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Freedom to Marry changes course, launches Md. marriage PAC

Organization had declined to join coalition of groups defending state law

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Evan Wolfson

Freedom to Marry President Evan Wolfson (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Washington Blade has learned that Freedom to Marry has formed a political action committee that will allow it to raise money to defend Maryland’s same-sex marriage law, a change of course from earlier this year when the organization declined to join the coalition of groups defending the law.

Maryland State Board of Elections records indicate that the Freedom to Marry Maryland PAC with Teresa Williams of Cheverly as its chair was registered on Sept. 18. Williams’ partner, Jo Deutsch, who is Freedom to Marry’s federal director in D.C., is the PAC’s treasurer. Former Equality Maryland Board President Scott Davenport, who is Freedom to Marry’s COO, is listed as its deputy treasurer.

Maryland law requires that all PAC officers are registered to vote in the state.

“The PAC is basically a legal mechanism that’s required for reporting certain kinds of contributions so we really just have set it up to be able to do what we want to do consistent with the reporting legal requirements,” Freedom to Marry President Evan Wolfson told the Blade. “Freedom to Marry has all along been assisting the campaign and providing certain kinds of help, and now obviously we’re all in the home stretch on these four ballot measures [in Maryland, Maine, Minnesota and Washington]. And we all need to step up and do as much as we can to win as many of them as we can so we just really wanted to have the legal mechanism ready to basically keep helping and hopefully do more even as we focus on the states where we’ve also been pushing to get the victory that is our number one priority for the end of the year.”

The PAC’s registration comes in spite of Freedom to Marry’s announcement last year that it would not join the coalition of groups defending Maryland’s same-sex marriage law.

“Freedom to Marry has made it clear to members of the coalition and to lawmakers that our goal is to win, not simply to pass a bill, if there is not sufficient groundwork and investment in a campaign to win at the ballot,” Wolfson told the Blade earlier this year. “We have continued to press for clarity and progress on benchmarks for success, and have urged elected officials, national organizations, and advocates on the ground to show the plan, investment, and activities needed now to build public support and succeed at the ballot, not just the legislature.”

Wolfson told the Blade last month that Freedom to Marry has provided what he described as a “huge amount of messaging, research and experience and council” to Marylanders for Marriage Equality. He said his group has also invited Marylanders for Marriage Equality to take part in “regular calls” between the four campaign managers to “coordinate and share best practices, brainstorm and problem solve.”

Freedom to Marry announced in August that its contributions to same-sex ballot measures in Maine and Washington and the campaign to defeat a proposed constitutional amendment that would define marriage as between a man and a woman in Minnesota through its Win More States Fund had topped $3 million. It hopes to raise an additional $10 million for these campaigns by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, a Freedom to Marry press release on Sept. 7 that announced a series of house parties that will take place across the country on Oct. 13 to raise funds for statewide same-sex marriage campaigns specifically cites Maryland as among the states with ballot measures. These include one that will take place at former Republican National Committee Chair Ken Mehlman’s Manhattan home, according to BuzzFeed.

Wolfson said that observers should not read too much into the timing of the PAC’s registration, which comes less than two months before the referendum on the law that Gov. Martin O’Malley signed in March. It also coincides with the Sept. 13 fundraiser for Marylanders for Marriage Equality in New York City at which the governor spoke.

“We believe there’s a pathway to win in Maryland and it’s going to take a lot more effort and significantly more resources and using the time to make the case,” said Wolfson when asked about the effectiveness of the campaign to defend Maryland’s same-sex marriage law. “If we all step up and do that whether in Maryland or in the other states we can hope to have the victory in one or more states that we at Freedom to Marry have prioritized as our remaining goal in 2012.”

Josh Levin, campaign director for Marylanders for Marriage Equality, described Freedom to Marry’s involvement as “a vote of confidence.”

“Happy to finally make Maryland an ‘all hands on deck’ state like it should be,” added Fred Sainz, spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, the group that had given Marylanders for Marriage Equality $723,000 in cash and in-kind donations as of Aug. 6. HRC also contributed $853,000 to the legislative campaign to secure passage of the state’s same-sex marriage law earlier this year. “We value Freedom to Marry as a partner and are delighted that they’ll be engaged in the effort to protect marriage equality in Maryland.”

