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Virginia Judge temporarily reinstates anti-trans elementary school teacher

Attorney representing the school system argued Cross’ actions disrupted the educational setting suspension was for that reason not his beliefs

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Byron "Tanner" Cross addresses the Loudoun County School Board (Screenshot via Twitter)

LEESBURG, VA. – A Loudoun County Circuit Court Judge issued a temporary injunction Tuesday reinstating a physical education teacher who told the County School Board that he would not respect the gender identity of transgender students by use of their preferred pronouns.

In his ruling, Circuit Court Judge Jim Plowman Jr. ordered that Byron “Tanner” Cross be reinstated to his job at Leesburg Elementary School and also wrote in a seven page opinion;

“The court finds that the plaintiff’s speech and religious continent are central to the determination made by the defendants to suspend plaintiff’s employment. […] The court further found that the weight of the evidence and the totality of the circumstances, show that the four prongs for issuance of temporary injunction have been satisfied.”

In an interview with WTTG Fox 5 in Washington D.C. Tuesday after the ruling, Tanner said; “We’re so happy- there’s lots of tears, lots of hugs,” he said. “We’re just happy that we were reinstated, and I look forward to going back to serving Leesburg Elementary.”

Cross told Fox News that he did not accept any science to suggest gender identity can change. However, he said he would call a child by their desired name. “I just can’t say things that are untrue,” he added.

Tanner is being represented by the anti-LGBTQ Alliance Defending Freedom, (ADF), a Scottsdale, Arizona faith based law group that the Southern Poverty Law Center has placed on its Hate Watch List, labeling it an anti-LGBTQ hate group due to its supporting the recriminalization of sexual acts between consenting LGBTQ adults in the U.S. and criminalization abroad; the fact it has defended state-sanctioned sterilization of trans people abroad; that ADF has contended that LGBTQ people are more likely to engage in pedophilia; and its claims that a “homosexual agenda” will destroy Christianity and society. 

Recently the group has backed numerous pieces of anti-trans legislation aimed at banning trans youth, particularly trans-females, from participating in sports. ADF has also backed legislation that would ban physicians from treating trans youth under the age of 18 with hormonal treatments and other medical regimes.

A statement issued today by the group after the Judge issued his opinion read:

“Nobody should be punished for expressing concern about a proposed government policy, especially when the government invites comment on that policy. For that reason, we are pleased at the court’s decision to halt Loudoun County Public Schools’ retaliation against Tanner Cross while his lawsuit continues,” said ADF President and CEO Michael Farris. “Educators are just like everybody else—they have ideas and opinions that they should be free to express. Advocating for solutions they believe in should not cost them their jobs. School officials singled out his speech, offered in his private capacity at a public meeting, as ‘disruptive’ and then suspended him for speaking his mind. That’s neither legal nor constitutional. Dozens of other teachers have shared their beliefs on various policies without retaliation; Tanner deserves to be treated with the same respect.”

Stacy Haney, an attorney representing the school system, however, argued that “the action was based on interference of operation” — that is, that Cross’ actions disrupted the educational setting — and not on his beliefs. She also presented testimony from school officials that the teacher’s remarks had an adverse impact on the school and the system, the Loudoun Times-Mirror reported.

During a public comments session of the Loudoun County School (LCPS) Board session last month, Cross told the board; ““It’s not my intention to hurt anyone,” Cross said. “But there are certain truths that we must face when ready. We condemn school policies like 8040 and 8035 [LCPS proposed policy changes] because it would damage children and defile the holy image of god. I love all of my students,” he said adding, “But I would never lie to them regardless of the consequences. I’m a teacher, but I serve god first but I will not affirm that a biological boy can be a girl, and vice versa because it is against my religion- it’s lying to a child, it’s abuse to a child, and it’s sinning against our god.”

The ADF in its suit filed on June 1, wrote; “This case is not about how schools should treat students who struggle with gender dysphoria,” reads the lawsuit. “It is about whether public schools can punish a teacher for objecting, as a private citizen, to a proposed policy, in a forum designated for the purpose of considering whether to implement such policies, where the policy would force him to express ideas about human nature, unrelated to the school’s curriculum, that he believes are false.”

The Republican nominee in the Virginia gubernatorial race, Glenn Youngkin, had expressed support for Cross in a tweet and later in an interview with Fox News:

Wayde Byard, public information officer for the school system, in an email told the Loudoun Times-Mirror newspaper in Leesburg that Loudoun County Public Schools had no comment on the judge’s decision

Judge Plowman directed both parties to schedule a trial no later than June 16.

