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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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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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