Danica Roem Speaks Out Against Using Stigmatizing Rhetoric

When I posted about the comments made by Richelle Wallace was making about transgender people, myself and several other people pointed out that nobody said you can’t have legitimate discussion about various issues being discussed by the General Assembly. Everybody was saying we had to be mindful of rhetoric and how much of an impact it can have on the public — especially when coming from people running for office like Wallace.

Nonetheless,  the mayoral candidate continued doing things like using transgender as a noun (something the extreme right loves to do) and making other remarks that channel right wing rhetoric designed to denigrates the transgender community. At one point, she even said that allowing people to update their birth certificate to reflect their true gender would result in the government participating in deceit and transgender women being able to trick men into marrying them.

But Richelle Wallace isn’t the only person who refuses to use rhetoric that’s respectful of others and that’s why Del. Danica Roem spoke out against people using language that stigmatizes or alienates people. Her comments during a legislative hearing are worth listening to and bring forth an important message.

Mayoral Candidate Richelle Wallace Spews Anti-Trans Rhetoric on Social Media

no hateLocal elected officials often have a significant amount of influence over how welcoming their communities are for the LGBT community and other groups who face discrimination. They not only help govern the locality, but can help promote a certain set of values that places an emphasis on ensuring everyone has an equal opportunity to thrive. It’s therefore very disappointing a mayoral candidate in Hampton, VA has posted a series of social media comments that channel anti-trans rhetoric used by the extreme right.

Richelle Wallace, who’s running for mayor this year after losing a race for city council back in 2018, wrote a post on Facebook expressing opposition to legislation introduced by Sen. Jennifer Boysko. The bill would make it easier for a transgender person to update their birth certificate and would help limit the discrimination people might face due to their gender identity while doing activities that require identification documents (starting a new job, getting a driver’s or business license, etc). The mayoral candidate from Hampton, however, refused to acknowledge the tremendous amount of good the bill would do and simply suggested it was a way for transgender women to play in female sports.

There’s been a fair amount of discussion about how society should address the transgender athletes participating in athletics and it’s likely to continue. And considering how it’s a relatively new topic of discussion, it’s understandable that it’s one people would want to weigh in on. Several people, including myself, however, left comments on her post letting her know that her tying the issue of sports into a basic step towards equality like being able to update a birth certificate seemed to echo a lot of the rhetoric used by the extreme right.

During the lead up to last year’s school board elections in Fairfax County, for instance, the extremely conservative and proudly anti-LGBT Elizabeth Schultz hosted a meeting with senior staff members of a designated hate group that promotes an anti-trans agenda. Throughout the 90 minute meeting that was filled with hatred directed towards the transgender community, one of the designated hate group’s major talking points was how they claimed transgender people are trying to erase womanhood and are using sports as one of their ways to do so. It’s this type of rhetoric that Richelle Wallace is legitimizing by echoing their talking points.

Considering how Wallace claims to be a Democrat who supports basic civil rights, there was a thought that highlighting this might result in her changing her tune. In sharp contrast to that desire, however, it appeared as though she almost doubled down on using rhetoric that diminished the trans community and anyone who supported them.

Wallace immediately refused to take responsibility for echoing the transphobic talking points that some on the extreme right have a history of promoting. Instead of engaging on trying to figure out why so many people thought her remarks were offensive, for instance, she told one person “what you think is implied is not my responsibility.” That is a strange remark coming from someone who you’d think would realize that rhetoric matters and has spoken out against the type of rhetoric Donald Trump uses.

But as the controversy surrounding her remarks grew, it became clear this wasn’t just a matter of her echoing some right wing talking points in a misguided attempt to defend the integrity of female sports. Richelle quickly moved beyond just raising concerns about girls sports and proceeded to spew all sorts of anti-trans rhetoric.

IMG_2767In an exchange with a male who commented about the birth certificate legislation, Richelle said she’s “worried about someone being deceived into marrying someone that is biologically not who they thought they were marrying and it being legal.” To further drive home how she thought being transgender is actually worse than lying about an affair, she then added “this bill’s letting transwomen change their birth certificates from male to female. That’s not like lying about an affair.”

