November 9, 2011 at 9:16 pm EDT | by Kevin Naff
Equality Md. names new exec director
Carrie Evans is the new leader of Equality Maryland. (Courtesy photo)

Carrie Evans is the new leader of Equality Maryland. (Courtesy photo)

Equality Maryland has selected veteran activist Carrie Evans, a former Human Rights Campaign staffer, as its new executive director after conducting a national search.

In an exclusive interview with the Washington Blade, Evans expressed confidence that Maryland will become the next state to enact same-sex marriage rights.

“The stars are aligned this year,” Evans said. “We have the votes in the Senate … and in the House the governor, along with a coalition of supporters, will work the House like it wasn’t worked last year.”

Evans previously worked for Equality Maryland as director of policy and planning from 2007-2009. She left the organization shortly after its then-executive director, Dan Furmansky, resigned in late 2008.

Prior to that experience, Evans spent time at both HRC and the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force. She served as state legislative lawyer for the Task Force in the early 2000s and later in a similar role at HRC, where she worked from 2003-2007.

Since leaving Equality Maryland in 2009, Evans has worked for the City of Baltimore in the housing department.

“It feels like coming home,” Evans said. “This is an organization that is like a dear friend to me … and the stakes are high, marriage is on the table, as well as the gender identity bill. We have a whole new board of tremendously accomplished people and I can hit the ground running — it’s full speed ahead.”

The board expressed confidence in its new executive director.

“The executive director search committee, led by board treasurer Rosemary Nicolosi and comprised of local and national leaders in the LGBT movement, spent hundreds of hours sifting through resumes and conducting interviews,” said Equality Maryland board chair Lisa Polyak. “We were charged with finding a leader who possessed courage, intelligence, strategic thinking and passion for achieving justice for the LGBT community of Maryland — and we believe we have found that leader in Carrie Evans.”

As for the marriage bill, Evans said the House of Delegates will become her focus.

“It’s a freshman class in the House that I’ll have to get acquainted with,” she said. “The House is where we need to pick up some votes.”

Reflecting on the 2011 effort to pass a same-sex marriage bill, which died in the House after passing the Senate, Evans said there was a lack of familiarity with the freshman class.

“The House changed more than folks had realized,” she said. “So we were used to the old House, but we had more Republicans and untested Democrats, like Tiffany Alston, so … it was a crap shoot with the vote count.”

One key difference looking ahead to the 2012 session, which begins in January, is the overt support of Gov. Martin O’Malley.

“It’s a totally different ballgame this year with the governor behind it,” Evans said. “The governor’s office is going to be more hands on.”

The marriage bill isn’t Equality Maryland’s only priority. It’s also pushing a measure to bar discrimination based on gender identity and expression.

“They took out public accommodations this year because of the misinformation about bathrooms and locker rooms … so we just have to give voice to our transgender supporters,” Evans said. “We have work to do in forging those relationships so it’s a lot of heavy lifting; hopefully the governor will put his support behind the trans bill like he has for the marriage bill. We want to move him to that place, that’s essential.”

If the marriage bill passes, many are concerned about a likely referendum to repeal the measure in 2012. Evans acknowledged the uphill fight in taking on a referendum fight.

“In referendums, wins are few and far between,” she said. “ It takes an infusion of resources that may not transpire. It’s refreshing that the coalition is together now, so that come April when the session ends we can move into executing a plan to keep this off the ballot or win at the ballot box. It’s winnable but will take a large effort and the community will have to step up like never before.”

It’s been a tough year for Equality Maryland, which saw both a transgender rights bill and a same-sex marriage measure fail in the 2011 legislative session. And the announcement of the new executive director comes less than a year after Equality Maryland struggled with financial problems and disagreements among board members that led to the firing of its executive director and the layoff of most of its staff due to a lack of funds to pay salaries. Its former board chair, Charles Butler, stepped down in May just one week after he publicly blamed the group’s former executive director, Morgan Meneses-Sheets, for the organization’s financial problems.

Meneses-Sheets, whom the board fired in April, rejected Butler’s claim that she entered into expensive contracts on behalf of Equality Maryland and hired staff without the board’s approval or knowledge. In a messy public fight, Butler and Meneses-Sheets each told the Blade that the other shared the blame for a funding shortage that threatened to force the group to close its doors.

