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Virginia

Youngkin mum on whether parents should report teaching of LGBTQ topics

Republican governor on Monday touted tip line during an interview

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Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A spokesperson for Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin has yet to clarify whether the governor is encouraging parents to report educators who are teaching LGBTQ-specific topics.

The Washington Post reported Youngkin on Monday during an interview with John Fredericks on “Outside the Beltway with John Fredericks” referenced a tip line that parents can use to report the teaching of “divisive” subjects.

“We’re asking for folks to send us reports and observations [to] help us be aware … of their child being denied their rights that parents have in Virginia, and we’re going to make sure we catalogue it all,” Youngkin told Fredericks, according to the Post.

Fredericks co-chaired former President Trump’s 2016 campaign in Virginia.

Youngkin spokesperson Macaulay Porter on Tuesday did not respond to the Washington Blade’s request for comment on the tip line.

The first executive order that Youngkin, who is a Republican, issued after he took office on Jan. 15 ended “the use of” so-called “critical race theory” (which is not taught in Virginia public schools) and other “divisive concepts” in the state’s classrooms.

Youngkin during his campaign against Terry 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 Virginia Department of Education guidelines that are designed to protect transgender and non-binary students. Youngkin has also said he does not support allowing trans children to play on sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity.

Youngkin has named Elizabeth Schultz, an anti-LGBTQ former member of the Fairfax County School Board, to his administration.

Republicans control the House of Delegates by a 52-48 vote margin. Democrats have a 21-19 majority in the state Senate.

State Sen. Travis Hackworth (R-Tazewell County) has 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 Sen. Jennifer Kiggans (R-Virginia Beach) has put forth Senate Bill 766, which would ban trans students from school sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity. State Del. John Avoli (R-Stanton) has sponsored House Bill 1126, which would restrict the ability of transgender students and school board employees to use bathrooms and other facilities in public schools.

Democrats have vowed to block any anti-LGBTQ bill in the General Assembly.

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Virginia

Investigation continues for murder of 17-year-old trans woman in Hampton, Va.

Man arrested for shooting at party where witnesses say suspect confronted victim

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Ariyanna Mitchell (Photo via Facebook)

Hampton, Va. police say they are continuing their investigation into the April 2 shooting death of a 17-year-old transgender woman who witnesses say was shot multiple times at a party by the boyfriend of a young woman who was arguing with a friend of the victim.

Police said the victim, who friends have identified as Hampton resident Ariyanna Mitchell, was pronounced dead at the scene shortly after 2:00 a.m. on April 2 at a residence on the 500 block of Wine Street in Hampton.

A statement released by Hampton police says the investigation into the incident led to the arrest on April 9 of Jimmy Leshawn Williams, 19, on charges of one count of Murder and one count of Use of Firearm in Commission of a Felony in connection with Mitchell’s murder. The statement says Williams, a resident of Nofolk, Va., was taken into custody in Chesapeake, Va.

Local TV station WAVY 10 reported it spoke with a friend of Mitchell who said the shooting stemmed from a fight at a party in Norfolk earlier in the night of the shooting between the friend and Williams’ girlfriend.  

“{Williams’ girlfriend] was going to get her boyfriend to shoot me and everybody in this house,” WAVY quoted the friend as saying. According to WAVY, the friend said the bullets fired by Williams were meant for her, not Mitchell.

The TV news station further reports that court documents disclose that a witness told police Williams arrived at the house in Hampton where the party was taking place in his girlfriend’s car and asked Mitchell whether she was involved in a fight involving his girlfriend. The witness reportedly told police Mitchel said she was involved. Other press reports have cited sources saying Mitchell intervened to help protect her friend, who got into an altercation with Williams’ girlfriend.

“Paperwork says the witness told police Williams asked if Mitchell was a boy or a girl,” WAVY TV news reports in one of its stories on the incident. “Documents say Mitchell replied a boy, and that’s when Williams shot Mitchell multiple times,” WAVY reports.

Jimmy Leshawn Williams (Photo courtesy of the Hampton Police Department)

Friends of Mitchell have said she identified as a girl.

