The executive director of Equality Virginia this week reiterated her sharp criticism of efforts to ban books with LGBTQ-specific content.
“There is a dangerous, insidious trend developing in states around the country where innocuous and inclusive books are being removed from libraries and curricula, including and especially books and resources about LGBTQ+ people,” Narissa Rahaman told the Washington Blade on Tuesday in a statement. “We should not be pursuing book bans in a pluralistic democracy, but rather seeking to provide more information, more resources, more points of view for anyone seeking it out.”
Robert Rigby, Jr., a spokesperson for FCPS Pride, a group that represents LGBTQ employees of the Fairfax County School District, echoed Rahaman.
“Libraries and are places where children can and should be welcomed, safe, respected and included. Books and librarians literally save lives,” Rigby told the Blade on Wednesday. “Practically, inclusive book and materials collections improve attendance, scores, graduation rates and well-being. FCPS Pride respects and trusts our professional librarians. They are heroes who make schools a better place for all.”
Rahaman and Rigby spoke with the Blade against the backdrop of continued efforts to ban books with LGBTQ-specific content as students return to the classroom in Virginia and around the country.
A group of parents who want the ability to allow their children to opt-out of classes in which books with LGBTQ-specific books are read have filed a federal lawsuit against the Montgomery County Board of Education and Montgomery County Public Schools Supt. Monifa McKnight. A hearing in the case took place in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt on Wednesday.
“The Montgomery County Board of Education took away parental notice and opt-outs for storybooks that advocate pride parades, gender transitioning and pronoun preferences for kids as young as pre-kindergarten,” said Becket, a conservative law firm that advocates for religious freedom, in a statement about the case. “Becket is helping a group of Muslim, Catholic and Ethiopian Orthodox parents who want to restore their ability to raise their children consistent with their faith.”
NBC Washington on Tuesday reported Michelle Ross, director of the Samuels Public Library in Front Royal, Va., has resigned after she and her staff faced harsh criticism from a group that wants to ban books with LGBTQ-specific content. Donald “Mac” Scothorn, chair of the Botetourt County (Va.) Board of Supervisors, on July 31 proposed adult supervision for anyone under 18-years-old who visits the county’s four libraries.
The Hillsborough County School District in Florida ahead of the 2023-2024 school year has prohibited teachers from teaching their students about William Shakespeare, citing the state’s “Don’t Say Gay” law that Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed. The Urbandale Community School District in Iowa has removed a Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg biography and nearly 400 other books from school libraries and classrooms.
“We even see extremists ban books and attempt to erase, and even rewrite, the ugly parts of our history,” said Vice President Kamala Harris in Orlando, Fla., on Aug. 1 in response to the Florida Board of Education’s new Black history curricula standards that suggest slavery had benefits. “Right here in Florida, they plan to teach students that enslaved people benefited from slavery. They insult us in an attempt to gaslight us, in an attempt to divide and distract our nation with unnecessary debates.”
A federal judge in Texas in April ordered Llano County officials return books — many of which had LGBTQ-specific content — they removed from their public libraries.
Republican Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders earlier this year signed a law that would have made it a crime for librarians and booksellers to provide access to books and other materials deemed “harmful to minors.” The statute was to have taken effect on Aug. 1, but a federal judge blocked it.
The College Board on Aug. 3 said the Florida Department of Education had effectively banned the teaching of Advanced Placement Psychology classes in the state’s schools because the course includes discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity. Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz, Jr., in a letter he sent to the Florida Association of District School Superintendents the following day said the course could be taught “in its entirety.”
California officials — Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, Attorney General Rob Bonta and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond — in a June 1 letter to the state’s public school superintendents and charter school administrators told them not to ban books. The Prince George’s County Memorial Library System the day before announced the launch of its Rock Banned Book Club.
“Here in Virginia, we were founded in response to government overreach,” Rahaman told the Blade. “As this conversation moves throughout state legislatures, we’re hopeful that our founding principles and open society outweigh the fear-mongering from opportunistic politicians and government officials.”
Brody Levesque and Christopher Kane contributed to this article.
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Gay journalist murdered inside Philadelphia home
Josh Kruger’s death has left city ‘shocked and saddened’
An openly gay journalist was shot to death in his Point Breeze neighborhood home in the 2300 block of Watkins Street in South Philadelphia early Monday morning.
