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Spotsylvania County Virginia school board rescinds LGBTQ+ book ban

“The only course of action is a formal public apology to all the librarians & for you to submit your resignation from the school board”

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HS students protesting censorship at a Spotsylvania, VA School Board meeting (Photo via Adele Uphaus-Conner on Twitter)

SPOTSYLVANIA COUNTY, Va. — The Spotsylvania County School Board voted 5-2 Monday evening to rescind their ban on “sexually explicit” books in the libraries of the district’s schools that the board enacted last week in a 6-0 vote.

The vote to rescind was opposed by Rabih Abuismail, a school board member, who had pushed for an immediate audit of all school division library books and stated in last week’s public board meeting. He and fellow board member Kirk Twigg had advocated for burning the books they deemed ‘sexually explicit. “I think we should throw those books in a fire,”  Abuismail said.

Twigg had 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. 

Monday’s meeting was contentious according to Adele Uphaus-Conner a reporter for the local Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star newspaper. In addition to parents, faculty, and staff in attendance, a sizeable group of students from the district’s high schools were present protesting what they labeled censorship and anti-LGBTQ discrimination.

At one point in the meeting Uphaus-Conner reported that a parent to said to Abuismail, “[Your behavior] is the most egregious example of unprofessionalism I have ever witnessed. The only course of action I see fit for you is a formal public apology to all the librarians in this county & for you to submit your resignation from the school board.

One of the school system’s librarians told the board, “If you have a worldview that can be undone by a novel, let me suggest that the problem is not the novel.” Then added; “You have labeled books you have no knowledge of and placed shame upon them. You have no right to judge anyone or what they read.”

The original directive came last week after two parents raised concerns at a 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.

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Hate legal group ADF sues Virginia school board over Trans policies

The Virginia Department of Education issued a model policy on the treatment of trans students & required all schools to adopt similar policies

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Harrisonburg City Public Schools/Facebook

HARRISONBURG, Va. –  The Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal advocacy group based in Scottsdale, Arizona listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-LGBTQ+ hate group for its lies and duplicitous propaganda about LGBTQ people has sued a school board over its inclusive Trans policies.

The ADF, representing a a group of six parents and teachers sued Harrisonburg City Public Schools. The lawsuit, filed in Rockingham County Circuit Court, alleges the policy violates their First Amendment rights to freedom of religion and freedom of speech.

Harrisonburg’s WHSV News 3 reported the policy in question requires teachers to ask students what their preferred names and pronouns are and to utilize those from that point forward.

If a student’s preferred name and pronoun differ from their biological sex at birth, the information is shared with a guidance counselor who will facilitate a conversation on gender identity with the student. However, teachers are not permitted to notify a student’s parents of the request.

The policy was adopted last August after the Virginia Department of Education issued a model policy on the treatment of transgender students and required all school divisions in the Commonwealth to adopt similar policies.

The lawsuit claims that the HCPS policy requirements go beyond what is set in stone by the Department of Education.

 Amanda Reiman Johnson, a lawyer and legal analyst at AC Reiman Law Firm in Culpeper, Virginia spoke to News 3 offering her perspectives on the suit and its implications.

“The Virginia Supreme Court has routinely upheld that parents should have the ultimate say in dictating how their child is brought up whether that is regarding their education or their own religious beliefs,” she said.

“One of the key arguments in this entire case hinges on something that we saw earlier this year and in years prior regarding the COVID vaccine and what exactly does a sincere religious belief mean?” she added.

“Not just a closely held religious belief but a sincere religious belief. Then ultimately it might be able to tie into their defense that ‘hey this violates our First Amendment against our freedom of religion and our freedom of speech,” said Johnson.

“The defendants are saying listen we have to adhere to these state rules that provide some type of guidance when it comes to adhering to what the students want to be called,” said Reiman-Johnson.

Harrisonburg City Public Schools released the statement below in regard to the lawsuit.

“Our School Board has general nondiscrimination policies within its Policy Manual and maintains a strong commitment to its inclusivity statement, all of which is available on our website. In specific student situations, the focus is always to foster a team approach that includes and supports the unique needs of the student and family on a case-by-case basis. HCPS also has systems in place to listen to and respond to employee concerns. We are dismayed that this complaint is coming to us in the form of a lawsuit in lieu of the collaborative approach we invite and take to address specific needs or concerns, an approach that we believe best serves the interests of our students, staff, and families.”

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Small Virginia town in suburban Washington D.C. says NO to Pride Month

Lovettsville Mayor Nathaniel Fontaine expressed disagreement with the body’s decision following the proclamation’s failure to advance

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Screenshot/YouTube

LOVETTSVILLE, Va. – The Lovettsville Town Council is drawing criticism from community groups after denying passage of a proclamation last Thursday that would have recognized June as Pride month.

After a motion was made by Councilwoman Renee Edmonston to take up the proclamation submitted to the Council by members of the public, the motion was denied both discussion and a vote after failing to receive support from a second member.

In her closing statement, Edmonston explained why she believed collaborating with community members and sponsoring the motion were necessary.

“The LGBTQ+ community along with everyone in our great town should be able to live without fear of prejudice, discrimination, violence and hatred based on race, religion, gender identity or sexual orientation,” Edmonston said.

Some Council members offered their rationale behind declining to move the proclamation forward, a measure they also rejected in 2021.

“I don’t believe that seconding or making a proclamation of a statement that is not signifying an event of one of our organizations, our community member service — and that’s what we discussed last year — is in the vein of what was proposed,” Vice Mayor Christopher Hornbaker said.

But for some Council members and members of the public present at the meeting, such arguments weren’t sufficient.

Lovettsville Mayor Nathaniel Fontaine, a non-voting Council member, expressed disagreement with the body’s decision following the proclamation’s failure to advance.

“That was a proclamation that was celebratory of and getting recognition to a portion of our populace here,” Fontaine said. “I don’t understand why we could not even get a second to even have that discussion here this evening.”

Against a national background of anti-LGBTQ legislation and pushes to restrict conversations pertaining to the community, local advocates are similarly denouncing the Council’s decision.

Equality Loudoun, a local LGBTQ support and advocacy organization operating in Loudoun County where Lovettsville is located, is one group pushing back.

Cris Candace Tuck, president of Equality Loudoun’s board of directors, commented on the decision on behalf of the organization.

“Our community faces constant harassment, abuse and violence,” Tuck said. “These efforts lead to both children and adults feeling afraid, feeling lost, and feeling like they don’t belong in their own community.”

Current data shows the true impact to which Tuck alluded.

Statistics from a survey the Trevor Project, conducted earlier this year suggested consistently lower rates of attempted suicide among LGBTQ youth who perceived their communities as more accepting of their identity.

Tuck made mention of Lovettsville’s own history with such when explaining how the proclamation could have broad effects on the community.

“This simple passage could have saved a child’s life like the Lovettsville teenager who died by suicide a few years ago because of a lack of acceptance,” Tuck said. “We implore the Council to correct this action and pass a proclamation so that all citizens feel like they belong in their own community.”

Tuck conveyed the absence of action to be a statement in and of itself.

“The silence in this case was deafening,” said Tuck.

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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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