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Library of Congress staffer fired, claims anti-gay bias

Says he was outed on Facebook, ‘stalked’ by superior at D.C. gay bar

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Peter TerVeer, gay news, gay politics dc

Peter TerVeer, 30, was fired last week from his job at the Library of Congress and claims his former boss cited biblical passages condemning homosexuality.

A gay man has charged in a discrimination complaint that he was fired last week from his job at the Library of Congress after being harassed and humiliated for more than a year by a supervisor who repeatedly cited passages from the Bible condemning homosexuality.

Peter TerVeer, 30, a management analyst at the Library of Congress’s Office of the Inspector General since 2008, says in his complaint that supervisor John R. Mech created a hostile work environment for him to such a degree that he suffered severe stress, forcing him to take disability leave last fall and earlier this year.

“I contend that I have been subjected to a hostile work environment by Mr. Mech since August 2009 on the basis of my sex (male), sexual orientation (homosexual), and religion (non-denominational Christian/Agnostic),” TerVeer states in an affidavit accompanying his complaint.

“I maintain that Mr. Mech has acted to impose his religious beliefs on me,” TerVeer says in the affidavit.

TerVeer’s attorney, Thomas Simeone, said he will likely file a discrimination related lawsuit against the library on TerVeer’s behalf regardless of how the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which is deliberating over the complaint, rules on the matter.

Gayle Osterberg, director of communications for the Library of Congress, said TerVeer’s complaint is considered a personnel matter and the library never comments on personnel-related issues pertaining to an individual employee.

She said that under library rules, neither John Mech, an accountant and lead auditor for the library’s Office of The Inspector General, nor any other library employee familiar with TerVeer’s case would be permitted to comment on the case.

Simeone said a key factor in the case is that library officials promoted TerVeer three times and praised his work and that negative job performance reviews suddenly began after Mech learned TerVeer was gay.

Asked about a policy adopted by the Library of Congress in the 1990s prohibiting employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, Osterberg declined to confirm whether such a policy is still in effect.

“We adhere to Title 7, period,” she said, referring to a provision in existing U.S. civil rights law that bans job discrimination based on race, religion, national origin, sex and other criteria but not on sexual orientation.

An internal “Librarian’s Policy Statement Regarding Non-Discrimination” issued to Library of Congress Employees on May 6, 2010, reiterates the 1990s-era statement pertaining to sexual orientation discrimination.

“Discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex (including sexual harassment), national origin, age, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or political affiliation will not be tolerated,” the statement says.

Osterberg declined to disclose whether that and previous sexual orientation non-discrimination statements were still in effect.

TerVeer’s complaint, filed with the EEOC, follows a September 2008 federal court decision finding that the Library of Congress violated federal law against sex discrimination by denying a job to a transgender woman.

In that case, the library had determined that the applicant was qualified and hired her shortly before she announced she was transitioning from male to female. When officials learned that David Schroer was transitioning to Diane Schroer they rescinded the job offer and refused to hire Schroer.

A U.S. District Court judge ruled in September 2008 that the library’s refusal to hire Schroer violated a federal law prohibiting sex discrimination, a development hailed by the ACLU as an important breakthrough for transgender rights. The library decided against appealing the case and agreed to an out-of-court settlement with Diane Schroer in which it paid her compensatory damages.

Library of Congress: ‘AWOL’ for 37 days?

Dome of the Library of Congress. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

In a March 29, 2012 letter to TerVeer, Karl W. Schornagel, the library’s Inspector General and head of the division where TerVeer worked, said he approved TerVeer’s firing on grounds that TerVeer had been absent from work without approved leave or “AWOL” since Jan. 4, 2012.

Schornagel states in the letter that under library personnel rules, absence without approved leave is considered a form of misconduct that could lead to disciplinary action, including dismissal.

“I considered that you failed to report for duty as scheduled for over 37 consecutive workdays and failed to properly request approved leave despite being reminded of the proper procedures for requesting approved leave and advised of the consequences of your failure to report for duty as scheduled,” Schornagel said in his letter.

TerVeer told the Blade that library officials approved disability leave he had requested in October 2011 at the urging of his therapist and doctor based on the therapist’s determination that a hostile work environment at the library caused him to suffer severe mental stress.