Lisa Polyak, who, along with her partner of more than 30 years, Gita Deane, became the lead plaintiffs in the same-sex marriage lawsuit that Equality Maryland and the American Civil Liberties Union filed in 2004, also responded.

“Gita and I welcome Freedom to Marry’s increasing participation in the struggle to keep full marriage equality in Maryland,” Polyak told the Blade. “We know that they’ve been helpful in the past. We were surprised and disappointed that they weren’t more involved in this year’s effort to pass the marriage equality bill, especially since they seemed to be working hard in other states trying to pass a marriage law or manage a ballot referendum.  But there is no question: We need all hands on deck at this time.”

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5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. KT

    September 21, 2012 at 11:55 am

    Wow, Freedom to Marry is so sketchy. I wouldn’t trust Wolfson for a minute. HRC and Marylanders for Marriage Equality have to be diplomatic in order to show a united front but I bet in private that are seething that after publicly abandoning the fight in the spring, FTM is swooping in at the last minute in order to claim some credit. Now that the fight in Maryland is looking more and more like a win, FTM has invited itself to the table. At least Fred Sanz took a subtle jab in his quote praising FTM – and Lisa Polyak flat out noted FTM did not do much in MD.

  2. MPetrelis

    September 21, 2012 at 3:30 pm

    I wish Evan and his FTM group would post their IRS 990s on their site. To their credit, the folks at HRC share four years of 990s available on their site for anyone to read at any time. Not so with FTM. Evan insists that folks submit a written request to view his 990s. A group can’t claim to be transparent and not post their tax returns on their site.

  3. Willy Braxton

    September 21, 2012 at 8:02 pm

    Funny that Mr. Wolfson is now hedging his bets. We welcome the help but joining in the fight when you know you can win is very shady.

  4. TK

    September 22, 2012 at 2:04 pm

    Freedom to Marry’s abandonment of Maryland during this crucial year in the Maryland legislature and ballot referendum is unconscionable. It’s not like there are 44 states trying to deal with a ballot measure and FTM had to worry about being spread too thin — there are only 4 !! In addition to FTM’s messaging publically and privately (to the donor community) to stay out of Maryland — they have been holding fundraisers in Maryland’s backyard (DC), and inviting Maryland residents to raise money for Maine, Minnesota and Washington — but none for Maryland. It would be different if FTM had a broad mission and marriage equality was just one advocacy issue — but its their ONLY mission. How in the world can they justify abandoning one of the few states where that is even still a possibility. Everyone know that polling results overstate actual voter performance. If Maryland loses the ballot referendum by some slim margin — we will all have to wonder what might have been if only FTM hadn’t stood on the sidelines. It’s not even clear what it is that FTM plans to do to help in these last few weeks. More phonecons ? More “strategic advice” ?

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Heather Mizeur congressional campaign raises more than $1M

Former Md. delegate challenging Andy Harris

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Heather Mizeur, Delman Coates, Montgomery County, Silver Spring, Maryland, Maryland House of Delegates, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade, momentum
Former Maryland state Del. Heather Mizeur is running for Congress (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Heather Mizeur has raised more than $1 million in her campaign against anti-LGBTQ Republican Congressman Andy Harris in Maryland’s 1st Congressional District.

“No candidate in #MD01 of either party, incumbent or challenger, has ever hit the $1M milestone this early in the election cycle,” Mizeur tweeted on Oct. 6.

The Victory Fund in an Oct. 8 press release said 80 percent of this $1 million came from Maryland-based donors, “a sign the district is ready for new representation.” And Mizeur continues to outpace Harris, according to campaign finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission that say she raised $717,445 for the cycle ending June 30, while Harris raised $425,288.

“Andy Harris has taken every opportunity to attack and vilify trans individuals, trying to score political points with his base at the expense of the safety of some of his constituents,” Mizeur told the Washington Blade.

In 2014 Harris made the Human Rights Campaign’s “Hall of Shame” for proactively working “to undermine existing legal protections and promote anti-LGBT discrimination.”

