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Gay ambassador reflects on U.S. efforts in Ukraine

Baer talks monitoring mission, being openly gay in negotiations with Russia

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Daniel Baer, State Department, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, gay news, Washington Blade
Daniel Baer, United States Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, gay news, Washington Blade

Gay U.S. ambassador Daniel Baer is representing U.S. interests during the Ukraine crisis at the Organization for Security & Cooperation in Europe (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key).

Amid the ongoing crisis in Ukraine following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military incursion into the country, the Obama administration is relying on a gay ambassador to help de-escalate tensions.

Daniel Baer, U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security & Cooperation in Europe, has in the days since the start of the crisis been working with envoys at the Vienna-based pan-Atlantic international forum to address the situation — in addition to keeping the world updated via his Twitter account.

His priority for the moment is achieving a consensus to allow a OSCE-based monitoring mission to enter Ukraine, although he admits he’s under “no illusion” that will be easy in a body on which Moscow has veto power.

In an interview with the Washington Blade via phone from Vienna after the third emergency meeting at the forum in as many days, Baer described the multi-level approach the United States is undertaking to de-escalate tensions in Ukraine.

“In the past, we’ve seen in other situations where there have been similar concerns raised, a monitoring mission [has worked] by both assessing and reporting facts on the ground and by being there to work to mediate tension and addressing the concerns that have been raised,” Baer said.

But Baer’s participation has significance because he’s openly gay and handling negotiations with a country that is known for enacting anti-LGBT laws and having an anti-LGBT climate.

Nonetheless, Baer, 37, said he’s never felt that his sexual orientation has been an issue for Putin’s representatives at OSCE.

“Just like being gay, working with the U.S. ambassador is not a choice, and I’m ready to work with all of them,” Baer said.

Founded during the Cold War, the OSCE was set up as a forum for the United States and the Soviet Union to speak about concerns and has become a pan-Atlantic forum now comprising 57 European, Asian and North American countries.

After the U.S. Senate confirmed Baer in August as U.S. envoy to OSCE, he relocated to Vienna with his partner of three-and-a-half years Brian Walsh, 27, a physicist now working at an international think-tank on environmental issues.

The transcript of the interview between the Washington Blade and Baer follows:

Washington Blade: How would you characterize the situation in Vienna as the crisis in Ukraine unfolds?

Daniel Baer: I guess a couple things. The OSCE is a big political organization, and an operational entity that has field offices in 16 countries, including Ukraine and many independent institutions that are doing things all the time. So, there’s been kind of two levels of activity.

One, there’s been a sense of urgency in terms of getting the existing capacities of OSCE mobilized to engage in Ukraine, and particularly in Crimea now, in the ways that they can to help de-escalate tension. So, there’s a High Commissioner for National Minorities, the Swiss special envoy who’s the current ambassador to Germany now, but a designated special envoy to Ukraine who sits as the chair of the OSCE right now. The Representative on Freedom of the Media, they just arrived in Crimea a couple hours ago, and then the project office in Kiev is being supplemented.

In addition, because OSCE does arms control, and military transparency, the Ukrainians have invited military monitoring missions. They have an invitation for two military monitors from every participating state in the OSCE.

Then, there’s the political side, and lot of people focus on the downside of the OSCE, which is you operate on consensus. And it’s a big tent that includes the Russian Federation, the United States, Canada and basically everybody in between — and Mongolia. That is both a hindrance, in the sense that it makes consensus harder, but it’s also an asset in the sense that the other project that we’re starting to work on now is trying to develop a mandate for a new special monitoring mission to Ukraine and that will require consensus, but the upside is that if we can find a description of a mandate that works for everyone, it will also have the political value of being blessed by Ukrainians, the Federation, the EU countries, Turkey, ourselves and Canada.

So, it’ll have broad backing. And so, we’re kind of taking the two-pronged approach of mobilize quickly everything that’s already set up and teed up, and ready to go, and also look at this kind of near-to-medium term possibility of setting up a monitoring mission.

That’s something that I’m under no illusions — I think it’s going to be very hard, and really all we can do is tee it up, and leave that door open. And if and when the Russian Federation decides to engage on that and walk through that door, we’ll be ready to work with them.

