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Gun rights advocates flood Capitol as gun control bills advance

The National Rifle Association and hundreds of Second Amendment supporters flocked Monday to the State Capitol, voicing their opposition to proposed gun control bills in the Democrat-controlled General Assembly.

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By Chip Lauterbach

The National Rifle Association and hundreds of Second Amendment supporters flocked Monday to the State Capitol, voicing their opposition to proposed gun control bills in the Democrat-controlled General Assembly.

Gun rights advocates, many donning blue T-shirts, filled legislative offices to speak directly with lawmakers. A group of over 25 squared off outside the Capitol with Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, directly venting their frustration over the gun bills.

Several attendants asked Fairfax why Democrats were pushing legislation that would potentially criminalize thousands of Virginians who had done nothing wrong.

Fairfax said that he and the governor are reaching out to all Virginians and want to create “an open dialogue” between lawmakers and citizens to better address the concerns across the commonwealth.

Gun rights advocates expressed opposition to Senate Bill 16, introduced by Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax, which would have prohibited the sale and transport of assault firearms and certain types of firearm magazines.

Saslaw withdrew the legislation Monday. However, House Bill 961, introduced by Del. Mark Levine D- Alexandria, is seen by many Second Amendment supporters as worse than Saslaw’s original bill. Levine’s bill would prohibit the sale and transport of assault firearms, certain firearm magazines, silencers, and trigger activators, as well as outlines penalties.

Critics say the bill expands what constitutes an “assault firearm.” Opponents say the bill would ban the usage of almost all common rifles, even though rifles have been rarely used in crimes committed in the commonwealth.

Sam Edwards, a Virginia resident and NRA supporter, said that in 2018, fewer murders were committed by “long guns of any kind” than were committed by handgun. He cited a 2018 report by the FBI breaking down weapons used by type in crimes by state. The data from that report show eight murders were committed with rifles, five by shotguns, 141 by handguns and 143 by “firearms type unknown.”

“This bill will criminalize almost 3 million Virginia gun owners, it’s not about stopping crime, it’s all about control,” Edwards said.

Levine’s bill includes language that any person who legally owns an assault firearm, large-capacity firearm magazine, silencer, or trigger activator on July 1, 2020, may retain possession until Jan. 1, 2021, unless they have the required permitting from state police allowing them to keep it after that date.

Despite Second Amendment supporters’ efforts to reach lawmakers, four gun control bills reported out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, all on 9-5  party line votes.

The bills that reported out of committee include SB 70, which requires a universal background check when people sell firearms. SB 69 limits handgun purchases to one a month, while SB 35 allows localities to ban firearms in a public space during a permitted event. SB 240 allows authorities to take away the firearms of someone deemed to be a threat to themselves or others, a measure known as a red flag law.

A small local contingent with the national group Moms Demand Action showed up in support of stricter gun-control legislation.

“It used to be that if you talked about gun rights, then you wouldn’t get elected, well now it was the top polling issues for voters leaving the polls,” said Karen Vaught a volunteer with Moms Demand Action. “They voted for gun sense, and they got gun sense.”

Some Second Amendment supporters voiced their displeasure with the NRA, citing the perceived silence from the organization in the aftermath of the 2019 election, even though it is headquartered in Fairfax.

“There’s hardly been a peep out of the NRA, I’ve been shocked by their lack of response,” said Ed Sugg of Loudoun County. “Everyone here, this is all grassroots-driven, and there’s a local organization the VCDL [Virginia Citizens Defense League] that has been 50 times more active than the NRA.”

The NRA responded to some of these claims during a press conference that involved members of the Virginia House Republican Caucus and D.J. Spiker, the Virginia director of the NRA Institute for Legislative Action.

“I would disagree that we have been silent, I think the better word would be strategic,” said Spiker. “We have behind the scenes meetings going on, we’re meeting with our members and engaging with our members.”

Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpeper, said he was happy to see so many citizens show support for gun rights and to oppose Democratic-sponsored legislation.

“For years all we were told was that nobody wants to take your guns, all anybody wanted was some common sense regulations,” Freitas said, “And then the moment they took control, we see gun confiscation bills, we see the criminalization of otherwise law abiding citizens who haven’t hurt anybody.”

Freitas said he is frustrated to see what is going on with the Democratic majority, and the issue isn’t just about guns, but civil liberties.

“It’s been no surprise that you have this grassroots response to all of this,” he said.

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Senate advances bill allowing transgender people to change birth certificate

The Senate passed a bill earlier this week that would allow a person who changed their sex to have a new birth certificate issued, something that the transgender community said will help eliminate problems experienced when their legal identification doesn’t match their transition.

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By Rodney Robinson

The Senate passed a bill earlier this week that would allow a person who changed their sex to have a new birth certificate issued, something that the transgender community said will help eliminate problems experienced when their legal identification doesn’t match their transition.

Senate Bill 657 would allow a person to receive a new birth certificate to reflect a change of sex, without the requirement of surgery. The individual seeking a new birth certificate also may list a new name if they provide a certified copy of a court order of the name change.

“I just think it’s important to try to make life easier for people without being discriminated [against] or bullied,” said Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax. “Allowing an individual who is transgender to change their birth certificate without having to go through the full surgery allows them to live the life that they are due to have.”

