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Lesbian judges seek election in Baltimore

‘Community can count on all of us for fair treatment in our courts’

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Audrey Carrión, gay news, Washington Blade
Audrey Carrión, gay news, Washington Blade

Judges Audrey Carrión and Shannon Avery are running for a 15-year term. (Photo courtesy Carrión and Avery)

While much attention is being focused on Baltimore’s mayoral and City Council contests, another important race is taking place that impacts the city’s LGBT community. Six sitting judges on the Circuit Court, running as a slate, are seeking election for a term of 15 years. Their names will be on the ballot on April 26. They preside over the different cases that come to Circuit Court, including criminal, civil, family (divorce, child custody, adoptions) and juvenile.

Two of these judges are out lesbians: Shannon E. Avery and Audrey J.S. Carrión. The other four — Michael DiPietro, Karen C. Friedman, Wanda Keyes Heard and Cynthia H. Jones — have also demonstrated fairness toward LGBT Marylanders.

For example, Judge Friedman is well known for an opinion she wrote when she was a judge in the orphans’ court in which she broke ground in respecting the wishes of a same-sex couple prior to marriage equality.

“Judge DiPietro’s brother is an out gay man,” Avery told the Blade.  “Judges Jones and Heard have demonstrated values of fairness and equality to LGBT people. We all marched in the Pride parade last summer.”

She added, “While Audrey Carrión and I have a particular interest to the community, we can vouch for the whole ticket. The LGBT community can count on all of us for fair and equal treatment in our courts.”

Avery, who was appointed by Gov. Martin O’Malley to the District Court in August 2010 and then to the Circuit Court in February 2014, has a long record of pro-LGBT activism since 1989. Aside from being on numerous boards and commissions and serving as an adviser to several elected officials, Avery is the past president of the FreeState Legal Project. She was co-chair of the Baltimore Justice Campaign that secured domestic partnership benefits for Baltimore City employees.

Avery spearheaded a police advisory board for LGBT issues, as well as an LGBT youth advocacy board that is now known as the Youth Equality Alliance (YEA!). She is currently a member of the International Association of LGBT Judges and works as an adjunct professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law.

Judge Carrión, a fellow of the Maryland Bar Foundation and the Baltimore City Bar Association Foundation, has been a member of the Maryland Hispanic Bar Association since 1993. Carrión was appointed to both the District Court and Circuit Court by Gov. Parris Glendening. She currently sits on the Civil Docket of the court and is the director of the Business and Technology Case Management Program, which covers complex civil business matters.

“For approximately six years I was the judge in charge of our family division and in that role I created an atmosphere that was welcoming to our LGBT families,” Carrión told the Blade.  “I approved hundreds of same-sex second parents’ adoptions and included same-sex families in our annual adoption month celebration in November. It has always been important to me that LGBT families be treated with respect.”

Carrión added, “When I sat as the drug court judge in the Juvenile Division I made sure that the counselors who worked with our youth were sensitive to LGBT issues. Every year for the past 10 years I’ve taught the diversity section of the new judges’ orientation in which among other topics I cover LGBT subjects.”

Avery said it is important to have out lesbians and gay men represented in the judiciary because people need to see that the judiciary represents a fair cross-section of the population.

“It contributes to the legitimacy and sense of fairness of the courts,” she said. “We are really proud of the diversity of the six sitting judges who are running in 2016.”

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Local

LGBTQ seniors celebrated at Silver Pride

Community gathers for games, resource fair and tea dance

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Rayceen Pendarvis serves as the emcee for Silver Pride on June 20. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

“Joy in Justice” was the theme for this year’s Silver Pride celebration of seniors in the LGBTQ community. The event was hosted by Rayceen Pendarvis at the Pepco Edison Place Gallery (702 8th St., N.W.) on Thursday, June 20, and included a number of games, booths from vendors, and a tea dance. Sponsors included AARP of the District of Columbia; East River Family Strengthening Collaborative, Inc.; Anybill; Team Rayceen Productions and the Capital Pride Alliance. Music was provided by DJ Alex Love.

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Local

Camp Free2Be helping trans youth find community

‘A space where it’s completely safe to be their authentic selves’

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(Courtesy Camp Free2Be)

In 2019, Elizabeth Erion wished that her trans daughter had an opportunity to create community with other trans kids in the area.

“I knew there were a few sleep-away camps for gender-expansive youth, but they were too far away, and financially out of reach for our family,” Erion said. 

So she worked with another parent of a trans teen and formed Camp Free2Be. It started as a weeklong camp with eight campers and six junior counselors. This year, the camp will serve more than 60 campers. 

Erion said that queer students may have limited opportunities to meet students who are like them, which makes the work Camp Free2Be does so important. With the recent spike in anti-LGBTQ legislation around the country, a recent survey revealed that nearly half of trans youth feel unsafe in school.

