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Va. lawmakers, activists vow to defend LGBTQ rights gains

Republicans regained control of House of Delegates last November

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The Virginia Capitol (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Virginia General Assembly’s 2022 legislative session began on Wednesday amid concerns that Republicans will try to curtail LGBTQ rights.

Republicans last November regained control of the Virginia House of Delegates, and now have a 52-48 majority. Democrats still maintain a 21-19 majority in the Virginia Senate.

Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin, Lieutenant Gov.-elect Winsome Sears and Attorney General-elect Jason Miyares take office on Saturday. All three defeated their Democratic challengers — Terry McAuliffe, former state Del. Hala Ayala (D-Prince William County) and outgoing Attorney General Mark Herring respectively — last November.

Democrats, who in 2019 regained control of the General Assembly for the first time since the 1990s, passed a series of LGBTQ rights bills that outgoing Gov. Ralph Northam signed. These include the Virginia Values Act, which added sexual orientation and gender identity to Virginia’s nondiscrimination law, and a ban on so-called conversion therapy for minors.

Northam in 2020 signed a law that repealed the state’s statutory ban on marriage and civil unions for same-sex couples. Virginia that same year became the 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.

The Virginia Department of Education in 2020 issued guidelines that are designed to protect transgender and non-binary students.

Youngkin during his campaign against McAuliffe expressed support for Tanner Cross, a gym teacher at a Leesburg elementary school who was suspended from his job after he spoke out against the policy. Youngkin has also said he does not support allowing trans children to play on sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity.

Vee Lamneck, executive director of Equality Virginia, a statewide LGBTQ rights group, on Wednesday in an email to the Washington Blade noted Youngkin has nominated former Heritage Foundation President Kay Coles James to become the next Secretary of the Commonwealth. Lamneck notes the Heritage Foundation “has a long history of spreading harmful, anti-LGBTQ rhetoric” and James herself has said the Equality Act, which would add sexual orientation and gender identity to federal civil rights laws, is “anything but equality.”

“This is unacceptable,” said Lamneck.

State Sen. Travis Hackworth (R-Tazewell County) last month introduced Senate Bill 20, which would eliminate the requirement that school districts must implement the Department of Education’s trans and non-binary student guidelines. State Del. Danica Roem (D-Manassas), who in 2018 became the first openly trans person seated in any state legislature in the U.S., on Tuesday told the Blade during a telephone interview that she expects SB 20 “would be dead on arrival” in committee.

“I would strongly encourage LGBTQ folks and our allies and champions to contact their state senators about SB 20, let them know that this is a thing and that they do need to oppose it,” said Roem. “This is a year where if there is a state legislator who introduces anti-LGBTQ legislation we should as a community and as a Democratic Party specifically should really make a statement and defeat that loudly and make a very, very clear statement that as long as we have at least divided government, we are not going back on what we have done to make Virginia one of the most LGBTQ-inclusive states in the country.”

Roem also reiterated her pledge to fight for trans youth in Richmond.

“I will be a brick wall on the House floor, and I will fight my heart out defending trans kids,” she said.

State Dels. Mark Sickles (D-Fairfax County) and Dawn Adams (D-Richmond), who are openly gay and lesbian respectively, both won re-election. State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) remains the only openly gay member of the Senate.

Ebbin on Wednesday told the Blade during a telephone interview that Youngkin since his election has not specifically indicated whether he will try to rescind the Department of Education guidelines.

“We have to be vigilant and be weary of executive actions and be ready to combat any,” added the Alexandria Democrat.

Lamneck echoed Ebbin and Roem.

“Given the new political climate in Virginia, we know that many are worried about the future of LGBTQ equality in our commonwealth,” said Lamneck.

They acknowledged the House is “less friendly,” but added the Senate “remains unchanged.”

