For years, Equality Virginia has advocated to ban the practice of so-called “conversion therapy” or sexual orientation change efforts for minors in Virginia. During the 2020 General Assembly session, Senator Scott Surovell’s SB 245 and Delegate Patrick Hope’s HB 386 passed through the legislature, which means that state-licensed professionals are now prohibited from practicing conversion therapy on minors. Now, anyone who is licensed by the Virginia Department of Health Professions will face disciplinary action if they practice conversion therapy on anyone under age 18. The law also bans the use of state funds for conducting conversion therapy.
Currently, all five Virginia boards that license health care providers – including psychologists, counselors, social workers, medical health providers, and nurses – are working to ensure that their internal regulatory processes align with the new Virginia law.
We are asking Virginians to take action in the regulatory process. The public comment forum for the Board of Nursing and the Board of Medicine will be open through September 30th, 2020. We encourage you to submit your comments in support of the regulatory update:
Virginia law now bans the practice of conversion therapy on minors, and the state licensing boards are taking appropriate action to update their internal processes to reflect this update to the law. Use these talking points to craft the message that you will submit:
I support this regulatory action, which protects youth from so-called “conversion therapy,” a dangerous and discredited practice aimed at changing their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Conversion therapy is a dangerous and discredited practice based on the false claim that being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ) is a mental illness that needs to be cured—a view with no scientific basis.
Virginia law now protects young people from state-licensed therapists who falsely claim that being LGBTQ is a mental illness, no longer allowing them to take advantage of parents or harm vulnerable youth.
The law recognizes that these practices are harmful because they use rejection, shame, and psychological abuse to force young people to try and change who they are.
Conversion therapy is known to be extremely dangerous and can lead to depression, decreased self-esteem, substance abuse, and even suicide attempts.
No young person should ever be shamed by a mental health professional into thinking that who they are is wrong. Mental health professionals should provide care that is ethical and affirming for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender young people.
In accordance with VA law, young people can no longer be targeted and hurt by state-licensed providers practicing conversion therapy.
Equality Virginia is so grateful for the hard work that you put into protecting LGBTQ youth from this harmful practice. We could not do this crucial work without you. E-mail Andaiye at [email protected] if you have any questions.
There are different ways of opposing discrimination and bringing about social change. One is advocating for new or strengthened legal protections; another is speaking to the hearts of people so they will put aside the fears that underlie unjust practices. The two approaches are by no means mutually exclusive, but Amy
Adams chose to focus on the second when she mobilized her Stafford County neighbors to oppose hurtful school policies.
Amy’s journey into activism started with her daughter Morgan. At 9, Morgan, raised as a boy, said she was gay, and at 10 told her parents that she was transgender. “We knew she was serious,” says Amy, “so we followed her lead.”
After consulting with medical professionals and people at Morgan’s elementary school, the family decided Morgan would socially transition over the summer before fourth grade, to give everyone time to adjust. All went very well, says Amy. Morgan flourished. As a person, she came fully into her own. “I can’t imagine her as anyone other than exactly who she is now,” says Amy.
Socially and academically, Morgan was thriving. The bullying she had endured in second and third grade ended, and the girls supported and encouraged her. The school administration accepted everything Morgan and her family asked for. “They had never had an openly transgender child before,” says Amy, “and they really wanted the best for her.”
All the daily details were working out smoothly. At first, the school offered Morgan use of the nurse’s office or staff bathroom, but the kids wouldn’t have any of it. The girls said Morgan should use theirs, and inquiries to the main office and the school board indicated no concerns.
The tranquility Morgan and her family experienced at the start of the year was, however, deceptive. Hearing about Morgan’s routine, a group of parents started organizing opposition in secret. They courted politicians and the press and circulated a petition called Save Our Schools, with a plan to come out publicly all at once at an upcoming county School Board meeting, where they would push a resolution to ban Morgan from using the girls’ bathroom.
The family knew nothing about these plans until two days before the meeting when a friend told Amy. Shocked, Amy contacted a trusted advisor, civil rights lawyer Asaf Orr, as well as leaders from Equality Virginia. They arranged to come and observe, and EV sent out an alert to Stafford County area members.
