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Ugly testimony at Md. marriage hearing

Opponents invoke pedophilia, incest while denouncing bill

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Sen. Brian Frosh and Sen. Lisa Gladden (Blade photo by Michael Key)

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — As many as 300 supporters and opponents of a bill to legalize same-sex marriage in Maryland packed the halls of a State Senate office building in Annapolis Tuesday while several dozen witnesses testified on both sides of the issue.

The Democratic-controlled Judicial Proceedings Committee, which conducted a hearing on the bill, was expected to approve the measure and send it to the full Senate within the next week or two.

A majority of the members of the 11-person committee are co-sponsors or supporters of the bill, the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act.

Most political observers believe supporters have the votes to pass the bill in the Senate and the House of Delegates. Gov. Martin O’Malley has said he would sign the bill.

But opponents, led by Maggie Gallagher, chair of the National Organization for Marriage, said they remain hopeful that supporters would fall short of obtaining the 24 votes needed to pass the bill in the Senate or the 29 votes needed to stop a Senate filibuster.

“Marriage is the union of husband and wife for a reason,” Gallagher said in her testimony. “These are the only unions that can make new life and connect children in love to their mom and dad … If Maryland adopts this radical new view of marriage, it will have consequences,” she said.

Many of the witnesses testifying against the bill — including ministers, an orthodox rabbi, and two Roman Catholic priests — picked up on Gallagher’s view that procreation is the cornerstone of marriage. They said changing the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples would have a detrimental impact on families and society.

An equal number of witnesses, including a Catholic nun and Catholic lay leaders, two reform rabbis and at least a half-dozen Protestant ministers, both black and white, disputed those assertions, saying they believe same-sex unions strengthen rather than harm the family. Many of the witnesses backing the bill identified themselves as people of faith.

“My God loves everyone,” said Elbridge James, a lobbyist for the NAACP and director the Maryland Black Family Alliance.

“My God did not make a mistake,” he said. “And so if you were gay, my God did not make a mistake. If you were lesbian my God did not make a mistake. If you were transgender, my God did not make a mistake. And tonight, when I go home to my wife, nothing will deter me from loving my wife — certainly not if there’s a bill that protects gays, protects lesbians or protects the transgender community.”

Several of Maryland’s gay elected officials testified in favor of the bill. Among them was Sen. Richard Madaleno (D-Montgomery County), a co-sponsor of the bill who has been a longtime advocate for marriage equality in the state. Others included Chevy Chase, Md., Mayor David Loveland and Howard County Register of Wills Byron Macfarlane.

Among Republicans testifying in support of the bill was Sen. Allan Kittleman (R-Howard & Carroll Counties). Kittleman, the former Senate minority leader, initially planned to introduce a civil unions bill as a possible alternate measure to the marriage bill. Two weeks ago, he dropped those plans and announced his enthusiastic support for the marriage measure.

“I stand here as a strong Republican,” he told the committee, adding that he believes marriage equality is in full keeping with Republican principals of individual freedom.

Sen. Brian Frosh (D-Montgomery County), chair of the committee, said at the start of the hearing that more than 140 people signed up to testify.

Their names, organizational affiliation and information on whether they were for or against the bill weren’t immediately available because the committee did not release a witness list on the day of the hearing.

In a procedure unlike the equally packed hearing for a same-sex marriage bill approved by the D.C. City Council last year, the Judicial Proceedings Committee in Maryland required witnesses to sign up in person to testify on the morning of the hearing, preventing the committee from compiling an advance witness list and releasing it to the media.

Based on the testimony delivered during the day, it appeared that the witnesses were about equally divided between supporters and opponents of the bill. As Frosh and Sen. Lisa Gladen (D-Baltimore City), the committee’s vice chair, called witnesses to testify, many were not present, indicating that a significant number chose not to wait their turn to speak at a hearing that lasted more than six hours.

Lisa Polyak, a board member and spokesperson for Equality Maryland, the statewide LGBT organization that coordinated testimony in support of the bill, said the group lined up about 48 supporting witnesses. She said others supporting the bill, including a number of same-sex couples, came on their own.