The bill requires proof from a health care provider that the individual went through “clinically appropriate treatment for gender transition.” The assessment and treatment, according to Boysko’s office, is up to the medical provider. There is not a specific standard approach for an individual’s transition. Treatment could include any of the following: counseling, hormone therapy, sex reassignment surgery, or a patient-specific approach from the medical provider.

A similar process is required to obtain a passport after a change of sex, according to the State Department.

Once the paperwork is complete, it is submitted to the Virginia Department of Health vital records department, Boysko said.

Boysko said her constituents have reported issues when they need to show legal documents in situations like leasing apartments, opening a bank account or applying for jobs.

This is the third year that Boysko has introduced the bill. Neither bill made it out of subcommittee in previous years, but Boysko believes the bill has a better chance of becoming law this year.

“I believe that we have a more open and accepting General Assembly then we’ve had in the past, where people are more comfortable working with the LGBTQ community and have expressed more of an interest in addressing some of these long-overdue changes,” Boysko said.

Vee Lamneck, executive director of Equality Virginia, a group that advocates for LGBTQ equality, said the organization is “really pleased that this bill is moving through.”

“This bill is really important for the transgender community,” Lamneck said. “Right now many transgendered people do not have identity documents … this is really problematic when people apply for jobs or try to open a bank account.”

There are 22 other states in America that have adopted legislation similar to this, including the District of Columbia, Boysko said. The senator said that “it’s time for Virginia to move forward and be the 23rd state.”

The Senate also passed Tuesday Boysko’s bill requiring the Department of Education to develop policies concerning the treatment of transgender students in public elementary and secondary schools, along with bill outlawing conversion therapy with any person under 18 years of age.

The bills now advance to the House, where they must pass before heading to the governor’s desk.

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Voices from Richmond’s Hidden Epidemic Opens

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From the Valentine:

Voices from Richmond’s Hidden Epidemic, a new exhibition opening on January 23, will feature oral histories and black-and-white photographic portraits, focusing on the personal stories of those affected by HIV/AIDS in Richmond.

Richmond’s rate of HIV infection, currently ranked 19thnationally, is exacerbated by high concentrations of poverty, lack of sex education in public schools and the continuing opioid epidemic. Despite years of medical and social progress, misconceptions about HIV/AIDS persist today.

While Americans on average have a one-in-99 chance of contracting HIV over the course of their lifetime, the odds for a gay black man are one in two. Black women have a rate of HIV infection 17.6 times that of white women. In fact, in Richmond, women make up a quarter of new HIV diagnoses.

Laura Browder and Patricia Herrera, both professors at the University of Richmond, collected 30 oral histories in an effort to put faces to these surprising statistics.

“The process has transformed our understanding not only of the epidemic, but more broadly of the way people can turn what one assumes to be a life-destroying event into an opportunity for making change,” said Herrera.“Many of the people we met lived lives charged with purpose—including, most urgently, to prevent others from becoming infected with the virus.”

“Most people outside of the public health community think that HIV is a disease that primarily affects gay, white men. We learned how far from the reality that is,” Browder continued. “The people represented in the exhibition include great-grandmothers, undocumented immigrants, college professors, church deacons and transgendered people. They include public health officials, HIV educators, medical providers, activists, and those who have lost loved ones to HIV.”

Local photographer Michael Simon produced the black-and-white portraits that communicate share the trials and triumphs of each person featured in Voices.

Rodney Lofton, August 2018 – Photographed by Michael Simon for the Voices from Richmond’s Hidden Epidemic

“These stories and these portraits are important to all of us,” said Simon. “These people are members of our community. They are friends and family and we need to remember that we are all in this fight together.”

 

“Featuring the powerful oral histories collected by Laura and Patricia and Michael’s phenomenal photography, we hope this exhibition contributes to an important ongoing discussion about the true impact of HIV/AIDS on the Richmond community,” Valentine Director Bill Martin said. 

 

In coordination with the exhibition opening, Nationz Foundation, a local non-profit providing education, information and programming related to HIV, will be conducting free on-site HIV testing noon to 4 p. m. on Thursday, January 23 at the Valentine.

 

“Nationz Foundation is excited to partner with the Valentine Museum during the Voices exhibit!” said Nationz Foundation Executive Director Zakia McKensey. “It is extremely important to get tested. Knowing your status is one sure way to prevent the spread of the infection. We will be on site providing Rapid HIV testing for free, so please stop by and get your results in 60 seconds.”

 

Voices from Richmond’s Hidden Epidemic will be on display through May 25, 2020.

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ReRunner Clothing Drive at Quirk

A chance to help others and declutter your closet all this week at Quirk.

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The good folks at Quirk Hotel (201 W Broad Street) are hosting a clothing drive this week.

From Jan. 20-26, people can drop off their gently used clothing and shoes to the Quirk hotel lobby, and they will get 10% discount at Maple & Pine and ReRunner. As an added bonus tonight Wednesday, January 22nd, from 4-6 pm there will be a Happy Hour at Quirk for people to drop off clothes, mingle and a portion of drinks will go to benefit Goodwill.

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