Daniel Baer, State Department, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, gay news, Washington Blade

U.S ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Daniel Baer addresses the media following a meeting. (Photo public domain)

Blade: What makes setting up that monitoring mission “very hard”? I know Moscow has veto power on the OSCE, so how likely is it that we’ll actually see that happening?

Baer: I think the answer is it won’t happen unless Moscow decides that they see value in it, or they think it can be useful. I think our position all along has been there are a variety of concerns that have been raised by the Russian Federation, including concerns about the security of their military base and the human rights of the Russian minority in Crimea, and Ukraine more broadly, etc. There are obviously concerns that are being raised by the Ukrainians themselves about a Russian military incursion on their territory.

But the way to address the concerns that the Russians have raised is not through sending in troops, but through a monitoring mission. And this is an alternative for them. In the past, we’ve seen in other situations where there have been similar concerns raised, a monitoring mission [has worked] by both assessing and reporting facts on the ground and by being there to work to mediate tension and addressing the concerns that have been raised. Yes, they have to choose to take that route instead of the illegal and illegitimate route that they are currently taking, but… one of the ways in which we can make de-escalation more likely is by teeing up that choice, so they can make that choice. …

Blade: Let’s get a little personal. What do you think is the significance of an openly gay person representing U.S. interests in diplomacy with Russia, a country that has passed laws against gay people?

Baer: You know, I think to all of my colleagues when I showed up here in Vienna, most of my colleagues only knew one or two things about me. Everyone knew that I was gay, and the other thing talked about was that I was young. Other than that, they knew that I was an American ambassador. Six months later, it’s certainly more important that I’m the U.S. ambassador than anything else about me, and I have a decent working relationship with all my colleagues.

I have a weekly meeting with the Russian ambassador, and Brian and I have invited him and his wife to the Marine ball along with others. So, we built a working relationship. I guess it would be an interesting question for him. For me, I’m trying to do my job the best I can and represent my country the best I can.

I think one of the strengths that America has is that we increasingly — there’s still work to do on many dimensions — but we increasingly have a diplomatic corps that represents our diversity, and part of that is important because it makes us more effective. Part of that is important because it more accurately represents the country. And it’s super important because part of what others see as valuable and powerful and engaging and attractive about America is the promise of progress toward a society that embraces rights for everyone. I don’t see that as having anything to do with me, per se, but to the extent that there’s a broader story there. I think it’s valuable that we continue to make progress on that front.

Blade: So no Russian officials refused or expressed any reluctance to negotiate with you because of your sexual orientation?

Baer: I have not had any experience where they have refused to engage with me. For some people, whether Russian or otherwise, I’m the first ambassador from the United States that they’ve known was gay and they have to work with. I guess one of the advantages of being the U.S. ambassador in a multi-lateral institution is that it’s pretty hard to be effective and not work with the U.S. ambassador — one way or the other. Just like being gay, working with the U.S. ambassador is not a choice, and I’m ready to work with all of them. And I certainly go into it giving everybody the benefit of the doubt that it isn’t an issue because it shouldn’t be an issue.

Blade: You said they haven’t refused, but have they expressed any reluctance to work with you because of your sexual orientation?

Baer: Not to me. Not to me. If they have, they’ve kept it from me.

Blade: Let’s get back to the bigger picture. Regarding Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Ukraine, what impact do you think it’ll have on the situation?

Baer: I think the secretary has actually come and has already arrived in Paris, and will meet with [Russian] Foreign Minister [Sergey] Lavrov in Paris tomorrow. But he spent today in Kiev. I think everybody recognizes that the people of Ukraine have a new temporary government. An election’s declared for May 25. It’s usually important that there is strong support for free and fair elections, and a free and fair campaign environment. Everybody is rightfully focused on the security crisis in Crimea, and also in the rest of the country, there’s a lot of work to do.

And I think the people of Ukraine need to be supported in their efforts to build a prosperous, free, democratic Ukraine. And that’s going to take a lot of support from the international community, and I think Secretary Kerry is going to demonstrate our support for the transition government that is there until the election and our willingness and readiness to help support them in their efforts to build a free, democratic Ukraine.

Blade: How is Kerry being there having an impact as opposed to monitoring the situation from overseas?