According to Officer Shawn Ritchie, a spokesperson for the Philadelphia Police Department, 39-year-old Josh Kruger was shot at about 1:30 a.m. and collapsed in the street after seeking help. Kruger was transported to Penn Presbyterian Hospital where he was pronounced dead at 2:13 a.m.
Police said that Kruger was shot seven times throughout the chest and abdomen and that no weapons were recovered nor have any arrests been made. Homicides investigators noted that there was no sign of forced entry and the motive remains unclear.
Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner said in a statement:
“Josh Kruger lifted up the most vulnerable and stigmatized people in our communities — particularly unhoused people living with addiction. As an openly queer writer who wrote about his own journey surviving substance use disorder and homelessness, it was encouraging to see Josh join the Kenney administration as a spokesperson for the Office of Homeless Services.
Josh deserved to write the ending of his personal story. As with all homicides, we will be in close contact with the Philadelphia police as they work to identify the person or persons responsible so that they can be held to account in a court of law. I extend my deepest condolences to Josh’s loved ones and to all those mourning this loss.”
CBS News reported that Kruger overcame homelessness and addiction to work for five years in city government, handling Mayor Jim Kenney’s social media and serving as the communications director for the city’s Office of Homeless Services.
He left city government in 2021 to return to journalism, according to his website.
“He was more than just a journalist,” Kendall Stephens, who was a friend and neighbor of Kruger’s, told CBS News. “He was more than just a community member. He was somebody that fought that great fight so many of us are not able to fight that fight because we’re too busy sheltered in our own homes wondering if someone is going to knock down our doors and kill us the same way they killed him. The same way they tried to kill me. And we’re tired of it.”
Kenney said in a statement that he is “shocked and saddened” by Kruger’s death.
“He cared deeply about our city and its residents, which was evident in his public service and writing. Our administration was fortunate to call him a colleague, and our prayers are with everyone who knew him.”
Shocked and saddened by Josh Kruger’s death. He cared deeply about our city and its residents, which was evident in his public service and writing.— Mayor Jim Kenney (@PhillyMayor) October 2, 2023
Our administration was fortunate to call him a colleague, and our prayers are with everyone who knew him. https://t.co/dnRxQ0Ic3W
The District Attorney’s LGBTQ+ Advisory Committee issued the following statement:
“Many of us knew Josh Kruger as a comrade who never stopped advocating for queer Philadelphians living on the margins of society. His struggles mirrored so many of ours — from community rejection, to homelessness, to addiction, to living with HIV, to poverty — and his recovery, survival, and successes showed what’s possible when politicians and elected leaders reject bigotry and work affirmatively to uplift all people. Even while Josh worked for the mayor, he never stopped speaking out against police violence, politicized attacks on trans and queer people, or the societal discarding of homeless and addicted Philadelphians.
We are devastated that Josh’s life was ended so violently. We urge anyone who has information that could lead to an arrest and prosecution for Josh’s murder to contact the Philadelphia Police or the DA’s Office directly. LGBTQ+ Philadelphians experience violence of all kinds every day; few people used their platforms to remind powerful people in government of that reality as effectively as Josh Kruger did. Josh and the communities he advocated for every day of his life deserve nothing less than justice and accountability for this outrageous crime.”
Lesbian mother from El Salvador released from ICE custody
Jessica Barahona-Martinez arrested on June 26, 2017
A federal judge last week ordered the release of a lesbian mother from El Salvador who had been in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody since June 2017.
Jessica Patricia Barahona-Martinez and her three children entered the U.S. on May 31, 2016. A court filing notes she fled “persecution she faced in El Salvador as a lesbian, and because the government had falsely identified her as a gang member.”
Barahona-Martinez lived with her sister and other relatives in Woodbridge, Va., until ICE arrested and detained her on June 26, 2017. She was housed at two ICE detention centers in Virginia until her transfer to the South Louisiana ICE Processing Center, a privately-run facility the GEO Group, a Florida-based company, operates in Basile, La., in October 2020.
An immigration judge in November 2019 granted Barahona-Martinez asylum for the second time. The government appealed the decision and the Board of Immigration Appeals, which the Justice Department oversees, ruled in their favor.