An earlier police statement released at the time the murder occurred, which appealed to the public for information about the then unidentified suspect, identifies victim Mitchell as a “17-year-old male” and does not release Mitchell’s name.

Hampton police spokesperson Sgt. Reggie Williams told the Washington Blade it was the victim’s family that identified Mitchell as a male.

“Because the victim is a juvenile, we don’t identify the victim in our press releases,” Williams said. “But according to the family, the victim is a 17-year-old male,” he said.

Williams said copies of the police report for the incident would not be available at this time because the investigation is continuing.

“The motive and circumstances surrounding this incident remain under investigation and there is no further information to release at this time,” the earlier police statement released at the time of the murder says.

An obituary for Mitchell posted on the website of the ME Fisher Funeral Home in Newport News, Va., which handled funeral arrangements for Mitchell, appears to contradict the police claim that Mitchell’s parents identified Mitchel as a male. The obituary, which presumably was prepared from information provided by Mitchell’s family, refers to Mitchell as a woman and uses her female first name.

“Ariyanna was a student in her junior year at the East End Academy under the direction of Mrs. Ruby Gilliam, CEO,” the obituary says. “She was an avid member of the Triple E (Electra Eagles Elite) Dance Academy under the guidance of Mrs. Pandora Carter,” the obituary continues.  “Ariyanna loved dancing and styling hair. She was truly unique, funny, and loved by everyone.”

The obituary identifies Mitchell’s parents, Kashunda Mitchell and Marvin Chadwick, and six siblings along with grandparents, aunts, and seven cousins as among Mitchell’s surviving family members.  

However, the obituary, while using female pronouns and using her chosen first name of Aryanna, also uses in its headline a male first name.

The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ advocacy group, said in a statement that Mitchell’s death marked at least the 11th violent murder of a transgender or gender non-conforming person in the U.S. in 2022. The HRC statement says the group was aware of at least 57 transgender or gender non-conforming deaths in 2021 due to violence, which it says was the largest number of fatal trans violence incidents recorded in a single year since it began tracking anti-trans violence in 2013.

“We say ‘at least’ because too often these deaths go unreported – or misreported,” the HRC statement says, adding that the number of trans murders could be far greater than the numbers reported by law enforcement agencies.

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Virginia

Fairfax County police seek suspect who stole Pride flag from Starbucks

Same suspect believed to have committed two acts of vandalism.

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(Video capture courtesy of the Fairfax County Police Department)

A Fairfax County Starbucks was vandalized twice in two days and the suspect also stole the store’s Progress Pride flag, a spokesperson for the Fairfax County Police Department said on April 29.

Fairfax County Police Department Capt. Rachel Levy said that detectives are investigating the two criminal incidents that are believed to have been committed by the same male suspect who was recorded on the Clifton store’s video surveillance system.

Investigators believe that the burglaries occurred between 3 – 4:30 a.m. over the two day period. Uniformed officers responded to the Starbucks at 5748 Union Mill Road in Clifton for a burglary report on April 27 after staff reported that an unidentified individual had broke-in, destroying the front window and then stealing a Progress Pride flag from inside before leaving.

“(In) the second incident, the other windows were broken, the person went inside and broke several items it looked like he destroyed a lot of property,” said Levy.

Levy also told reporters that the department’s LGBTQ liaison was made aware of both incidents and will be working with the business and the community.

A Starbucks representative told media outlets the company is investigating the incidents and working with investiagtors. They said the safety of the partners and customers are their top priority.

WJLA reported the store’s employee’s aren’t letting the crime deter them. They’ve put up a mural where the glass window was shattered and is encouraging the community members and police officers to add their painted handprints there as a sign of solidarity.

If you have any information about these crimes, please contact detectives at the Fairfax County Police Department’s Sully District Station at 703-814-700 or the non-emergency number at 703-691-2131

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Virginia

LGBTQ students join protests over new Fairfax County school superintendent

Critics say incoming official lacks experience leading large, diverse district

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Some Fairfax students and advocacy groups object to the new superintendent.