“In contrast, the LGBTQ community knows me for my record,” Mizeur said. “And knows I’ll always lead with compassion and stand up for civil and human rights. I think the 1st District will respond to my message of respect and understanding.”

Mizeur, who now lives on the Eastern Shore with her wife, served on the Takoma Park City Council. Mizeur was a member of the Maryland House of Delegates for eight years.

In 2014, she launched a long-shot, grassroots campaign for governor where she finished a strong third in the Democratic primary, despite being outraised by better-known opponents.

But Mizeur also said she is aware of the challenges her team faces in taking on a well-entrenched Republican in a solidly conservative district.

The Cook Partisan Voter Index in 2017 rated the district as R +14, meaning the previous two presidential election results in the district skewed 14 percentage points more Republican than the national average.

“We have over $760,000 in the bank, and we’ve outraised him during our time in the race,” Mizeur said. “We’re raising the money we need to go toe-to-toe with Andy Harris next year.”

The Baltimore Sun in February reported Harris was “flush with campaign cash” mostly due to a 2010 redistricting that “packed” the area with Republican voters to increase Democrats’ chances in other district races.

“Yes, Andy Harris has over $1 million in the bank, stockpiled over a decade in office,” Mizeur said. “But in the short time I’ve been in the race, we’ve cut significantly into his cash on hand advantage.”

Harris has represented the 1st Congressional District—which includes Maryland’s Eastern Shore and parts of Baltimore, Carroll and Harford Counties—since 2011 and easily fended off most challenges with at least 60 percent of the vote. These challengers include Mia Mason, a transgender military veteran, who ran against him in 2020.

The 2010 redistricting made Harris’ seat safe enough not only to donate nearly a third of his war chest to conservative groups and candidates, such as U.S. Reps. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), but to openly court controversy himself.

Harris last year openly defended then-President Trump’s discredited efforts to overturn the 2020 election. And in December he signed onto an amicus brief supporting a failed lawsuit contesting the presidential election results.

This year he downplayed the violence of the Jan. 6 insurrection in which numerous police officers were attacked, members of Congress were threatened, and the U.S. Capitol was vandalized.

Mizeur told the Blade that while Harris’ actions regarding the Jan. 6 insurrection were the catalyst for her challenging his seat, she feels the district is changing and he no longer represents their interests.

“Our supporters know he’s been embarrassing Maryland in Congress for far too long, and that some of his actions have shown he’s completely unfit to serve in public office, regardless of ideological views,” Mizeur said. “They want someone who will bring compassionate leadership and innovative thinking back to the first district. And that’s appealing to people across party lines.”

Maryland’s primary election is June 28, 2022, and its general election follows on Nov. 8.

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AU student expelled over arrest in attack on gay Asian man, parents

Patrick Trebat no longer affiliated with university

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

An American University graduate student who was arrested by D.C. police on Aug. 7 on charges that he assaulted a gay Asian man and the man’s parents while shouting homophobic and anti-Asian slurs “is no longer affiliated with the university and will not be allowed on campus,” according to a report by WTOP News.

In an Oct. 9 broadcast that it updated this week, WTOP said Patrick Trebat, 38, who had been taking a night class at the university’s Kogod School of Business, was banned from returning to the campus.

Charging documents filed in D.C. Superior Court show that Trebat was charged by D.C. police with one count of felony assault, two counts of simple assault and one count of destruction of property for allegedly assaulting and injuring Sean Lai, 30, an out gay man of Chinese ancestry, and his parents on the 3700 block of Fulton Street, N.W., on Aug. 7.

The charging documents say Trebat allegedly began to follow Lai and his parents as they were walking along the street in the city’s Observatory Circle neighborhood near the National Cathedral. According to a statement by a police official from the police district whose officers made the arrest, Trebat punched and kicked the three victims as he stated, “Get out of my country.” The police statement says the family was taken to a hospital for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries.

A separate police report says Trebat shouted the word “faggots” at the family and shouted, “You are not Americans!”

Based on these allegations, prosecutors classified the assault charges as an anti-Asian bias related crime, but they did not add an anti-gay classification to the charges.

Court records show that Trebat was released two days after his arrest while awaiting trial under the court’s High Intensity Supervision Program, which, among other things, imposed a curfew requiring him to return home by 10 p.m.