Baer: Well, I think, certainly there’s a diplomatic value to it in terms of the conversations that you have, and, of course, it also sends a signal. So if being there sends a signal that the depth of the U.S. commitment and our engagement with the government, I think that signal is an important one to send, particularly at a moment like this.

Blade: What about sanctions? A number of European countries seem reluctant to impose sanctions on Russia. What actually can this administration do to convince its NATO allies and trading partners to get on the program for sanctions with real teeth against Russia?

Baer: Oh, I think the president and Secretary Kerry have had a number of conversations over the last 72 hours and 96 hours with allies and partners in Europe, and I think although the EU has its own function, and we have ours, etc., I think there’s a lot of strong cooperation right now on ways to respond to Russia’s illegal actions…I think there is strong cooperation between the U.S. and the E.U. and individual member states in the E.U. making clear that the Russian incursion and military presence is unacceptable and that they need to go back to their bases, and that it’s up to President Putin to do the right thing and de-escalate the situation.

Blade: Do you see that co-operation extending to an agreement on sanctions with Europe with regard to Russia?

Baer: Like I said, the secretary and president are working very hard to keep our allies and partners appraised of our steps, and to coordinate those. I think those conversations are ongoing, and I think that that strong cooperation will continue.

Blade: What do you think Putin is trying to accomplishment with this incursion? Restoration of the Soviet Union?

Baer: I don’t know. That’s a question for President Putin. I don’t know what he’s trying to accomplish, but certainly the steps that he’s taking are not contributing to stability in the region, to the future of a strong Ukraine, which Russia has everything to gain from as a close neighbor. Russia and Ukraine are going to have a relationship determined by geography if not by partnership, and so Russia has everything to gain from a strong Ukraine. There’s not an either-or choice, and the actions that Mr. Putin have taken are a violation of international law, they’re a violation of many commitments the Russian Federation has made, including here at the OSCE with respect to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of participating states. And they’re a violation of reason, and they are not in Russia’s interest, and certainly not in Ukraine’s.

Blade: What’s your reaction to today’s news that Putin said he sees no reason for Russian forces to intervene in eastern Ukraine at the moment but that Russia “reserves the right to use all means at our disposal to protect” Russian speakers if they are in danger?

Baer: I think I reject the rationale that has been offered for the military incursion and invasion so far, and there’s no defensible rationale for further movement. The right direction for the troops to move is not further, but back to their bases.

Blade: Do you think that comment is troubling?

Baer: Like I said, I think there’s no good rationale for the Russian Federation to have its troops on Ukrainian soil.

Blade: Do you see any scenario in which this crisis will escalate into military engagement involving the United States?

Baer: Nobody wants an escalation into war, so all of our efforts are focused on de-escalating the situation through direct diplomatic engagement and the deployment of an international monitoring force either through the OSCE or the UN. They’re other ways to approach this, but we’re certainly working around the clock to the head in that direction.

Blade: Is it safe to say military engagement is off the table?

Baer: That’s not a question for me.

Daniel Baer, State Department, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, gay news, Washington Blade, Brian Walsh

U.S. ambassador for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Daniel Baer with partner Brian Walsh. (Image public domain)

Blade: Let’s get back to some personal stuff. How is the situation with Brian since you’ve moved to Vienna and since the start of his crisis?

Baer: I get to spend far less time with Brian, but other than that it hasn’t changed anything. We’re settling well, and he’s incredibly supportive.

Blade: Do you have any anecdotes about any activities you too had engaged in since you’ve moved to Vienna?

Baer: Well, it’s been a big change because it’s a new country and a new job. And we’ve been skiing in Austria, and that was fun. Being a diplomat overseas is very different from working in the State Department. One of the advantages being here in this post is you have 56 other ambassadorial colleagues and there’s an interesting and diverse group of people to get to know.

We’re settling into that world, and the whole time, we’re very, very much aware of the fact that this is a temporary arrangement. We’re trying to make the most of it. Enjoy the hard work, enjoy the fun and cool parts of the job.

Blade: Let’s get back to Russia. How do you evaluate how Russia handled the Olympics?

Baer: I think we’re all glad that the Olympics came off without any security incidents, etc. I think, as everyone knows, there was a great deal of investment of resources and political attention in the Olympics, and I was proud of U.S. athletes.