The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Louisiana last month filed a writ for habeas corpus petition in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana’s Lafayette Division that asked for Barahona-Martinez’s release. U.S. District Judge Terry A. Doughty on Sept. 27 ruled in her favor.
“Petitioner (Barahona-Martinez) ultimately argues that her prolonged detention violates due process; she moves that this court issues a temporary restraining order, requests release, a bond hearing, an expedited hearing and costs and attorney fees,” wrote Doughty.
“This court finds that petitioner has plausibly alleged her prolonged detention violates due process,” added Doughty.
An ACLU spokesperson on Monday told the Blade that ICE has released Barahona-Martinez and she is once again in Virginia with her children and sister.
State Department hosts intersex activists from around the world
Group met with policy makers, health officials, NGOs
The State Department last week hosted five intersex activists from around the world.
Kimberly Zieselman, a prominent intersex activist who advises Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad, brought the activists to D.C.
• Morgan Carpenter, co-founder and executive director of Intersex Human Rights Australia
• Natasha Jiménez, an intersex activist from Costa Rica who is the general coordinator of Mulabi, the Latin American Space for Sexualities and Rights
• Julius Kaggwa, founder of the Support Initiative for People with Atypical Sex Development Uganda
• Magda Rakita, co-founder and executive director of Fujdacja Interakcja in Poland and co-founder of Interconnected UK
• Esan Regmi, co-founder and executive director of the Campaign for Change in Nepal.
Special U.S. Envoy for Global Youth Issues Abby Finkenauer and Assistant Health Secretary Rachel Levine are among the officials with whom the activists met.
Zieselman told the Washington Blade on Sept. 21 the activists offered State Department officials an “intersex 101” overview during a virtual briefing.
More than 60 Save the Children staffers from around the world participated in another virtual briefing. Zieselman noted the activists also met with Stern, U.N. and Organization of American States officials, funders and NGO representatives while in D.C.
“The people we met were genuinely interested,” Rakita told the Blade.
Stern in an exclusive statement to the Blade said “the visiting intersex activists clearly had an impact here at State, sharing their expertise and lived experience highlighting the urgency to end human rights abuses, including those involving harmful medical practices against intersex persons globally.” Andrew Gleason, senior director for gender equality and social justice at Save the Children US, in a LinkedIn post he wrote after attending his organization’s meeting with the activists echoed Stern.
“There are many learnings to recount from today’s discussion, but one thing is clear, this is unequivocally a child rights issue, and one that demands attention and action at the intersection of LGBTQI+ rights, reproductive rights and justice, disability justice and more,” wrote Gleason. “Gratitude to the panelists for sharing such poignant testimonies and providing insights into what organizations like ours can do to contribute to the broader intersex movement; and thank you to Kimberly for your leadership and bringing this group together.”
The activists’ trip to D.C. coincided with efforts to end so-called sex “normalization” surgeries on intersex children.
Greek lawmakers in July passed a law that bans such procedures on children under 15 unless they offer their consent or a court allows them to happen. Doctors who violate the statute face fines and prison.
Germany Iceland, Malta, Portugal and Spain have also enacted laws that seek to protect intersex youth.
A law that grants equal rights and legal recognition to intersex people in Kenya took effect in July 2022. Lawmakers in the Australian Capital Territory earlier this year passed the Variation in Sex Characteristics (Restricted Medical Treatment) Bill 2023.
Intersex Human Rights Australia notes the law implements “mechanisms to regulate non-urgent medical care to encourage child participation in medical decisions, establish groundbreaking oversight mechanisms and provide transparency on medical practices and decision making.” It further points out the statute “will criminalize some deferrable procedures that permanently alter the sex characteristics of children” and provides “funding for necessary psychosocial supports for families and children.”
“It’s amazing,” Carpenter told the Blade when discussing the law and resistance to it. “It’s not perfect. There was some big gaps, but physicians are resisting every step of the way.”
The State Department in April 2022 began to issue passports with an “X” gender marker.
Dana Zzyym, an intersex U.S. Navy veteran who identifies as non-binary, in 2015 filed a federal lawsuit against the State Department after it denied their application for a passport with an “X” gender marker. Zzyym in October 2021 received the first gender-neutral American passport.