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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

Building dream homes with confidence

The pros, cons, and LGBTQ insights of new construction

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One key advantage of buying a newly constructed home is the ability to customize its finishings.

Buying a new construction home offers a unique set of advantages and challenges compared to purchasing a pre-owned property. Understanding these can help potential homeowners make informed decisions. Here’s an exploration of the pros and cons of buying a new construction home and the importance of professional real estate assistance.

Advantages of Buying a New Construction Home

Customization: One of the primary benefits of buying a new construction home is the ability to customize it according to your preferences. Buyers often have the option to select floor plans, finishes, and fixtures, making the home truly their own.

Modern Features: New homes are built with the latest technologies and materials, offering more energy-efficient windows, appliances, HVAC systems, and construction methods. This can lead to significant savings on utility bills and a smaller carbon footprint.

Less Maintenance: Since everything from the appliances to the roof is brand new, homeowners typically face fewer maintenance issues in the first few years compared to older homes where systems might be nearing the end of their lifespan.

Warranties: New construction homes usually come with warranties that cover the structure and sometimes appliances and systems for a certain period, providing peace of mind to the buyer.

Disadvantages of Buying a New Construction Home

Higher Costs: Often, new construction homes come at a premium price compared to older homes. Customizations and upgrades can also add up quickly, further increasing the overall cost.

Delays: Construction timelines can be unpredictable due to weather, supply chain issues, or labor shortages. This can lead to delays in the move-in date, which can be problematic for buyers with specific timing needs.

Immature Landscaping: Newly developed areas may lack mature trees and landscaping, which can affect the property’s aesthetic appeal and privacy. It may take years for new plantings to grow fully.

Community Development: In new subdivisions, construction can continue for months or years after you move in, leading to ongoing noise, dust, and traffic.

Importance of Connecting with a GayRealEstate.com Realtor

Expert Guidance: A Realtor familiar with new construction can provide invaluable advice on the quality of different builders, potential future developments in the area, and the negotiation of upgrades and closing costs.

Representation: Builders have their own sales agents or representatives looking out for their interests. Having your own real estate agent ensures someone is advocating for your best interests, helping to navigate contracts and warranties.

Market Knowledge: Realtors have a deep understanding of the local real estate market, which can help in evaluating the new construction home’s quality and price against current market conditions.

LGBTQ Friendly: For LGBTQ individuals and families, finding a welcoming and supportive community is crucial. Realtors from GayRealEstate.com specialize in understanding the unique needs and concerns of the LGBTQ community, ensuring a smooth and respectful home-buying experience.

Before visiting a new home community, connecting with a Realtor from GayRealEstate.com can provide you with a competitive advantage. Their expertise, advocacy, and personalized support can help navigate the complexities of buying a new construction home, making the process less stressful and more rewarding. Whether it’s negotiating the price, understanding the fine print of your contract, or choosing the right community, a professional real estate agent is an invaluable asset in your home-buying journey.

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Autos

Rugged yet ritzy: Ford Bronco, Nissan Pathfinder

One offers retro design, the other an edgy and chic look

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Ford Bronco

Both the Ford Bronco and Nissan Pathfinder have rough-and-ready reputations. Each boasts butch bona fides and some nifty off-road capability. But dig a bit deeper into your wallet, and you can step up to higher trim levels for added power and a bit more bling. 

FORD BRONCO HERITAGE LIMITED EDITION

$70,000 

MPG: 17 city/17 highway

0 to 60 mph: 6.2 seconds

Maximum cargo room: 77.6 cu. ft. 

PROS: Retro design, rousing engine rumble, myriad amenities

CONS: Low fuel economy, bouncy ride, pricey

IN A NUTSHELL: After a 24-year hiatus, the Ford Bronco came galloping back to showrooms in 2021. Today there are nine trim levels, including the Heritage Limited Edition that I just finished test driving for a week. At $70,000, this Bronco—second only to the $90,000 Raptor—still costs a pretty penny: $30,000 more than the entry-level model. Yet the higher price is worth it, with a gritty V6 turbo that offers much more giddy-up than the standard four-cylinder engine. 

