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Top 10 local stories of 2021

Hate crimes, book bans, and Nellie’s protests



(Washington Blade file photos)

#10: Gay Asian man, parents assaulted in Northwest  

Sean Lai, 30, an out gay man of Chinese ancestry, was beaten in August. (Photo courtesy of Lai)

A gay Asian man and his parents were treated and released from a local hospital after they were attacked and assaulted on Aug. 7 on a street near the Washington National Cathedral by a male assailant who shouted homophobic and anti-Asian slurs, according to D.C. police and court records.

Charging documents filed in D.C. Superior Court state that D.C. police, who arrived on the scene a short time after the attack, arrested D.C. resident and American University graduate student Patrick Trebat, 38, on one count of felony assault, two counts of simple assault, and one count of destruction of property. The charging document says Trebat allegedly damaged the cell phone of Sean Lai, 30, an out gay man of Chinese ancestry, as he allegedly punched and kicked Lai and Lai’s elderly parents on the 3700 block of Fulton St., N.W. while shouting the words “faggots” and “You’re not Americans.”

Prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office changed the charges to two counts of felony assault with significant bodily injury and listed the incident as an anti-Asian bias related crime. American University in October announced Trebat was no longer a student at the school.

 #9: D.C., Md, Va. pass laws banning panic defense

The D.C. Council and the Maryland and Virginia General Assemblies each passed their own laws in 2021 banning the use of the so-called LGBTQ panic defense in criminal trials.

LGBTQ rights organizations and legal experts have said attorneys representing defendants charged with committing violent crimes against LGBTQ people, including murder, have used the panic defense to confuse juries into finding them not guilty by arguing that their clients committed an act of violence against an LGBTQ person in a form of self-defense in a state of “panic” after they learned that the victim was an LGBTQ person. Supporters of banning the defense say it improperly places the blame for a violent act on the LGBTQ victim.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) signed the legislation banning the panic defense after expressing strong support for the measures. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) declined to sign the Maryland bill but announced he would allow the bill to become law without his signature. 

#8: Gay men arrested under Md. sodomy law in bookstore raid

Harford County, Md., Sheriff’s Office deputies arrested four men on a charge of Perverted Sexual Practice under the Maryland sodomy law during a May 20 raid on the Bush River Books & Video store in the town of Abington, located 25 miles north of Baltimore.

Four other men were charged with indecent exposure, and another was charged with solicitation for prostitution for a total of nine arrests during the May 20 raid that was prompted by complaints from nearby residents, according to a statement released by the Sheriff’s Office.

An attorney with the LGBTQ litigation group Lambda Legal said the sodomy arrests appeared to be a violation of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2003 ruling declaring state sodomy laws unconstitutional. Lambda attorney Greg Nevins said that although the Supreme Court ruling does not cover acts of sodomy committed in public places, the men arrested in the May 20 raid engaged in alleged consenting sexual acts in a locked video booth, which Sheriff’s deputies unlocked after obtaining keys from a bookstore employee. He said it would be up to a judge to decide whether the video booths could be considered a private space as argued by attorneys representing the arrested men, who were released while awaiting court appearances.

The bookstore raid, meanwhile, drew attention to a little noticed development that the Maryland General Assembly in 2020 repealed only one of Maryland’s two antiquated sodomy statutes, the one outlawing anal sex. At the request of conservative Republican lawmakers, the General Assembly left in place Maryland’s Unnatural or Perverted Sexual Practice Act, which outlaws oral sex. LGBTQ supportive Maryland House of Delegates Member David Moon (D-Montgomery County) said he plans to introduce a bill in 2022 to repeal that statute.

#7: Loudoun County schools’ trans nondiscrimination policy under fire

Loudoun County Public Schools building. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Loudoun County, Va., public school system’s policy of allowing students to use the bathroom or locker room that matches their gender identity came under fire in October after news surfaced that a 15-year-old “gender fluid” boy allegedly sexually assaulted two girls in different high schools.