“We were extremely gratified for all of the families that came out, all of our community partners, and all of the clergy that came out to speak their truth and support us,” she said. “I don’t think we could have had a better diversity of representation.”

Among those testifying was Polyak’s and her partner, Gita Deane’s daughter, 14-year-old Maya Deane-Polyak, a freshman at Baltimore’s Bryan Mawr High School.

“My moms’ first concern has always been my sister and I,” said Maya. “They make sure our every need is met, whether it is helping us with homework, driving us to a friend’s house or merely just being there to cheer us up when we are sad — they do it all and even more.”

Noting that she has witnessed first-hand examples of how her two moms encounter discrimination because they can’t marry in Maryland, she urged the committee to promptly approve the marriage bill.

“So I ask you to please consider, consider the fact that you have the power to change my family’s life when you make your decision,” she said. “I want our moms to be married. You have the power to make that happen.”

Many of the witnesses opposing the bill said broadening marriage to include same-sex couples would weaken the family structure and harm children. Several said children of same-sex parents don’t do as well in school and show greater signs of emotional problems compared to kids of opposite-sex, married parents. LGBT activists have said those assertions are not supported by impartial studies.

Austin Nimocks, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative litigation group that challenges same-sex marriage laws throughout the country, testified that restricting marriage to opposite-sex couples insures that children are raised by a “stable family.”

He said “responsible procreation” is a key reason why Maryland and other states should not legalize marriage for same-sex couples. By pushing to “redefine” marriage to include gay and lesbian couples “you are telling people that mothers and fathers don’t matter,” he told the committee.

In response to questions by committee member Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery County), a co-sponsor of the marriage bill, Nimocks acknowledged that some same-sex couples may make good parents, saying “you can find individual circumstances that go against a general rule.”

But other witnesses opposing the bill said there could be no exceptions to their religious-based belief that child rearing by same-sex parents is always harmful to children, both psychologically and spiritually.

“That union of our parents was a sacred right granted to them by almighty God,” said Timonium, Md., resident Gerard Selby. “God’s design for the human race was that it be procreated by the union of a man and a woman.”

He added, “Where do we draw the lines? What comes next? If a man loses his wife to a premature death, shouldn’t he be allowed to marry his daughter, or son, or both?

Leroy Swales (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Leroy Swales, an Oxon Hill, Md., resident who testified last year against the D.C. same-sex marriage bill, told the committee Tuesday that approval of the bill, among other things, would result in Maryland’s elementary schools using the book “Heather Has Two Mommies,” which he called a “pedophile book,” as a teaching aid for students.

Saying that homosexuality is related to an “electrical imbalance of the brain,” he called on the committee to use “science” and biblical scriptures as justification for defeating the bill.

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District of Columbia

D.C. police data show 67 anti-LGBTQ hate crimes reported in 2022

Community continues to be hit with most bias incidents in city

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(Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Recently released hate crime data by the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department shows that similar to nearly every year since 2011, LGBTQ people in 2022 were victims of a hate crime in far greater numbers than the other categories of victims, such as ethnicity/national origin, race, religion, or disability.

The data show that 45 of the reported hate crimes in 2022 were based on the victim’s sexual orientation and 22 of the reported hate crimes were based on the victim’s gender identity or gender expression, bringing the total number of anti-LGBTQ hate crimes to 67.

By comparison, the 2022 data show that 30 reported hate crimes were based on the victim’s ethnicity or national origin, 20 were based on the victim’s race, and four on the victim’s religion. Three 2022 hate crimes were reported to be based on the victim’s status as a homeless person and just one reported hate crime was said to be based on the victim’s political affiliation.

The 67 reported anti-LGBTQ hate crimes reported in 2022 represent an increase over the 54 anti-LGBTQ hate crimes reported in 2021. The 2021 data show that 38 of the reported hate crimes were based on the victim’s sexual orientation and 16 were based on the victim’s gender identity or gender expression.

