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Orange County, Va., Board revokes funding for arts center over drag design class

Equality Virginia calls action shameful retaliation

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Orange County Board of Supervisors (Photo public domain)

The Orange County, Va., Board of Supervisors last week released its proposed fiscal year 2024 budget that removes $9,000 in funding it approved last year for the nonprofit Arts Center In Orange in response to plans by the center to host a design class taught by a local drag performer.

According to Equality Virginia, the statewide LGBTQ rights organization, members of the Board of Supervisors “have specifically tied the revocation of funding to this planned event,” an action that Equality Virginia calls “harmful and insidious” and that follows attacks on drag shows and drag performers surfacing in many other states.

“Earlier this year, the same Board also voted to revoke a $4,500 matching grant from the Arts Center, which was allocated and approved in the prior year’s budget,” Equality Virginia says in an April 5 statement. “Both of these actions happened after the Arts Center planned an event with a local drag performer who was scheduled to teach a class on makeup, costuming and hairstyling,” the statement says.

News media outlets in the Orange County area have reported that the Arts Center in Orange “indefinitely” postponed the class by the drag performer after opposition by county board members and others first surfaced in January. A spokesperson for Equality Virginia, said the Board of Supervisors continued efforts to defund the Arts Center even though the “drag” class has never taken place.  

In an April 4 story, the Orange County Review reports that it obtained an email dated Jan. 18 in which Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Johnson expressed agreement with a constituent who requested that the county revoke its funding of the Arts Center because the planned class was to be taught by the drag performer.

The newspaper quoted the individual who wrote to Johnson asking that the funds be revoked as telling Johnson the revocation was needed to “protect children from adults who prey on them with sexually explicit agendas.” The newspaper reported, “Johnson said that he agreed with the individual’s comments and outlined the board’s plans to defund the center through the county’s budget process.”

The Orange County Review also reports that the Orange County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the proposed budget at its April 18 meeting and a vote on the proposed budget was scheduled to take place one week later on April 25. 

“As politicians across the country attack drag performers and drag shows, purposely spreading disinformation about what drag actually is, the Orange County Board of Supervisors is hopping on the political bandwagon,” said Equality Virginia Executive Director Narissa Rahaman in the group’s statement.

“It’s disappointing and sad,” Rahaman said. “Drag is not inherently harmful. Drag is not inherently insidious. But yanking funding and suppressing programming because it doesn’t align with their narrow worldview is both harmful and insidious,” she said. “The Board should be ashamed of itself.”

When asked about the board’s decision to revoke funding for the Arts Center in Orange, Board of  Supervisors Chair Johnson told the Orange County Review that the board has never attempted to tell any of the groups it funds how they should spend the funds they receive from the county.

But Johnson added, “as with any discretionary spending, the Board can choose to increase, decrease, or eliminate funding to any specific entity.”

Rahaman, the Equality Virginia director, said in a statement that the organization will be encouraging supporters of the Arts Center to speak at the upcoming public hearing.

“Ahead of the April 18 meeting, Equality Virginia will be working to support community members and advocates who wish to give public comment in front of the Board of Supervisors,” Rahaman said. “Orange County residents deserve the opportunity to share their hopes and vision of the community they call home, and that includes supporting a culture in which art is accessible and inclusive for all,” she said.

Orange County is located about 30 miles west of Fredericksburg, Va. and about 15 miles south of Culpeper.

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Virginia

J.D. Vance lives in LGBTQ-friendly neighborhood in Alexandria

VP nominee’s home in Del Ray is near newly opened gay bar

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Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) speaks at the Republican National Convention on July 18 in Milwaukee. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

In a development that may come as a surprise to some, U.S. Sen. J.D. Vance, who Donald Trump has chosen as his vice-presidential running mate and who has voted against LGBTQ rights legislation, has lived for a little over a year on a quiet street in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Va., that has a sizable number of LGBTQ residents.

Public property records show that Vance and his family live on a side street two blocks off a section of Mt. Vernon Avenue, which is Del Ray’s main commercial street, where the gay pop-up bar Pride On The Avenue opened in June.

Vance’s house in Del Ray, which the Washington Post reports was purchased for $1.6 million, is also located in the district of gay Virginia State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D), which includes all of Alexandria and parts of Arlington and Fairfax counties.

“Being a resident of a district as diverse as mine gives J.D. Vance an opportunity to experience what truly makes America great,” Ebbin told the Washington Blade. “With a bilingual elementary school and LGBTQ gathering space nearby, I’d encourage Mr. Vance to visit with some of my constituents so he can hear from them on how they will be negatively impacted by anti-immigrant and anti-LGBT policies put forward in the GOP Party Platform and Project 2025,” Ebbin said in an email.

Ebbin was referring to the 900-page far-right policy document prepared by the conservative Heritage Foundation as a plan of action for a new Trump administration if Trump wins the presidential election in November. The Project 2025 document, among other things, opposes LGBTQ rights initiatives and calls for repealing existing LGBTQ rights legislation.