An Oct. 8 story in The Eagle, the American University student newspaper, says it learned that Trebat’s attorney filed a motion in court, which the Washington Blade also discovered from court records, asking a judge to extend the curfew deadline from 10 p.m. to 11:45 p.m. so that Trebat could attend at night class at American University.

The motion, which prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office did not oppose and the judge approved, identified Trebat in the public court records as an AU graduate student.

According to the Eagle, representatives of the university’s Asian American and LGBTQ student groups criticized university officials for not alerting students that an AU student charged with an anti-Asian hate crime while hurling homophobic slurs had access to the campus and could pose a danger to students.

“Patrick Trebant is not affiliated with American University and is not allowed on campus,” AU told the Blade on Wednesday in a statement. “While we cannot discuss details of an individual matter, when a student has been arrested, charged, convicted of, or sentenced for a felony crime, the university’s student conduct code provides for an administrative adjudication process. The safety of our students and our community is our priority.”

The Eagle reports that the code of conduct states that the dean of students or their designee can administratively adjudicate a case when a student has been accused of a non-academic offense “where the student has been arrested, charged, convicted of, or sentenced for a felony crime” for certain misconduct. The code of conduct applies in a situation in which a student is arrested for an off-campus allegation.

Court records show Trebat is scheduled to return to court at 9:30 a.m. on Nov. 15 for a felony status hearing before Superior Court Judge Judith Pipe.

Neither Trebat nor his attorney, Brandi Harden, could immediately be reached for comment.

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Two remaining defendants in D.C. trans murder case accept plea bargain

Dee Dee Dodds murdered in Northeast Washington in 2016

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Deeniquia Dodds, gay news, Washington Blade
Deeniquia ‘Dee Dee’ Dodds was killed in 2016. (Photo via Facebook)

Two of the four D.C. men who were charged with first-degree murder while armed for the July 4, 2016, shooting death of transgender woman Deeniquia “Dee Dee” Dodds on a Northeast Washington street pleaded guilty on Sept. 30 to a charge of voluntary manslaughter as part of a plea bargain deal offered by prosecutors.

A four-page letter providing details of the plea bargain offer made by prosecutors with the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, which was filed in D.C. Superior Court, states that the agreement accepted by defendants Jolonta Little, 30, and Monte T. Johnson, 25, includes the decision to drop the murder charge in exchange for a guilty plea to a single count of voluntary manslaughter.

It says that in exchange for the guilty plea prosecutors will also drop additional charges originally brought against Little and Johnson, including robbery while armed, possession of a firearm during a crime of violence, and unlawful possession of a firearm.

The agreement also includes a promise by prosecutors to ask Superior Court Judge Milton C. Lee, who is presiding over the case, to issue a sentence of eight years in prison for both men.

The letter spelling out the details of the plea deal makes it clear that it will be up to Lee to decide whether to accept the eight-year jail term proposed by prosecutors, and there is no guarantee that Lee will not hand down a sentence with a longer prison term.

It states that under the D.C. criminal code, a conviction on a voluntary manslaughter charge carries a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison. Attorneys and observers of the D.C. courts have said judges usually agree to a recommended sentence by prosecutors in cases involving a plea bargain agreement.   

The letter describing the terms of the plea agreement in the Johnson and Little cases does not say whether prosecutors will ask Lee to deduct from the proposed eight-year jail sentence the time that the two men have already spent in jail since the time of their arrest. But in most criminal cases, judges agree to provide full credit for time served in jail prior to a conviction and sentencing.

Johnson has been held without bond for just over five years since his September 2016 arrest. Little has been held without bond for four years and eight months since his arrest in February 2017.

The plea bargain deal came two and a half years after a D.C. Superior Court jury became deadlocked and could not reach a verdict on the first-degree murder charges brought against Johnson and Little following a month-long trial, prompting Lee to declare a mistrial on March 6, 2019.

The two other men charged in Dodd’s murder, Shareem Hall, 27, and his brother, Cyheme Hall, 25, accepted a separate plea bargain deal offered by prosecutors shortly before the start of the 2019 trial in which they pled guilty to second-degree murder. Both testified at the trial as government witnesses.