LGBTQ rights advocates, as well as law enforcement officials, have said they believe the reported number of hate crimes targeting LGBTQ people and other minorities are significantly less than the actual number of such cases because many go unreported.

“While the District strives to reduce crime for all residents of and visitors to the city, hate crimes can make a particular community feel vulnerable and more fearful,” a D.C. police statement accompanying the release of the hate crime data says. “This is unacceptable and is the reason everyone must work together not just to address allegations of hate crimes, but also to proactively educate the public about hate crimes,” the statement says.

Police and prosecutors have also pointed out that a hate crime is not legally classified as a crime in and of itself but instead as a hate or “bias” related designation to an underlying crime such as assault, threats of violence, destruction of property, and numerous other criminal offenses.

The Washington Blade couldn’t immediately obtain from D.C. police additional 2022 data showing which underlying criminal acts were linked to the LGBTQ related hate crimes. The Blade has also requested data showing how many of the 67 reported anti-LGBTQ hate crimes in 2022 resulted in an arrest.

In past years, police data have shown that far fewer arrests are made compared to the number of reported hate crime cases. Past data has also shown that the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia prosecutes significantly fewer hate crimes cases than those sent to prosecutors after an arrest has been made.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office has said that it has dropped a hate crime designation for cases on grounds that there was insufficient evidence to prove a motive of hate if the case goes before a trial by jury. Spokespersons for the office have said that when a hate crime designation is dropped, they often continue to prosecute the person arrested for the underlying crime.

A chart showing hate crime data reported by DC police from 2011 through 2022, including all categories of hate crimes, can be accessed at the D.C. police website.

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District of Columbia

Prosecutors drop multiple charges in D.C. gay murder case

One count remains for defendant in 2019 stabbing death of Vongell Lugo

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Vongell Lugo was stabbed to death in 2019.

Without providing a reason, prosecutors with the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia requested and received approval from a D.C. Superior Court judge on Jan. 23 to drop four of the five pending charges, including two counts of murder, against the man charged with the Jan. 6, 2019 murder of gay retail manager Vongell Lugo.

Court records show that Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter V. Roman asked Judge Marisa Demeo to dismiss four of the five charges handed down in an Aug. 20, 2019, grand jury indictment against former U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman Collin J. Potter, who was 26 years old when D.C. police charged him with fatally stabbing Lugo at least 47 times.

A single charge of First Degree Murder While Armed remains pending. 

An arrest affidavit filed in court states that the murder took place inside Lugo’s Northwest D.C. apartment shortly after the two men met, possibly for the first time, at the Black Whisky bar at 1410 14th St., N.W., and Lugo invited Potter to his apartment.

The arrest affidavit says police arrested Potter on the night of the murder after being called to the apartment building by a neighbor and after observing Potter fully nude standing over Lugo’s nude body that Potter minutes earlier dragged outside the apartment door. Potter has remained in jail since the time of his arrest on Jan. 6, 2019, while awaiting a trial that has repeatedly been postponed. The trial is currently scheduled for April 18.

Court records show that in response to a motion filed by an assistant U.S. attorney on Jan. 18 of this year, Judge Dameo agreed to drop Counts 1 through 4 of the grand jury indictment. Those charges include Kidnapping While Armed, Felony Murder While Armed (Aggravating Circumstances), First Degree Sexual Assault While Armed, and Felony Murder While Armed (Aggravating Circumstances).

Roman’s motion, which the judge approved, called for leaving in place Count 5 of the indictment – First Degree Murder While Armed (Premeditated) (Aggravating Circumstances).

When contacted by the Washington Blade, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to disclose the reason for the office’s decision to drop the four indictment counts.

“We cannot comment on matters not in the public record,” said spokesperson Patricia Hartman.

Prosecutors sometimes drop or lower charges against a defendant in cases like this in exchange for a plea bargain agreement in which the defendant agrees to plead guilty to a lower charge. Doing so avoids a trial, which prosecutors sometimes feel could result in a verdict of not guilty on all or some of the charges.

