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Va. bill would restrict transgender students access to school bathrooms

State Del. John Avioli (R-Stanton) introduced House Bill 1126

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The Virginia Capitol (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A Virginia lawmaker has introduced a bill that would restrict the ability of transgender students and school board employees to use bathrooms and other facilities in public schools that are consistent with their gender identity.

House Bill 1126, which state Del. John Avoli (R-Stanton) introduced, would require “each school board to adopt policies to require each student and school board employee to have access to restrooms, locker rooms and other changing facilities in public school buildings that are shared only by members of the same biological sex; lodging accommodations during school-sponsored trips that are shared only by members of the same biological sex; and a single-user restroom, locker room, or other changing facility in a public school building, upon request, if the school can reasonably accommodate such a request.”

Avoli introduced HB 1126 on Jan. 12 on the same day the Virginia General Assembly’s 2022 legislative session began with Republicans in control of the House of Delegates. Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin took office on Jan. 15.

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., told the Washington Blade last week that she expects SB 20 “would be dead on arrival” in committee.

Equality Virginia, a statewide LGBTQ rights group, on its website notes HB 1126 is among the bills that it opposes.

Democrats still have a 21-19 majority in the state Senate, and they have signaled they will oppose any effort to curtail LGBTQ rights in Virginia. Outgoing Equality Virginia Executive Director Vee Lamneck last week said their organization “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.”

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Local

Comings & Goings

Jimmy Alexander joins WTOP News as a feature reporter

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Jimmy Alexander (Photo courtesy of Jimmy Alexander)

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]

Congratulations to Jimmy Alexander who has been hired at WTOP News as a feature reporter. Over the last four years Alexander has been covering stories as varied as the Jan. 6 insurrection to the 17th Street High Heel Race. He has been working as a co-host on the Jack Diamond Morning show on Cumulus Media, Manning Media. On his acceptance of the new position Alexander said, “I’m thrilled that at WTOP News, I will be able to focus on events and people that bring hope to your heart and a smile to your face.”

Alexander is a versatile multimedia broadcaster with more than two decades of experience covering both major news events in Washington D.C., and important human-interest stories outside the Beltway. He is an engaging interviewer with a track record of having compelling conversations with the biggest names in government and show business, from presidents to Paul McCartney. Prior to this he worked as a freelance feature reporter with WDCW50-DC News Now. He is also with Writer-20, Twenty Country Countdown, United Stations Radio Networks. There he developed a concept for a countdown show featuring country music’s weekly top songs on-air and online and prepared weekly scripts for a three-hour show. 

Alexander conducted the only Jan. 6, 2021 interview with “The QAnon Shaman” Jacob Chansley. Since 2016, he has served by request of the D.C. mayor as official host of the 17th Street High Heel Race, the city’s second largest LGBTQ event of the year. He is featured in the documentary “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work,” and is a frequent guest on CNN’s Morning Show “New Day.” He covered White House visits by Queen Elizabeth, the Pope, and the yearly Easter Egg Roll. He also won $10,000 on the game show “Pyramid.” 

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Maryland

LGBTQ University of Maryland students prepare to celebrate Hanukkah

Eight-day festival to begin Thursday night

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

A number of Hanukkah events for LGBTQ students will take place at the University of Maryland this week.

Queer Jewish students and allies are welcome to attend Crazy Cozy Chill Chanukah Celebration on Sunday at the University of Maryland Hillel. Hamsa, home to queer Jewish life on campus, hosted a study break with hot drinks, snacks and games and a chance to welcome Hanukkah early. 

The first night of Hanukkah is Thursday.

Chabad UMD is hosting a menorah lighting on Thursday in front of McKeldin Library and plans to mention the war between Israel and Hamas, according to Rabbi Eli Backman of Chabad UMD. The event is going to be a focus on the positivity and the message of the Hanukkah story.  

“We’ve been around for thousands of years and all those who’ve tried to make sure that we didn’t live to see the next generation (is) no longer here,” Backman said. “That message will really resonate at home for the holiday.”

The story of the Maccabees is one of the few stories where Jewish people fought, Backman said. In Jewish history, people don’t see a military response in many of the other holiday moments. 

“It should give us a boost of energy,” Backman said. “A boost of strength (and) a boost of hope.”

Part of the Hanukkah story’s message is that Jewish people were in a position that they needed to form a military to secure their borders, Backman said. And they succeeded. 

For some, celebrating Hanukkah depends on the people they’re around, Florence Miller, a sophomore English and Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies who is Hamsa’s president, said.

Miller is agnostic and does not find themself to be a religious person, but the thing that has kept their Jewish faith is the people about whom they care are Jewish and the sense of community that comes from being Jewish.

“I just wanted to do a Hanukkah event,” Miller said. “It’s been a good refresher with how the semester has been.”

Miller last year attended a Hanukkah party and played a game of dreidel, a spinning top with four sides marked with a Hebrew letter. The people who were in attendance wanted to bet something, but the only thing they could find were pinto beans. 

“When I took them out of my pocket one got stuck in there,” Miller said. “I still have that bean.”

For some Jewish students it’s important to go to Hanukkah events like Hamsa’s celebration to be around like-minded Jewish people, Yarden Shestopal, a sophomore American Studies major, said. 

“Which is why I like Hamsa,” Shestopal said. “Since we’re all queer people or allies we kind of share that mentality of acceptance.”

Being part of the Jewish community at the University of Maryland has opened Shestopal up to how diverse the LGBTQ and Jewish communities are. Shestopal this year, however, debated whether or not to put his menorah up on the windowsill of his apartment because of the rise in anti-Semitism due to the war in Israel.  