Law enforcement officials said one of the assaults allegedly occurred on May 28 in the girl’s bathroom at Stone Bridge High School in Ashburn, Va., while the boy was dressed in a skirt. The other assault allegedly occurred on Oct. 6 in a vacant classroom at Broad Run High School, also in Ashburn, after the boy was transferred there while facing charges for the first assault.

“The sexual assault on our daughter and the subsequent sexual assault by the same individual were both predictable and preventable,” the parents of the girl involved in the first alleged assault said in a statement released by their attorney. “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 parents’ statement says.

The LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Loudoun released its own statement saying sexual assault cases should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law regardless of the sexual orientation or gender identity of the perpetrator. However, the group said allegations that the perpetrator of the two school assaults was transgender or genderfluid had not been verified. “Attempts to shift the 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 Equality Loudoun statement says.

 #6: Supreme Court upholds Va. trans rights ruling

A court ruled that Gavin Grimm had a legal right to use the men’s bathroom at his high school. (Photo courtesy of Grimm)

The U.S. Supreme on June 28 refused to hear an appeal by the Gloucester County, Va., School Board challenging a lower court ruling that transgender former high school student Gavin Grimm had a legal right to use the men’s bathroom at his high school. The high court’s decision not to hear the case leaves in place U.S. district court and U.S. appeals court rulings declaring the school board violated federal law and the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution by prohibiting Grimm from using the same bathrooms as other boys and forcing him to use separate bathrooms. The ACLU, which represented Grimm in his more than five-year legal battle that continued after his high school graduation, called the development a major victory for the rights of trans students.

Four months after the Supreme Court’s action, the Gloucester School Board agreed to settle the case by paying Grimm $1.3 million to cover attorney’s fees that the ACLU says the school board is responsible for.

 #5: Casa Ruby shakeup

Ruby Corado stepped down this year after a dispute with the D.C. government. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Ruby Corado, the founder and executive director of D.C.’s LGBTQ community services center Casa Ruby, announced in a Facebook live broadcast in October that she had resigned from her executive director’s position. Corado stated in her broadcast that her resignation was in response to an ongoing dispute with the D.C. government that resulted in a decision by the city one week earlier to discontinue an $850,000 annual city grant to fund Casa Ruby’s emergency low barrier shelter for homeless LGBTQ youth and adults.

Corado called the decision by the D.C. Department of Human Services not to renew the grant for fiscal year 2022 an act of retaliation based, in part, on what she says was her refusal to agree to a request by the city agency to move the Casa Ruby shelter to a neighborhood unsafe for trans women and LGBTQ youth. The DHS has declined to disclose its reason for ending the grant, saying only that it has arranged for other LGBTQ supportive organizations to carry out LGBTQ-related homeless services.

Longtime D.C. transgender rights advocate Alexis Blackmon, who had been serving as Casa Ruby’s Government Affairs Director, was named the organization’s interim executive director. Corado said that, following a six-month sabbatical, she plans to organize fundraising efforts to support Casa Ruby’s programs independent of D.C. government funding.   

#4: GOP victories in Va. could endanger LGBTQ rights

Governor-elect Glenn Younkin. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The close but decisive wins in the November election in Virginia by Republicans Glenn Youngkin as governor, Winsome Sears as lieutenant governor, and Jason Miyares as attorney general and Republicans winning control of the Virginia House of Delegates raises questions about whether the recent sweeping advances in LGBTQ rights in Virginia put in place by the outgoing Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, and the Democratic-controlled General Assembly could be in jeopardy. 

Youngkin, who defeated Democratic candidate and former Virginia Gov. Terry McAulliffe, expressed opposition to nondiscrimination protections enacted by the Democratic-controlled General Assembly in 2020 for transgender and nonbinary students in the state’s public schools. He has also expressed opposition to same-sex marriage while saying he would not likely take steps to repeal the legal standing of marriage equality.

