plans to appeal the verdict finding him guilty of disorderly conduct.

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Va. businessman apologizes for burning of rainbow flag poster

‘Shocked and horrified’: Ashburn incident caught on video

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Organizers of an event where a Pride symbol was burned say the incident was a misunderstanding.

The owner of a Virginia technology company that hosted a private Veterans Day party on the grounds of an Ashburn, Va., brewery in which a company employee used a flame-throwing device to ignite a rainbow flag poster said the selection of the poster was a mistake and he and his company have no ill will toward the LGBTQ community.

The Washington Blade learned about the poster burning from a customer of the Old Ox Brewery in Ashburn, where the incident took place on its outdoor grounds. The customer made a video of the incident with his cell phone and sent a copy of the video to the Blade.

The video, which includes an audio recording, shows a man using a hand-held flame-throwing device to ignite the rainbow poster, which was hanging from a cable and appeared to be mounted on cardboard or a thin sheet of wood. Bystanders can be heard laughing and cheering as the poster is set on fire.

The poster consisted of a variation of the LGBTQ Pride rainbow flag that included the word “love” configured from an upper white stripe on the rainbow symbol.

The customer who took the video, who has asked not to be identified, thought the decision to set the poster on fire was a sign of disrespect if not hatred toward a longstanding symbol of LGBTQ equality and pride.

Chris Burns, Old Ox Brewery’s president, shared that view, telling the Blade he and his staff were “shocked and horrified” when they learned later that a rainbow flag poster had been burned on the brewery’s grounds. Burns said Old Ox supports the LGBTQ community and participated in LGBTQ Pride month earlier this year.

He said the company that held the private party paid a fee to hold the event on the brewery’s grounds, but the brewery did not know a rainbow poster would be burned.

“I’m mortified that our event was interpreted in this way,” said Nate Reynolds, the founder and partner of Hypershift Technologies LLC, the Falls Church, Va.-based technology company that organized the Nov. 11 party at Old Ox Brewery. “I can assure you that ZERO ill-will or offense was meant,” Reynolds told the Blade in a Nov. 24 email.

“We held a small private party for a few clients, which included a demonstration of Elon Musk’s Boring Company ‘Not a Flamethrower,’” he said in his message. He was referring to one of billionaire businessman Elon Musk’s companies that specializes in boring through the ground to create tunnels for cars, trains, and other purposes. 

“After so many being isolated during COVID, we wanted to have an event that was lighthearted and to some small effect, silly,” Reynolds said in his message to the Blade.

According to Reynolds, in thinking about what should be used for “fodder” for the flame-thrower, he went to a Five Below discount store and purchased items such as stuffed animals and posters, including a “Space Jam” movie poster as well as what he thought was a poster of the British rock group The Beatles.

“When I pulled the Beatles poster out of the tube it was instead the ‘Love’ poster,” he said, referring to the rainbow flag poster the Blade asked him about in an earlier email.

“All I focused on was the ‘Love’ wording and not the rainbow and did not draw the conclusion that the poster was an icon that represents the LGBTQ community,” Reynolds said. “It was my own ignorance of not connecting the symbolism of the poster. If I had realized it was a symbol of the LGBTQ community, I would not have used it,” he said.

“I feel terrible, and I want to emphasize that I am solely responsible for this mistake – not the Old Ox Brewery,” he wrote in his message. “Nobody at Old Ox had anything to do with this activity.”

Reynolds added, “Hate has no place in my heart, and I sincerely apologize for any offense that could have been drawn from what I now realize was poor judgement on my part. I simply didn’t correlate this poster with the LGBTQ pride symbol.”  

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Before Reynolds issued his statement of apology, Burns, the Old Ox Brewery co-owner, told the Blade in an email he was “saddened and upset” over the rainbow poster burning on the grounds of his brewery.

“We do not wish to benefit from this event,” he said in his email message. “Therefore, Old Ox is donating 100% of the revenue generated from the private event to GLSEN.”

GLSEN is a national LGBTQ advocacy group that focuses on education and support for LGBTQ youth. Burns said Old Ox Brewery also donated proceeds from a Pride month event it organized earlier this year to GLSEN.

LGBTQ activists and organizations contacted by the Blade said they were unfamiliar with the variation of the rainbow flag with the word “love” that was the subject of the poster burning incident. The poster is available for sale at Five Below stores in the D.C. metropolitan area for $5.

Small print writings on the poster show it is produced by Trends International LLC, which describes itself on its website as “the leading publisher and manufacturer of licensed posters, calendars, stickers and social stationery products.” The Blade couldn’t immediately determine who designed the poster.

 The video of the poster burning incident can be viewed here:

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Fairfax schools returns LGBTQ-themed books in high school libraries

Review found ‘no pedophilia’ in texts as critics claimed

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(Book cover insert courtesy of Amazon)

The Fairfax County Public Schools announced on Tuesday that following a detailed review by two committees appointed by school officials it has returned two LGBTQ themed books to its high school libraries that had been temporarily withdrawn after being challenged by critics who claimed they included sexually explicit content inappropriate for 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 descriptions of sexual acts.

But supporters of the books have argued that they have won praise by literary critics and, while describing intimate relationships, they tell stories that do not fall into the category of pornography.  

Fairfax County Public Schools, the name used for the county’s public school system, on Tuesday said in a statement that a thorough review of the books by two committees consisting of educators, school officials, parents and some students found that neither book contained content that could be considered to depict pedophilia as claimed by some parents and others opposing the two books.

School officials announced they had temporarily withdrawn the two books from school libraries following a Sept. 23 meeting of the Fairfax County School Board where strong objections to the two books were raised by parents.