In dramatic testimony, Cyheme Hall told the jury that it was Johnson who fatally shot Dodds in the neck at point black range after she grabbed the barrel of his handgun as Johnson and Hall attempted to rob her on Division Avenue, N.E., near where she lived. Hall testified that the plan among the four men to rob Dodds did not include the intent to kill her.

In his testimony, Hall said that in the early morning hours of July 4, 2016, he and the other three men made plans to commit armed robberies for cash in areas of D.C. where trans women, most of whom were sex workers, congregated. He testified that the four men got into a car driven by Little and searched the streets for victims that they didn’t expect to offer resistance.

D.C. police and the U.S. Attorney’s Office initially designated the murder charges against Johnson and Little as a hate crime based on findings by homicide detectives that the men were targeting trans women for armed robberies. However, during Johnson and Little’s trial, Lee dismissed the hate crime designation on grounds that there was insufficient evidence by prosecutors to support a hate crime designation.

At the request of prosecutors, Lee scheduled a second trial for Johnson and Little following the deadlocked jury in the first trial. But court records show that for reasons not disclosed in the public court docket, the start of the second trial was postponed several times. The most recent postponement was due to restrictions placed on the court related to the COVID pandemic.

As of August, of this year, the court records show, the second murder trial for Johnson and Little was scheduled to begin on Feb. 17, 2022. But the records show that as of Sept. 30 of this year the defense attorneys and prosecutors reached an agreement over the plea bargain deal offered by prosecutors. It was on that day, the court records show, that the two men officially agreed to plead guilty to the lower charge of voluntary manslaughter and waived their right to a trial. The following day, on Oct. 1, Lee accepted the guilty pleas and scheduled the sentencing for Dec. 10.

Meanwhile, Cyheme Hall and Shareem Hall have remained in the D.C. jail since the time of their respective arrests. Court records show they were scheduled to be sentenced by Lee on Dec. 20, 10 days after the sentencing for Johnson and Little.

It couldn’t immediately be determined from the court records whether prosecutors allowed the Hall brothers to also plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter and have dropped the second- degree murder charge to which the two men pled guilty back in 2019 as part of an earlier plea bargain deal.

At the time Johnson and Little’s trial ended with the deadlocked jury in March 2019, LGBTQ activists expressed alarm that the jury’s action appeared to be a repeat occurrence of several previous D.C. cases in which male attackers charged with assaulting and murdering trans women of color were not convicted for those crimes.

“This is a very dangerous move on the part of the U.S. Attorney’s Office,” said Ruby Corado, founder and former executive director of Casa Ruby, the D.C. LGBTQ community services center, in referring to the plea deal.

“We need to be strengthening laws to ensure that the horrible epidemic of violence against LGBTQ people that we currently face ends, and not giving criminals a slap on the hand for committing murders against us,” Corado told the Washington Blade. “This sends a message that our lives don’t matter that much to those who already see us as easy targets; we are now becoming disposable people in the eyes of the law.”

D.C. trans rights advocate Alexis Blackmon, Casa Ruby’s interim executive director, called the plea bargain deal offered to Little and Johnson “very disturbing.” Added Blackmon, “How it’s being read across to me is if we can’t convict you on murder then we’re going to basically slap your wrist.”

Blackmon said she will consult with other local LGBTQ activists to determine whether a representative of the LGBTQ community should request to testify at Little and Johnson’s Dec. 10 sentencing hearing to ask the judge to hand down a sentence greater than eight years.

D.C. Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner and trans advocate Monika Nemeth said she too is troubled over the plea bargain agreement.

“While I am stunned by a plea that reduces the charge from first-degree murder to voluntary manslaughter, I should not be as we are still a society for whom trans people, particularly trans women of color, are not valued and are disposable,” Nemeth said. “I don’t see how you get to voluntary manslaughter when the victims were targeted for being trans. This is not justice.”

William Miller, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, said he would make inquires with the office’s prosecutors to obtain a response to a question from the Blade asking for an explanation of why the decision was made to issue the plea bargain offer rather than bring defendants Little and Johnson to trial on the murder charge.

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