But of greatest concern among Virginia’s LGBTQ activists is Attorney General-elect Miyares’s voting record on LGBTQ issues in his role as a member of the state’s House of Delegates from the Virginia Beach area since 2016. Since Democrats took control of the legislature in January 2020, Miyares has voted against nearly all of the LGBTQ supportive bills passed during that time, including bills adding LGBTQ people to the state’s anti-discrimination law, adding LGBTQ people to the state’s hate crimes law, banning the use of the so-called LGBTQ panic defense in criminal trials, restricting the use of conversion therapy for minors, and repealing the state’s longstanding but unenforceable statute banning same-sex marriage.

With Democrats retaining control of the Virginia Senate, Republican elected officials hostile to LGBTQ rights cannot — without the unlikely defection of Democratic lawmakers — repeal these and other LGBTQ supportive laws in the state. But activists have expressed concern that, as attorney general, Miyares might be in a position to curtail the enforcement of the LGBTQ supportive laws.

Among the few positive outcomes of the Virginia election, according to LGBTQ activists, was that the three openly LGBTQ members of the House of Delegates, each of whom are Democrats, won re-election, including Danica Roem of Manassas, who is the first openly trans person to be seated in any state legislature in the U.S.

#3: LGBTQ books removed, reinstated in Fairfax schools

(Book cover image courtesy Amazon)

The Fairfax County, Va., Public Schools announced in November that it had returned two LGBTQ-themed books to the libraries of the school system’s high schools after temporarily removing the books in response to objections from some parents 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,” an autobiography by non-binary author Maia Kobabe, were deemed to be important works of literature suitable to young adults following a thorough review by two school system committees, according to an announcement by Fairfax Public Schools officials. The officials said that although the books include descriptions of sexual acts, they do not constitute pornography and do not promote pedophilia as claimed by some parents and others opposing the books.

The decision to reinstate the books “reaffirms Fairfax Public Schools’ ongoing commitment to provide diverse reading materials that reflect our student population, allowing every child an opportunity to see themselves reflected in literary characters,” a statement by school officials says.

News of the controversy surrounding the two books in the Fairfax County school libraries triggered efforts by conservative groups to ban LGBTQ-themed books in other school districts throughout the country.

#2: D.C. LGBTQ bars and events rebound as COVID restrictions eased

‘Royals’ nightlife event at Dupont Underground. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Owners of the city’s gay bars and LGBTQ friendly bars and restaurants joined nightlife businesses across the city in rejoicing over D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s announcement in May that restaurants and bars could resume operations at full capacity and return to pre-pandemic operating hours on May 21.

The mayor’s announcement followed what nightlife businesses said was severe financial hardship caused by the earlier full business shutdowns due to COVID public health restrictions followed by a partial reopening with strict limits of only 25 percent of the normal number of customers inside bars and restaurants and a ban on standing in bars or sitting at bar stools.

The lifting of the bar, restaurant and other nightlife business restrictions in May was followed by the city’s decision to lift all restrictions on indoor and outdoor events on June 11. That cleared the way for D.C.’s Capital Pride Alliance to organize several scaled back LGBTQ Pride events, including a June 12 Pride Walk, which began at Dupont Circle and traveled to Freedom Plaza, where a rally was held. The Walk drew widespread attention when U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband joined the walk as it approached Freedom Plaza.

Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband joined a Pride Walk in June. (Screen capture via WJLA)

The enthusiasm over the full reopening of LGBTQ nightlife venues, especially the bars, became evident with long lines of patrons waiting to get into some of the bars that were filled to capacity.

#1: Nellie’s hit with protests after Black woman dragged down stairs

Protesters outside Nellie’s earlier this year. (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

A June 13 incident in which a black woman was dragged down a flight of stairs by a security guard during a brawl that broke out at the D.C. gay bar Nellie’s Sports Bar led to a boycott and months of protests against the bar, an investigation into the incident by the city’s liquor board, and charges by some LGBTQ activists that Nellie’s and other D.C. gay bars had racially biased policies and practices.