“Two books that were subject to formal challenge have been deemed appropriate for high school readers following a two-month review process and will be reinstated to Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) libraries,” Tuesday’s statement by the school system says.

“The decision reaffirms FCPS’s ongoing commitment to provide diverse reading materials that reflect our student population, allowing every child an opportunity to see themselves reflected in literary characters,” the statement continues. “Both reviews concluded that the books were valuable in their potential to reach marginalized youth who may struggle to find relatable literary characters that reflect their personal journey,” the statement says.

The statement says the final decision to reinstate the books was made by Noel Klimenko, the Fairfax County Public Schools’ assistant superintendent for its Instructional Services Department.

The two books have received favorable reviews in various literary publications. Both have received the American Library Association’s Alex Award, an annual award that recognizes the year’s 10 books written for adults that the association says have a special appeal to young adults ages 12 through 18.

“The robust committee process took place over several weeks and considered whether the books flouted regulations by being obscene or harmful to juveniles as defined by the Code of Virginia,” the school system statement says. “The members also considered the work in line with an excerpt from the FCPS Student Rights and Responsibilities Handbook pertaining to possessing obscene visual imagery as defined in the Code of Virginia,” the statement says.

“After careful consideration, neither books were deemed to have fallen foul of these regulations,” it concludes.

The decision by Fairfax school officials to reinstate the two books came about six weeks after more than 425 LGBTQ students and allies from over 30 Fairfax County public high schools sent a letter to the school board and the school system’s superintendent urging them to reinstate the two books.

The Pride Liberation Project, a coalition of LGBTQ and allied students in Fairfax County, organized the joint letter.

“Student representatives from over 30 schools, including nearly every high school in Fairfax County Public Schools, have signed this letter, and many of us are students of color, low-income, gender expansive and not out to our families and communities,” the letter states.

“We are writing to ask you to reject calls to remove Maia Kobabe’s ‘Gender Queer’ and Jonathan Evison’s ‘Lawn Boy’ from Fairfax County Public Schools libraries,” the letter says.

It points out that “hundreds of books in our schools already depict heterosexual relationships and physical intimacy,” and says singling out LGBTQ themed books with similar stories of intimacy for rejection is unfair.

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Transgender Zimbabwean woman in Md. wins asylum case

Mattie Tux Horton lives in Rockville

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Mattie Tux Horton, right, with her lawyer Ankush Dhupar in Los Angeles. (Photo courtesy of Mattie Tux Horton/Facebook)

A transgender woman from Zimbabwe who lives in Rockville won her asylum case in late October after living in the U.S. for the past five years. 

Mattie Tux Horton was represented by Ankush Dhupar from the Los Angeles law firm Paul Hastings LLP.

“I feel at ease,” said Horton. “Although a lot is going on in the [United States], it’s [significantly] different compared to where I’m coming from.”

Horton said that she now considers the U.S. to be her home. 

Although she has been living in Maryland for a while now, receiving asylum stripped away the anxiety associated with returning to Zimbabwe had the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency denied her request. 

With protection from the U.S. government, Horton gets to live in a safe environment and without the vile treatment she encountered in Zimbabwe because of her transness.

In her hometown of Bulawayo, Horton faced constant public humiliation and was once fired from her job as a graphic artist because of her dress presentation, according to an interview she did with Medium. 

She was attacked by a violent group of men in 2014, and was outed later that year following a holiday trip to South Africa, according to the interview. 

This incident garnered media attention and The Sunday News, a Zimbabwean newspaper, published an article in which it misgendered Horton throughout the entire piece. 

This prompted Horton to apply for a U.S. visa so she could attend an LGBTQ leadership conference in D.C. and remove herself from the cacophony in her town.

The Sunday News later ran a story about Horton’s departure in which they misgendered her again and referred to her as a “transgender man” and “alleged gay.”

Horton arrived in D.C. in December 2016 and began her asylum process there. 

While visiting a friend in Los Angeles, she connected with the city’s Human Rights First chapter that referred her to Dhupar, who represented her pro bono. 

Dhupar is a labor and employment law attorney at Paul Hastings LLC and he volunteered to work on Horton’s case as part of his firm’s partnership with Human Rights First to do pro bono LGBTQ advocacy work.

Horton’s asylum was his first ever immigration case.

While the legal underpinnings of immigration were new to him, Dhupar did not struggle to situate his modus operandi because of how compelling Horton’s case was.

“I always referred to the facts of the case because the law is geared towards helping situations like [Horton’s] where someone fears for their life in their home country,” said Dhupar. 

Dhupar also added that Horton’s case was a prime example of why the asylum process exists.

Horton submitted a psychological evaluation in February 2021 that would expedite her asylum case and grant her an interview notice sooner than usual. 

At that point she had lived in the U.S. for more than four years, but she still had to wait a couple more months before she was called for an interview. This caused Horton to feel trepid about whether her case was strong enough. 

“I went through depression and had psychological breakdowns,” said Horton. “I have friends who were called in for an interview months after moving here and didn’t have to wait five years [like I did].”

This hurdle, however, gave Horton and Dhupar adequate time to build an indisputable case. The two built a personal relationship that kept them vigilant despite the abounding uncertainty. 

“She was a perfect advocate for herself and took the initiative to make sure the case did not fall on the backburner,” said Dhupar. 

Now that she has won her case, Horton is taking time to relish on her recent success. 

“I’m going to take a breather,” she said.

She also plans to secure full-time employment in 2022 and build a makeup brand. Horton currently works part time as a steering committee member — a role she says is fulfilling — at the Black LGBTQIA+ Migrant Project- Transgender Law Center.

There, she links Black trans and gender nonconforming individuals to education, employment, legal and healthcare resources.

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