This comment was made after she created a story out of thin air about how transwomen would supposedly use their updated birth certificate to marry a man without him ever knowing that she was transgender. Following this twisted line of thinking she was promoting, Richelle went on to claim that would result in the woman lying to husband about why they couldn’t get pregnant.

Apparently still looking for ways to describe how horrible she thinks it’d be to marry someone who’s trans, she suggested someone who married a transwoman would then have “to live with knowing his wife was born a man. Nevermind the psychological impact this has on the husband and the questioning he will do as far as his masculinity.”

“They need the birth certificate to obtain a marriage license,” Richelle also offered up while trying to further her attempt to prove the government would be participating in deceit by allowing a birth certificate to have a person’s gender identity updated. “The fact that [the partner of a transgender person] was not only deceived during the relationship but the person was allowed to keep deceiving because the law allowed the deception by allowing the birth certificate to be changed, lies the problem.”

IMG_2779In addition to the line of discussion highlighted in those comments, she also suggested trans women aren’t actually women and trans men aren’t men. It’s a matter of basic decency to acknowledge that people are the gender they identify as, but Richelle made comments implying that a trans woman cannot be female because she doesn’t have a uterus, fallopian tubes, or ovaries. Her additional references to chromosomes and DNA make it clear she doesn’t view trans people as the gender they identify with even though there is plenty of scientific evidence showing transgender people truly are the gender they identify as.

Put all these comments together and it’s very clear she’s saying that transgender people are trying to deceive people when they advocate for identity documents and other legal measures that confirm their true gender. Her claim that someone should be more concerned with the impact a woman’s gender identity might have on a straight, cisgender male’s ego and perceived masculinity than with protecting the basic civil rights perfectly illustrates the disdain in which she holds the trans community.

When you get down to it, the root of the problem for many people was folks were simply trying to have Richelle understand why her comments were offensive to the transgender community, but she blatantly refused to listen and actively demeaned anyone who tried to stand up for basic equality. This tactic left several people with the impression she not only didn’t respect transgender people, but she also wasn’t willing to listen to what the public was telling her.

“You aren’t willing to learn,” one woman who’s a well respected advocate for the transgender community said. “You ask a question, then answer your own question. The article I gave you had a lot of factual information. I learned a lot reading it. You chose not to.”

“The conclusions I am ‘jumping to’ are based on YOUR words through this entire thread and the others,” the woman added. “You have people who are heavily and deeply involved in this community, are A PART of this community, telling you that you are wrong and why, and you show no compassion, no willingness to listen or learn.”

In a prime example of what might have been frustrating some people about the tenor in which Richelle engaged with others, somebody linked to an article published by the Daily Press in 2018 describing how the candidate hadn’t been paying her personal property taxes. The commenter wanted Richelle to explain how the city of Hampton would be able to fund any of her proposals if even she wasn’t paying her taxes.

Despite the highlighted article being published by a reputable media outlet and nobody disputing the facts, Richelle decided it was a good idea to threaten the person for having the audacity to bring up a valid question. “I’m warning you that if you continue, you will be sued for defamation,” Wallace declared.

In other words, she was going to file a frivolous lawsuit against someone who brought up factual information that could be found through a quick google search. This suggested she was willing to go to extraordinaire lengths to silence people who weren’t fully supportive of her campaign and raised significant questions about her willingness to truly engage with the public she hopes to represent. That’s not exact the type of behavior you want from a political candidate.

Of course, she might have begun to realize this when she actually told one commenter that they shouldn’t be associating her anti-trans rhetoric into her mayoral campaign. “Do not attempt to put my running for an elected position into this,” she warned. “You have no knowledge of my abilities as a leader.”

Of course, the entire reason her remarks even drew any attention was because she’s running for office and it’s easy to assume she understood this. That’s likely why, despite her repeated comments demeaning the transgender community and refusal to even listen to the community and its allies, Richelle insisted her use of the pronouns and names transgender people prefer proves she’s actually a supporter of LGBT equality. At one point, after claiming she wasn’t even responsible for her rhetoric being offensive to some people, she actually claimed to be responsible for gay marriage being legal.

