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Virginia school board votes to remove ‘sexually explicit’ books from libraries

A board member advocated for the burning of such books – “I think we should throw those books in a fire,” he said

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Screenshot via CBS News affiliate WUSA9 Washington D.C.

SPOTSYLVANIA COUNTY, Va. — Spotsylvania County schools will have to begin removing books that contain “sexually explicit” material after the school board voted 6-0 to order the removal.

According to the Fredericksburg Lance-Star, schools will also have to report the number of books they remove from libraries at a special meeting next week. 

The directive comes after two parents raised concerns at a Monday board meeting about books available to students, particularly LGBTQ+ fiction, through Riverbend High School’s digital library app.

At the meeting, the mother of the Riverbend student, Christina Burris, stated she was upset by “33 Snowfish” by Adam Rapp being available to students.

The book follows three homeless teenagers who escape from pasts, including sexual abuse, prostitution, and drug addiction. In 2004, it was awarded Best Book for Young Adults by the American Library Association. The book is recommended for ages 15 and up, according to the Lance-Star. 

Christina Burris and her husband, Robert, said they don’t believe books with sexually explicit content belong in a high school library, according to NBC 4 in Washington D.C.

“To have something like this that could really traumatize a kid if they just check out a book because it looks cool and then they open it up and start reading it, some of the things they’ll come across is just shocking,” Robert Burris said.

Rabih Abuismail, a school board member, pushed for an immediate audit of all school division library books — even after Darnela Sims, director of teaching and learning for the school division, asked the board for time to review the existing processes for vetting library books.

“It is incumbent on us to make sure that whatever the policy says we need to do, we’re doing, and if something needs to be strengthened, it’s on us to do it,” Sims said.

According to the paper, Abuismail said that Rapp’s book in the school library showed that public schools “would rather have our kids reading gay pornography than about Christ.”

He also advocated for the burning of such books, along with fellow board member Kirk Twigg.

“I think we should throw those books in a fire,” Abuismail said.

Twigg said he wants to “see the books before we burn them so we can identify within our community that we are eradicating this bad stuff.”

“There are some bad, evil-related material that we have to be careful of and look at,” he said. 

The Spotsylvania County vote comes as school board’s across the nation take aim at removing books dealing with race and LGBTQ+ people.  

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Virginia

Virginia Governor silent on parents reporting teaching of LGBTQ+ topics

First executive order issued ended “use of” “critical race theory” which is not taught in VA public schools & other “divisive concepts”

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Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

RICHMOND – A spokesperson for Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin has yet to clarify whether the governor is encouraging parents to report educators who are teaching LGBTQ+-specific topics.

The Washington Post reported Youngkin on Monday during an interview with John Fredericks on “Outside the Beltway with John Fredericks” referenced a tip line that parents can use to report the teaching of “divisive” subjects.

“We’re asking for folks to send us reports and observations [to] help us be aware … of their child being denied their rights that parents have in Virginia, and we’re going to make sure we catalogue it all,” Youngkin told Fredericks, according to the Post.

Fredericks co-chaired former President Trump’s 2016 campaign in Virginia.

Youngkin spokesperson Macaulay Porter on Tuesday did not respond to the Washington Blade’s request for comment on the tip line.

The first executive order that Youngkin, who is a Republican, issued after he took office on Jan. 15 ended “the use of” so-called “critical race theory” (which is not taught in Virginia public schools) and other “divisive concepts” in the state’s classrooms.

Youngkin during his campaign against Terry McAuliffe expressed support for Tanner Cross, a gym teacher at a Leesburg elementary school who was suspended from his job after he spoke out against Virginia Department of Education guidelines that are designed to protect transgender and non-binary students. Youngkin has also said he does not support allowing trans children to play on sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity.

Youngkin has named Elizabeth Schultz, an anti-LGBTQ+ former member of the Fairfax County School Board, to his administration.

Republicans control the House of Delegates by a 52-48 vote margin. Democrats have a 21-19 majority in the state Senate.

State Sen. Travis Hackworth (R-Tazewell County) has introduced Senate Bill 20, which would eliminate the requirement that school districts must implement the Department of Education’s trans and non-binary student guidelines.

State Sen. Jennifer Kiggans (R-Virginia Beach) has put forth Senate Bill 766, which would ban Trans students from school sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity.

State Del. John Avoli (R-Stanton) has sponsored House Bill 1126, which would restrict the ability of transgender students and school board employees to use bathrooms and other facilities in public schools.

Democrats have vowed to block any anti- LGBTQ+ bill in the General Assembly.