According to TerVeer, the unpaid disability leave approved by the library expired in January 2012. He said library officials declined his request for a transfer to another office and demanded he return to duty with Mech remaining as his supervisor.

Simeone, TerVeer’s attorney, said library rules may have allowed TerVeer to apply for an extended disability leave. But he said TerVeer by that time had exhausted his financial resources following three months of unpaid leave and couldn’t afford to pay doctors and his therapist for the necessary examination and documentation needed to apply for extended disability leave.

“He was in a bind,” said Simeone. “He loved working there and he wanted to continue. And as you can tell, he needed the money. He tried to get a transfer to a new setting or a new area, but it was just not possible. They wouldn’t do that.”

Simeone said going back to the office where TerVeer knew he would be subjected to the same harassment and stress wasn’t an option he could accept.

Outed by boss’s daughter

TerVeer told the Blade he never intended to come out as gay at work when he first started his job at the library in February 2008. He said he had recently moved to D.C. from rural Western Michigan, which he said was devastated by the economic recession.

With a bachelor’s degree in business management from Hope College in Michigan and his enrollment at the University of Maryland for a degree in accounting and auditing, TerVeer said the start of his employment at the library’s Office of The Inspector General appeared to be a perfect fit for his chosen career path.

“The first year and a half, almost two years I was there I was closeted and essentially I was kind of the golden boy in the office,” he said. “He took me under his wing and we had a cordial discourse,” he said of Mech. “And he appeared to come off initially as really nice.”

TerVeer said the cordial relationship was based, in part, on their shared interest in sports and TerVeer’s role as captain of a school football team in Michigan. At one point Mech invited him to join his wife and son at a University of Maryland football game, TerVeer said.

As TerVeer tells it, his problems started just after that, when Mech invited him to “look up his daughter” in the late summer or early fall of 2009. Within days, said TerVeer, Mech’s daughter Katie contacted him on Facebook and asked to become Facebook friends.

He said he accepted her request after using the appropriate Facebook privacy controls to hide information on his own Facebook page that identified him as gay. But a short time later, Facebook put in place changes in its settings in such a way that TerVeer’s link to a Facebook group in support of gay adoptions became publicly visible, TerVeer said.

“I get home one day and she saw it and commented and she said, ‘You’re not one of those weirdoes are you?’ I said I am actually, in fact, one of those weird ones if you’re referring to the fact that I’m gay.”

TerVeer said Katie Mech initially said she wasn’t troubled by this discovery, saying she had a good friend in San Francisco who’s gay.

However, the following day TerVeer said he discovered that she had both “de-friended” and blocked him from her Facebook page. Within days of that, John Mech began raising his religious beliefs with TerVeer in emails and in face-to-face conversations with him, TerVeer said.

“All of a sudden now, every time I’m going into his office he’s starting off with a religious conversation. Then it comes out where he pointed out he was a believer with a literal translation of the Bible,” said TerVeer. “Then he goes specifically into homosexuality.”

TerVeer said he knew then that Katie Mech informed her father that he is gay.

In his affidavit, TerVeer said things came to a head on June 21, 2010.

“He came into my office on that date and said he wanted to educate me on hell and that it was a sin to be a homosexual,” TerVeer says in the affidavit. “He said he hoped I repented because the Bible was very clear about what God does to homosexuals.”

Among other things, TerVeer says in the affidavit that Mech quoted the Old Testament passage of Leviticus, stating, “If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their heads.”

TerVeer says in the affidavit, “He stated that as a homosexual I could never succeed because it was against God’s law.”

Four days later, on June 25, 2010, Mech spoke with TerVeer about TerVeer’s annual performance review and TerVeer expressed concern that his ratings were lower than he believed they should be, he says in the affidavit.

According to the affidavit, he politely told Mech he was concerned that the lower performance review might be biased because of Mech’s strongly expressed religious beliefs toward homosexuality.

“Mr. Mech became extremely upset and vehemently denied that my homosexuality and his personal views had an impact on his rating of me,” TerVeer says in the affidavit. “He accused me of attempting to injure his career and reputation and to ‘bring down the Library.’”

