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Trans lawmaker impacted by Va. redistricting changes

Roem placed in new district, will address political future after session ends



Two-thirds of Va. Del. Danica Roem’s precincts are new to the district. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Sweeping changes in Virginia’s state legislative and congressional districts brought about by a redistricting order issued on Dec. 28 by the Virginia Supreme Court have significantly changed the makeup of the Manassas area district of Virginia House of Delegates member Danica Roem (D).

In 2018, Roem became the nation’s first out transgender person to be seated in a U.S. state legislature after she defeated longtime Republican incumbent and LGBTQ rights opponent Bob Marshall in the November 2017 election.

Roem, who is one of four out LGBTQ members of the Virginia General Assembly, appears to have been impacted the most by the redistricting among her three LGBTQ colleagues.

Gay state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria), gay state Del. Mark Sickles (D-Fairfax County), and lesbian state Del. Dawn Adams (D-Richmond area) were assigned new districts that retained most of their existing Democratic constituents or include new Democratic leaning areas, according to sources familiar with their districts.

State Del. Joshua Cole (D-Fredericksburg area), who identifies as bisexual, ended his tenure as a delegate this week after losing his re-election bid in the November election to Republican Tara Durant by 647 votes. The state’s redistricting changes place both Cole and Durant in a newly created 65th District that Stafford County Democratic Party activist Matt Rowe said makes the highly competitive district slightly more Democratic leaning.

Rowe said Cole, who the Blade was unable to reach for comment this week, indicated he plans to run again for the delegate seat in the next election.

The Virginia Supreme Court assumed the responsibility of redrawing the state’s congressional and state legislative districts under a state constitutional amendment approved by voters in a 2020 referendum. The redistricting measure approved by voters assigns the authority of creating the new districts to a bipartisan redistricting commission made up equally of Democrats and Republicans.

But the commission became deadlocked after each of the two-party representatives was unable to agree on a redistricting plan. Under a provision of the redistricting law, if the commission cannot reach an agreement, the matter is sent to the state Supreme Court, which appointed two redistricting experts called masters to redraw the state’s congressional and state legislative district maps to conform with population changes determined by the 2020 U.S. Census. One of the masters was selected by Democrats and the other by Republicans, according to a statement released by the court.

“We drew maps which did not unduly favor either party,” special masters Sean Trende and Bernard Grofman said in a statement. “These maps came about as part of a partisan and incumbency blind process based on good government map making,” the two said.

The changes made by the two masters carved Roem’s existing District 13 into three new districts – District 20, 21, and 22. Roem, who lives in the new District 20, is now the state delegate representing that district. Under rules established under the new redistricting law approved by voters, all the new districts took effect immediately on Dec. 28.

In response to a request by the Blade for her assessment of these changes, Roem said her new district consists of just six and a half of the 18 voter precincts that made up her former District 13. The other two-thirds of the precincts in her new district include residents that she had not represented before in Prince William County.

It couldn’t immediately be determined whether her new constituents are mostly Democrats, Republicans, independents, or a mix of all three.

“I live in the new House District 20 and will deal with my political future after this year’s Virginia General Assembly session ends in March,” Roem told the Blade in an email message.

“I’m confident the people of greater Prince William would continue to support me as a lifelong Prince William County resident from Manassas who served as their newspaper reporter for more than nine years from 2006-2015 before earning three terms now to serve them as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates,” she said.

“During my first two terms in office, the governor signed 23 of my bills into law – all with bipartisan support – including three bills to advance LGBTQ equality, so I’ve been effective at delivering for all of my constituents, LGBTQ residents included,” Roem said.

Gay Democratic activist Jim O’Connor of Prince William County, where Roem’s new district is located, said he believes the voter makeup of the new district would likely make it possible for her to win re-election in 2023 or possibly in 2022. Rowe, who said he also follows Prince William County politics, said he too thinks Roem is in a good position to win re-election whether in 2022 or 2023.

A lawsuit filed in federal court by some redistricting opponents is calling for a special House of Delegates election in 2022 on grounds that the redistricting resulted in large numbers of residents being represented by lawmakers they had no opportunity to vote for in an election, which may be in violation of the U.S. Constitution. The lawsuit is expected to be resolved sometime early this year to make it known whether a special Virginia House of Delegates election will take place this year in addition to the regularly scheduled election in 2023.



Va. school district refuses grant from LGBTQ group

Board members opposed It Gets Better Project money



E.C. Glass High School (Facebook photo)

At its regular board meeting last week, the Lynchburg City School Board voted 7-2 against accepting a grant from the It Gets Better Project. The Lynchburg News and Advance reported that the $10,000 grant was earmarked to develop a safe-space or “quiet room.”

The E.C. Glass High School Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) club was awarded the grant back in August as part of the nonprofit’s “50 States 50 Grants 5,000 Voices” program, an “initiative to fund projects that support and uplift LGBTQ+ identity in schools across the U.S. and Canada.”

In an interview with WSET, Brittany Harris, co-president of the GSA Club, E.C. Glass was the first school in Virginia to be awarded the money from the grant.

“We worked so hard to get this,” Harris said. “We submitted videos and testimonials from our students and how they have conquered so much; it was so surreal to be awarded the grant.”

During the Oct. 24 school board work session meeting, Board Chair Atul Gupta and Lynchburg City Schools Supt. Crystal Edwards told E.C. Glass principal Daniel Rule to provide more information on it and answer questions about the grant. This was also requested of the student GSA officers.

“Many schools within LCS already have such rooms and they have been shown to promote student self-regulation and are correlated to better student outcomes,” Rule told the board at that meeting.

“The students selected this project due to the high rate of bullying that the LGBTQIA+ community experiences, but the entire school would be welcomed and encouraged to use the room. The budget for the room includes flexible seating, interactive sensory devices, non-intrusive lighting and white noise machines,” Rule added.

