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Equality Md. leader fired

Development director quits in protest; Meneses-Sheets cites ‘destructive forces’

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Morgan Meneses-Sheets (Blade photo by Michael Key)

The board of directors of the statewide LGBT organization Equality Maryland voted Sunday night in a closed meeting to fire its executive director, Morgan Meneses-Sheets, according to a statement released today by Matthew Thorn, the group’s development director.

Thorn, who was hired in January to lead Equality Maryland’s fundraising activities, announced in his statement that he was resigning immediately in protest over the board’s decision to dismiss Meneses-Sheets.

“This past Sunday, the Board of Directors of Equality Maryland, in executive session, voted to remove her from her position, essentially telling the organization’s staff, volunteers, supporters, funders and general community that the organization will now move in a different direction,” Thorn said in his statement.

“I fear that the direction that the board seeks to take is one that will not be a beneficial path for the community, for the organization, for the staff and especially for the organization’s funders, and that’s why, effective today, I am resigning from my position as director of development of Equality Maryland.”

In her own statement sent to the group’s volunteers today, which sources said she planned to post on her personal Facebook page, Meneses-Sheets said, “It is with heavy heart that I share that today will be my last day as the executive director of Equality Maryland. While it is not my choice to leave, it is my choice to make my voice heard as I exit.”

While her tenure at the organization over the past 18 months has provided “some of the most rewarding moments of my career,” she said in her statement that her job has also been “extremely” difficult.

“In particular the past few months have been tough to bear,” she said. “Not because of the hard work which I welcome and felt honored to be part of, but because of the forces within the organization and external politics that created additional and unnecessary obstacles to our forward movement and success.”

She added, “As I move on, I will not focus on the negative or destructive forces that created this untenable situation; instead I will look back at the many proud moments along the way.”

Patrick Wojahn, chair of the board of the Equality Maryland Foundation, the group’s educational arm, said the board would not comment on specific reasons for Meneses-Sheets’ departure, other than to say “it was a mutual decision by her and the organization.”

He said the board views both Meneses-Sheets’ and Mathew Thorn’s departures as personnel matters, which the board doesn’t publicly discuss.

Asked about Meneses-Sheets’ statement saying it was not her choice to leave the organization, Wojahn said, “It was partially our decision, too. But we essentially decided to go in a different direction as an organization. And I don’t want to comment any more on personnel matters.”

He added, “We should be coming out next week with more information on how we intend to proceed.”

Meneses-Sheets did not return a call Friday seeking an interview to discuss why she believes the board chose to dismiss her.

Sources familiar with the organization, who spoke only on condition that they not be identified, said Meneses-Sheets’ firing could stem, in part, from disagreements between her and board members over some of her decisions in carrying out the group’s efforts to pass a same-sex marriage bill and transgender non-discrimination bill in the Maryland Legislature.

At least two sources said board members became irate when she disclosed in a telephone news conference with media representatives the group’s timetable for seeking a vote by lawmakers on the marriage bill. The board members reportedly believed releasing such information would help opponents of the bills develop strategies to block or kill the legislation.

Her discussion on the media call about the strategy for the bill’s timing prompted Equality Maryland Board Chair Charles Butler to issue an order prohibiting Meneses-Sheets from speaking to the media, an action that other staff members viewed as an unfair intrusion by the board into her ability to use her judgment in carrying out the board’s policies, one of the sources said.

The same source said some board members became further upset last month when Meneses-Sheets agreed to a question-and-answer interview in Metro Weekly magazine, in which her photo appeared on the magazine’s cover.

“Some of them thought she was thumbing her nose at those on the board who didn’t want her to talk to the press,” the source said.

Her supporters viewed the board’s directive prohibiting an executive director of a political organization from talking to the media as a petty intrusion into the day-to-day operation of the group, sources familiar with the group said.

One source blamed the board for “failing to get their own act together” on the marriage and transgender bills.

Butler didn’t return a call on Friday seeking his views on the reasons for Meneses-Sheets’ dismissal.

The departure of Meneses-Sheets and Thorn from Equality Maryland follows a tumultuous four-month period in which tense, behind-the-scenes disputes surfaced between board members and Meneses-Sheets over strategy in the group’s unsuccessful effort to pass same-sex marriage and transgender non-discrimination bills, according to sources familiar with the organization.

