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Democrats suffer big losses in Virginia

Election results an ominous sign heading into midterms

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Terry McAuliffe speaks to supporters in Tysons Corner, Va., on Nov. 2, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

TYSONS CORNER, Va. — Democrats on Tuesday suffered stinging loses in Virginia that could prove ominous for the party heading into the 2022 midterm elections.

Republican Glenn Youngkin defeated Democrat Terry McAuliffe in the gubernatorial race by a 50.7-48.6 percent margin.

Republican Winsome Sears became the first woman elected Virginia’s lieutenant governor when she defeated state Del. Hala Ayala (D-Prince William County) by a 50.8-49.1 percent margin. Republican Jason Miyares beat incumbent Attorney General Mark Herring by a 50.6-49.3 percent margin.

Youngkin told his supporters in Chantilly early Wednesday morning that he will work to create “a Virginia where the Virginia promise comes alive for everyone who calls this Virginia home,” without specifically mentioning LGBTQ people.

“We will change the trajectory of this commonwealth and friends, we are going to start that transformation on day one,” he said. “There is no time to waste.”

McAuliffe on Wednesday conceded.

“While last night we came up short, I am proud that we spent this campaign fighting for the values we so deeply believe in,” he said in a statement. “We must protect Virginia’s great public schools and invest in our students. We must protect affordable health care coverage, raise the minimum wage faster, and expand paid leave so working families have a fighting shot. We must protect voting rights, protect a woman’s right to choose, and, above all else, we must protect our democracy.”

Youngkin during the campaign expressed support for Tanner Cross, a gym teacher at a Leesburg elementary school who was suspended in June after he spoke out against Virginia Department of Education guidelines that are designed to protect transgender and non-binary students. The former co-CEO of the Carlyle Group, a private equity firm, earlier this year also said he does not support allowing trans children to play on sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity.

The anti-LGBTQ Family Research Council, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has categorized as an extremist group, is among the groups that endorsed Youngkin, who also opposes marriage equality. Youngkin nevertheless told the Washington Post in a recent interview that it is “legally acceptable” in Virginia and he would “support that” as governor.

McAuliffe, who received the endorsement of both the Human Rights Campaign and Equality Virginia’s political action committee, during an Oct. 21 telephone interview with the Washington Blade described Youngkin as “the most homophobic, anti-choice candidate in Virginia history.”

McAuliffe sought to portray Youngkin as an acolyte of former President Trump. McAuliffe also criticized Youngkin over his call to ban the teaching of critical race theory in Virginia schools, even though it is not part of the statewide curriculum.

Youngkin’s campaign, for its part, has pointed out that HRC in 2019 named the Carlyle Group as a “Best Place to Work for LGBTQ Equality” in its annual Corporate Equality Index. Log Cabin Republicans is among the groups that endorsed Youngkin.

“Glenn Youngkin’s anti-equality, anti-choice, racist tactics sought to sow fear and confusion, turning Virginian against Virginian for political gain,” said interim HRC President Joni Madison on Wednesday in a statement. “His hateful policies and rhetoric will have a real, devastating impact on LGBTQ+ people, women, and people of color across the commonwealth. This is particularly true for transgender young people and their parents, who have faced an onslaught of targeted attacks that have put them in danger in their schools and communities.”

State Del. Danica Roem (D-Manassas), who is the first openly trans person seated in any state legislature in the U.S. won re-election in the 13th District. Republicans, however, appear to have regained control of the Virginia House of Delegates. Democrats still control the state Senate by a 21-19 margin.

Democrats in 2019 regained control of the General Assembly for the first time since the 1990s.

Outgoing Gov. Ralph Northam over the last two years has signed a series of LGBTQ rights bills that, among other things, added sexual orientation and gender identity to Virginia’s nondiscrimination law and banned so-called conversion therapy for minors. Madison said HRC will “fight alongside our members and partners to block anti-equality policies and overcome the forces that are trying to drag us backwards.”

“The movement for equality is on the right side of history,” added Madison.

Equality Virginia Executive Director Vee Lamneck echoed Madison.

“We know that the majority of Virginians support LGBTQ people. Virginians want to see their LGBTQ neighbors protected from discrimination. Virginians want to see their LGBTQ friends be able to get married and raise a family. And, we expect all of our elected leaders to hold true to these values of equality and fairness,” said Lamneck in a statement to the Blade. “We have worked hard for the protections that we now have in place, and together, with thousands of our supporters from every corner of the state, we will ensure that Virginia remains a welcoming place for all LGBTQ people.”

Bob Witeck, a longtime LGBTQ rights activist who lives in Arlington, on Wednesday in an email to the Blade conceded it “is a rough morning, given Virginia’s 12-year pattern of turning the commonwealth bluer.”

“I suspect Youngkin will not lead like a culture warrior,” he added. “However, the other two statewide officials, Winsome Sears (lieutenant governor) and Jason Miyares (attorney general) are mirrors of Trump and can cause more significant setbacks, especially Miyares in his role.”

Witeck said he agrees with Tré Easton, a senior advisor for Battle Born Collective, who told the New York Times that Democrats “can’t scare people into the polls. You have to give people something to vote for.”

“Youngkin and the GOP have picked up on some powerful grievances among white voters and parents that we will need to combat persuasively,” said Witeck. “Virginia was definitely a battleground for LGBTQ families and citizens since it turned on control of schools, and fear of trans kids once again as well as curricula.”

Charlotte Clymer, a trans activist, on Wednesday said the Virginia election results are not “about McAuliffe’s platform” and are “not a reflection on the extraordinary success of Virginia Democrats in the legislature over the past two years.”

“It’s about the central messaging,” said Clymer in a series of tweets. “Voters need a lot more from Democratic candidates than simply being anti-Trump.”

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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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