“We will work with the Senate’s pro-equality majority to act as a crucial back stop against harmful legislation and efforts to roll back our hard-earned wins passed during the last two years,” said Lamneck. “Bills have already been introduced that would weaken both the Virginia Values Act and the Virginia Department of Education’s guidelines for the treatment of transgender students. We can’t allow this to happen. We will continue to build bipartisan partnerships and mobilize advocates to change hearts and minds so that we can prevent any anti-LGBTQ bills from becoming law.”

Equality Virginia Executive Director Vee Lamneck (Photo courtesy of Vee Lamneck)

State Sen. Steve Newman (R-Bedford County), who, along with former state Del. Bob Marshall (R-Prince William County), co-authored an amendment to the state constitution that defines marriage as between a man and a woman, co-chairs Youngkin’s transition team.

Virginia voters approved the Marshall-Newman Amendment in 2006. Roem in 2017 defeated Marshall.

The General Assembly last year approved a resolution that seeks to repeal the Marshall-Newman Amendment. It must pass in two successive legislatures before it can go to the ballot.

Ebbin last month introduced the resolution. He told the Blade that he remains “hopeful” it will pass, but “I’m trying not be over confident.”

A law that requires Virginia’s Department of Motor Vehicles to offer driver’s licenses with a “non-binary” gender marker took effect in 2020. Roem told the Blade she is considering a bill that would allow marriage certificates with non-binary gender markers.

Roem introduces bill to cap FOIA fees

Virginia legalized marijuana in 2020.

Ebbin said he plans to introduce bills that would further regulate marijuana sales in the state.

Roem has put forth measures that would reform Virginia’s court-appointed adult guardianship system, expand funding for transportation safety measures and cap fees that municipalities can charge journalists who file Freedom of Information Act requests. Roem has also introduced a bill that would expedite the process through which students can receive free meals at school.

“How about instead of singling out and stigmatizing kids … we feed them instead,” she said.

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District of Columbia

Capital Stonewall Democrats backs Robert White over Bowser

LGBTQ group endorses Erin Palmer over incumbent Mendelson

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Council member Robert White won the backing of Capital Stonewall Democrats in his bid for mayor over incumbent Muriel Bowser. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Capital Stonewall Democrats, the city’s largest local LGBTQ political group, announced on May 17 that it has selected D.C. Council member Robert White (D-At-Large) over incumbent Mayor Muriel Bowser and political newcomer Erin Palmer over D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson as its endorsed candidates in the city’s June 21 Democratic primary.

With Bowser and Mendelson as well as White having longstanding records of support for LGBTQ rights and Palmer expressing strong support for the LGBTQ community, local observers say the LGBTQ Democratic group’s 163 voting members appear to have based their endorsement decisions on other pressing issues facing the city rather than only LGBTQ specific issues.

In other races, Capital Stonewall Democrats, formerly known as the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, which was founded in 1976, voted to endorse incumbent Ward 1 Council member Brianne Nadeau over gay former D.C. police officer Salah Czapary and community activist Sabel Harris who are running against Nadeau.

In the Ward 5 Council race, the group has endorsed gay D.C. Board of Education member Zachary Parker in a five-candidate contest for the seat being vacated by incumbent Council member Kenyan McDuffie, who ran unsuccessfully for the office of D.C. Attorney General.

The group has also endorsed Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), who is running unopposed in the primary; D.C. Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), who’s favored to win re-election against two lesser-known opponents; and D.C. shadow U.S. Rep. Oye Owolewa, who’s also favored over a lesser known opponent.

Capital Stonewall Democrats announced it did not make an endorsement in the Ward 3 and At-Large D.C. Council races and in the D.C. Attorney General race because no candidate received a required 60 percent of the vote under the group’s longstanding rules for endorsements.

By not endorsing in the At-Large race, the group passed over incumbent At-Large Council member Anita Bonds, a longtime supporter of LGBTQ issues. Bonds is being challenged by Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Lisa Gore, former D.C. shadow House member Nate Fleming, and former D.C. Council staffer Dexter Williams.

In the hotly contested Ward 3 Council race, nine candidates are competing for the seat being vacated by incumbent Mary Cheh, another longtime LGBTQ rights supporter.