Sources say the tension and sometimes bitter infighting went beyond Equality Maryland and involved a tangle of alliances with several national LGBT organizations that exerted great influence over the push to pass the same-sex marriage bill. Among them were D.C.-based Human Rights Campaign, Denver-based Gill Action Fund and the New York-based Freedom to Marry.

E-mails obtained by the Blade that were sent by officials of the three groups to Meneses-Sheets, Equality Maryland board members and LGBT members of the Maryland Legislature show that the groups pushed hard for cancelling a planned vote on the marriage bill in the state’s House of Delegates. The controversial decision to cancel the vote and recommit the bill to committee, which killed it for the year, came after the national LGBT groups and some supportive lawmakers determined they didn’t have the votes to pass the bill and it would be better to recall it then go forward with a losing vote.

Other activists and Equality Maryland supporters strongly disputed that decision, saying the bill had a chance of passing and even if it lost, it would have been better to force lawmakers to take a recorded vote to determine where they stood on marriage equality.

The death of the marriage bill for the legislature’s 2011 session was quickly followed by a separate vote in the Maryland Senate to recommit to committee the Gender Identity Non-Discrimination Act, an action that also killed that measure for the year.

The two developments were viewed as a double defeat for Equality Maryland at a time when many thought the legislature should have passed both measures. Supporters of Meneses-Sheets say at least some Equality Maryland board members were seeking to make her the “scapegoat” for the bills’ defeat, saying the demise of the two measures was due, at least in part, to forces beyond Equality Maryland’s control

Meneses-Sheets devotes most of her two-page statement to citing what she calls the major successes of Equality Maryland during her tenure and the tenure of the group’s staff and volunteers. Among other things, she said the group played a key role in the advancement of the same-sex marriage and transgender rights bills to a point further than had been achieved over the previous five years.

“As a Marylander, as a lesbian, as a parent, as someone with many loved ones who are transgender and as someone who believes in social justice, I sincerely hope that Equality Maryland will succeed in their future endeavors to ensure that our state lives up to the promise of equality for all of its citizens,” she said. “This will require significant change, but it is possible.”

Meneses-Sheets became the third executive director of Equality Maryland to leave the group since 2008. Thorn’s resignation comes just five months after he joined the group in January. His predecessor as development director, Kevin Walling, left the group in September 2010 less than two years after being hired in January 2009.

Thorn’s statement in full:

“Today, it is with great sadness that I resign as director of development of Equality Maryland.  Over the past few months, I have given tireless energy to see the success of the organization and it has been made apparent in these last few days that the organization, lead by the board of directors wishes to see the organization to move in a different direction.

Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Marylanders have found a true champion in Morgan Meneses-Sheets. Not only has she committed time and energy away from her wife and her 5-month-old daughter, but she had the tenacity to keep fighting in Annapolis, even when all others had given up. Giving up just isn’t in her vocabulary. This past Sunday, the board of directors of Equality Maryland, in executive session voted to remove her from her position, essentially telling the organization’s staff, volunteers, supporters, funders and general community that the organization will now move in a different direction.

I fear that the direction that the board seeks to take is one that will not be a beneficial path for the community, for the organization, for the staff and especially the organization’s funders, and that is why, effective today, I am resigning from my position as director of development of Equality Maryland. I wish nothing but the best to the staff and the community and hope that we can overcome these obstacles to continue to fight for our full equality.”

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Real Estate

Good news if you’re selling your home at the holidays

In D.C., if priced fairly, the house will move

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Selling this Christmas? Don’t worry if you’re in the D.C. market.

Historically in the real estate industry this is one of the worst times to sell your home. You will receive fewer guests at open houses, fewer showings, and more months on the market. However, like with most things in the world today, this is no longer the industry standard. During the pandemic we saw homes selling in 1-2 days with 15 offers well above asking price and throwing in your first-born and Gucci boots. While those days might be gone for a while, the inventory we usually see at this time of year is also gone. 

Typically I only talk about numbers when they have dollar signs in front, however I feel they are necessary to illustrate my point. Bear with me. If we look at numbers from last year – new listing inventory is down nearly 18%. While we know that home sales have also decreased, there is still a decline year over year for new inventory to hit the market, which is continuing the trend we have seen during the pandemic years of a substantial lack of inventory here in the DC Metro. 

What does this mean for sellers?