“If it wasn’t for me and people like me standing up for the rights of the LGBTQ community and same sex marriage,” Richelle claimed, “it wouldn’t exist.”

In the aftermath of that comment, the old saying that actions speak louder than words comes to mind and the outrageous claim helped provide a clear illustration of what Richelle Wallace and her campaign are all about.

It’s simply laughable that she would try to take credit for making same sex marriage legal after repeatedly making comments demeaning LGBT people and saying it wasn’t her responsibility to care about how much they offended people. It’s this type of ignorance and blatant refusal to actually listen to the public feedback she’s receiving that proves she’s unworthy to serve as mayor of Hampton or have any leadership position in the Democratic Party.

Peaceful Crowd Holds Vigil Outside NRA Headquarters

IMG_2743There were an estimated 22,000 people from all over the country who swarmed into Richmond yesterday in order to express their opposition to commonsense reforms to end gun violence. Shortly after all of this wrapped up, however, a group of concerned Virginians gathered outside the NRA’s national headquarters in Fairfax County to listen to students and others speak about how gun violence has impacted their lives.

The optics of the two events were drastically different as the crowd in Richmond was filled with predominately older white males dressed in camouflage and military tactical gear while carrying assault weapons. It almost appeared as though the crowd was a poorly organized military unit waiting for the high command to let them know the plan as they headed into battle.

In sharp contrast, the group outside the NRA headquarters was extremely diverse. Perhaps the most noticeable part of the crowd was a couple dozen students who had spent the day down in Richmond, but the entire group was made of people of all ages, races, and backgrounds.

The rhetoric used at the two events was also noticeably different. In the lead up to the rally down in Richmond, many members of the crowd had been spreading misinformation and even resorted to sending death threats to some folks who supported commonsense reforms. The misinformation and hatred they preached continued during the day as they tried to scare people into supporting their cause.

The group outside the NRA headquarters was a somber affair, however, and featured the personal stories of several community members. It’s truly unfortunate how many people in the are have lost a loved one to gun violence and we got a vivid reminder of this since the first people to speak was a father who lost his daughter during the mass shooting at Virginia Tech in April of 2007.

In a sign of how much work needs to be done, he reminded us of how everybody thought there was going to be sincere action after the tragedy at Tech. But while there was a significant amount of attention given to the issue during the initial few weeks following the shooting, it appeared as though many folks simply forgot about it and moved on. At least until we saw another one of the countless other mass shootings in the years since — including in Virginia Beach last year.

“Many of you will remember back in the aftermath of the shooting in Virginia Beach when our governor and his administrator vowed to finally bring sane gun laws to this commonwealth,” the father said in an attempt to frustratingly illustrate how action never seems to happen. “He convened a special session and you’ll remember what happened. The gun lobbyists shut it down after 90 minutes.”

He went on to point out the Republican leadership, who allowed the NRA to set up a war room in the speaker’s office, claimed we needed to do more studies before any real action could be taken. Of course, he was also quick to mention we’ve seen study after study conducted while the NRA continues to fill the campaign coffers of candidates who block any real reform.

With all that being said, the students who spoke made it clear they were determined to see action taken by our elected officials. Many of them had traveled down to Richmond in order to lobby the General Assembly. Interestingly, they coordinated with members of the House of Delegates via social media to make sure they’d be safe while doing making their voices heard and were able to avoid harassment from the anti-gun violence prevention extremists who swarmed the city.

One of the first students to speak told the crowd about how inspired he was after having the opportunity to help organize the trip and work with his fellow students. He also passionately spoke about how they realize they have the backing of other tireless advocates and therefore refuse to give up until some sort of concrete action is taken.

“As you talk about the moral arch of the universe, we’re there and really witnessed and felt the strain of that bending today,” he told the crowd. “It’s because of all you showing up at the ballot box, showing up here, showing up every day to make a change, and we really deeply appreciate it. We really carry all of that with us and we’re imbued with purpose because of all of you. We’re never giving up and we’re not going to hand this to the next generation.”

