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Virginia Trans lawmaker impacted by redistricting

“We drew maps which did not unduly favor either party- These maps came about as part of a partisan and incumbency blind process”

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Two-thirds of Delegate Roem’s precincts are new to the district. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

MANASSAS PARK – Sweeping changes in Virginia’s state legislative and congressional districts brought about by a redistricting order issued on Dec. 28 by the Virginia Supreme Court have significantly changed the makeup of the Manassas area district of Virginia House of Delegates member Danica Roem (D).

In 2018, Roem became the nation’s first out transgender person to be seated in a U.S. state legislature after she defeated longtime Republican incumbent and LGBTQ rights opponent Bob Marshall in the November 2017 election.

Roem, who is one of four out LGBTQ members of the Virginia General Assembly, appears to have been impacted the most by the redistricting among her three LGBTQ colleagues.

Gay state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria), gay state Del. Mark Sickles (D-Fairfax County), and lesbian state Del. Dawn Adams (D-Richmond area) were assigned new districts that retained most of their existing Democratic constituents or include new Democratic leaning areas, according to sources familiar with their districts.

State Del. Joshua Cole (D-Fredericksburg area), who identifies as bisexual, ended his tenure as a delegate this week after losing his re-election bid in the November election to Republican Tara Durant by 647 votes. The state’s redistricting changes place both Cole and Durant in a newly created 65th District that Stafford County Democratic Party activist Matt Rowe said makes the highly competitive district slightly more Democratic leaning.

Rowe said Cole, who the Blade was unable to reach for comment this week, indicated he plans to run again for the delegate seat in the next election.

The Virginia Supreme Court assumed the responsibility of redrawing the state’s congressional and state legislative districts under a state constitutional amendment approved by voters in a 2020 referendum. The redistricting measure approved by voters assigns the authority of creating the new districts to a bipartisan redistricting commission made up equally of Democrats and Republicans.

But the commission became deadlocked after each of the two-party representatives was unable to agree on a redistricting plan. Under a provision of the redistricting law, if the commission cannot reach an agreement, the matter is sent to the state Supreme Court, which appointed two redistricting experts called masters to redraw the state’s congressional and state legislative district maps to conform with population changes determined by the 2020 U.S. Census. One of the masters was selected by Democrats and the other by Republicans, according to a statement released by the court.

“We drew maps which did not unduly favor either party,” special masters Sean Trende and Bernard Grofman said in a statement. “These maps came about as part of a partisan and incumbency blind process based on good government map making,” the two said.

The changes made by the two masters carved Roem’s existing District 13 into three new districts – District 20, 21, and 22. Roem, who lives in the new District 20, is now the state delegate representing that district. Under rules established under the new redistricting law approved by voters, all the new districts took effect immediately on Dec. 28.

In response to a request by the Blade for her assessment of these changes, Roem said her new district consists of just six and a half of the 18 voter precincts that made up her former District 13. The other two-thirds of the precincts in her new district include residents that she had not represented before in Prince William County.

It couldn’t immediately be determined whether her new constituents are mostly Democrats, Republicans, independents, or a mix of all three.

“I live in the new House District 20 and will deal with my political future after this year’s Virginia General Assembly session ends in March,” Roem told the Blade in an email message.

“I’m confident the people of greater Prince William would continue to support me as a lifelong Prince William County resident from Manassas who served as their newspaper reporter for more than nine years from 2006-2015 before earning three terms now to serve them as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates,” she said.

“During my first two terms in office, the governor signed 23 of my bills into law – all with bipartisan support – including three bills to advance LGBTQ equality, so I’ve been effective at delivering for all of my constituents, LGBTQ residents included,” Roem said.

Gay Democratic activist Jim O’Connor of Prince William County, where Roem’s new district is located, said he believes the voter makeup of the new district would likely make it possible for her to win re-election in 2023 or possibly in 2022. Rowe, who said he also follows Prince William County politics, said he too thinks Roem is in a good position to win re-election whether in 2022 or 2023.

A lawsuit filed in federal court by some redistricting opponents is calling for a special House of Delegates election in 2022 on grounds that the redistricting resulted in large numbers of residents being represented by lawmakers they had no opportunity to vote for in an election, which may be in violation of the U.S. Constitution. The lawsuit is expected to be resolved sometime early this year to make it known whether a special Virginia House of Delegates election will take place this year in addition to the regularly scheduled election in 2023.

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Glenn Youngkin sworn in as 74th governor of Virginia

The newly sworn-in Republican Governor backed a Loudoun County teacher who opposed trans student guidelines

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Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin being sworn into office (Blade screenshot via YouTube Live coverage)

RICHMOND – Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin took office on Saturday amid concerns that he will seek to curtail LGBTQ rights in the state.

“Today we gather not as individuals, not as Republicans and Democrats,” said Youngkin after his swearing in. “Today we gather as Virginians.”

Former Gov. Ralph Northam and U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) are among those who attended the ceremony that took place at the State Capitol. Terry McAuliffe, who Youngkin defeated in the general election, did not attend because of a COVID-19 scare.

Youngkin during his campaign against 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 on Thursday named Elizabeth Schultz, an anti-LGBTQ former member of the Fairfax County School Board, to his administration.

“We will remove politics from the classroom and focus on the essentials,” said Youngkin in his inaugural speech, without specifically mentioning LGBTQ students.

He added “parents should have a say in what is taught in schools.”

Youngkin has also expressed his opposition to marriage equality, but stressed it is “legally acceptable” in Virginia and would “support that” as governor.

Lieutenant Gov. Winsome Sears and Attorney General Jason Miyares also took office on Saturday.