The action by the security guard was captured on video taken by one of the customers on their phone that went viral on social media, prompting LGBTQ activists and Black Lives Matter organizers to demand that Nellie’s take appropriate action to review its security procedures. Nellie’s issued an apology for the incident the following day and announced it had fired the private security company whose employee, who is Black, dragged college student Keisha Young, 22, down the stairs. Nellie’s also announced it would temporarily close for business to assess what happened and develop plans to reopen as a safer space for all members of the community.

After two months of staging Friday night protests outside Nellie’s from June through most of August, protest leaders announced at a community meeting that they would discontinue the protests but continue to ask the community to boycott Nellie’s.

Nellie’s reopened 35 days after its self-imposed closing. But on Oct. 20, the D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, following an investigation into the June 13 incident, approved a compromise agreement with Nellie’s that called for Nellie’s to pay a $5,000 fine and serve a seven-day license suspension for violations that liquor board investigations found had occurred in Nellie’s handling of the fight on its premises that led to Young being dragged down the stairs.

An order issued by the ABC Board said the license suspension would take place from Dec. 20-26 of this year.



New campaign challenges Va. guidelines for transgender, nonbinary students

Students4Trans planning rallies, walkouts across the state



Students and Pride Liberation Project supporters hold signs supporting transgender rights at Luther Jackson Middle School in Falls Church, Va., during a Fairfax County School Board meeting in 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A group of Virginia students have launched a campaign that challenges the state’s new guidelines for transgender and nonbinary students.

The Pride Liberation Project on Sept. 20 announced the formation of Students4Trans.

Students4Trans held a rally outside the Virginia Department of Education in Richmond on Sept. 22. Another rally will take place during the Virginia Beach School Board meeting on Tuesday.

The Virginia Department of Education in July announced the new guidelines for which Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin asked. The regulations, among other things, require parents to be informed of a student’s name and pronoun change, with the exception of “imminent risk of suicide related to parental abuse or neglect.” 

Arlington County Public Schools, Fairfax County Public Schools and Prince William County Schools are among the school districts that have refused to implement the guidelines. 

The Spotsylvania County School Board announced last month that students are required to use the bathroom that aligs with their assigned sex, and parents could choose the names and pronouns their children use at school. Two parents in Virginia Beach have filed a lawsuit that seeks to force the city’s school district to implement the new guidelines for transgender and nonbinary students.

Students4Trans has organized a student walkout on Friday to protest the Spotsylvania County School Board’s new policies.

Michael K. Lavers contributed to this story.

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District of Columbia

Dignity Washington holds Catholic mass in honor of woman priest

LGBTQ group celebrates its support for ordination of women priests



Rev. Ann Penick, center, performs mass on Sunday, Sept. 24 for members and friends of the DC LGBTQ Catholic group Dignity Washington. (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

The D.C. LGBTQ Catholic group Dignity Washington says it dedicated its weekly Catholic mass on Sunday, Sept. 24, to honor a woman priest who has served as one of its priests since 2017 in a gesture of support for the women’s priest movement.

“This Mass commemorates the ordination of Ann Penick as a Roman Catholic Woman Priest and celebrates the invaluable contributions of women who have served the church in various capacities,” the group said in a statement.

“Rev. Ann Penick’s ordination as a Catholic priest, and the ordination of female priests like her, represents a step forward in the Catholic Church’s ongoing journey towards greater inclusivity and recognition of diverse vocations within its ranks,” the statement says. “Dignity Washington is deeply honored to support her ministry and those of other women priests,” it says.

The fact that the Dignity mass in honor of Rev. Penick, who presided over the mass, and all of its weekly Sunday masses are held at St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church near Dupont Circle highlights the fact that the official Catholic church recognizes neither Dignity nor women priests.