“I’m pretty sure I am going to put the menorah in my window,” Shestopal said. “The only way to combat anti-Semitism is to stay visible.” 

Several University of Maryland students lived in Israel before or during their time at the university. 

Elisheva Greene, a junior animal science major, went to seminary, a school for women to learn about Torah, during the pandemic. Greene said celebrating Hanukkah while a war is happening is going to be a similar feeling. 

“I’m able to do what I can from over here by supporting my family and friends,” Greene said. “The biggest thing I can be doing is living my life as a Jewish person and showing that I express my Judaism and I’m not afraid.”

Greene recalled they could not go more than 1,000 feet from home for two months and Hanukkah took place during that time. While it was difficult, Greene said people still put their menorahs on their windowsill.  

“Knowing the resilience the Israelis have and the fact people like to show their Jewishness (is not) gonna stop me,” Greene said. “Like there’s a war going on but you’re gonna be a Jew and you’re gonna flaunt that.”

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District of Columbia

Hearing postponed for gay D.C. gym owner charged with distributing child porn

Prosecutors call for Everts to be held in jail until trial

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Michael Everts will likely remain in jail until a Jan. 10 hearing in his case. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A detention hearing scheduled for Monday, Dec. 4, in which a judge would decide whether gay D.C. gym owner Michael Everts should remain in jail or be released while he awaits a trial on a charge of distribution of child pornography was postponed with no immediate date set to reschedule it.

However, records with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, before which the case is being held, show that Everts’s defense attorney later in the day on Dec. 4 filed a motion in which Everts waived his right to a detention hearing and requested that a preliminary hearing be scheduled on Jan. 10, 2024.

In his motion, defense attorney David Benowitz says the lead prosecutor with the Office of the U.S. Attorney for D.C. does not oppose this request. As of Tuesday morning, the magistrate judge presiding over the case had not ruled on Benowitz’s motion.

But an entry in the court record on  Wednesday, Dec. 5, states that Magistrate Judge G. Michael Harvey approved the motion and agreed to set the date for the preliminary hearing on Jan. 10 at 4 p.m. The court record shows that Magistrate Judge Robin M. Meriweather will preside over the preliminary hearing, in which prosecutors must present evidence, sometimes through testimony by witnesses, that probable cause or sufficient evidence exists to proceed to a trial. Meriweather will issue a ruling on whether probable cause exists.

Everts has been held without bond since the time of his arrest on Nov. 29 on a single charge of distribution of child pornography following a joint D.C. police-FBI investigation that led to his arrest.

He has owned and operated the FIT Personal Training gym located at 1633 Q St., N.W., near Dupont Circle since its opening in 2002.

Court records show that Benowitz filed a motion on Dec. 3 seeking a one-day postponement of the detention hearing to give him time to review the evidence presented by prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s office. But Benowitz’s second motion waiving Everts’s right to a detention hearing and calling for a preliminary hearing on Jan. 10 appears to have voided his first motion and will result in Everts being held in jail until at least the time of the preliminary hearing in January.  

“Mr. Everts has been advised of his rights under the Speedy Trial Act (“STA”) and agrees to toll the time under the STA until the next hearing in this matter,” Benowitz’s second motion states. 

On Dec. 1, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jocelyn Bond, the lead prosecutor in the case, filed a 20-page Memorandum In Support of Pretrial Detention that describes the government’s evidence against Everts and argues strongly in favor of having Everts held in custody at least until the time of his trial.

“Distribution of Child Pornography is a crime of violence and there is no condition or combination of conditions that will reasonably assure the safety of children in the community – both in the physical world and online – if Mr. Everts is released,” the memorandum states.

The memorandum notes that Everts’s arrest came about after an employee at the gay and bi hookup site Sniffies alerted the FBI that a Sniffies user was exchanging messages with other users expressing an interest in images of underage boys for sexual gratification. A joint FBI and D.C. police investigation traced the messages to Everts, according to an arrest affidavit and the U.S. Attorney’s memo.

The affidavit and memo point out that an undercover D.C. police detective working with the FBI and posing as someone interested in underage boys contacted Everts through the Sniffies site and a social media messaging address of @ethaneffex. The undercover detective, who is identified in charging documents as the “online covert employee” or “OCE,” engaged in messaging with Everts that prompted Everts to send the OCE video and photo images of child pornography, the arrest affidavit and memo state.

The memo seeking pretrial detention for Everts says Everts went beyond just expressing interest in viewing or sending the OCE child porn videos or photos but also described his interest in interacting with and possibly having sex with underage boys he knew.

“On multiple occasions he discussed his sexual interest in actual children that he encountered in his life, particularly emphasizing his desire to sexually abuse Minor 1 and noting that he had surreptitiously recorded Minor 1 at the playground in the past,” the memorandum says.

“Not only did he send photos of these children to someone whom he had reason to believe also had a sexual interest in children,” the memo states, “but he sent multiple voice messages to the OCE reiterating his sexual interest in Minor 1 – as well as in Minor 2 and other unknown minors — and describing the specific sexual acts he wanted to engage in with these minors.”

The memo adds, “Only amplifying his danger to children, Everts then bragged about having previously engaged in sex with a minor and his willingness to sexually abuse a child as young as 10 years old.”

Benowitz, Everts’s attorney, didn’t immediately respond to a request by the Washington Blade for comment on the case and whether he or his client dispute any of the allegations against Everts brought by prosecutors.

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