At the standing-room-only meeting, 26 speakers came forward to voice their outrage, portraying 11-year-old Morgan as a would-be predator and spinning scenarios of rape in the girls’ room. Only Morgan’s father Jonathan spoke up for Morgan, but he did so eloquently. He told the crowd how his views of masculinity had changed because of Morgan and how since her transition she had changed from withdrawn, bullied, and depressed to happy and popular. He urged people to reframe the dialogue as about a child’s well-being and not about clothing or bathrooms. “He was amazing and the epitome of what a father should be,” says Amy.
No decisions were made, and the spectators went home. However, at one o’clock that morning in a closed-door session the Board reversed their earlier position. They passed the resolution after checking that no nondiscrimination laws were being violated. (They weren’t: gender orientation is not a protected class.) The principal called Amy before school the next morning to break the news. “From that point on, Morgan was banned,” says Amy.
Over the rest of the year and in fifth grade, Morgan made the best of the situation and tried not to care. Amy, however, had a choice to make. Middle school was ahead and with it the same battles for Morgan’s rights. How would she fight this time? First, Amy researched the legal and political landscape nationwide. “I needed to learn all I could about how influence works,” she says. Amy secured help from the ACLU and closely watched the suit of Gavin Grimm (a 2017 OUTstanding Virginian) against the Gloucester County school system over the right to use the boys’ room, which had much in common with Morgan’s situation.
In the end, Amy decided not to take the “legal path” and instead work to change people’s minds through education. She reasoned that for decision makers to change their minds, it was necessary for them to understand Morgan “as a human being with feelings and not as a chess piece.” Amy cultivated good relationships with school board representatives and the superintendent. She connected with advocacy groups at area colleges. She read the comments sections of articles and followed Facebook posts, personally thanking the people who voiced support for Morgan. In the process, she also connected with families of transgender schoolchildren.
Amy’s efforts to change attitudes in her community are bearing fruit. Although Morgan, now in middle school, is still barred from the girls’ room, and locker rooms as well, public opinion is shifting towards her side. A nationally televised rally was held for Morgan, and many people from the community showed up holding heart-shaped signs in solidarity with her. The expected opposition did not materialize in force: Save Our Schools had effectively disappeared.
Amy is now more active on the political front. During the 2016 General Assembly, she spoke out against her delegate Mark Cole’s highly invasive bathroom bill, which, had it passed, would have allowed anyone’s gender to be questioned. She is working with the Human Rights Campaign to lobby the US Congress for transgender-friendly policies in schools. But still, she prefers local action, including connecting with other parents of transgender kids. Inspired by the work of Richmond mom Shannon McKay (a 2016 OUTstanding Virginian), Amy started a He, She, Ze, and We group in Fredericksburg. Her Facebook group, Virginia Parents of Transgender Youth, has 160 members. Recently she hosted a social event with 50 families. “The teens immediately bonded,” she observes. “It’s so important not to feel like you’re the only kid.”
In 2017, Amy founded Equality Stafford, a group of teachers, community leaders, parents, and students. The young organization successfully advocated for the school board to form an Equality, Diversity, and Opportunity Committee and is helping the county update its nondiscrimination policies. Amy is currently leading a campaign to make sure all Stafford County schools have GSAs. This is a huge priority, she says, because “for some children, schools are the only place to be themselves.”
Morgan is in seventh grade now. She inspires her peers to speak out against prejudice and discriminatory policies. Amy reports that her daughter has absorbed a key lesson from the four-year struggle for her rights. “She knows her parents and allies will always have her back,” says Amy, “but she also knows you have to be there advocating for yourself.”
Reverend Emma Chattin travels a lot. Her busy schedule includes speaking at conferences, meeting with staff and patients at psychiatric hospitals, and visiting churches and seminaries as liturgist and lecturer. One constant of travel for her and other gender-nonconforming people is the dread of potentially humiliating treatment by TSA personnel. She tells of people who present differently from what their documents say being pulled aside for pat-downs on suspicion of a “groin anomaly” (an actual TSA term). “For some people, such encounters are so upsetting that they can precipitate an emotional breakdown,” Emma says.