Dignity, a nationwide LGBTQ Catholic group with chapters across the country, is banned from holding any of its masses in Catholic Churches.

Penick told the Washington Blade in an interview the week prior to her saying the Dignity Mass on Sept. 24 that she was ordained as a priest in June 2011 by a woman bishop associated with a breakaway Catholic organization, the Association of Roman Catholic Womenpriests. The organization was formed shortly after three male Roman Catholic Bishops ordained the first known women priests on a ship sailing along the Danube River in Europe in June 2002.

Two of the bishops who publicly disclosed their decision to ordain the women were excommunicated by Catholic Church officials at the Vatican in Rome. The third bishop acted anonymously and is believed to be continuing to serve as a bishop.

One of these bishops subsequently ordained female bishops who, in turn, began ordaining other women Catholic priests in Europe and in the U.S.

Information posted on the Association of Roman Catholic Womenpriests website says it and others associated with the women priest movement believe the ordination of women bishops and priests is valid under the biblical concept of ‘apostolic succession.”

Under that concept, the spiritual authority that Jesus bestowed on his original apostles has been handed down to subsequent generations of clergy, and the ordained women bishops and priests can pass that spiritual authority on to other female clergy.

A spokesperson for the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, which oversees Catholic churches in D.C. and parts of Maryland, did not respond to a request by the Blade for comment on the women’ priest movement.

Penick, who is married and has two stepchildren with her husband, points out that the women’s priest movement has also broken with the official church over the longstanding church requirement that priests practice celibacy and cannot marry.

“The Roman Catholic women’s priest movement sees celibacy as a personal calling,” Penick told the Blade. “If a woman is personally called to celibacy, she follows that call,” Penick said. “But a woman can also be married and have children, and that’s always been a vision of the Roman Catholic Women’s priest movement.”

Penick notes that it was not until the early 1100s that the church put in place a celibacy requirement for its priests.

She has been active in the Catholic Church for most of her life in several states where she has lived and worked. She received a certification in lay ministry from the Diocese of Birmingham, Ala. in 1993, a master’s in counseling degree from the University of Birmingham in 1995, and a master’s in Pastoral Ministry from Boston College in 2008.

She and her family currently live in Alexandria, Va., and she currently works as a mental health counselor at the Counseling and Psychological Services department at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. Penick said while living in Maryland she served as a priest for Living Water Inclusive Catholic Community in Catonsville, and currently serves as a priest for the D.C. Living Family Mass Community in D.C. as well as serving as one of Dignity Washington’s rotating priests.

“We are so lucky to have her,” said Dignity Washington former president Daniel Barutta, who noted that Penick and her husband are Dignity members. “She’s just a shining star for women,” he said. “And we really hope that Dignity Washington is leading the church, showing the church which direction to go in terms of empowering women and having them as our spiritual leaders.”

Barutta said Penick has joined the Dignity Washington contingent in D.C.’s LGBTQ Pride parade and the city’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade and has led Dignity prayer services on various occasions.

Peter Edwards, Dignity Washington’s vice president, said following its Sunday mass that the organization “certainly does affirm that women can serve as priests in our community.” Edwards added, “We had a wonderful congregation tonight for a mass in celebration of Rev. Ann.”

Sister Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of the Mount Rainier, Md., based LGBTQ Catholic advocacy organization New Ways Ministry, said she believes the fully approved ordination of women priests in the Catholic Church will someday happen.

“There is no theological reason, only cultural ones, why women have not been ordained priests,” she said in referring to the official church. “I believe that a Catholic organization that ordains women priests is living out their sincere and deep-seated beliefs and preparing the wider community for what will eventually come to pass,’ she said.

“Not all arrive at the destination at the same time, and I admire those with the courage of their convictions who lead the way,” she added.

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District of Columbia

Activists, policy makers mark Celebrate Bisexual Day in D.C.