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Virginia

Convicted gunman in 2000 mass shooting at Virginia gay bar dies in prison

The shooting prompted LGBTQ residents and allies to gather in the days and weeks after the incident for vigils and marches

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Ronald Edward Gay (Pictured in 2000) died while serving life sentences for mass shooting in Virginia gay bar (Screenshot via WDBJ CBS 7)

CAPRON, Va. – A man sentenced to four consecutive life terms in prison for the September 2000 shooting at a gay bar in Roanoke, Va., in which one man lost his life and six others were wounded, died of natural causes on Jan. 15, according to the Virginia Department of Corrections.

A spokesperson for the Department of Corrections told WSLA 10 TV News that Ronald Edward Gay died while being treated at a hospital near the Deerfield Correctional Center, a state prison where he had been living as an inmate. He was 75. 

Witnesses and law enforcement officials reported at the time of the shooting that a middle-aged man later identified as Gay arrived alone at Roanoke’s Backstreet Café, a popular gay bar, on the night of Sept. 22, 2000.

According to an account by an eyewitness to the incident who spoke last week with the Roanoke Times newspaper, after ordering a beer and standing next to the bar for a short time, Gay reached into the long trench coat he was wearing, pulled out a 9mm pistol, and fired a round “straight into the chest of 43-year-old Danny Overstreet, before opening fire on the rest of the bar.”

Overstreet, a beloved regular patron at the Backstreet Café, died at the scene of the shooting. Six others, who were wounded by bullets fired by Gay, later recovered, but they and many others who were present and witnessed the shooting were left emotionally scarred, the Roanoke Times reported.

(Washington Blade clipping from Sept. 29, 2000)

In the weeks following the shooting, news media outlets, including the Washington Blade and the Washington Post, reported findings of an investigation by local police that Gay told police he went to Backstreet specifically to target gay people because he became bitter after years of being taunted and teased for his last name of “Gay.”

The Roanoke Times reported that, among other things, Gay told police “God told him to do it” and that he once wrote that there was an evil inside of him telling him “to shoot or have no rest.”

Gay later pleaded guilty to multiple charges against him, including murder. On July 23, 2001, he was sentenced to four consecutive life sentences in prison for the shooting incident and the murder of Overstreet.

The Backstreet incident in Roanoke was considered by LGBTQ rights advocates and others to be one of the worst incidents in which LGBTQ people were targeted for a shooting until the June 2016 shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., in which 49 people died and 53 more were wounded in a mass shooting by 29-year-old Omar Mateen.

Mateen, who was shot and killed by Orlando police after a three-hour standoff, told police in a phone call from inside the nightclub after the shooting began that he swore allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and his attack against the gay nightclub was motivated by the U.S. military intervention in Iraq and Syria. The FBI later classified the incident as a terrorist attack.

The Roanoke Times reported that the shooting incident at Backstreet Café prompted LGBTQ residents and allies to gather in the days and weeks after the incident for vigils and marches. About 1,000 people walked through the streets of downtown Roanoke to honor the life of Overstreet and to urge Congress to pass federal hate crimes legislation, the newspaper reported.

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Virginia Republican lawmaker introduces anti-Trans youth sports bill

Under the bill, male students are not permitted to participate on any school athletic team or squad designated for ‘females’

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Virginia State Capitol building (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

RICHMOND – A Virginia lawmaker has introduced a bill that would ban transgender students from joining school sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity.

Senate Bill 766, which state Sen. Jennifer Kiggans (R-Virginia Beach) introduced on Friday, would require “each elementary or secondary school or a private school that competes in sponsored athletic events against such public schools to designate athletic teams, whether a school athletic team or an intramural team sponsored by such school, based on biological sex as follows: (i) ‘males,’ ‘men,’ or ‘boys’; (ii) ‘females,’ ‘women,’ or ‘girls’; or (iii) ‘coed’ or ‘mixed.’”

“Under the bill, male students are not permitted to participate on any school athletic team or squad designated for ‘females,’ ‘women,’ or ‘girls’; however, this provision does not apply to physical education classes at schools,” adds the bill. “The bill provides civil penalties for students and schools that suffer harm as a result of a violation of the bill. Such civil actions are required to be initiated within two years after the harm occurred.”

Kiggans introduced her bill less than a week after Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin took office.

Youngkin during his campaign said he does not support allowing trans children to play on sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity. Elizabeth Schultz, an anti-LGBTQ former member of the Fairfax County School Board, has been named the Virginia Department of Education’s Assistant Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The General Assembly’s 2022 legislative session began on Jan. 12 with Republicans in control of the state House of Delegates. Democrats still control the state Senate, and they have pledged to thwart any anti-LGBTQ bills.

“Let’s be clear: This is part of an ongoing, nationwide effort to exclude trans people from enjoying the benefits of sports like their cisgender peers,” tweeted the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia on Friday after Kiggans introduced SB 766. “We won’t tolerate this.

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