In the race for attorney general, three prominent local attorneys — Brian Schwalb, Ryan Jones, and Bruce Spiva — are competing for the AG position being vacated by incumbent Karl Racine, who chose not to run for re-election.

Capital Stonewall Democrats’ endorsements follow a series of five LGBTQ candidate forums the group held virtually in which most of the candidates running in the various races attended.
In the group’s mayoral form, Bowser was the only one of the four mayoral contenders that did not attend. Her supporters said she had a conflicting event organized by gay Democratic activist Kurt Vorndran that prevented her from attending the Stonewall event.

Those who attended the mayoral forum were Robert White, D.C. Council member and mayoral candidate Trayon White (D-Ward 8), and former attorney and community activist James Butler.
A detailed vote tally released by Capital Stonewall Democrats shows the vote count for each of the endorsed candidates as well as candidates in the races for which the group did not make an endorsement.

In the mayoral race, Robert White received 120 votes, or 74.5 percent. Bowser came in second place with 37 votes or 23.0 percent; Trayon White received just two votes or 1.2 percent, with Butler receiving just 1 vote at 0.6 percent. One vote was cast for no endorsement.

In the D.C. Council Chair race, Palmer received 89 votes or 60.1 percent, just surpassing the 60 percent threshold needed for an endorsement. Mendelson received 48 votes or 32.4 percent. Eleven votes were cast for no endorsement.

In the Ward 1 Council race, Nadeau received 100 votes or 69.4 percent compared to gay candidate Czapary, who came in second place with 23 votes or 16.0 percent. Candidate Sabel Harris came in third place with 9 votes or 6.3 percent, with a no endorsement selection receiving 12 votes or 8.3 percent.

In the Ward 5 contest, gay school board member Parker received 91 votes or 64.5 percent. Candidate Faith Hubbard came in second with 31 votes or 22.0 percent. The remaining candidates received fewer than 10 votes each, including former At-Large and former Ward 5 Council member Vincent Orange, who received 5 votes or 3.5 percent.

“Since Capital Stonewall Democrats has only 221 members, and only 163 bothered to vote, this is clearly not representative of the LGBTQ+ community in the District,” said gay Democratic activist Peter Rosenstein, who is supporting Bowser for mayor.

But longtime D.C. LGBTQ rights advocate A. Billy S. Jones-Hennin is among the local activists who view the Capital Stonewall Democrats’ endorsement of lesser-known challengers – most of whom have progressive, left-leaning views – as a reflection of changes in the demographics of the LGBTQ community and the Stonewall group’s members.

“At the forefront for voters is who they feel can address core problems like crime, open drug transactions, and increased homeless populations,” Jones-Hennin told the Blade. “Just asking voters for support based on their support of the LGBTQ+ community in the past does not cut it,” he said. “We are multi-faceted voters looking for new, more progressive and aggressive leadership.”

The Capital Stonewall Democrats list of endorsements as well as races with no endorsement can be viewed below:

• Mayor: Robert White, with 74.5% of the round one vote
• DC Attorney General: No Endorsement
• DC Council Chair: Erin Palmer, with 60.1% of the round one vote
• Ward 1 Council: Brianne K. Nadeau, with 69.4% of the round one vote
• Ward 3 Council: No Endorsement
• Ward 5 Council: Zachary Parker, with 64.5% of the round one vote
• Ward 6 Council: Charles Allen, with 83.2% of the round one vote
• At-Large Council: No Endorsement
• Delegate to U.S. House of Representatives: Eleanor Holmes Norton, with 69.7% of the round one vote
• U.S. Representative: Oye Owolewa, with 66.1% of the round one vote

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District of Columbia

Pannell resigns in protest from Ward 8 Council member’s LGBT Commission

Says Trayon White has no out member of his staff

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Phil Pannell resigned as a member of the Ward 8 LGBT Commission created by D.C. Council member Trayon White. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Longtime D.C. LGBTQ rights activist Phil Pannell announced on May 6 that he has resigned as a member of the Ward 8 LGBT Commission created by D.C. Council member Trayon White (D-Ward 8) on grounds that White does not have an LGBTQ person on his Council staff.

