A bill long championed by Del. Ken Plum (D-Reston) to expand the definition of hate crimes cleared the Virginia House of Delegates with a 60-39 vote on Wednesday (Feb. 19).
If approved by the state Senate, the bill would add gender, disability, gender identity, sexual orientation and disability as categories covered by hate crimes.
Currently, the law defines hate crimes as an illegal act directed against individuals or property because of the person’s race, religion or national origin.
Plum and Del. Richard Sullivan, Jr. pushed for the measure. Last year, a similar bill proposed by Plum died in a House committee. Republicans on the committee stated that the change would unnecessarily complicate the law, which already punishes violence.
Hate crimes must be reported to the Department of State Police by local law enforcement agencies.
Dazzling is the only word I could think of to describe the amazing work that is going on in the Virginia General Assembly this legislative session. The annual meeting of the legislature is just approaching half-time of its annual session, but already significant policy changes are being debated and adopted. There is little new to the policies that are being adopted; many are in place in other states already. But in Richmond they seem revolutionary!
I have already written about the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment in the early days of the session. The movement to ratify the ERA began in the early 1970s but was not successful in Virginia until nearly 50 years later! Since two ratification deadlines have already passed, the fate of the amendment with Virginia being the needed 38th state to ratify is uncertain. Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring is among the leaders seeking a judicial decision to validate the amendment’s ratification. Although the Nineteenth Amendment granting women the right to vote was ratified in 1920 and added to the Constitution, Virginia did not add its support to ratification until 1952!
While legislation must be passed by both houses of the legislature and signed by the governor to become law, here is a run-down on what has been approved so far by at least one house. By the time the legislature adjourns in early March this legislation is expected to be approved by both houses and sent to the governor. Numerous bills have been passed to ban discrimination against persons because of their sex; bills to protect LGBTQ+ persons would not have made it out of committee last year. Bills to ban discrimination in housing, public accommodations, employment and credit applications have passed as has a bill to ban conversion therapy.
Likewise, bills to protect public safety from the misuse of guns that would never have made it out of committee previously have passed in both houses of the Assembly. My bill to require universal background checks has passed as well as bills granting localities the right to ban guns in public spaces, increasing the penalties for leaving guns unsecured around children, and requiring people to report lost or stolen guns within 24 hours. A “red flag” law that allows authorities to remove guns from individuals who have shown themselves to be a danger to themselves and to others has passed.
This week action is expected on bills that will open up the state to more solar and wind power and that will establish standards for the increased use of renewables in generating electricity. Plastic bags may be eliminated or taxed to reduce plastic pollution. I am sponsoring the Governor’s bill to advance the clean-up of the Chesapeake Bay that is getting some push-back from the farming community that would be affected by regulations to clean up stream run-off. Numerous bills have already passed to make it easier to register to vote and to vote on election day, including no-excuse absentee voting.
There is more to come. Tune in next week or follow the sessions on live-streaming at House Chamber Live Stream for more dazzling action!
The Unitarian Universalist Church in Reston will reinstall a rainbow flag that was taken nearly a month ago.
The new flag, which will be installed tomorrow, replaces one that was removed by vandals in the same location outside the church atop a hill on Wiehle Avenue.
Local police have not provided any details about the suspected vandalism.
Rev. Debra Haffner said the church is committed to replacing every stolen flag “even if it means putting up a new flag each month.”
“We are a welcoming faith community and we want everyone who drives by our church in Reston to know that all people – gay, straight, pansexual, bisexual, transgender – are welcome here. Our faith celebrates that sexual and gender diversity is a blessing, and our flag is a symbol of that commitment,” she said.
The church has the only freestanding rainbow flag in Reston that is up year-round.
The 11-foot flag was removed on June 11, one week after the church co-sponsored the Reston Pride Festival. Roughly 5,000 people came out to celebrate the second annual event at Lake Anne Plaza.
In the last several months, the flag was taken three times. It was installed in 2017 without incident until this spring.
A rainbow flag outside the Unitarian Universalist Church is missing for the third time in three months.
Rev. Debra Haffner says that the 11-foot flag was stolen on Tuesday, June 11.
The church has been very vocal in advocacy for LGBTQ rights. It organized the first ever Reston Pride Festival last year. This year, the festival was held at a new and larger location at Lake Anne Plaza.