Several of the students also spoke about how the outrage over gun violence shouldn’t just happen after mass shootings because they only account for “1.5 percent of all gun violence.” To really have an impact, the students argued, “we need to address to address the root cause” of all the violence. And according to some of them, it’s communities of color who are impacted the most.

“The reason that we’re here today, especially as a black woman, is because we are the most effective by the gun violence,” a young female student said while addressing the crowd. “We are the most affected in these low income communities. The gun trafficking of these guns needs to be regulated. It needs to be stopped. And they’re doing nothing about it.”

“We might not have changed anyone’s minds today, but we spoke to a lot of different delegates from both sides of the aisle,” another student of color said after highlighting how the group was “lucky enough” to have supportive people as they advocated for commonsense reforms. “Our opinions might not have mattered to them, but we made sure that our opinions were heard and that they know that we’re here and we’re not going anywhere.”

On what was perhaps the best message to end the event on, the final student to speak talked about how coming together as a group can actually empower individuals. And if we’re going to be successful, he said, it would be “by using love.”

“It’s easy to feel helpless when we’re doing this work, but after spending the last 24 hours with these people, I don’t feel so helpless anymore,” the young man proclaimed. “The way we’re going to win this is by using love. Love of humanity and love for people all around us. That’s something that we have that I truly believe the other side lacks.”

“We’re not going to make the difference unless we’re doing the action,” he added. “We can’t honor these individuals like Dr. King without getting involved in the fight.”

And it was in that spirit that the crowd sang a few choruses of We Shall Overcome. The group wasn’t necessarily filled with the best technical singers in the world, but it was definitely a beautiful moment. So for those who are interested, here’s a little audio of the signing.

Virginia Democrats Respond to Trump’s Iranian Airstrike

There’s been a lot of questions raised since news broke that Donald Trump launched an airstrike against Iran that killed Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani. While there doesn’t seem to be any doubt the Iranian general was a horrible man who needed to be held accountable for his past actions, people from a variety of different backgrounds are questioning Trump’s actions.

The airstrike seems to have been carried out almost on a whim without consulting Congress through things such as the tradition of notifying the “Gang of 8” before the mission was launched. There’s also no clear strategy, which puts the country’s national security at risk as there are already reports of potential cyber attacks by Iran in retaliation for the strike.

While Congressional Republicans have mostly praised Trump for launching the attack that could potentially lead to war with Iran, most national security experts and Congressional Democrats have spoken out against the careless manner in which the attack was conducted. Those making public remarks about the president’s decision include Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-VA10).

“Suleimani was a brutal killer who deserved to meet justice, but President Trump’s airstrike has brought us to the brink of war with no clear strategy or plan,” Wexton tweeted. “The American people are not seeking a war with Iran, nor did Congress authorize one.”

Wexton not only criticized Trump’s actions, but would also later on focus in on some legislative options the House of Representatives is considering.

“Article 1 of the Constitution places the power to declare war and authorize military force with Congress, not the President,” the Congresswoman said while retweeting remarks by Rep. Andy Levin. “I’m cosponsoring the bipartisan #AUMF Clarification Act because there can be no war with Iran without the express approval of Congress—that must be clear.”

Rep. Gerry Connolly, who serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and was a senior staffer for the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee before running for office himself, also spoke about how Trump’s actions could have a devastating impact on our foreign policy.

“President Trump has unleashed the dogs of war in approving the drone attack that killed Iranian General Qassim Suleimani, the head of Quds forces in the region,” Connolly tweeted. “It will enrage Shia communities in the ME, further destabilize the Iraqi government and bring Iran and the US to the brink of war. A dangerous and portentous decision.”

Connolly would also later appear on MSNBC to say Trump’s behavior isn’t acceptable just because his “enabler-in-chief Lindsay Graham happened to be at Mar-a-Largo with his golfing partner and therefore got briefed.” He added that “the legislative branch” needs to be “consulted and informed” on matters such as the airstrike.

In response to the airstrike, Rep. Don Beyer took to twitter to highlight how the House has passed legislation that would have blocked Trump from attacking Iran without Congressional authorization, but “the Senate’s obstruction is a huge problem.”

