August 3, 2015 at 10:40 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Equality Maryland to remain open, curtail operations

Maryland State House, gay news, Washington Blade

Equality Maryland maintains it will still be able to advocate on behalf of the state’s LGBT residents in Annapolis after it’s board on Aug. 2, 2015, voted to curtail operations amid a growing budget shortfall. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Members of the Equality Maryland board of directors on Sunday voted to curtail the organization’s operations amid a growing budget shortfall.

Equality Maryland in a statement said the board elected a transitional board that Larry Jacobs will chair. Rabbi Stephanie Bernstein will chair the Equality Maryland Foundation’s board of directors, while Keith Thirion will remain the organization’s acting director and only full-time staff member.

A board member donated office space after Equality Maryland closed its Baltimore location on July 31.

“Yesterday the directors of Equality Maryland voted to continue the organization’s work to improve the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Marylanders,” said Equality Maryland in a statement it released on Monday. “This move comes after Equality Maryland admitted its financial difficulties, and heard a strong response identifying many needs left to be addressed in achieving legal equality and reducing anti-LGBT prejudice and discrimination.”

Jacobs was president of the board of directors of Free State Justice, which became Equality Maryland, in 2001 when lawmakers approved a bill that added sexual orientation to the state’s anti-discrimination law.

He told the Washington Blade on Monday the board plans to “sound people out” in the coming weeks about Equality Maryland’s future. Jacobs said it also hopes to raise between $35,000 and $50,000 between now and the end of the year in order to have a “war chest” going into the 2016 Legislative session.

“I didn’t believe that we could just rest on our laurels and say, well Equality Maryland was great in its day and it got us marriage,” Jacobs told the Blade. “It was extremely important to keep the organization alive.”

Bernstein and then-Equality Maryland Foundation Chair Isabella Firth announced in late June that a growing budget shortfall could have forced the organization to close its doors. They pointed to a decrease in funding after Maryland voters upheld the state’s same-sex marriage law and the state’s transgender rights statute that took effect last October as reasons for the potential shutdown.

The financial crisis prompted the organization to lay off Carrie Evans, who had been Equality Maryland’s executive director since November 2011. The former Human Rights Campaign staffer took the helm of the organization a few months after then-Executive Director Morgan Meneses-Sheets’ termination.

Love Makes a Family of Connecticut in 2009 dissolved after same-sex couples won marriage rights in the state. Freedom to Marry plans to close in the coming months after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Obergefell case that gays and lesbians have the constitutional right to marry throughout the country.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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