Gay official ‘stalks’ TerVeer

TerVeer says in his affidavit that beginning in July 2010 through the middle of 2011 Mech appeared to be “piling on” work assignments in an effort to set him up to fail. He said one particular project he was assigned to handle by himself had been previously worked on by six full-time employees and took more than a year to complete, yet he was told to complete it during a shorter period of time.

“I believe that Mr. Mech gave me this assignment to set me up for failure and to give him a better opportunity to identify and manufacture deficiencies in my performance,” TerVeer says in the affidavit. “I believe he decided in advance to give me negative ratings in my next performance review and began to create a record of alleged ‘job deficiencies’ to support this.”

In an effort to appeal what he believed to be an unfairly negative job performance rating calling for denying him a normally routine “step” pay increase, TerVeer said he approached Mech’s supervisor, Nicholas Christopher, the assistant inspector general for audits. “Mr. Christopher declined to change my performance evaluation and denied me a WIGI [Within Grade Increase]” in pay, he says in the affidavit.

When he indicated he was in the process of filing a possible discrimination complaint, TerVeer said that both Mech and Christopher appeared to warn him against doing so, saying he could face consequences such as additional poor performance ratings.

In a staff meeting on June 28, 2011, TerVeer says in the affidavit that Mech demanded that he explain, “what I was doing” concerning his stated intention to appeal the low job performance rating.

“He berated and humiliated me in front of my co-workers,” TerVeer says in the affidavit. “He interrogated me regarding the exact nature of my appeal and who I was filing the action against.”

After beginning his disability leave in the fall of 2011, TerVeer said he was startled when Christopher appeared at the D.C. gay bar Number Nine, where TerVeer had been working as a security staffer, and began to take a video of him with his cell phone.

TerVeer and his lawyer at the time, Brennan McCarthy, said TerVeer’s therapist believed working a job at a gay bar provided a friendly, supportive work environment and was an important part of his recovery from the stress-related ailment that required he take a leave from his job at the library.

In a Feb. 16, 2012 letter to Vicki Magnus, acting deputy director of the library’s Office of Opportunity, Inclusiveness and Compliance, which investigates discrimination complaints, McCarthy expressed concern that Christopher had “commenced a pattern of harassment, including stalking Mr. TerVeer at his second job and videotaping Mr. TerVeer while working.”

McCarthy said Christopher appeared to have begun harassing TerVeer after Christopher learned that TerVeer was considering filing a discrimination complaint.

“Following that revelation, Mr. Christopher took all steps possible not only to keep Mr. TerVeer from filing his complaint with your office, but also stated that poor performance reviews are ‘what happens’ when someone tried to bring down the Library of Congress (i.e., files an EEOC complaint),” McCarthy said in his letter.

Sources familiar with the Library of Congress have told the Blade that it’s widely known at the library that Christopher is gay. Christopher states in the publicly accessible part of his Facebook page that his “relationship status” is “single” and he’s “interested in” men.

He also describes his religious views on his Facebook page as being “vociferously atheist.”

Christopher didn’t respond to a Blade message asking whether he was troubled over TerVeer’s allegation that Mech had been reciting biblical passages to TerVeer at work condemning his homosexuality.

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12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Laurie Edwards

    April 9, 2012 at 9:16 am

    It’s too bad Mr. TerVeer didn’t file his complaint when the harassment first started.

  2. Mykelb

    April 9, 2012 at 9:40 am

    This is how government supervisors are allowed to harass, intimidate and kill the souls of their employees? I hope the LIbrary’s Executive Management is sued as well. They shouldn’t have this man Mech in a position of authority and are negligent for having done so.

  3. Eric

    April 9, 2012 at 9:37 pm

    Separation of church and state must be a concept this jerk forgot because bringing bible scripture into the workplace like that is totally against the rules and he should be dismissed and fined for doing so then the gay guy given his job with backpay. The library of congress is no place for narrow minded homophobic a-holes!

  4. Asher

    April 10, 2012 at 6:42 am

    While I could point out the dangers of social media doing for privacy what a crocheted condom does for contraception, I will just say that I would have reported this manager the first time such an incident happened and recorded any further harrassment. The manager should go full time into the ministry. I feel sorry for the victim of this harrassment. He was no doubt lonely and this manager took advantage of this by including him in social and family situations, even manipulating him into a relationship with his daughter which does not sound eithical either.