“We are deeply saddened that some person or persons have chosen to steal our flag and hope that it will be returned to us. More, we hope for an opportunity to create an opportunity for restorative justice with that person or persons so that they will come to understand and accept all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression,” said Haffner.
The missing flag was reported to the Fairfax County Police Department, which is investigating who tore down the flag.
Haffner says she fears the incident qualifies as a hate crime. She says her church is open to purchasing a flag for any faith community that requests it.
“We will continue to fly a rainbow flag on our property even if it means buying a new one every month. We hope that other churches, synagogues and mosques will put a rainbow flag on their property, so that all will know that people of every faith in Reston support and celebrate the LGBTQ+ community.”
Until this spring, a rainbow flag has flown on UUCR’s property since 2017 without incident.
After a successful inaugural event last year, the Reston Pride Festival is moving from its small home in the Unitarian Universalist Church to Lake Anne Plaza. The event is set for June 1 from 2-7 p.m.
“Last year’s response was so great that we opted for this new location and businesses and the plaza have been very supportive and involved,” Amiee Freeman, one of the festival’s organizers told Reston Now.
Delta Knyght, a DC-based drag entertainer, and Ken Williamson, minister of music for Washington Plaza Baptist Church and a former Las Vegas entertainer, will emcee the event. Elected officials scheduled to speak include Del. Ken Plum and Del. Danica Roem, according to event organizers. Interfaith leaders from the United Christian Parish, the Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation and Restoration Church, will also give remarks at the event.
“Our hope is that this event will not only be awareness-raising, but also a fun and engaging expression of inclusion,” Freeman said.
Last year’s event attracted more than 1,200 people and was co-sponsored by more than 20 community organizations. The event is the brain child of Rev. Debra Haffner, a minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Reston and co-chair of Reston Pride.
She says the festival aims to “break silence in the greater Reston/Herndon area about LGBTQ+ people and issues.”
“We are thrilled that so many organizations are working together to bring the community the second Pride festival and to launch what we hope will be an annual event,” she said.
Photo by Debra Haffner
It is somewhat ironic that Loving Day in Virginia, celebrated annually on June 12, has nothing to do with the famous “Virginia is for Lovers” public relations slogan but has much to do about ending a period in history when Virginia was less than loving. Loving Day in Virginia relates to an interracial couple, Mildred and Richard Loving, who were married in the District of Columbia and tried to live near where they grew up in Virginia. They were found guilty of violating state law and banished from their home state for twenty-five years.
The Racial Integrity Act of 1924 in Virginia prohibited marriage between persons classified as white and people classified as colored. Although Mildred and Richard were residents of Caroline County, they went to the District of Columbia to get married to get around this anti-miscegenation law. They returned to live in their home but were arrested because Virginia law did not recognize the D.C. marriage, and furthermore it was also against the law to go outside the state to be married and return as an interracial couple.
The laws under which the Lovings were convicted were eventually appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. One of their lawyers with whom I was later to serve in the House of Delegates, Bernard “Bernie” Cohen, told the Justices that Richard Loving had sent a message to them. “Tell the Court I love my wife, and it is just unfair that I can’t live with her in Virginia.”
In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court invalidated the Virginia law and all other state laws prohibiting interracial marriage. The case (Loving v Virginia) decided in 1967 is considered a landmark civil rights case that helped to dismantle Jim Crow laws and establish a precedent that was cited in 2015 to invalidate laws prohibiting same-sex marriages.
It is important to recognize Loving Day for the courageous action on the part of Mildred and Richard Loving to allow their case to go forward with the help of the ACLU to challenge an unjust law. Some of our greatest gains in civil rights have come through the courts as legislatures have too many times lacked the political will to do what is right when it might not be popular with some people. It can also be chilling to recognize that this step forward took place just over fifty years ago. We need to study our history and carefully review our current political and societal mores to ensure that such discrimination is not continuing today. Overcoming discrimination and racial biases are not topics of the past but continue to today. We need to support those like the Lovings who stepped up to undo an injustice.
Some long for the “good ole days.” My reading of history suggests that better days are ahead of us. A divided and discriminatory society of the past is not to be celebrated. Virginia needs to be a Commonwealth of lovers of justice, equality and peace.
Roughly 1,200 people attended Saturday’s inaugural Reston Pride Festival at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Reston.
The Rev. Debra Haffner, a minister at UUCR, pushed to put together the event after she moved to Reston two years ago and identified what she calls a void in programming for and about the local LGBTQ population.