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Trans Virginia state Delegate announces her run for the state Senate

“The reason I’m running for state Senate in 2023 is to keep continuing the constituent work that I’ve been doing”

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Virginia state Del. Danica Roem (Blade file photo)

MANASSAS PARK, Va. – Virginia state Del. Danica Roem on Monday announced she is running for the state Senate. Roem, 37, is running to represent the newly redistricted Senate District 30, which includes western Prince William County and the cities of Manassas and Manassas Park.

“I know the issues,” Roem told the Washington Blade before her announcement. “I am just as comfortable defending the Rural Crescent (in Prince William County) from development as I am about talking about Route 28 in Manassas.”

Roem in 2018 became the first openly transgender person stated in a state legislature in the U.S. Roem in 2019 became the first out trans state legislator to win re-election.

Delaware state Sen. Sarah McBride in 2020 became the first out trans person elected to a state senate in the U.S. Roem would become the second openly trans state senator in the country if she were to win her race in 2023.

Former Manassas City Council member Ian Lovejoy is the only Republican who has announced he is running for the seat. Roem is the only Democrat who has thus far entered the race.

“The reason I’m running for state Senate in 2023 is to keep continuing the constituent work that I’ve been doing,” Roem told the Blade.

Roem noted 32 of her bills have passed in the General Assembly since her election.

Former Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, last year signed Roem’s bill that bans the so-called LGBTQ panic defense in Virginia. Roem’s measure that expanded the state’s free school breakfast and lunch programs also took effect in 2020.

Roem noted to the Blade that she voted to expand Virginia’s Medicaid program. Roem also pointed out that one of her nine bills that Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin has signed will reform the state’s guardianship program.

“We did big things this year with my legislative agenda and we took care of constituent service requests,” said Roem, while noting her platform before the 2023 election will be “fixing roads, feeding kids.”

Roem declared her state Senate candidacy roughly six months after Youngkin defeated former Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Democrats lost control of the House of Delegates.

Democrats maintain a 21-19 majority in the state Senate.

Youngkin last month signed a bill that will require school boards to notify parents about “sexually explicit materials in the classroom.” The measure did not specifically define “sexually explicit content,” and activists have expressed concern that Virginia Republicans will seek to limit student access to LGBTQ materials.

Resolutions to repeal a state constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman died in the General Assembly earlier this year.

Roem noted she “spoke out on the House floor and told the stories of my LGBTQ constituents who are same-sex couples.” Roem in March also corrected state Del. Rob Bell (R-Albemarle County) on the House floor when he misgendered her during a debate over a bill that would once again allow local police and prosecutors to withhold information about inactive cases if they receive a Freedom of Information Act request.

“I’m a good Democrat who also has a very strong bipartisan record,” said Roem. “You don’t pass 32 bills into law as a trans woman without infinite patience.”

Roem acknowledged she is “not getting a world of emails” from her constituents about efforts to repeal LGBTQ rights in Virginia, “but it has come up in conversations one on one.” Roem further reiterated that she will continue to take “on the very people who are stigmatizing trans kids.”

“We’re going to be taking them on directly,” she said. “I don’t attack my constituents. We serve them. They need to see someone in the halls of power who looks like them.”

“My name is the equality part of that platform,” added Roem. “My presence on the ballot as a trans woman running is the equality part of my platform.”

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Virginia police investigation in murder of 17-year-old Trans girl is ongoing

“The motive & circumstances surrounding this incident remain under investigation & there is no further information to release at this time”

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Ariyanna Mitchell/Facebook

HAMPTON, Va. – Police investigators in this Tidewater, Virginia community 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.

Jimmy Leshawn Williams (Mugshot photo: Hampton Police Department)

“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.

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 tans 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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Fairfax County Police seek suspect who stole Starbucks store’s Pride flag

A Starbucks representative told media outlets the company is investigating the incidents and working with local police

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Fairfax County Police Department/Facebook

CLIFTON, Va. – A Starbucks in Northern Virginia just outside of Washington D.C. was vandalized twice in two days and the suspect also stole the store’s LGBTQ+ Progress Pride flag, a spokesperson for the Fairfax County Police Department (FCPD) told local media outlets Friday.

FCPD 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 store’s video surveillance system.

Video capture courtesy of the Fairfax County Police Department

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

“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.

Video capture courtesy of the Fairfax County Police Department

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.

Video capture courtesy of the Fairfax County Police Department

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

WJLA TV 7 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.

Courtesy of the Fairfax County Police Department

If you have any information about these crimes, please contact detectives at FCPD Sully Police District at 703-814-700 or the non-emergency number at 703-691-2131

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