  5. Fockinmeen

    April 10, 2012 at 10:37 am

    You deserve a better job in a better environment. But you are in good hands of those who will help you fight against the hell that you experienced. I hope that you not only receive justice, but that the culprits here are fired for their disgraceful and immoral behaviors.

  6. Barrie Daneker

    April 10, 2012 at 1:10 pm

    Ok calling for the immediate protest at the LOC, Let’s get up there and let everyone know about this. Better yet let find out where these two guys live and protest in front of their houses so their neighbors know what bigots they are! Who’s with me?

  7. Daniel Berry, NYC

    April 10, 2012 at 4:14 pm

    The meanest people on the planet seem to be christians.

  8. Linda Jeffries

    April 11, 2012 at 12:41 am

    I’ll bet there is more to this story than Terveer is telling. The government can’t comment, so you’ll only hear his side. While he shouldn’t have been preached at, one doesn’t go AWOL for five weeks due to “stress” without the help of drugs and/or alcohol. What kind of “therapist” recommends their patient to work at a bar, when they’re too stressed our for their normal job? That’s setting somebody up to fail — stressed out people aren’t helped in a bar environment of booze and other, less legal substances. Reality check folks – sometimes under performers claim discrimination when, sadly, they’re just under performers. He seems like a decent guy; I hope he gets his life straightened around.

    • Brittni TerVeer

      April 12, 2012 at 4:00 pm

      This is my brother and trust me, we dont have the relationship i would like BUT i will say this and i know for a fact he was not in any way an “under performer”. This is not the first time the Library has done this to someone so before you go calling people under performers, do some research because they are not innocent and i have seen the facts right in front of my face. Of course their is always 2 sides to every story but i am a first hand witness to this.

    • Tenoc

      September 26, 2012 at 2:00 am

      Bingo!! Is this the same Peter Terveer of Washington, DC busted for crystal meth in the fall of 2011 who was so busy cooperating with police turning in other high-level local dealers (and probably could barely get up out of bed having suddenly crashed from a dopamine high that had lasted who knows how long) that it would be very convenient he take 5 weeks off work to recover? (DC US District Court Case 1-11-cr-00353).

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Two injured in gunfire outside crowded 14th Street restaurants

Witnesses say 20 shots fired near Blade, Whitman-Walker offices

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Police are looking for three suspects in connection with Thursday’s shooting.

D.C. police are seeking the public’s help in identifying at least three suspects involved in a shooting in which two men were wounded shortly after 8 p.m. on Thursday, July 22, on the 1700 block of 14th Street, N.W. where the offices of the Washington Blade and Whitman-Walker Health, the LGBTQ supportive health center, are located.

The shooting occurred while dozens of people were dining at restaurants along the bustling street in the heart of the city’s Logan Circle nightlife area.

Police released a video showing two men – one wearing a white hooded sweater or sweatshirt and the other wearing a dark colored similar hooded shirt running along the street and entering the front and rear passenger doors of a black car double parked on the street that police described as an older model Honda Civic with D.C. license plates.

The video shows the car driving away at a fast speed with a third person driving the vehicle.

“Detectives from the Metropolitan Police Department’s Third District seek the public’s assistance in locating suspects and a vehicle in reference to an Assault with Intent to Kill (Gun) offense,” a statement released by D.C. police says.

“At approximately 8:20 p.m., members of the Third District heard the sounds of gunshots and responded to the listed location,” the statement says. “Upon arrival, members located two adult male victims, both conscious and breathing, suffering from gunshot wounds,” according to the statement. “DC Fire and Emergency Medical Services responded to the scene and transported the victims to area hospitals for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries.”

The shooting incident took place at a time when many city residents and police were on edge following the fatal shooting of a 6-year-old girl on July 16 in Southeast D.C. and the firing of gunshots last Saturday outside Washington Nationals Stadium during a game, which prompted people inside the stadium, who heard the gunshots, to duck for cover.

D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee, who was accompanied by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser at a news conference at the scene of the shooting on Thursday night, said investigators believe one of the two men wounded by the gunfire was a target of the shooting. Contee said police believe the second victim was hit in the crossfire.

“We’ve got to make sure we’re doing everything we can as an entire system here in the District of Columbia to hold offenders accountable when these things happen in our community,” Contee said. “This is unacceptable. That’s the bottom line. It is totally unacceptable behavior,” he said.