Emma is on a lifelong mission to counter the attitudes that give rise to such callous treatment. To achieve this mission, she has positioned herself, in her words, “at the intersection of the trans communities and religion,” two spheres of action that she describes as “very important in this day and age.”
On the trans side of this intersection, Emma is Executive Director of the TransGender Education Association of Greater Washington DC (TGEA), whose mission is “to support individuals in transition (anyplace along the broad spectrum of gender identity, whether static or dynamic), and the communities into which they are transitioning.” She is also an ordained minister, serving as pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) of Northern Virginia, a GLBTIQQ-affirming community for all people: “No exceptions, No kidding.” She is a member of the MCC Eastern Network Leadership Team and a regular guest preacher at the Harrisonburg Unitarian Universalist Church. Emma also serves the spiritual life-cycle needs of those who do not have a minister, performing weddings, funerals, baptisms, christenings, and re-naming ceremonies.
Emma’s appreciation for religion comes by way of her family. Her father and uncle were both Methodist ministers, and she grew up in a church environment. Along with her mother and her sister, Dawn, a nurse, they stood by her on her “long, complicated, and occasionally difficult gender journey,” which led her to transition as an adult. Their support included participating in her ordination at the MCC Church of Richmond, a ritual which included her father and uncle laying on hands as she stood beside an altar decorated with items of significance from her life. One of these items was a whimsical Betty Boop doll, which Emma explains was “symbolic of the fact that we bring all of ourselves to the altar of service.” Looking around the congregation that day, her niece, Gwendolyn, about 12 years old at the time, commented, pleasantly surprised, “There’s so many gay people here!”
Once, Emma’s father told her that part of the reason his view of gender was eventually so accepting is because when he was a student, “a transsexual woman like you” came to speak at his seminary and transformed his thinking. Emma realized then how much power her own experience and voice could have on the development of clergy, whose voices would touch thousands of lives. That realization impelled her to devote time to religious education and outreach. Every year, she goes to seminaries to speak with the young pastors in training. She always thinks about that woman who taught her father. “It’s my way of paying her back,” Emma says.
Once, at a seminary, a student asked her, “I know God doesn’t make mistakes, so why do you think God made transgender people?” Emma responded “I think God made transgender people to provide a clearer image of Divinity. God is neither male nor female, but made both in the image of God. My God is gender queer, totally trans.” She cites examples from the Bible of gender-transgressing figures that are nonetheless heroes, such as Deborah, Prophet and the only female Judge mentioned in the Bible, or Jacob, who possessed many stereotypically feminine traits. “It’s culture that made God male, and culture that seems very determined to continue to do so,” says Emma.
Stripping away that patriarchal cultural layer to expose gender fluidity in the Biblical stories has proven valuable in Emma’s counseling work, especially when helping conservative parents learn to accept a transgender child. “You opened my eyes,” one parent told her. To Emma, this was an example of a principle she holds dear: “We have to touch people’s hearts through the stories we tell.”
Awareness of our stories also informs her work in the mental health field, where Emma has seen the damaging power of bad or thoughtless actions in the lives of transgender people. “I got into this area because of a patient who was suicidal and went into a psychiatric hospital only to come out more at risk than when they went in due to being repeatedly misgendered there,” says Emma. The patient committed suicide five weeks after being released. “And this was a hospital that said they could handle transgender patients,” she adds.
“Doctors and nurses, by and large, want to do the right thing,” says Emma, “but they often don’t know exactly what that is.” To guide them, she has devised a simple formula for delivering effective care: “Parts, paperwork, and presentation are no indication of a person’s pronoun preference. Ask, honor, respect, and use accordingly.”
Helping healing professionals know what to do is the purpose of many of Emma’s travels. Recently she was invited to address the California Hospital Association on the subject of Treating Transgender Patients. In such appearances, she reminds her hosts that their first responsibility is to “do no harm” and that misgendering patients, for instance, by using the wrong pronoun, is, in fact, doing harm. “It’s about being mindful, and being mindful of possibilities,” she says. “What you perceive about a person is not necessarily their truth or their authentic self.” Above all, she says, “Treat people as people before you treat them as patients.”