Rep. Bobby Scott has also echoed the sentiment that Congress needs to receive justification in a tweet that said “it is important that the Trump Administration immediately present to Congress all the information it relied on to justify this airstrike, as well as its strategy as to how it intends to address this situation moving forward.

In other words, Virginia’s Democrats are actively making it clear their opposition to the attack isn’t because they don’t like Trump. It’s because his actions are part of a larger trend of ignoring the foreign policy ramifications of his decisions and refusing to follow his constitutional obligations to respect Congress as an equal branch of government.

Scott Surovell and Patrick Hope Introduce Legislation to Ban Conversion Therapy

There have been countless studies over the years that show conversion therapy not only doesn’t work, but can be extremely harmful for children who are forced to go through it. Considering how kids already are going through enough while trying to figure out who they are in general, not just in regards to their sexual orientation or gender identity, there’s absolutely no reason for them to be forced into going through something that’s proven to have potentially devastating impacts on their life.

With that in mind, Del. Patrick Hope and Sen. Scott Surovell have introduced legislation preventing healthcare professionals licensed by the Department of Health Professions (DPOR) from engaging in conversion therapy. They’ve both worked on the issue in previous legislative sessions, but homophobic and transphobic Republicans did everything they could to prevent the legislation from actually becoming law. Now that there’s a majority that believes the LGBT community deserves to have its basic rights respected, there’s a stronger likelihood of the legislation passing.

Similar legislation has already been passed in over a dozen other states including Maryland and DC. And the Virginia version would simply codify regulations put in place last year stating that any licensed professional who engaged in conversion therapy with minors would be subject to disciplinary action from their licensing board for what’s considered unprofessional conduct. By codifying the regulations, future administrations wouldn’t be able to suddenly change the policy in a desperate attempt to implement an anti-LGBT agenda.

This is most definitely a step in the right direction, but there’s also a glaring loophole as religious leaders wouldn’t be impacted by the legislation since they’re not licensed healthcare professionals. This move’s likely designed to overcome objections that a conversion therapy ban would amount to religious discrimination, but it also means many homophobic parents would simply bypass licensed professionals who could truly help their child figure everything out and lay a foundation that would allow them to thrive.

In a statement announcing the legislation had been introduced, Sen. Surovell highlighted how this is about protecting children who are statistically already at an increased risk of suicide.

“Not only is this practice harmful to our youth developing their gender identity, but from a legal standpoint, conversion therapy is abusive given the mental health repercussions and has been associated with increased suicide risk. It is a fraudulent practice, found to be malpractice in some states, and this will protect our children from beliefs rooted in bigotry,” Surovell said. “The General Assembly has a duty to permanently protect children from being targeted and hurt by these dangerous discredited practices. Failure to codify this could result in a reversal of these regulations by a future administration.”

While echoing Surovell’s sentiments, Del. Hope also highlighted how it’s simply wrong for people to be promoting the idea that being gay or transgender is something that’s “a sin or disease” that prevents people from being worthwhile human beings.

“So-called “conversion therapy” is not only ineffective it is a harmful and dangerous practice, especially when targeted at our children. It’s based on the evil notion that being a homosexual is a sin or a disease that needs treatment,” Hope said. “It’s past time Virginia joined the medical professional societies of the world and outright banned this backwards practice. Virginia is a place of acceptance and inclusion and the General Assembly will take whatever steps necessary to protect our children from this destructive practice.”

This isn’t the only legislation that’s been introduced designed to respect the basic rights of the LGBT community. There have been bills introduced to prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in housing or employment, for instance, in addition to legislation making it easier for transgender people to get ID with their proper gender marker. Other bills also protect LGBT students Virginia schools.

For what it’s worth, these bills aren’t just being introduced as a way for lawmakers to act like they’re doing something good for the LGBT community. I’ve had people like Sen. Jennifer Boysko passionately talk with me in one on one conversations about how she’s taking the lead on some bills to help stand for basic equality. While this might seem like something small, I think it goes a long way in showing how the new Democratic majority is truly interested in creating a Commonwealth where everyone has an opportunity to succeed.

In other words, Virginia has leaders who truly believe we should stand up to the values of being a “Commonwealth.”