BiPlus Organizing US hosted event at HRC



Adrian Shanker, senior advisor for LGBTQI+ health equity in the U.S.Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health, speaks at a Bisexual Awareness Day event at the Human Rights Campaign on Sept. 23, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Cal Benn)

BiPlus Organizing US on Saturday hosted a Celebrate Bisexual Day event at the Human Rights Campaign.

Fiona Dawson, co-founder of BiPlus Organizing US, and Mélanie Snail, committee member of the organization, emceed the event. HRC Senior Vice President of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Rebecca Hershey welcomed attendees. 

Heyshey discussed her journey as a bisexual, mixed race, Jewish woman. Hershey paraphrased Adrienne Maree Brown, stating “change is coming, we are creating change.” 

PFLAG Learning and Inclusion Manager Mackenzie Harte gave a presentation on the history of bisexual identities, defined terms surrounding gender and sexuality and went over statistics of discrimination and health disparities that bisexual individuals face.

Harte’s presentation noted 48 percent of bisexual individuals reported an annual income of less than $30,000, compared to 30 percent of gay men, 39 percent of lesbians and 28 percent of all adults in the U.S. 

Harte went on to say 28 percent of bisexual students report having attempted suicide; and bisexual people have a higher risk of mood disorders, substance abuse and mental illness than their lesbian, gay, or straight cohorts. Bisexual people of all genders face higher rates of sexual assault than those same peers. One reason for these statistics is isolation: 39 percent of bisexual men and 33 percent of bisexual women report not being out to any health care provider, and only 44 percent of bisexual youth report having an adult they could turn to if they were sad. 

Harte also spoke about the Bisexual Manifesto, which the Bay Area Bisexual Network wrote in 1990. 

“The bisexual manifesto very intentionally was not binary,” Harte said.

They said the text works against the stigma and stereotypes that claim bisexuality is confined to “male, female.” 

Tania Israel, a bisexual advocate and psychology professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, shared some of her bisexual haikus, which she calls, “bikus.”

Dawson moderated the next panel.

Panelists included Nicole Holmes, a bisexual advocate and public health professional, National Center for Transgender Equality Communications Director Leroy Thomas and NCTE Policy Counsel Kris Tassone. 

The panel talked about how shame and stigma drive the statistics that negatively impact the bisexual community. Another word that came up as a driving force was “intersectionality.” 

Holmes said that when it comes to intersectionality, it’s important to not just “list identities,” but to look deep into “the purpose behind why we are talking about intersectional identities” in the first place.

Adrian Shanker, senior advisor on LGBTQ+ Health Equity for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, spoke about health equity for the bisexual community. 

“Striving for health equity remains a core priority. It also remains an unmet dream,” said Shanker. “Queer people have always had to be our own health advocates.” While health equity may not be here yet, Shanker says there is much in the works for the LGBTQ community, bisexuals specifically. 

Shanker cited a National Cancer Institute funding opportunity that invites research proposals to cancer care for sexual and gender minorities, stating bisexual specific proposals are welcome. The impending potential government shutdown may postpone it. 

The Biden-Harris administration is also working to ban so-called conversion therapy at the federal level. Additionally, 988, the national suicide prevention hotline, began a program to offer specialized support for LGBTQ youth and young adults last year. 

Shanker said bisexual people should prioritize preventative screenings for skin cancer, oral cancer, lung cancer, regular cervical and anal pap tests, mammograms, prostate exams and colonoscopies. 

“If you have a body part, get it screened,” said Shanker. 

Megan Townsend, senior director of entertainment research and analysis for the GLAAD Media Institute, did a presentation on bisexual representation in the media and opportunities for advancement. 

 “I want to see bi+/pan colors displayed on the White House,” said Dawson. “I want every national LGBTQIA+ organization to be talking about us, to put our concerns front and center.”

The data presented can be found here.

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