If you are hoping to sell your home and receive several offers and the price escalates well over asking, unfortunately you missed that boat. However, properties in D.C. are still selling for list price at nearly a 98% rate. This means as long as your real estate agent prices your property properly then it is likely to still sell for that very list price. The average day on market has only increased by four days, which means again, if the home is properly priced and marketed it will likely sell for list price within an average window. Furthermore, the median sold price has increased almost 5% since last month. If you are worried that buyers might be affected by high interest rates, they are, however in D.C. we are hyper insulated from other trends throughout the U.S., with a consistent trend of shortage in inventory.

What does this mean for buyers?

I know what you’re thinking. “Wow Justin, we thought you had our back but clearly all you care about is ensuring sellers get the most money for their listing.” Although that may be true if I am working for a seller, I shift my mindset of value for my buyer clients too. You might not get a steal of a deal this holiday season on your home, but you will have protections that buyers before you could only dream of. I am talking about — contingencies, baby!

Regardless if you are a first-time homebuyer or you’ve been around the block a few times, you know who you are. Real estate is an investment and as such should be vetted properly to ensure its valued and sound. Homebuyers can expect to have home inspections, termite inspections, appraisals and the list goes on. If you want small credits here and there with an extended closing period you can likely receive those items. While interest rates have increased, your protection (which I would say is more important) has hugely increased.

If your goal is to “new year new home” now is truly a wonderful time to start the process and plan for a fresh start as we head into 2023.

Justin Noble is a Realtor with Sotheby’s international Realty licensed in D.C., Maryland, and Delaware for your DMV and Delaware Beach needs. Specializing in first-time homebuyers, development and new construction as well as estate sales, Justin is a well-versed agent, highly regarded, and provides white glove service at every price point. Reach him at 202-503-4243,  [email protected] or BurnsandNoble.com.

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Real Estate

What homeowners are grateful for this year

Where you live should be something to appreciate

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Since you’re reading this over Thanksgiving weekend, I wanted to write about gratitude as it pertains to real estate, so I started by Googling “gratitude, house.” 

Unsurprisingly, page after page of results were links to recovery centers and residences.  Sandwiched in between was a now defunct coffeeshop and yoga studio in Bandra, Mumbai. Although I applaud people who are in recovery and I like yoga, none of that hit the target of what I was looking for, so here are some of my thoughts and suggestions.

Can you be grateful for things inside, outside, and around your home? Of course you can! It might not feel as profound as expressing thanks for the people you love, or good health, or your chosen faith, but as a homeowner, you’re making memories and experiencing ups and downs that you’re going to reflect on years down the road.

Think about the purchase of your home and the steps you went through to seal the deal. Did you find it quickly? Did you compete with other buyers and win? Did you pay a fair price? Did you get a great interest rate? Did the loan process and settlement go smoothly? If so, be grateful.

Where you live can also be something to appreciate. Some people want a bustling urban environment with nearby amenities, such as shopping, dining, transportation, or multiple ways to exercise. Others want the quiet and solitude of a cabin in the mountains or on a lake, with acreage, wildlife and beautiful views of all Mother Nature has to offer. Still others want a larger, more reasonably priced home in the suburbs outside the Beltway, where they can hop on a train and get lost in a novel en route to the office. 

So, is your home situated in the neighborhood or environment you wanted? Did the schools, if important to you, meet your expectations? Is it close to (or if you prefer, far from) family members? Is your commute to work or school manageable? If you answered yes to any of these questions, be grateful.

If you work from home, is the space pleasant and the atmosphere conducive to ensuring productivity? Is the color scheme energizing? Peaceful? Would your décor get at least an 8 out of 10 from Room Rater when you have a conference call on Zoom? 

Is your home big enough to expand into as your family grows? Small enough for downsizing? Does the layout still meet your needs or have your needs changed? 

Is what you own your dream house or condo? Could it be? If you need to make some modifications, be thankful for HGTV, the DIY channel, YouTube how-to videos, Thumbtack, and Yelp reviews.

Living through a renovation can bring out the worst in people. Weeks or months of doing dishes in the bathtub or showering at the gym can cause friction in even the most committed relationship. Once your renovation is completed, however, be grateful that your sanity withstood the trauma of living through it. 

Be thankful for the things you don’t notice or think of often. Do you love the way the dining room chandelier casts light on the ceiling at night or how the sun streams in through the skylight in the early morning? 