Blade: There were reports that were some arrests of demonstrators, including those protesting about LGBT rights. Were you aware of that and do you think they were cause for concern?

Baer: Yes. It’s always of concern when there are arrests of people protesting. In the Russian Federation, unfortunately, it’s not extraordinary. And there were arrests this past weekend of protesters who were protesting Russia’s invasion. Several hundred people were detained, I believe. I should check the reports. And there was a sentence last week of protesters, people who protested in the Bolotnaya Square, protests in 2012. So, Russia’s recent record on freedom of expression and freedom of association and assembly is not encouraging.

Blade: Russia has passed anti-gay laws that were criticized by the international community. Now that the Olympics are over, what is going to happen to LGBT people in Russia?

Baer: I think there are two things. One, we will continue to call out the so-called gay propaganda law and the other laws that have either been proposed or enacted along with it. Obviously, they’re inconsistent with internationally recognized human rights, and that such laws not only affect gay people, but the broader population, and also have a teaching effect, which creates a climate in which the rights of LGBT rights are most likely to be disrespected. We’ve seen an uptick in the kind of vigilante beatings of LGBT people posted online. The climate of intolerance that such laws encourage is something to be deeply concerned about.

That said, I think one of the things that it’s really important to focus on is that it’s not only gay people who have their rights trampled in the Russian Federation. Minorities, migrants from neighboring countries that represent minority populations suffer enormous discrimination, and obviously any Russian citizen has a hard time expressing political views that are critical of the government or joining a peaceful protest. The anti-gay laws are actually happening against a much broader recession on human rights more generally.

Blade: And what do you think is the best way forward to address that by the international community?

Baer: I think first of all, I always start from the premise that lasting change comes from within, so to continue to shine a light on human defenders and advocates who are making the case for change where they are — both LGBT, and more broadly, the human rights defenders and activists — and to call out the cases when their rights are violated. I think making the case to the Russian population more broadly as well to Russian leadership that a strong stable Russian Federation does not come from doubling down on restrictions it comes from democratic progress, including people who have respect for human rights. You have to make the political argument, and you have to call out the failures, and to continue to press, and know that doors will open where you don’t expect them, and you need to be ready to walk through them.

By calling out people’s situations, you remind them that they’re not alone and that they have people who are with them, and, over the long run, you push and you push and you push.

There’s a strong civil society that understands all of the reasons why the backsliding on human rights more broadly is bad for business, and all around it’s bad for Russia, and that trajectory needs to be turned around.

Blade: What about upcoming plans for you and Brian?

Baer: We’re getting married this summer. We haven’t quite figured that out yet because same-sex marriage isn’t legal in Austria, but we’re working on that. But in August.

Daniel Baer, State Department, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, gay news, Washington Blade, Brian Walsh

U.S. ambassador for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Daniel Baer with partner Brian Walsh. (Image public domain)

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District of Columbia

White House officials, HHS secretary praise local monkeypox response

D.C. Health points to data showing sharp decline in new cases

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HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra praised D.C. Health’s response to monkeypox.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and two leaders of the White House monkeypox response team joined officials with the D.C. Department of Health on Thursday for a visit to D.C.’s recently opened Monkeypox Vaccine Clinic on Martin Luther King Jr. Ave., S.E. in Ward 8.

In a briefing for reporters, who were invited to join Becerra and the White House officials on a tour of the clinic, the D.C. and federal officials pointed to a sharp decline in new monkeypox cases in D.C. as a sign of a successful federal and local government partnership in dramatically boosting the number of people at risk for monkeypox who have been vaccinated.

“I welcome you all to our Ward 8 Monkeypox Vaccine Clinic,” said Dr. Sharon Lewis, Interim Director of the D.C. Department of Health, which is also referred to as D.C. Health.

“Please take note that D.C. Health was very active in initiating back in May” the city’s effort to address monkeypox, she said. “We started our planning and as soon as we were aware of the first case in June, we had actually set up vaccines and were ready to implement our plan.”

Dr. Anil Mangla, the State Epidemiologist for the D.C. Department of Health, told the gathering the number of D.C. monkeypox cases peaked during the week of July 17, and new cases in the District have declined since then by an average of over 20 percent per week.