“I asked where are the gay people in Reston. My congregants told me there were none,” Haffner told Reston Now. “I knew that wasn’t true.”
The event was cosponsored by more than 21 local organizations and included a performance by Reston Community Players and remarks by local elected officials, including state Del. Ken Plum. Many of the attendees were from South Lakes High School and Herndon High School, organizers said.
Haffner’s son, Greg Tartaglione, a drag performer, was the emcee — a role that Haffner said taught event-goers “about the role a drag queen can play in creating community.”
Plans are in the works to continue the festival next year, likely at a larger venue like Reston Town Center or Lake Anne Plaza. Haffner said the community needs to do more to celebrate the local LGBTQ community.
“For the last year, UCR has had a rainbow flag in front of our church. We’re only the freestanding rainbow flag in Reston. We need as a community to do much more and stand up and support and celebrate the LGBTQ community,” she said.
Photos by Kim-Marie Mullen and Debra Haffner
Silver Line extension to Dulles awaits test results — “The Silver Line extension project to Dulles International Airport is now waiting on test results that could determine whether it opens on time. Project director Charles Stark told the Dulles Corridor Advisory Committee… that three problems with concrete wall panels at five stations under construction had already been identified before news of a whistleblower lawsuit broke.” [WTOP]
A local kid’s message for President Trump — Disturbed by the murders of Buckley Kuhn Fricker and Scott Fricker late last year, 10-year-old Anya Moon pens a letter to President Donald Trump about gun violence. [CNN]
For Normandy — Five ensembles by current and former Herndon High School musicians will be featured in this family-friendly concert on Sunday. All proceeds will help the school’s band travel to Normandy to participate in the 75th anniversary of D-Day. [Herndon High School]
Registration for fall soccer is now open — The Great Falls-Reston Soccer Club is accepting application starting today for a variety of programs. [Great Falls Reston Soccer Club]
Reston Pride Festival set for tomorrow — As pride month begins, the Unitarian Universalist Church in Reston is hosting Reston’s first-ever Pride Festival on Sunday. The event includes 10 performances, remarks by local politicians, exhibits, food, and music. [Unitarian Universalist Church in Reston]
Photo by Ruth Sievers
The family-friendly, alcohol-free event aims to support and celebrate Reston’s LGBTQ community, said the Rev. Debra Haffner, a minister at UUCR.
Her son, Greg Tartaglione, will emcee and perform as Mama Celeste, a drag performance artist, at the festival. Mama Celeste will also host Oakland’s first drag festival this month.
“As someone new to Reston, I was surprised to discover that despite Reston’s founding commitment to diversity and inclusion, there had never been a Pride festival in Reston. I am delighted by the enthusiastic response and support we are receiving for Reston Pride, often from groups and organizations that have never spoken out before on LGBTQ issues,” Haffner said.
The festival, which takes place at UUCR, includes more than 10 performers, presentations by area political and faith leaders, exhibits, booths, food, and music.
Reston Community Players will perform “Rock the Ages and “Hairspray” at the festival. State Del. Ken Plum and state Sen. Janet Howell will speak alongside Lisa Merkel, the mayor of the Town of Herndon.
Eighteen cosponsors are supporting the event, including six churches and synagogues, Cornerstones and the YMCA.
Photo via Myers Public Relations
Each year, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation assesses lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer inclusion in major companies and law firms across the country.
In this year’s Corporate Equality Index, a tool used for 15 years, the organization found a record number of companies are “advancing vital policies” to protect LGBTQ workers around the world, including several in Reston. The foundation is the largest LGBT civil rights advocacy group and lobbying organization.
In a new record, 609 businesses received the top score of 100, up by 18 percent over last year. 947 businesses and firms were rated during the assessment. In Virginia, the average score of the 32 companies ranked was 87 percent. 19 received 100 points, 21 received 90 points and above, and 26 received 80 points and above.
The following companies in Reston were rated:
- Leidos Holdings: 100 percent
- Rolls-Royce North America (USA) Holdings Co.: 100 percent
- Science Applications International Corp.: 85 percent
- Software AG USA Inc.: 60 percent
Each firm was rated across the following categories, according to the release:
- Non-discrimination policies
- Employment benefits
- Demonstrated organizational competency and accountability around LGBTQ diversity and inclusion
- Public commitment to LGBTQ equality
- Responsible citizenship
For the complete assessment, visit the foundation’s website.
Photo via the Human Rights Campaign Foundation