Perhaps the feature wall you added makes you smile when you come in the front door or a favorite piece of art that reflects your personality catches your eye. Maybe you have pleasant memories of family gatherings in front of the fireplace or choruses of “Score” as you and your friends watch the World Cup on your 65” TV.

If you’re like me, you’re thankful that your boiler made it through last winter, that you didn’t have to patch the roof again this year, or that you found that hole in the fence and repaired it before your dog got out. 

During the year, we can lose sight of the things we are grateful for, so as Elle Woods suggested in “Legally Blonde 2,” I highly recommend keeping a gratitude jar. 

Use it to keep track of what you’re grateful for by writing things down and dropping those notes in the jar. Then, when you have a home anniversary or are stressed out about a renovation, when out-of-town company stays too long or when the kids draw on the walls with a Sharpie, pull out a note from the jar and read it aloud like a mantra. 

Unlike the sisters of Delta Nu, however, you don’t really have to snap your fingers after reading it.

Valerie M. Blake is a licensed Associate Broker in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia with RLAH Real Estate / @properties. Call or text her at 202-246-8602, email her via DCHomeQuest.com, or follow her on Facebook at TheRealst8ofAffairs.

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Real Estate

Tips for holiday home sales

Buyers at this time of year are more serious

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Tasteful holiday decorations can improve the look of your home if you’re selling at the holidays.

The holiday season is often considered a difficult time to sell a home – but sometimes it’s necessary. For whatever reason, you may need to make a move quickly, and selling during the holiday months from November through January is your best option. If you find yourself in this situation, you should know that selling during the holiday season does have certain advantages. 

Often, more than during any other time of the year, buyers are in the same situation as sellers – they are buying for a reason. It may be a relocation for work, it could be a move to be closer to an older family member, or any number of other reasons that require a move quickly. As a result, holiday buyers are more serious, and make more competitive offers, not to mention the fact that there is often less competition from other sellers because fewer homes are on the market.

If you find yourself needing to sell your home during the holidays, focusing on the advantages can be helpful, along with a few other tips, including:

• Add some holiday cheer to your home: Often, holiday decorations can add an extra spark of seasonal flair and can be quite helpful to sellers – provided that the decorations aren’t overboard. Decorations that are too large or flashy may distract buyers and make your home feel crowded or cluttered. The right decorations, however, can be cheerful and bright and add some holiday spirit to your home that buyers enjoy. 

• Create some curb appeal: The holiday season is a wonderful time to enhance your home’s curb appeal with tasteful lights and other décor. It’s also important if you live in an area where leaves fall from the trees to be certain to rake and maintain your yard and surrounding landscaping. Certainly, if it is icy or snowy, you should shovel your driveway and sidewalks and make sure your home is safe for potential buyers to visit. Additionally, bare trees often draw more attention to the exterior of a home, so ensuring that your paint is touched up, gutters are cleaned, and other exterior features are in good condition is important. 

• Choose the right price point: Regardless of the time of year, pricing your home competitively will help to increase your chances of selling it quickly. Often, homes priced too high will linger on the market. The longer a home stays on the market, the more skittish some buyers become, and the lower the price may eventually have to go to ultimately sell it. Pricing your home competitively from the beginning can be very helpful.

• Remain accessible: The holidays can be a busy time, with many obligations and activities. As a result, it can often be more difficult than usual for real estate agents to arrange and schedule showings. Clearing your schedule as much as possible to accommodate agents and potential buyers can help to ensure that you get as many showings as possible, which will ultimately increase the chances of a quick and successful sale.

• Find the right real estate agent: The importance of this last tip can’t be overstated. Finding an agent who knows and loves the community will help you to market your home effectively, highlight all of its selling points, and connect with the right buyer. At GayRealEstate.com, buyers and sellers across the country are paired up with LGBTQ-friendly agents who can help them achieve their real estate goals, and this can make all the difference between a smooth and successful selling experience, and a stressful one.

While these tips are intended to be helpful, it’s also extremely important to consult with an agent who knows your unique market and can give you tips for your particular home. At GayRealEstate.com, we’d love to connect you with that agent today. Get in touch with us soon – we look forward to helping you reach your real estate goals.

Jeff Hammerberg is founding CEO of Hammerberg & Associates. Reach him at 303-378-5526 or [email protected].

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