In the wake of the group’s troubles, a new organization called Gender Rights Maryland was launched to lead efforts for a comprehensive gender identity non-discrimination bill and a new coalition of groups including HRC came together to advocate for a same-sex marriage bill in 2012.

Carrie Evans and wife Pam Bennett were married in 2009. (courtesy photo)

Carrie Evans and spouse Pam Bennett were married in 2009. (courtesy photo)

But several recent developments suggest that Equality Maryland is getting back on its feet. The group held a fundraiser headlined by Gov. Martin O’Malley in September that brought in about $70,000. Another fundraiser is planned for December in Baltimore. Last month, Equality Maryland announced the appointment of 16 new members to its board of directors and its tax-exempt educational arm, the Equality Maryland Foundation.

Equality Maryland is a full partner in the Marylanders for Marriage Equality coalition and part of its steering committee, according to Polyak. She added that the organization is debt-free and operating in the black.

In addition to Evans, the organization employs two full-time staff members — an office manager and a field organizer.

Evans lauded the efforts of the marriage coalition.

“I think this is where we’re going as a movement,” she said. “We saw it in New York. All the players get to the same table and work as partners. I think it’s a good thing.”

Evans, 41, starts her new position the first week of December. She lives in Baltimore with her spouse, Pam Bennett, a professor at Johns Hopkins University. The two married in 2009 on their 10th anniversary.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. contributed to this report.

Kevin Naff is the editor and a co-owner of the Washington Blade, the nation’s oldest and most acclaimed LGBT news publication, founded in 1969.

  • Gee, I wonder how long she’ll last…

  • They better get their act together and pass same-sex marriage in Maryland this year. I still blame their ineptitude for last years failure. Maybe it took the example that New York provided to jump start the process in Maryland and Rhode Island where they dropped the ball last year.

    • Tim- Perhaps you might consider donating some money to ensure success. It will help, and then you can boast that you were part of the solution, rather than just part of our LGBT Culture of Critique. Just sayin’. I don’t even live in Maryland, and I’m donating.

  • My hope is that Equality Maryland and Carrie Evans will do well with the upcoming legislative sessions. Having been deeply involved in the last efforts to pass the marriage bill and the anti-discrimination bill I can say that Equality Maryland delivered more people fighting to get these bills passed than any other organization, both locally and nationally. There were many talented people working to make that happen. So in a way, it really irks me when people who weren’t there put sweat equity into the effort take free pot shots at those who really cared to do something other than gripe. Gender Rights Maryland is stacked full of talented, transgender people who really know firsthand just how terrible the problems can be for some in the transgender community. I hope that anyone readings this article and these posts will realize the truth: these are talented groups trying to do what most people want done and they are doing far better than those who can only want to grouse. Quit complaining and get to work. If you can’t show up in person or have all of your elected officials know how you want them to vote the moment they see you anywhere, send a really big check to those everyone knows are doing the heavy lifting!

  • Same Sex Marriage In Maryland

    Lets hope she can do it this time. It takes a unified effort by all of the parties concerned which was not the case last year.

  • It’s not just the ED that’s important, she needs to actually get a staff to support her efforts. One field organizer and an office manager isn’t enough to do all the work that needs to be done to pass marriage, especially since they need to make up for all the time the loss with all the drama from last year. I know there are plenty of us who want to volunteer to help, but there needs to be some staff to organize volunteers and make sure there is a coordinated and strategic effort.

  • Evans seems clueless. She admits that there is plan to win a referendum and she accepts that defeat is the more likely outcome. But like the captain on the Titanic, she orders the ship to go full speed ahead.

    The far better option is to get civil unions now. They can be won this year, with very little effort, and with overwhelming majorities in the legislature. Support is likely to be so great that the anti-gay side will not attempt a referendum and even if they did, we could win soundly on civil unions. Let CUs exist for a few years, as they invariably result in an increase in support for full equality. In a few years, with increased public support and with some real money in hand, go for full marriage and successfully defend it at the ballot box. That is the sensible approach in a referendum state.

    But EQMD would prefer to roll the dice and risk getting nothing but a bitter defeat. You can be sure that the money will not be there to back up this gamble as it is better spent in Maine and Minnesota.

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