Winsome, a former member of the Virginia House of Delegates, is the first woman and first female of color elected lieutenant governor. Miyares, a former House member whose mother was born in Cuba, is Virginia’s first Latino attorney general.

Youngkin in his inaugural speech noted “the people of Virginia just elected the most diverse leadership” in the state’s history. Youngkin’s first executive order ends “the use of” so-called “critical race theory” (which is not taught in Virginia schools) and other “divisive concepts” in Virginia’s public schools.

The General Assembly’s 2022 legislative session began on Wednesday.

Republicans control the House by a 52-48 margin. Democrats have a 21-19 edge in the Virginia Senate.

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Virginia school board names new chair who advocated for burning books

After approximately 7 minutes of heated discussion where members from both sides got noticeably frustrated, the board voted 4-3 to fire Baker

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Screenshot via CBS WUSA9 Washington D.C.

SPOTSYLVANIA COUNTY, Va. – The Spotsylvania County School Board in Virginia voted Monday to name Kirk Twigg, who advocated for burning books he deemed “sexually explicit” in November, as its new chair. 

His win gives conservatives the majority on the board as Republicans across the country continue an effort to ban books dealing with LGBTQ issues and racism from schools. 

Spotsylvania County has been involved in the controversy from the beginning, voting last year to remove books containing “sexually explixit” materials – only to rescind the order a week later.  

Monday’s board meeting, Twigg’s first as chair, would prove to be disorganized and, at times, unruly. 

Twigg’s first order of business was to call an unscheduled, closed-door session, which may have violated Virginia’s open meeting requirements. According to Virginia Code, a closed meeting cannot be called without a public body approving a motion that states the subject matter and the purpose of the meeting, as well as an applicable exemption from open meeting requirements.    

After the board returned from the closed-door session, Twigg said well-regarded Superintendent Dr. Scott Baker would be fired without cause. Baker had already announced he would be resigning at the end of the school year in December. 

After Baker decided to resign, a longtime Spotsylvania resident penned a letter in the Free Lance-Star, calling him “the finest superintendent, by far.”

“Dr. Baker is trusted and respected by parents, students and employees of Spotsylvania Schools; and he never lost sight of his mission for good reason,” it read. “He did so despite the noise and disruption from those few board members dedicated to bringing political disruption and dissidence into our public educational system. Shame on the few.”

As Twigg made the announcement, another member of the board interrupted him, saying: “Um, Mr. Twigg, no he is not. You need to make a motion – there needs to be a motion and a vote.”

Board members continued to speak over each other as conservative members attempted a vote. But Board Member Nicole Cole told the chairman she had comments. 

“I believe that the board members who have lodged this termination owe our citizens and our students of Spotsylvania County a justification for firing Dr. Baker,” said Cole. “You have not stated any justification or ability to fill the position. How is this good for the students, the children of Spotsylvania? How does this make sense?”

In a rebuke of the chaotic meeting, she added that Twigg “couldn’t even properly chair a meeting.”

After approximately 7 minutes of heated discussion where members from both sides got noticeably frustrated, the board voted 4-3 to fire Baker. 

Twigg, Lisa Phelps, April Gillespie and Rabih Abuismail, who also advocated for burning books, voted in favor. 

The Free Lance-Star reported that Baker was escorted from the building before the board returned from the second closed-door meeting. 

An emergency meeting has been scheduled for Friday to name an interim superintendent.

“It’s just very sad to hear that a superintendent who has been fully engaged in this community for 10 years is just let go with no rhyme or reason,” said Board Member Dawn Shelley, while noting Baker’s accomplishments. 

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Governor-elect picks anti-LGBTQ+ for Virginia Dept. of Education post

Youngkin has said he does not support allowing trans children to play on sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity

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Elizabeth Schultz (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. – Virginia Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin on Thursday announced he has named an anti-LGBTQ former member of the Fairfax County School Board to his administration.

A press release that Youngkin released notes Elizabeth Schultz will be the Virginia Department of Education’s Assistant Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Schultz, who represented the Springfield District on the Fairfax County School Board, in 2015 voted against the inclusion of gender identity in the Fairfax County School District’s nondiscrimination policy.

The Traditional Values Coalition, an anti-LGBTQ organization, endorsed her re-election campaign that year. Schultz in 2019 lost re-election.

“Elizabeth Schultz is an education and public policy professional, a prior U.S. Department of Education official, and a former professional senior contracts and negotiation manager with 25+ years of operational and organizational experience serving large, complex public and private sector organizations,” said Youngkin in the press release. “Elizabeth’s work has served the U.S. Departments of Education, Treasury, and Justice; U.S. Customs Service; IRS; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; Secret Service; U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and Fairfax County in the areas of asset management, information technology, global and K-12 education.”

Youngkin, a Republican, on Thursday also announced he has named Jillian Balow as the Department of Education’s Superintendent of Public Instruction. Balow had been Wyoming’s State Superintendent for Public Education.

The Department of Education in 2020 issued guidelines that are designed to protect transgender and non-binary students.

Youngkin during his campaign against 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 the policy. Youngkin has also said he does not support allowing trans children to play on sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity.

Youngkin will take office on Saturday.

The Virginia General Assembly’s 2022 legislative session began on Wednesday. Republicans have a 52-48 majority in the Virginia House of Delegates, while Democrats maintain a 21-19 edge in the Virginia Senate.

State Del. Danica Roem (D-Manassas), who is the first openly trans person seated in any state legislature in the U.S., earlier this week told the Washington Blade she will continue to fight for trans students in Richmond.

“I will be a brick wall on the House floor, and I will fight my heart out defending trans kids,” said Roem.

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