“I’m asking the community to take a look at these videos,” he told reporters at the press conference. “If you know the person or the vehicle or somebody who is in that – there is one individual with a very distinctive hoody that he was wearing – please look at that very closely,” he said. “We’re asking for the community’s help.”

When asked by a reporter to comment on expressions of outrage by members of the community over the widespread outbreak of gun violence in the city, Bowser said she shares that concern.

“Well, I’m outraged. The chief is outraged. And the community should be outraged,” the mayor said. “What we saw tonight and unfortunately what we saw over the last several days is an illegal firearm brazenly used on D.C. streets,” Bowser said.

“And we know that our investigators and detectives are going to track down every lead. Our citizens have already been helpful in supplying leads and video and anything else that they saw so that we can get these individuals off the street and hold them accountable,” the mayor said.

Witnesses have said the Thursday night shooting on 14th Street reportedly occurred at the intersection of Riggs Street outside the Mexicue Restaurant, which is located at 1720 14th Street, N.W. The Blade office is located just a few doors down and Whitman-Walker’s Elizabeth Taylor building is a short distance away across the street at 14th and R Street, N.W.

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Suspect charged in murder of trans woman in PG County apartment

District Heights man apprehended in Arlington following unrelated arrest

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P.G. Police charged DeAllen Davonta Price with first-degree and second-degree murder and related charges in connection with Taya Ashton’s death.

Prince George’s County, Md., Police announced on Wednesday that homicide investigators identified and filed murder charges against a 27-year-old District Heights, Md., man for the July 17 homicide of transgender woman Taya Ashton, 20, who was found shot to death in her apartment in nearby Suitland, Md.

In a statement, P.G. Police said they charged DeAllen Davonta Price of the 6400 block of Hil Mar Drive in the unincorporated area of District Heights with first-degree and second-degree murder and related charges in connection with Ashton’s death.

According to the statement, while P.G. police detectives identified Price as a suspect in the Ashton murder, Arlington County, Va. Police arrested him on July 18 on an unrelated robbery charge after he attempted to flee from Arlington and Metro Transit police inside a train tunnel at the Pentagon City Metro Station.

“With the assistance of Metro Transit Police, Prince George’s County Police detectives and a K9 officer searched those tracks and recovered a weapon that’s now been linked to Taya’s murder,” the P.G. Police statement says.

“Price remains in custody in Virginia pending extradition to Prince George’s County,” the statement says. “The motive remains under investigation,” says the statement, but it adds, “Detectives have uncovered no evidence suggesting Taya’s murder was due to her gender identity.”

The announcement by P.G. police of Price’s arrest came on the same day that family members and friends of Taya Ashton held a vigil to honor her life at 4 p.m. on Wednesday at River Terrace Park in Northeast D.C. along the banks of the Anacostia River, which is part of the neighborhood were Ashton grew up.

Veteran D.C. LGBTQ rights advocate Phil Pannell, who attended and spoke at the vigil, said that in addition to family members and friends of Ashton’s, those who spoke included Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy; D.C. Council member Trayon White (D-Ward 8), D.C. transgender rights advocate Earline Budd, and numerous community leaders in D.C. and P.G. County. Budd said more than 200 people turned out for the vigil.

At the conclusion of the vigil, many of the participants drove in a lengthy caravan of cars to the apartment building in the Suitland section of Prince George’s County, where Ashton lived and where her life ended, to further honor her.

“The nearby streets were completely filled with people coming out for Taya and her family,” Budd said.

A three-page charging document filed in Prince George’s County District Court by P.G. Police on Wednesday, July 21, provides a detailed account of how homicide detectives used cell phone records and high-tech firearm ballistics techniques to link Price to the murder.

P.G. police said homicide detectives began an intense investigation into the murder almost immediately after family members who discovered Ashton’s body at her apartment on July 17 called police. Ashton’s grandfather, Stuart Anderson, who said Taya Ashton’s status as a transgender woman was accepted by her family, told the Blade that family members who arrived at the apartment could not find any evidence of a forced entry, leading them to believe the assailant responsible for the murder may have been someone Ashton knew and invited into her home.

