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Report: Justice Department investigating anti-trans violence at Norfolk high school

Trans student’s mother said federal authorities contacted her

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Justice Department (Bigstock photo)

The Justice Department has reportedly launched an investigation into violence against transgender and Latino students in Norfolk, Va.

WHRO reported Melissa Corrigan earlier this year spoke with an attorney from the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division about violence that her trans son experienced at Norview High School. The Hampton Roads public radio station said Corrigan contacted the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia in Norfolk more than a year ago.

Corrigan told WHRO that her son suffered harassment, physical violence because of his gender identity. She also said he was sexually assaulted in a bathroom.

“He was definitely feeling targeted because of it,” Corrigan told WHRO, referring to her son’s gender identity. “And more than that, he wasn’t feeling like he was getting any protection from administration.” 

Corrigan said her son eventually withdrew from Norfolk Public Schools. She said a Justice Department Civil Rights Division attorney met with her and her son for two hours in March.

WHRO also reported Latino students at Norview High School said they had been assaulted because of their race. Their families, like Corrigan, said administrations did nothing to stop the violence.

The Biden-Harris administration has said Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits discrimination in schools based on gender identity and sexual orientation. Republican Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares is among the state attorneys general who have challenged new Title IX rules that expand protections for LGBTQ students.

WHRO reported Norfolk Public Schools Superintendent Sharon Byrdsong declined an interview request. The local U.S. Attorney’s Office did not confirm whether an investigation is underway.

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Virginia

Glenn Youngkin hosts Pride Month reception

Republican Va. governor criticized over support of anti-LGBTQ bills

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Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin speaks at a CNN Town Hall on March 9, 2023. (Screen capture via CNN)

Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin on June 5 hosted a Pride Month reception in Richmond.

A public schedule that Youngkin’s office released noted the event took place at the Executive Mansion in Richmond, and was “closed press.” The advisory also notes Youngkin hosted members of his LGBTQ+ Advisory Board and Log Cabin Republicans, and described the event as a “community reception.”

Youngkin in previous years has hosted Pride Month receptions, even though Equality Virginia and other advocacy groups have criticized him for supporting anti-LGBTQ bills.

The Republican governor in March signed a bill that codified marriage equality in Virginia. Youngkin last month vetoed a measure that would have expanded the definition of bullying in the state. 

Youngkin’s spokesperson has yet to respond to the Washington Blade’s request for comment about the June 5 reception.

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Virginia

Youngkin vetoes bill that would have expanded Va. bullying definition

Bisexual state Del. Joshua Cole introduced House Bill 536

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Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin speaks at a CNN Town Hall on March 9, 2023. (Screen capture via CNN)

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin on Friday vetoed a bill that would have added sexual orientation, gender identity and expression to the state’s definition of bullying.

Lawmakers earlier this year approved House Bill 536, which bisexual state Del. Joshua Cole (D-Fredericksburg) introduced. 

“While I agree with the general purpose of the legislation, regrettably, the General Assembly did not approve my amendments,” said Youngkin in a statement. “Those recommendations would have expanded the definition of bullying to encompass all possible motives.”

“School administrators must work to prevent bullying and support our students’ mental health through a healthy learning environment, but the narrow definition provided in the legislation could be interpreted to exclude groups not included in the Virginia Human Rights Act, such as bullying victims raised with traditional values or those who are in foster care,” added the Republican.

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Man convicted of murder in Fairfax was propositioned by male victim

Defendant faces possible 40-year prison term

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A Fairfax County Circuit Court jury on May 9 found a 31-year-old man guilty of second-degree murder for the June 10, 2023, stabbing death of a Fairfax City, Va., man after the man propositioned him for sex, according to a statement released by the Office of the Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney.

The statement says Aaron Robertson had been charged with killing Luis Barahona Reyes, 50, in an apparent act of revenge after the two men got off a bus in Fairfax City and Barahona Reyes asked Robertson if he would like to engage in sex.

“Robertson and Mr. Barahona Reyes were unknown to each other when they got off the same bus on Draper Street in Fairfax City around 11 p.m. on the night of June 9, 2023,” the statement says. “After a brief conversation, Robertson lured Mr. Barahona Reyes to a parking lot behind 9715 Fairfax Blvd, where Robertson knocked the victim unconscious,” the statement continues.

“Robertson later returned to the scene in the early morning hours of June 10, where he proceeded to beat, stab, and eventually kill Mr. Barahona Reyes,” it says. “Robertson then left and returned a third time to clean up the scene and try to dispose of the victim’s body.”

The statement adds, “Substantial forensic evidence introduced at trial connected Robertson to the murder, including  the victim’s blood on his shoes and Robertson’s own DNA under the victim’s fingernails.” 

It notes that additional evidence linking Robertson to the murder was obtained from surveillance camera footage and witness accounts from nearby Wawa and 7-Eleven stores showing him entering and leaving the stores multiple times to wash his hands.

“Prosecutors argued that Robertson attacked and killed the victim because Mr. Barahona Reyes propositioned Robertson for sex in their first encounter after getting off the bus,” the statement says.

“I’m personally dismayed this type of crime could happen in this day and age, especially in a community like Fairfax County that prides itself on being welcoming,” said Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano in the statement. “Mr. Barahona Reyes’ death is tragic, and the fact that he may have been killed for his sexuality only further adds to the injustice,” he said.

Robertson is scheduled to be sentenced on July 26 and faces up to 40 years in prison for the second-degree murder conviction.

The Washington Post reports that during Robertson’s trial, a portion of a recording of a confession that Robertson gave to Fairfax City police was played in court. The Post reports that Robertson stated in his confession that after he returned to the scene where he had knocked Barahona Reyes unconscious, Barahona Reyes “slowly got up,”  pulled out a knife and lunged at Robertson. 

It was at that time, Robertson said in his confession, he became fearful of his life and was able to grab the knife away from Barahona Reyes and stabbed him multiple times, slammed his head on the ground, and strangled him, according to the Post’s story on the trial and conviction.

The Post story adds that Robertson’s attorney urged the jury, based on what he said was Robertson’s fear for his life, to hand down a verdict of manslaughter rather than first-degree murder as requested by prosecutors. As it turned out, the jury handed down a lesser but still serious verdict of second-degree murder.

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