During the Nov. 14 meeting the Lynchburg News and Advance reported that five E.C. Glass students and GSA club members told the board why they applied for the grant and why they picked the projects it’s intended to fund.

“Many students, including myself, struggle with mental health. School can be overwhelming just by itself, but a lot has happened in the last three or four years, what with the uncertainty of COVID along with the many lockdowns and how those have affected students,” junior Lindley Crosby said.

“Students have skipped school because they don’t feel safe or they don’t feel supported and these classrooms can be disruptive and chaotic and sometimes it can be too much. We want to provide this safe room so they have somewhere to go and breathe for a second.”

There were points that the meeting became contentious, a grandparent and guardian of an E.C. Glass student, Greg Barry, spoke in opposition to the grant.

“Let me be very clear, the LBGTQ agenda in schools is about indoctrination and grooming our children into an evil and wicked lifestyle, all while circumventing the rights and responsibilities of parents,” he said.

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TikTok video of Va. father at school board meeting goes viral

Cody Conner’s child is transgender



Cody Conner, a father of three kids, gave a passionate speech to the Virginia Beach City Public Schools' board meeting supporting LGBTQ kids. (Photo courtesy of Cody Conner's Facebook page)

Cody Conner, a father of three kids, gave a passionate speech supporting LGBTQ kids during the Virginia Beach City Public Schools’ board meeting last month that was uploaded as a TikTok video that has since gone viral. 

Conner excoriated the board for considering implementation of Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s anti-transgender school policies. 

“You are never going to find a right way to do the wrong thing and Gov. Youngkin’s policies are wrong,” Conner told the board.

“Never in history have the good guys been the segregationist group pushing to legislate identity,” he said. “Never in history have the good guys been closely connected with and supported by hate groups like the Proud Boys. And the good guys don’t put Hitler quotes for inspiration on the front of their newsletters. News flash: They’re the bad guys. They’re the bad guys supporting bad policy. And if you support the same bad policy, guess what? You’re one of the bad guys too.”

“When you look around and see only the wrong people supporting what you’re doing, you’re doing the wrong thing. Now you’ve heard some speakers come up here and say how they love these kids but won’t accept them. I’m here to tell you that if your love makes somebody not want to be alive, it’s not love. That’s not love.

Some of you are going to get up here and say ‘it’s the law.’ Well, I remind you that slavery and segregation used to be the law here in Virginia.

I just knew I couldn’t standby and do nothing, just let it happen and hope everything worked out ok and I also wanted to make sure my kid knew that I would stand up for them,” Conner explains as he begins to tear up. “My big job as a parent is not to tell my children who they are, it’s not to make the decisions for them, it’s not to live their life or decide what their life is going to be, but to show them the best way I know how to walk through this world.”

According to PRIDE journalist Ariel Messman-Rucker, Conner moved his family to Virginia Beach right before Youngkin’s policies passed and he worries about the future of his 13-year-old transgender daughter who is now in the 8th grade. The family moved from rural Virginia to Virginia Beach so that their kid, who came out as trans a year ago, would be in a school system that would be supportive, but that all changed because of Youngkin.

The 42-year-old father told PRIDE he’s a quiet person and might not have made the choice to speak up if not for his kids. 

Virginia’s Department of Education at the direction of the governor has set out “model policies” for public schools that require students to use the bathroom and sports team that matches their sex at birth. 

The policies require written instruction from parents for a student to use names or gender pronouns that differ from the official record, meaning that teacher can deadname students — refer to them by their prior name — if paperwork isn’t filled out by the parents and it requires the school to inform parents if a student is questioning their identity, according to WVEC.

LGBTQ rights activists, including Equality Virginia, have stated these policies will be especially detrimental to LGBTQ students who come from conservative non-affirming homes.

The Virginia Beach School Board in a 9-1 vote approved an updated policy for trans and nonbinary students.

The new policy will require teachers to use pronouns and names that are on official record with exceptions for nicknames commonly associated with the student’s legal name. If a student requests anything else, teachers will be required to report it to the parents. Students must also use bathrooms and participate in sports teams that correspond to their assigned sex. 

@beezay22 #CapCut #virginia #virginiabeach #schoolboard #schoolboardmeetings #lgbtqiaplus #transrightsarehumanrights #protecttranskids #stoptransgenocide #fyp ♬ original sound – BeezayDad

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Va. says Loudoun County photographer can refuse to shoot same sex weddings

Bob Updegrove challenged 2020 nondiscrimination law



(Bigstock photo)

Virginia last week said a Loudoun County photographer who filed a federal lawsuit against the state’s nondiscrimination law can refuse to photograph same-sex weddings.

Bob Updegrove in 2020 filed a federal lawsuit that challenged the Virginia Values Act, which bans discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. 

The Alliance Defending Freedom, an anti-LGBTQ legal group who represents Updegrove, on its website said the law that took effect on July 1, 2020, “forces him to use his artistic talents to photograph same-sex weddings if he photographs weddings between one man and one woman.” The Alliance Defending Freedom further notes the Virginia Values Act “violates foundational rights set forth in the U.S. Constitution, including the First Amendment’s Free Speech and Free Exercise clauses.”

A Nov. 3 filing with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond notes the state will not “force” Updegrove “to offer or provide photography celebrating same-sex weddings.” It also refers to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 303 Creative ruling in favor of Lorie Smith, a Colorado graphic artist who refused to make wedding websites for same-sex couples, even though the state’s nondiscrimination law bans discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The Alliance Defending Freedom represented Smith in her case.

Republican Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares was among the defendants named in his Nov. 3 filing with the 4th Circuit.

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