“I would call it our success story in D.C.,” Mangla said. “So, our cases peaked nine weeks ago, the week of July 17. If you look at the national trends and statistics, the nation essentially peaked about six weeks ago, so we were already three weeks in advance,” he said.

Mangla pointed out that the clinic where the HHS and White House officials visited on Thursday at 3640 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave., S.E. and the city’s two other Monkeypox vaccination clinics are walk-in facilities where D.C. residents can go for a vaccination without an appointment. The other two are located at 1900 I St., N.W. and 7530 Georgia Ave., N.W.

Becerra praised Mangla and his boss, Dr. Lewis, and their team of public health officials for aggressively reaching out to those at risk for monkeypox, including gay and bisexual men, to encourage them to get vaccinated and promptly treating those who tested positive for the monkeypox virus.

“So, let me first say to Director Lewis, Dr. Mangla, and to all your team, thank you for being affirmative in bringing in the steps to stop monkeypox,” Becerra said. “And more importantly, to go where the people are rather than waiting for the people to come to you.”

He said D.C. efforts in addressing monkeypox were among the efforts in other cities and states across the country where a joint federal-local partnership was taking place. 

“We need strong partnerships,” he said. “We need your help, because you know the many trusted voices in the communities that you’ve got more of than we would,” he said. “We’ll provide the vaccine,” said Becerra, noting that the Biden administration in partnership with various federal agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration, has distributed more than a million vaccine doses nationally.

Among the White House officials who spoke at the briefing and joined the tour of the Ward 8 Monkeypox Vaccination Clinic was Robert Fenton, who President Biden on Aug. 2 named as White House National Monkeypox Response Coordinator. Also speaking was Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, who Biden named as White House National Monkeypox Response Deputy Coordinator.

A statement released by the White House at the time Biden appointed the two men says Fenton has served as Regional Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Region 9 in the western part of the U.S. and was considered one of the nation’s most experienced emergency management leaders.

The statement says Daskalakis, a leading public health expert, is currently the Director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of HIV Prevention.

“Widely known as a national expert on health issues affecting the LGBTQIA+ communities, his clinical practice has focused on providing care for the underserved LGBTQIA+ communities,” the White House statement says.

In his remarks at the briefing on Thursday, Daskalakis also praised D.C. Health officials and the communities they have reached out to for encouraging behavioral changes among the groups most at risk for monkeypox.

“So, the clear message is that gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men, transgender individuals, and other gender diverse folks who have sex with men are not only getting the vaccine and testing, but also what they can do in their daily lives to be able to prevent infection,” he said. “I think that is another testament to the work you’ve done and is another example of the great partnership between federal public health and local public health.”

The D.C. Department of Health’s most recent data on monkeypox cases in the city shows that as of Sept. 15, the city had a cumulative total of 488 cases, with 19 hospitalizations and no deaths. Out of the 488 total, 97.3 percent were male, and 1.2 percent were female.

Regarding the sexual orientation of those who make up the 488 cases, 48 percent were listed as gay, 5.7 percent as bisexual, 3.9 percent as straight/heterosexual, 1 percent as “other,” and 41.4 percent as “Unknown.” The data released included an asterisk for the number of lesbian cases, which a footnote says could be four or fewer such cases.

At the briefing on Thursday, the Blade asked Dr. Mangla, the D.C. Health epidemiologist, to explain why he thought the number of D.C. monkeypox cases in gay men and other men who have sex with men were initially listed by D.C. Health officials to be over 90 percent of the total cases. But in recent weeks, the Blade pointed out, the data show the number of “gay” cases were at about 50 percent or a little lower and a new category of “unknown” sexual orientation cases was in the 40 percent to 50 percent range.

Mangla said he thought the discrepancy was due to a flaw in the data gathering during the early stage of the monkeypox outbreak in D.C. that has since been corrected. “It took us a few weeks to make that kind of adjustment and to say we are now confident enough that the data is accurate for policy decisions and anything else,” he said.

He did not say whether he or D.C. Health knows which demographic groups made up the “Unknown” category of 41.4 percent in the most recent data released.

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Africa

Zambia president reiterates opposition to LGBTQ, intersex rights

Hakainde Hichilema made comments in response to anti-LGBTQ protest

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Dr. Brian Sampa has organized protests against LGBTQ and intersex rights in Zambia. (Photo via Dr. Brian Sampa's Facebook page)

Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema on Monday reiterated his government does not support LGBTQ and intersex rights.