The charging document says that although Ashton’s phone was missing from the apartment and presumed stolen at the time her body was found, detectives obtained her phone number from family members and used it to discover through the tracing of her calls and text message records that she and Price communicated with each other by text or calls between Friday, July 16, one day prior to the murder, and at 11:42 p.m. Saturday, July 17.

“This is the last call that the Decedent makes or answers before being found deceased,” the charging document states.

According to the charging document, earlier in the evening of July 17 Ashton and a friend of hers exchanged text messages in which Ashton wrote, “My dude is on his way” which the friend understood to mean a sexual encounter was expected to take place. A short time later Ashton told her friend in a follow-up text message “that a sexual encounter occurred,” the charging document says.

“As the investigation continued, it was discovered that Defendant was arrested on 07/18/2021 at approximately 1642 hours [4:42 p.m.] by the Arlington County Police Department for a theft,” the charging document in support of Price’s arrest says.

It says that when Arlington Police initially attempted to apprehend Price, “he jumped off of a platform and ran into a subway tunnel towards the Pentagon Metro Station.” The document says he hid inside the tunnel for about two hours before being arrested after he walked out of the tunnel into the station.

At the time of his arrest, the charging document says, Price was in possession of a Gucci cross strap bag with distinct markings that Ashton’s family members reported was missing from her apartment at the time her body was found.

A short time later, P.G. County homicide investigators, who arrived on the scene, conducted a search of the train tunnel and found a black semi-automatic .40 caliber Smith and Wesson handgun, the charging document states.

It says that that a police firearm expert, after examining the gun, “was able to conclude that the fired .40 caliber cartridge casing recovered from the scene [of the murder] and the fired projectile recovered from the Decedent’s body were fired from the Smith and Wesson handgun bearing serial #HTU3274 recovered from the area the Defendant hid from police.” 

The document states that when questioned after his arrest, Price waived his Miranda rights to withhold comment and obtain representation from an attorney and acknowledged that police had obtained access to his correct cell phone number.

“He also admitted to being sexually intimate with the Decedent and stated that he has known the Decedent for approximately three months,” the charging document continues. “He then admitted to being at the Decedent’s apartment the night of the murder and being sexually intimate with the Decedent that night,” it says.

“Based on the aforementioned facts, the evidence indicates that the Defendant is responsible for shooting and killing the Decedent,” the document concludes. The document does not state whether detectives asked Price whether he committed the murder or whether or not he admitted or denied fatally shooting Taya Ashton.

An arrest warrant that accompanies the charging document says that in addition to being charged with first-degree and second-degree murder, police charged Price with Assault-First Degree; Firearm Use/Felony Crime of Violence; Assault-Second Degree; Handgun on Person; and Loaded Handgun on Person.

Court records show that Price had been arrested in Virginia and Maryland several times prior to his latest arrests beginning in 2012 on charges that include illegal possession of a firearm, armed robbery, misdemeanor theft, and grand larceny.

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LGBTQ ally Hoffberger stepping down at American Visionary Art Museum

Iconic Baltimore attraction looking for a successor

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The Divine statue is a tribute to the gay actor and Baltimore native that was championed by outgoing AVAM founder and director Rebecca Hoffberger.

A longtime ally of the LGBTQ community is leaving her job in the arts world.

After 26 years as founder, director and primary curator of the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Rebecca Alban Hoffberger disclosed this week that she will retire in March of 2022.

In 1992, Congress designated the museum as a “national repository and educational center for visionary art,” which is defined as works “produced by self-taught individuals, usually without formal training” which arise from “an innate personal vision that revels foremost in the creative act itself.”

Rather than focusing on works of visionary art as objects unto themselves, Hoffberger curates exhibits that combine art, science, philosophy, and humor, always with an underlying focus on social justice and betterment. AVAM’s exhibits have explored themes ranging from hunger, public health and climate change to sleep and what makes us smile.

Throughout her tenure, Hoffberger has supported LGBTQ artists by featuring their work and stories in her themed exhibits and adding their work to the museum’s permanent collection. While other museums have only recently begun to call attention to their efforts to support Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Access, AVAM has done it all along.

One of AVAM’s best known and most photographed pieces by an LGBTQ artist is British sculptor Andrew Logan’s 10-foot-tall statue of Divine, a tribute to the gay actor and Baltimore native who starred in drag in “Pink Flamingos,” “Multiple Maniacs,” “Hairspray” and other movies by filmmaker John Waters.