Bill Blackburn, a co-owner of Pride On The Avenue, recalls that people referred to then as members of the gay community moved to Del Ray in the early 1990s and possibly earlier in large numbers and played a lead role in buying old, often rundown houses and renovating them.

“It’s interesting that Del Ray was kind of gentrified by a lot of the gay community in the ‘90s,” Blackburn said. “And there’s still a lot of residents in Del Ray from that early period who kind of reinvigorated Del Ray,” he said. “So, it’s interesting how this neighborhood evolved and how it’s become such a sought-after neighborhood that we even get right-wing Republicans who see the value of living here.”

According to Blackburn, Vance “lives like a hundred yards away” from Pride On The Avenue.

People familiar with Del Ray point out that during Pride month in June many of the stores and shops along Mt. Vernon Avenue display Pride flags. Blackburn said Pride On The Avenue, which is currently the only gay bar in Alexandria, “has been very well received” by nearby residents and visitors to the neighborhood.

Voting records from past elections show Del Ray, even more than Alexandria as a whole, has elected Democrats over Republicans and has supported Democrats in statewide elections. In the 2020 presidential election, President Joe Biden won against Donald Trump in Del Ray by a greater than 80 percent margin, according to the Washington Post.

Washingtonian magazine has reported that after news surfaced last year that Vance and his family had moved into their house in Del Ray, a local artist staged a one-person protest by placing rainbow colored striped cloth and Pride flags in the area, including on a tree across the street from Vance’s house.

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Historic marker to honor Lilli Vincenz in Arlington

Pioneering activist co-founded Blade in 1969

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Lilli Vincenz (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Virginia Board of Historic Resources has approved a historic marker that will honor Washington Blade co-founder Lilli Vincenz.

The Arlington County Historic Preservation Program sponsored the marker that will be located at 817-829 S. Carlin Springs Road.

Vincenz, along with Frank Kameny and others, in the 1960s participated in gay rights protests that took place in front of the White House and Philadelphia’s Independence Hall. Vincenz in 1969 co-founded the Blade.

A Virginia Department of Historic Resources press release says Vincenz hosted the Gay Women’s Open House in her home in Arlington’s Columbia Heights West neighborhood from 1971-1979. It also notes Vincenz’s “documentaries recording significant gay rights marches brought visibility to the movement.”

Vincenz died on June 27, 2023, at the age of 85.

“Dr. Lilli Vincenz was a pioneering leader whose work as a journalist, filmmaker, and psychotherapist empowered the national gay civil rights movement,” reads the Virginia Department of Historic Resources press release.

The marker will be the first one in the state that specifically highlights LGBTQ history. The Virginia Board of Historic Resources approved it and four other markers during their June 20 meeting.

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Federal lawsuit filed on behalf of Va. student blocked from girls sports team

Hanover County School Board approved refusal in 2023

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(Bigstock photo)

The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia on July 3 filed a federal lawsuit against the Hanover County School Board on behalf of a transgender student who was prevented from playing on a sports team consistent with their gender identity.

A press release refers to the student as “Janie Doe,” and the lawsuit notes she is 11 and is in middle school.

The lawsuit notes the school board in 2023 voted not to allow her to “participate in” the girls’ tennis team, even though the ACLU of Virginia noted “she successfully qualified during tryouts, and her parents provided documentation requested by the school board to establish her eligibility.”

The ACLU of Virginia and WilmerHale, a Washington-based law firm, filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Richmond.

“School boards have a duty to protect every child’s right to a public education, but by bullying a transgender young person in its district, Hanover County Public Schools are depriving our client of opportunities every public school student should have — and running afoul of federal discrimination protections that Virginia schools are legally required to uphold,” said ACLU of Virginia Senior Transgender Attorney Wyatt Rolla.

The Biden-Harris administration earlier this year released its final Title IX rules that specifically protect discrimination against LGBTQ students based on their gender identity and sexual orientation. The new regulations are slated to take effect on Aug. 1.

Republican Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares is among the state attorneys general who have pledged to block the new Title IX rules from taking effect.

The Virginia Department of Education in July 2023 announced the new guidelines for trans and nonbinary students for which Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin asked. 

Advocacy groups claim the guidelines, among other things would forcibly out trans and nonbinary students. Arlington County Public Schools, Fairfax County Public Schools, and Prince William County Schools are among the school districts that have refused to implement them. 

The ACLU of Virginia earlier this year filed a lawsuit on behalf of a Hanover County middle school student who is not allowed to participate in a girls sports team. The group filed a second lawsuit on behalf of a York County high school student who alleges her teacher refused to call her by her “correct first name.” 

“Banning trans students from playing sports consistent with their gender identity violates discrimination protections that are there to make sure public schools include all students,” said ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Eden Heilman on July 3. 

“It’s a fallacy to think we have to choose between protecting girls’ sports and transgender youth, and it’s patently unlawful to prohibit trans students from competing on sports teams consistent with their gender identity — no matter how much adults with an ideological axe to grind may wish to do so,” added Heilman.

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