There’s also a rad retro design, with heritage-style graphics, multiple skid plates, and special bumpers and fenders. Exterior colors—especially the Robin’s Egg Blue, coupled with a white grille and white roof—are a nice throwback to the 1960s. So are the removable doors and roof panels for a safari-like look à la an old-timey “Wild Kingdom” episode. 

Yes, the Bronco is a truck-based SUV, so expect more bounciness than in a Lexus or a Lincoln. But the stable steering and comfortable seats help make up for it. Ground clearance is high, thanks to large 35-inch mud-terrain tires. Luckily, running boards and numerous rubber-lined grab handles make it easy to climb in and out. 

Despite the sound-deadening insulation, there’s still a fair amount of exterior wind noise at high speeds. But this makes it easier to hear the sweet sound of the Bronco’s strong whinny, er, exhaust growl. 

Along with a vibe that’s decidedly old-school cool, this mid-sizer comes with lots of modern amenities: keyless entry, remote start, heated seats, ambient lighting, dual-zone automatic climate control, 360-degree surround-view camera and 10-speaker premium B&O stereo. New this year is a larger, 12-inch touchscreen. I also liked the huge stowage area, with convenient cargo straps to hold down gear, a flip-up rear window for easy access, and a swing-out door to hold a full-size spare tire. 

I guess you could say Ford wasn’t horsing around when it decided to add such a fully loaded Bronco to the stable. 

NISSAN PATHFINDER ROCK CREEK

$44,000

MPG: 20 city/23 highway

0 to 60 mph: 7.0 seconds

Maximum cargo room: 80.4 cu. ft. 

PROS: Roomy, comfy, muted cabin

CONS: So-so gas mileage, tight third row, many competitors 

IN A NUTSHELL: Seeking an SUV that’s more diamonds than denim? Then consider the Nissan Pathfinder, also redesigned just a few years ago and a big step up from the previous model. But instead of retro styling like a Ford Bronco, the look here is a combo of edgy and chic. 

That’s especially true with the Rock Creek version, which sports an aggressive front fascia, grille inserts, trendy black cladding, raised off-road suspension, all-terrain tires and tubular roof rack that can hold 220 pounds. “Rock Creek” badging, which is stamped on the side panels and rear liftgate, is also embroidered in stylish orange contrast stitching on the water-resistant seats. All-wheel drive — optional on all other trims — is standard here. And Rock Creek towing capacity, which is 3,500 pounds on most other Pathfinders, is an impressive 6,000 pounds.

The spacious cabin has enough room for up to eight passengers, though third-row legroom is tight. In the second row, you can opt for a pair of captain’s chairs instead of a three-person bench seat. Regardless, those rear seats are heated, which is a nice touch. 

Nissan has done a good job of making vehicles that feel as rich and luxurious as those in its high-end Infiniti lineup. On the Pathfinder, that means thicker glass and extra insulation for a whisper-quiet cabin. There’s also brushed-aluminum trim and a sporty flat-bottom steering wheel with paddle shifters. Along with smartphone integration, wireless charging pad and voice-command capability, other tech features include a windshield head-up display, 360-degree bird’s-eye camera, ambient interior lighting, 13-speaker Bose stereo and a slew of safety options. 

Nissan Pathfinder

When comparing the Ford Bronco with the Nissan Pathfinder, it’s hard to resist the rip-roaring ride of a fun and feisty Bronco. But the more practical Pathfinder is still plenty adventurous, especially with all the goodies that come in the Rock Creek.

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Dining

Pastry chef Alex Levin creates desserts with global influences

And now he’s on a quest to bake the perfect chocolate chip cookie

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Alex Levin

A decade as a decorated pastry chef in Washington, D.C., and Alex Levin knows how to create a global realm of desserts. But he also knows that the whole is tastier than the sum of its parts.

Levin serves as Executive Pastry Chef and as part of the executive team for Schlow Restaurant Group, where he’s worked since 2017. He’s crafted desserts for the group’s breadth of restaurant cuisines, from Spanish at Tico (recently rebranded as Japanese Nama Ko), American at now-closed Riggsby, Japanese at Nama and Nama Ko, and Italian at the several Alta Strada spots. He also throws an annual sold-out bakery pop-up for Thanksgiving and for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. “There’s something fun and so meaningful to spend nine straight days making food that will be a part of so many people’s celebrations,” he says.