The Fairfax County, Va., School Board voted 9 to 3 on April 14 to approve the appointment of a new school superintendent for the county school system after more than 200 students, including members of an LGBTQ student group, held demonstrations against the appointment at several high schools earlier in the day.

After a months-long search process, the School Board selected Michelle Reid, the current superintendent of the Northshore School District in Bothell, Wash., a small city located within the Seattle metropolitan area, to replace current Fairfax School Superintendent Scott Brabrand, who is stepping down effective June 30.

The student protesters have joined other community and advocacy groups, including the Fairfax chapter of the NAACP, in expressing concern that Reid’s experience in leading a relatively small school district with about 22,000 students is insufficient to head the Fairfax school system, which enrolls about 180,000 students who come from more diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds.

School officials and members of the School Board who voted for Reid’s appointment said they were impressed with the knowledge, understanding, and staunch support Reid expressed for policies embracing and supporting a racially diverse school system such as Fairfax County Public Schools.

Reid, a former school principal who holds a doctorate degree in educational leadership, expressed strong support for the needs of LGBTQ and other minority students during her interview process, according to gay Fairfax School Board member Karl Frisch, who voted in favor of Reid’s appointment.

“Throughout all of our interviews with her, Dr. Reid routinely spoke – unprompted – of the ways she addressed the equity needs of her study body – LGBTQIA students, Muslim students, students of color, English language learners, students with special needs, and more,” Frisch said during the April 14 School Board meeting.

“Her commitment to equity and inclusion was a thread woven through her answers, her accomplishments as a superintendent, and her commitments to this Board,” Frisch said. 

Information on the Northshore School District website shows that the district adopted a strongly worded nondiscrimination policy protecting transgender and gender nonconforming students in 2017 during Reid’s tenure as superintendent. Fairfax County Public Schools adopted a similar policy on gender identity nondiscrimination in 2021.

The school system in previous years adopted polices banning discrimination against students, teachers, and other employees based on sexual orientation, which Reid strongly upheld, according to her supporters.

Although the Northshore School District adopted a strongly worded policy banning bullying and harassment of all students, including LGBTQ students, in 2011, new guidelines for updating and enforcing the anti-bullying policies were updated in 2020 under Reid, who began her tenure as Northshore superintendent in 2016.

Aaryan Rawal, a spokesperson for Pride Liberation Project, the LGBTQ student group that helped organize the student protests over the Reid appointment, told the Washington Blade one day before the protests that the Pride group was not aware of any actions taken by Reid against the LGBTQ students, but the group was unaware at that time of any actions she may have taken in support of LGBTQ equality.

Rawal pointed to a letter signed by 375 students sent last week to School Board members and a consulting firm that Fairfax school officials retained to organize a search for the new superintendent explaining the students’ objections to the approval of Reid as superintendent.

“Unfortunately, the voices of the student body were not heard during this search process,” the letter says. It says that while school officials held a 15-day community outreach period that included an 11-member student “stakeholder group,” the group was not representative of the full student body.

In a separate statement, the NAACP said it favored the hiring of another finalist candidate for the Fairfax school superintendent’s job, a Black woman educator and Omaha, Neb., Public Schools Superintendent Cheryl Logan, who withdrew from contention for the job on April 9 without giving a reason, according to reports by the Washington Post.  

“The issue we all agree on is that Fairfax County Public Schools needs a superintendent who has commensurate experience in leading organizations of this size, diversity, complexity, and that the Superintendent of Northshore School District isn’t the right fit,” a joint statement released by the NAACP and other groups opposing Reid’s appointment, including Pride Liberation Project, says.

School Board members who supported Reid said she stood out from the pool of 72 applicants, among other things, because of her approach to equity and inclusion, according to FFX Now, the online Fairfax local news site. “Among this large, strong group, Dr. Reid was consistently at the top,” FFX Now quoted School Board Vice Chair Rachna Sizemore-Heizer as saying.

“We asked all of our applicants about how they would heal a divided community,” Frisch told fellow board members. “It says a lot about her character that she told us she would listen and that she would not presume to speak for others whose lived experience is different from her own,” Frisch said.

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