In a video posted to his Facebook page on Monday, Hichilema said Zambia is a country deeply rooted in Christianity and therefore does not support same sex relations. The president’s remarks came after Dr. Brian Sampa on Sept. 15 held an anti-LGBTQ rights protest.

The police stopped Sampa’s protest, which was to have taken place at the State House in Lusaka, the country’s capital. Officers said he did not have the necessary permits and told him and the handful of other protesters to instead approach the country’s Gender Ministry.

“Zambia is a Christian nation it’s clear! We all agree, but sometimes we want to extract sections of our communities and say these are not Christians. Religion in diversity. Churches in diversity but one body of Christ and I want to say it is not right,” said Hichilema in his video. “I have been following what is happening in the country and to say that the new dawn government is promoting lesbian rights or gay rights that is not right. We have said it before in opposition and now in government that we do not support gay, lesbian rights as a government.” 

“The records are there,” he added. “The media houses carry those records from years back but now in the last recent days people are propagating in churches preaching about lesbian rights that is divisive you know, the new dawn government this and that it’s not right let’s focus on unity, let’s focus on materiality, things that matter for this country, our children keeping them in school matters more than the peripheral petty side of a divisive behavior.” 

Sampa, meanwhile, has said he will be leading another anti-LGBTQ protest under the banner #BanNdevupaNdevu (#BanBeardonBeard) on Sept. 28. He said he plans to deliver a letter to the State House pertaining to what he labelled “the rise in unnatural acts like homosexuality.”

“Our fight is non-political. It’s for Zambians regardless of your color, creed, religion or political affiliation,” said Sampa on Facebook. “The president needs to be making it clear to those ambassadors from some countries our stance about homosexuality. Here we chase ambassadors who support homosexuals because it’s criminal under our constitution. The government has got power to end all this, but we are lacking political will against homosexuality. Use the law to the latter.”

“Parents make time to talk to your children and visit them in boarding schools,” he added. “Male boarding schools are no longer safe. The homosexuals are sodomizing children as they initiate them into this bad vice.”

Sampa also posted to Facebook a picture of a bed with what appears to be human feces on sheets. Sampa said it was a result of too much anal sex and cautioned that heterosexuals should be concerned if their partner wants to engage in it.

“Before you join them no matter the amount they will offer you, remember this picture. This is a picture of a bed used by a person with fecal incontinence due to anal sex what you are seeing are feces leaking from the anus because the sphincter muscle is destroyed due to anal sex,” he said. “This is an example of a male-to-male relationship. Don’t be deceived; the anus is not a sexual organ. Would a normal person be happy to dip their penis in feces? Nobody enjoys the smell of feces unless there is some psychological problem.”

“For ladies, how to know that you are dating a homosexual,” added Sampa. “If the guy keeps demanding for anal sex make sure you report him to the police.”

Zambia criminalizes same-sex sexual activity between men and between women. Sentences include a maximum penalty of 14 years in jail.

A court in 2019 convicted two gay men of engaging in same-sex sexual activity and sentenced them to 15 years in prison. They received a presidential pardon in 2020 amid international pressure, but reports of discrimination and violence against LGBTQ and intersex Zambians remain commonplace.

Daniel Itai is the Washington Blade’s Africa Correspondent.

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Maryland

FreeState Justice files lawsuit against former executive director

Jeremy LaMaster allegedly launched ‘coordinated attack’ on organization’s operations

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Former FreeState Justice Executive Director Jeremy LaMaster (Photo courtesy of Jeremy LaMaster)

FreeState Justice on Wednesday filed a federal lawsuit against its former executive director who has accused its board of directors of having a “white supremacist culture.”

The lawsuit, which FreeState Justice filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, notes the board on Sept. 16 informed Jeremy LaMaster that “they were relieved of their duties, and the final two weeks of their employment were to be spent cooperating in the transition of FreeState’s operations.”