White’s office has said the Council member created the commission to “focus on the specific needs of this community” in his role as a supporter of LGBTQ equality.

“For me, this is a major issue of inclusion, affirmative action and diversity,” Pannell said in an email message announcing his resignation. “I as a Black Gay man cannot in good conscience continue to be a member of my Councilmember’s LGBT Commission when he has no one from my community on his staff,” Pannell’s announcement message continues.

“This is hypocritical at best and structurally homophobic at worst,” he said. “I deeply resent and refuse to be used as anyone’s homosexual prop for any purposes. Therefore, I resign from the commission effective immediately.”

In response to a request by the Washington Blade for comment on Pannell’s resignation, Julia Jessie, White’s director of communications, said White’s Council office “follows all legal HR procedures and hires based on experience and skillset.” Jessie added, “As an employer, we do not discriminate or consider a person’s race, color, religion, or sex, including sexual orientation or gender identity, when making decisions about employment qualifications.”

According to Jessie, “We do, however, harvest a safe and inclusionary work environment where employees who wish to voluntarily disclose their sexual orientation of gender identity feel comfortable doing so.”

White’s office released a statement from the Ward 8 LGBT Commission’s chair, Marvin ‘Rahim’ Briggs, saying the commission “regretfully accepts” Pannell’s resignation.

“The Commission will continue to focus on and address issues affecting Ward 8 LGBTQ,” Briggs says in the statement. “We’ll continue to organize to promote acceptance of LGBTQ community diversity and to foster respect and appreciation for each member of the community residing in Ward 8.”

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District of Columbia

Two gay candidates disqualified from D.C. primary ballot

Republican, Libertarian activists withdraw from races

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(Blade archive photo by Aram Vartian)

A member of the Capital Stonewall Democrats, D.C.’s largest LGBTQ local political group, mounted a successful challenge before the D.C. Board of Elections earlier this month that resulted in a gay Republican and a gay Libertarian Party activist withdrawing as candidates for public office in the city’s June 21 primary.

James Harnett, 24, a member of the Ward 2 Democratic Committee and a member of the staff of U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), filed challenges to the candidacy of gay Libertarian Party activist Bruce Majors, who was running unopposed in the June 21 primary for the office of both D.C. Delegate to the U.S. House and chair of the Libertarian Party of D.C.

The Board of Elections upheld Harnett’s challenge claiming that Majors failed to obtain a sufficient number of valid petition signatures needed to be placed on the ballot for both offices, according to elections board spokesperson Nicholas Jacobs. Majors withdrew his candidacy for both offices rather than contest the challenge.

The Board of Elections also upheld a challenge filed by Harnett against the candidacy of gay Republican and D.C. Log Cabin Republicans organization member Andrew Desser, who was running unopposed in the primary for the position of Ward 1 Chairperson of the D.C. Republican Committee.

Desser told the Blade he acknowledged that he fell short in obtaining the needed number of valid petition signatures and would not contest the challenge.

Harnett, who appeared to be acting on his own behalf and not representing the Capital Stonewall Democrats in his challenges to Majors and Desser before the election board, did not respond to the Blade’s request for comment.

Board of Elections records showed that he also successfully challenged six other candidates seeking ballot placement in the June 21 primary, one of whom, Lori Furstenberg, was running for mayor as a Republican and another, Corren Brown, was running for mayor as a Statehood-Green Party member.

The others Harnett mounted a successful challenge against were GOP candidates running for the Ward 2, Ward 4, and Ward 7 GOP Chairperson positions; and Leniqua ‘Dominique’ Jenkins, a Democrat running for the at-large D.C. Council seat, who was the only Democrat challenged by Harnett.

Harnett, a former ANC commissioner in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood, ran unsuccessfully in 2020 for the nonpartisan office of D.C. Board of Education for Ward 2. Among the candidates he ran against was gay education advocate Allister Chang, who won that race.

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