“Camps like ours offer trans and nonbinary youth a space where it’s completely safe to be their authentic selves; to wear clothes they might not normally feel able to wear; to try out a new name or pronouns; to meet other kids who know exactly what it’s like to be gender diverse.”

To continue to build queer youth community, the camp is led by junior counselors from 15-18, who are also trans or non-binary. Applications are still being accepted with a June 23 deadline. Counselors who participate in both weeks of the camp will receive a $150 stipend for their participation. 

“[Junior counselors] serve as role models for our younger campers, while also making friends and developing leadership skills.”

This day camp is located in Arlington, in walking distance from the Metro. Campers will engage in STEM, arts and crafts, outdoor games, theater, and more at the camp. Once a day, the entire camp gathers for a lesson on LGBTQ history. 

“These are lessons our youth probably won’t be given in school, and they are important in showing them that they are part of a larger community with a rich history.”

For Erion, the most rewarding parts of the camp are the unscheduled and spontaneous conversations she overhears from campers. 

“While doing arts and crafts or playing board games, they will casually talk about issues unique to growing up trans or nonbinary. They are learning from each other and finding out that they have shared experiences.” she said. 

One of the best parts of the camp is that it will cost parents nothing. Camp Free2Be is in partnership with SMYAL to make the camp free for campers and junior counselors. 

This year, camp will run through two back-to-back weeks, July 15-19 and July 22-26. Registration closes June 23 and can be found at campfree2be.org. If you have already planned your summer, be on the lookout in January 2025 for summer 2025 registration.

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Virginia

Suspect in 1996 murder of lesbian couple in Shenandoah National Park identified

Convicted serial rapist died in prison in 2018

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Laura 'Lollie' Winans and Julianne 'Julie' Williams (Photo courtesy of the FBI)

The FBI has identified a then-48-year-old man from Ohio who it describes as a convicted serial rapist as the person it believes committed the May 1996 murder of a lesbian couple at their campsite in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.

In a statement released on June 20, the FBI says newly analyzed DNA evidence and an extensive review of other evidence surrounding the 28-year-old murder case has enabled it to identify Walter Leo Jackson, Sr., as the prime suspect in the murders of Laura “Lollie” Winans, 26, and Julianne “Julie” Williams, 24. 

The FBI statement says the two women’s bodies were found on June 1, 1996, after an extensive search by rangers with the National Park Service after family members reported them missing. 

“In 2021, a new FBI Richmond investigative team was assigned to conduct a methodic review of the case,” the statement says. “FBI special agents, intelligence analysts, and other FBI Richmond employees reassessed hundreds of leads and interviews,” according to the statement. “They spent countless hours to identify and prioritize evidence from the crime scene to retest and submit the items to an accredited private lab.”

It says the lab successfully extracted DNA from several items of evidence and, with help from Virginia State Police, and through the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System a positive DNA match to Jackson was obtained. 

“Those results confirmed we had the right man and finally could tell the victim’s families we know who is responsible for this heinous crime,” Stanley M. Meador, the FBI Richmond special agent in charge, said in the statement. 

“After 28 years, we are now able to say who committed the brutal murders of Lollie Winans and Julie Williams in Shenandoah National Park,” U.S. Attorney Christopher R. Kavanaugh said in the statement. “I want to again extend my condolences to the Winans and Williams families and hope today’s announcement provides some small measure of solace,” he said. 

The FBI statement says Jackson, who died in prison in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, in March 2018, had a lengthy criminal record that included kidnapping, rapes, and assaults. It says Jackson worked as a residential painter and “was an avid hiker and was known to visit Shenandoah National Park.”

Walter Leo Jackson, Sr. (Photo courtesy of the FBI)

The FBI has stated in past statements regarding the two women’s murders that it did not have evidence to classify the murders as a hate crime in which Jackson targeted the women because of their sexual orientation. 

Media reports at the time of the murders identified Williams as a native of Minnesota who moved to Vermont, where she helped form a group supportive of LGBTQ people with a Presbyterian church ministry. Winans was a wilderness guide in Michigan and met Williams through an outdoor program in Minnesota called “Woodswomen,” media reports said. 

A report in the Advocate published before the FBI’s identification of Jackson as the man responsible for the women’s murders, said the two women had been dating for about two years before their murders. It reported they had planned to move in together that summer to a home in Huntington, Vt., and that Williams had recently accepted a new job as a geologist at a location near Lake Champlain in Vermont. 

“The FBI will continue to work with law enforcement partners to determine if Jackson is responsible for other unsolved crimes,” the FBI’s June 20 statement says. “Anyone with information on Jackson should call 1-800-CALL FBI or submit it online at tips.fbi.gov,” the statement concludes.

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