Yet as a gay man, he also strives for representation and a focus on supporting the LGBTQ community.

After graduating from Yale and focusing on a career in management and finance, Levin fled that industry to attend the Culinary Institute of America to follow his passion for pastry and restaurant management. After graduation, he trained at restaurants like Jean Georges and Cafe Boulud in New York, and moved to D.C. in 2013 to open Osteria Morini as pastry chef. There, he made a name for himself, earning a spot on Eater’s Young Guns in 2015 and in 2016, he earned the title of Best Pastry Chef from the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington. 

It was a time of invention in the dessert space. Levin was deeply embedded in some of that boundary-stretching.

“When I first became a pastry chef, all of my mentors were pushing me to create deconstructed desserts. I really fell in love with that approach, because it challenged me to think very far outside of the box to have a guest really understand that a plate with five components on it could be considered a lemon tart.”

Yet at Schlow, running dessert programs across the city for an increasingly demanding clientele, his approach evolved. The deconstructed version might look more beautiful, but he realized that it also has to taste even better than its classic counterpart.

“I realized that sometimes there is no reason to alter a classic dessert but to add perhaps a modern shift. That’s where I feel most comfortable now. It allows me to continue to express creativity both visually and with flavor to create the best version of a classic dessert.”

At Alta Strada (which has landed in the Washington Post’s Dining Guide for several years), Levin leans in to the restaurant’s homey style, with a touch of his signature flair, in the several desserts he makes. Traditional bomboloni get a glow up, given depth and tang with ricotta, vanilla, and orange in the batter and receiving a liberal dusting of cinnamon sugar; they’re served on a platter with chocolate hazelnut crema (i.e. liquid Nutella). He also crafts a brownie-cheesecake mashup: a whipped ricotta (sense a theme?) cheesecake sits atop a rich brownie, the black-and-white dessert set off by a single Luxardo cherry on top.

At Nama Ko, Levin’s menu is more concise but takes some additional liberties. The star is the Miso Honey Black Truffle soft serve ice cream, drizzled in chocolate sauce and caramel, under a shower of chocolate and toffee (there’s also a passionfruit sorbet with ube shortbread crumble). Now an expert at adjusting his soft serve machine to the right ratio of sugar, dairy, and flavor, Levin matches the sushi restaurant’s entrees with the ice cream’s balanced umami. Speaking of matching: he also plates a matcha crème brulee.

“When planning the dessert program for Nama Ko, I wanted to do something totally different for dessert — something the restaurant could be known for all on its own. The program had to be fun and allow the guests to have a Japanese dessert but with a twist. Once we landed on soft serve, the proposed flavors needed to have a level of simplicity and complexity.” The rollout received accolades, including in Washington City Paper and Eater’s Soft Serve map.

Levin, though, also serves as director of Strategic Business Initiatives. He coordinates operations, recruiting, reporting, marketing, menu design, and photography. He is constantly rethinking: refining his rotating selection of chocolate bonbons for special events, using colored cocoa butter for visual effect. He stays up on cookbooks, YouTube, and Instagram as resources for explanations and demos, “even how to braid a challah dough using a new technique.”

After coming out in 2000, Levin says he never encountered much homophobia in the culinary industry. In D.C., he works to support LGBTQ groups, personally and through his restaurants. “That might mean making Thanksgiving desserts for SMYAL’s annual Thanksgiving dinner for the kids, or even transforming one of our restaurants into a destination for D.C.’s annual Pride.” Levin also picks up a shift at the special seated dinner tables at the annual Chefs for Equality event, one the largest (and most fabulous) fundraisers for Human Rights Campaign.

Levin won’t rest on his soft serve laurels, continuing to find creative space. Stay tuned to his latest project, going on three years: to create “the best chocolate chip cookie. The current version is pretty close, but I continue to make some small modifications to improve the outcome.”

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