The public court records in the case pending against Potter do not show whether a plea bargain offer was made prior to the dropping of the four charges. Potter’s defense attorney, Matthew Davis, has not responded to attempts by the Blade to reach him for comment on the case. 

The next court hearing for the case, a Trial Readiness Hearing, is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. on Friday, Feb. 3. The Blade couldn’t immediately determine whether an explanation for why prosecutors chose to dismiss the four indictment counts would be disclosed at the Feb. 3 hearing.

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District of Columbia

Three juveniles arrested for armed robbery in Dupont Circle area

Incidents took place near 17th and 18th street LGBTQ bars

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D.C. police announced on Monday that detectives have arrested three juvenile males for allegedly engaging in four separate armed robbery related offenses on Sunday, Jan. 29, between 9:45 and 10:14 p.m.

Three of the incidents took place on streets in the Dupont Circle neighborhood, including areas where three LGBTQ bars are located.

In a Jan. 30 statement, police said the juveniles assaulted two of the four reported victims in the separate robbery related incidents, but no serious injury was reported.

“On Sunday, January 29, 2023, two 16-year-old juvenile males and a 15-year-old juvenile male, all of Northwest D.C., were arrested and charged with the above offenses,” the police statement says. It lists the offenses as Attempted Armed Robbery, Armed Robbery (Gun), Assault With a Dangerous Weapon (Gun), and Armed Robbery (Gun).

“The 15-year-old juvenile male was additionally charged with Carrying a Pistol Without a License, Possession of an Unregistered Firearm, Possession of Unregistered Ammunition, and Possession of a Large Capacity Ammunition Feeding Device,” according to the police statement.

“It’s very alarming because these are in the heart of Dupont and the gay core,” said Dupont Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Jeff Rueckgauer.

Police reports for each of the incidents say that none of them were classified as a hate crime.

The police statement says one of the incidents took place at about 9:50 p.m. on the 1900 block of T Street, N.W., when two suspects, with one brandishing a handgun, approached the victim and demanded the victim’s property. “The victim complied and then one of the suspects assaulted the victim,” the statement says, before the suspects fled the scene in a vehicle. The offense is listed as an Armed Robbery (Gun).

That incident took place a little over one block from the gay bar Larry’s Lounge, which is located at 18th and T St., N.W.

A second of the four incidents took place at approximately 9:54 p.m. in front of 1604 Q St., N.W. , according to a police incident report, when three of the juvenile suspects approached the victim, with one in possession of a handgun. The police incident report says the victim was able to escape from the suspects by entering the building where the incident occurred, the Claridge House Apartments, where the victim lives.

“No injuries were reported,” the separate police statement says.  The statement lists the incident as an Assault with a Dangerous Weapon (Gun).

The third incident occurred in front of the nearby apartment building at 1700 Q St., N.W. at about 10:14 p.m. when the three suspects, one carrying a handgun, approached the victim. The police statement says the suspects assaulted the victim, took property from the victim and then fled the scene in a vehicle. The offense is listed as Armed Robbery (Gun). The incident report says the victim lives in another part of Northwest D.C.

The 1600 and 1700 blocks of Q St., N.W are located within one or two blocks from several bars and restaurants with a large LGBTQ clientele.

The police statement says the fourth incident linked to the three arrested juveniles took place about 9:45 p.m. on Jan. 29 in the 2400 block of Connecticut Ave., N.W. on the Taft Bridge. “One of the suspects brandished a handgun and checked the victim for property,” the statement says. “The suspects then fled the scene without obtaining any property.” The incident is listed as an Attempted Armed Robbery.

One of the police incident reports says police were able to make the arrests after one or more police officers who responded to the locations where the incidents occurred observed the suspects entering a vehicle that was later found abandoned on a D.C. street. Based on descriptions of the suspects “a canvas of nearby Metro stations” resulted in the three suspects being stopped, the report says. Upon conducting a “protective pat-down” police found a handgun in the possession of one of the suspects, the report says. 

The police statement and the incident reports do not disclose whether any of the victims were patrons of the many bars, restaurants, or other businesses in the area, including the nearby LGBTQ bars.

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