Much of Emma’s outreach work has grown out of work with TGEA, which she began leading in 2015 at a time when its future was in doubt. Now that the organization is stable, Emma has expanded its reach with gender awareness training and educational presentations at businesses, hospitals, schools, organizations, seminaries, and houses of worship of all denominations. A strong advocate of community building and creating connections among marginalized people, she is a founding co-facilitator of several support and community building groups for the trans community, including Parents of Trans-youth, Trans & Gender Non-Binary Tweens & Teens, and Spouses of Those Who Identify as Trans. During her time as Executive Director, TGEA has also formed two additional groups: Play Day for trans and gender-expansive children 5-11 years old, and a group for transmasculine and gender non-binary teens and adults. TGEA and MCC NoVA also supported Emma in leading the First Annual Northern Virginia Interfaith Service of Remembrance for the Victims of Suicide last September. Emma gives great thanks to all the many volunteers that support her work “to help build community and make the world a better, safer place for people of all genders.”
Emma lives in Northern Virginia with Heather, her wife of 21 years, who is a true partner in the work that she does. “We really like each other’s company, and we travel together often,” says Emma. “We can ride together in the car for hours without touching the radio because we still have so much to talk about!”
Ultimately, Emma says her work in both religious and therapeutic communities is part of the same struggle, whose outcome is far from certain. “Many of the institutions that are supposed to be helping people live better lives are actually causing harm in many cases.” Emma cites potential legislation protecting GLBTIQQ discrimination in the name of religion, a toxic climate for human rights in Africa caused by too many American missionaries, and schisms in some Christian denominations as reasons why it is so important for people of faith to speak out for equality. “We want to make a good future for all people now,” she says, “and the way to do that is to educate people, touch their hearts, and let them hear each other’s stories.”
De Sube is a steadfast advocate for transgender people in the Hampton Roads area, where she moved in 1973 after graduating from Randolph-Macon College where she earned a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science. Before her work in the transgender community, she worked in the retail industry for J. C. Penney and Proffitt-Parisian Department Stores for many years in various positions including store management; merchandise management; human resources; and marketing. She has gone on to become a conduit for change and the advancement of trans people.
Though she is now a vital part of Virginia Beach’s LGBT community, it has not always been easy for De. “My earliest memories are of feeling different,” she says of growing up in the late ’50s and ’60s when the term transgender was not widely used. She spent much of her early life suppressing and wrestling with her identity. The advent of the Internet helped change things and she was able to find resources to begin the process of transitioning. In 1996 she came out to her then wife and later to her employer.
From there, De’s life started over. Her marriage ended and she moved out. Being out as trans woman initially proved difficult, both personally and professionally. She was fired upon coming out to her employer who cited that they could not have a contract with a transgender person. With no job and no legal recourse for her termination, she used the resourceful skills her father taught her and began building houses. This sustained her until the economic decline of the Great Recession in 2007. With no clients, De lost her income and was left essentially homeless.
Fortunately, friends opened their doors to De giving her a place to stay while she got back on her feet following economic hardships. During that time, De sought ways to make life better for her fellow transgender neighbors and in May 2007, she followed her passions and created, as well as served as a facilitator for, the New Life Transgender Outreach, a peer-facilitated transgender support group that later evolved into The Gender Expression Movement of Hampton Roads. In 2011, she helped to found the LGBT Center of Hampton Roads and was its first employee. In 2015, she co-founded Transgender Assistance Program (TAP) a non-profit organization created to end homelessness within the local transgender community in Virginia. She also serves as TAP’s treasurer on the Board of Directors and is a member of the homeless emergency response team.
Today, a thriving member of the community, De also works as operations manager for a chain of hair salons, while also devoting a great deal of time toward helping other people in the transgender community. A grassroots activist at heart, her support comes in various forms, whether it is devotedly serving the organizations she helped found, referring those in need to doctors and mental health professionals, or creating a safe space in which transgender people can connect with one another. In 2011, she was given the Old Dominion University Diversity Award and in 2014, she was given the Virginia Beach Human Rights Commission’s community service award. Advocate magazine named De one their 2015 Trans100.
De is grateful to be recognized as an OUTstanding Virginian, but awards and honors, however, are not the reason De stays committed to the trans community. She is heartened by the strides made in our community in recent years and hopes that her work, along with the efforts of so many others will help bring about continued change.