Logan, whose paintings and sculpture fill the Andrew Logan Museum of Sculpture between England and Wales, has two other works at AVAM: Icarus, a figure suspended above the main staircase, and the Cosmic Galaxy Egg, an eight-foot sculpture on a plaza outside the museum’s Jim Rouse Visionary Center.

Other LGBTQ artists highlighted at AVAM include painter James Snodgrass; Judy Tallwing McCarthy, an Apache leatherwoman and multi-media artist who won the first International Ms. Leather contest in 1987; Andrey Bartenev, a Russian performer, sculptor and experimentalist who won the Alternate Miss World pansexual beauty pageant in 2018 as Miss UFO; and psychic and “consciousness researcher” Ingo Douglas Swann, co-founder of the Stargate Project that was launched to investigate psychic phenomena in military and domestic intelligence applications.

Local visionary talents include woodworker Bob Little; Bob Adams, a multi-media artist and one of John Waters’ Dreamlanders, whose photographs, scrapbooks, shrines and other assemblages have been featured in three AVAM exhibits, and Bob Benson, a popular classical music radio host who became a prolific visual artist later in life, responsible for the fart machine in the museum’s Flatulence exhibit; the blinged-out Universal Tree of Life visible on Key Highway (made with Rick Ames and David Hess); the ocean beneath Icarus and the sky above him, and many other creations.

The museum has supported the LGBTQ community in other ways as well. It was one of the first places in Maryland to offer a welcoming setting for same-sex weddings, even before they were legal in the state. Couples would get married in the District of Columbia, where it was legal, and then come to AVAM’s Meditation Chapel to have a second wedding and reception.

One of Hoffberger’s year-long exhibits was called “Race, Class and Gender: 3 Things that Contribute “0” to CHARACTER (Because being a Schmuck is an equal opportunity for everyone!), also known as The Character Show. As part of that 2005-2006 presentation, she wrote an essay entitled “gender,” in which she explored the ways people in different countries think about transgender citizens; “intersex” children born with both male and female reproductive organs; gender “verification” for athletes; gender fluidity, the “gender rights” movement and related subjects.

“Every human being is precious,” she argued at the end. “We are all, all of us, part of God’s family. We all must be allowed to love each other with honor.”

The museum’s shop, Sideshow, has a gay owner whom she recruited from Chicago, Ted “Uncle Fun” Frankel, and is filled with gay-friendly books and gifts that reflect his sensibility. TripSavvy.com, a website last month named AVAM the LGBTQ+ Best Hidden Gem in Maryland. Readers of The Baltimore Sun just chose it as Baltimore’s Best Museum and Best Tourist Attraction.

In announcing her departure, Hoffberger said she loves her time at the museum but wants to pursue other interests, including writing a play about the close friendship between inventor Nikola Tesla and writer Mark Twain.

“I consider myself the luckiest woman I know,” she said. “It has been such a fantastic privilege to imagine, birth and to help our American Visionary Art Museum flourish over these past decades, alongside the most wonderful hardworking staff imaginable. Every beautiful thought, opportunity to communally inspire some greater good, we have joyfully undertaken.”

Her final curated exhibit as director will be “Healing & The Art of Compassion (And The Lack Thereof!),” scheduled for Oct. 9, 2021 to Sept. 4, 2022. A farewell gala and fundraiser has been set for Nov. 20. The museum’s board has appointed m/Oppenheim Executive Search to help find her replacement.

Waters, a big fan of the museum, is one of many who think Oppenheim doesn’t have an easy assignment.

“Rebecca Hoffberger’s name is almost synonymous with the word ‘irreplaceable,” the writer and filmmaker said in an email message.

“She has given the world the perfect museum to celebrate Baltimore’s reputation as a welcoming home to eccentric artistic outsiders and crackpot personalities,” he said. “The statue of Divine watches over the international visiting guests with benevolence and the same understanding Rebecca has for all artists who don’t fit in. Rebecca is passionate, obsessive in her drive, and nobody else could have made this place become such a major tourist destination. And now to find a successor? Who knows? We need another Glinda, the Good Witch of the Visionary. She’s out there somewhere.”

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