“LaMaster abruptly left the meeting early and immediately began a coordinated attack on FreeState’s operations; in particular, its IT assets,” reads the lawsuit. “When FreeState discovered LaMaster’s improper interference, it terminated their employment effective immediately, ordered them to cease and desist and to rectify their actions. LaMaster did not abide and continued to hijack and misappropriate FreeState’s IT infrastructure and documents.” 

The lawsuit alleges that LaMaster “unilaterally and without authorization changed user permissions and shared login information so only they had access to numerous systems and accounts.” 

“They also removed employees’ administrative access to numerous systems and accounts, leaving such access to only themself,” reads the lawsuit. “In doing so, LaMaster has left FreeState’s employees with little to no access to client files, case files, dashboard reports,and case notes. LaMaster also changed the password to FreeState’s WordPress account, leaving LaMaster in sole control of FreeState’s website.” 

LaMaster, who uses nonbinary and binary pronouns, in a message they sent from his FreeState Justice email account on Monday announced their resignation after they said the board declined to step down.

“This morning, I requested the FreeState Justice board of directors to submit their immediate resignations due to persistent violations of our board handbook, consistent failures in their fiduciary responsibilities, and using positions of power to engage in partisan lobbying within FreeState Justice and their repeated refusal to add new members and leadership to the board,” wrote LaMaster.

LaMaster in their email noted they “exhausted every avenue over the past two years to get our board fully staffed and running, and I made good faith efforts to work with the board to ensure that our clients and low-income LGBTQ Marylanders remained at our center.” 

“Instead, the board has refused to accept any new board members since 2021 and refused to staff and run core board activities as per our handbook,” wrote LaMaster. “Instead, they have worked to consolidate power and amend the board handbook in secret to lower the minimum number of board members required and ensure that our policy positions prioritize relationships with legislators, not the best interests of our clients and community. I have provided clear warnings and consistent concerns over these issues that were repeatedly ignored.”

“These are the hallmarks of white supremacist culture: The concentration of power, power hoarding, defensiveness, right to comfort, fear of open conflict, hyper-individualism, and a false sense of urgency,” added LaMaster.

FreeState Justice in response to LaMaster’s allegations said it fired them on Sept. 16 “after prolonged and thoughtful deliberation” and further noted their statement “does not reflect the views or ideals of FreeState Justice’s board and staff.” FreeState Justice has named Phillip Westry as LaMaster’s successor.

The lawsuit alleges LaMaster “has commandeered” Westry’s Google account, “rendering him unable to access his emails, internal work calendars, and collaborative documents shared and worked on via Google Drive.” 

“LaMaster also now has unfettered and improper access to employee lists, donor lists, volunteer lists, mailing lists, client lists, and pro bono attorney lists,” reads the lawsuit. 

“Despite FreeState’s insistence that they cease their unlawful activities and restore operations immediately, LaMaster proceeded to upload a defamatory post to FreeState’s website and disseminated it to approximately 43,000 recipients on FreeState’s mailing list, which they accessed without authorization,” it notes. “The post, titled, ‘Whistleblowing: Public Call for the Resignation of the FreeState Board of Directors’ falsely depicts the circumstances surrounding their departure from FreeState by stating that they resigned, without basis alleged that the Board engaged in ethical violations, and likened FreeState’s Board to White Supremacists, claiming they supported white supremacist culture and practices, and were not ‘anti-racist.’ This is false, defamatory, and denigrating of FreeState and its board members, and extraordinarily damaging for a social justice organization.” 

The lawsuit further notes that because “LaMaster did not comply with FreeState’s cease and desist letter, because LaMaster continues to infiltrate FreeState’s systems and accounts, and because LaMaster, after receiving FreeState’s cease and desist letter published a post defaming FreeState, and without authorization, posted it to FreeState’s website, and disseminated it to its mailing list of approximately 43,000 people with his FreeState email address, FreeState has no choice but to seek judicial intervention to prevent further unlawful conduct, and irreparable harm to FreeState.”

“FreeState requests an immediate hearing on this matter,” reads the lawsuit. “It can be reasonably presumed that LaMaster will continue to use FreeState’s proprietary information to interfere with FreeState’s business relations and continue to interfere with FreeState’s possessory interests in its systems and accounts, depriving FreeState personnel of access to the accounts, documents, and files they need to perform their work.”

The Washington Blade has reached out to LaMaster for comment on the lawsuit. 

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