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Gay men arrested under Md. sodomy law in adult bookstore raid

Attorney says prosecutors enforcing unconstitutional measure

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Police in Harford County arrested nine men at an adult bookstore in May.

Harford County, Md., Sheriff’s Office deputies arrested four men on a charge of Perverted Sexual Practice under the state’s sodomy law during a May 20 raid on the Bush River Books & Video store in the town of Abington, located 25 miles north of Baltimore.

A statement released by the Sheriff’s Office to the Washington Blade, at the Blade’s request, says a total of nine arrests were made during the May 20 “operation,” which the statement says was prompted by complaints about the adult store by nearby residents and some of its patrons.

According to the statement, among the nine men arrested, three were charged only with Perverted Sexual Practice, one was charged with Perverted Sexual Practice and Indecent Exposure, four were charged only with indecent exposure, and one was charged with Solicitation of Prostitution.

A friend of one of the arrested men told the Blade that his friend rented one of the store’s private video rooms and was with another male friend inside the room when sheriff’s deputies “in full riot gear unlocked his room and arrested him and his friend” on a charge of indecent exposure.

“They spent the night in jail and were badly treated,” said the friend who spoke with the Blade.

A sign on the outside of the Bush River Books & Video store says the store has four theaters on its premises. Sources familiar with the store have said it also charges a fee to rent small video rooms with doors that lock from the inside, where adult videos can be viewed on small video screens.

The store’s owner did not respond to a request by the Blade for comment.

Attorney Greg Nevins, who serves as senior counsel for the national LGBTQ litigation organization Lambda Legal, said the 2003 U.S. Supreme Court decision known as Lawrence v. Texas struck down state sodomy laws like the Maryland law as unconstitutional pertaining to consenting adults in a private setting.

Aside from the Supreme Court ruling, the Maryland General Assembly last year approved legislation repealing the state’s sodomy law known as the Maryland Unnatural or Perverted Sexual Practice Act.

But Nevins said the online legal reference site WestLaw, which keeps track of state laws throughout the country, shows that the Maryland Perverted Sexual Practice Act was still on the books, leading him to speculate that only part of the law may have been repealed.

The Maryland General Assembly is currently in recess and the Blade couldn’t immediately reach a spokesperson for lawmakers who worked on the repeal bill to confirm whether all or just part of the sodomy law was repealed.

Nevins said a subsequent ruling in 2013 handed down by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, which includes Maryland and Virginia, reconfirmed the Supreme Court’s Lawrence decision. He said the 2013 ruling “declared that all laws that have as their only element the act of oral or anal sex are facially unconstitutional” and should not be enforced under circumstances similar to the Maryland bookstore arrests.

“There are cases around the country discussing whether certain areas are private, usually focusing on whether the participants had a reasonable expectation of privacy,” Nevins said. He noted that the Supreme Court’s Lawrence decision and subsequent appeals court rulings have considered claims by police and prosecutors that court rulings overturning sodomy laws should not be interpreted to allow sexual activity in public places.

But Nevins said a strong legal case could be made that a private video room with a locked door such as the ones at Bush River Books and Video store should hold the same degree of presumed privacy as that of a rented hotel room.

A spokesperson for Harford County State’s Attorney Albert J. Peisinger, who serves as the county’s lead prosecutor, said his office would have no comment on whether prosecutors or the Sheriff’s Office have legal authority to make arrests and prosecute cases on the charge of Perverted Sexual Practice if that statute was repealed or struck down as unconstitutional.

“It is the policy of this office to make no comment on pending matters of investigations, including any underlying legal theories,” said spokesperson Gavin Patashnick. “That said, I would be happy to have a more substantive discussion regarding the bookstore once these cases have concluded,” he said.

Patashnick also declined to say whether his office dropped charges against two of the nine men arrested in the bookstore raid, whose cases could not be found in the online court records for the Harford County District Court, where the cases for six of the nine arrested men have appeared.

Of the six cases the Blade found in the online court records, just one was for the charge of Perverted Sexual Practice. The court records show that each of the six men whose cases were found in the online records, including the man charged with Perverted Sexual Practice, were scheduled to go on trial on Aug. 2 for their respective charges, which are misdemeanors.

Bradley Clark, an attorney for the Harford County Public Defender’s office who is representing one of the arrested men charged with indecent exposure, told the Blade that arrests of defendants that do not appear in the public court records usually indicate the case was dropped by prosecutors or dismissed by a judge.

Clark agreed with Nevins that the men charged in the bookstore raid with Perverted Sexual Practice should have a strong legal case to challenge the arrests under the Lawrence Supreme Court ruling and other court rulings declaring sodomy laws unconstitutional.

The statement released to the Blade by Harford County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Kyle Andersen, in contrast to the State’s Attorney’s office, provided considerable details in support of the arrests.

“In the past several months, we have received an increased number of concerns and allegations of a wide variety of illegal activity occurring at Bush River Books and Video in the 3900 block of Pulaski Highway in Abingdon from citizens and patrons of the business,” the statement says.

“We take all citizen concerns seriously, and there is an active investigation into these concerns,” the statement continues. “Recently, members of our Special Operations Division have taken part in a handful of operations at that location, in an attempt to curb these illegal activities. On May 20, 2021, such an operation occurred,” it says.

“During that operation, an undercover deputy entered the premises and observed a variety of illegal sexual activities that were occurring on the premises,” the statement says. “Additionally, an additional undercover female deputy was approached and solicited for prostitution. At the conclusion of the operation, nine individuals were charged,” the statement concludes.

An online search using the name of the Bush River Books and Video store leads to media reports, including a January 2012 article in the Baltimore Sun, showing the store has been the target of law enforcement crackdowns for at least a decade. The 2012 Sun story reports that a Catholic priest was among the men arrested at the store during one of the 2012 Sheriff’s Office raids.

A search by the Blade also led to an online petition posted on the Change.com website calling on Harford County Executive Barry Glassman and the Harford County Council to “shut down” Bush River Books and Video store on grounds that “illegal activity” takes place there.

“We are asking the county to charge the owners of the store with the crimes that are being allowed to continue there, and to shut down this nuisance to our neighborhood,” said Abingdon resident Heather Cantos, who states in the web posting that she started the petition.

One of the arrested gay men, who spoke to the Blade on condition that he not be identified, said he was aware that the store has been the subject of law enforcement crackdowns in the past.

“But, you know, I went inside and was hooking up with someone and the next thing I know, eight of us were against the wall with handcuffs with plastic zip ties on them,” he said. “And we all spent the night in jail. I was released at like six o’clock in the morning,” he said.

He added, “I don’t know why people have a problem with this. We go there to meet people like us.”

Jeremy LaMaster, executive director of the Maryland statewide LGBTQ advocacy group Free State Justice, said he was not aware of the Bush River Books & Video arrests until contacted about the arrests by the Blade. He said Free State Justice would consider what, if any action, the organization might take in response to the reports that gay men were being arrested and prosecuted on sodomy related charges.

Upper Chesapeake Bay Pride, an organization that, according to its website, “provides unwavering advocacy and support for queer (LGBTQIA+ people, communities, and their families in Cecil and Harford counties,” did not reply to messages left by the Blade seeking comment on the arrests of gay men at the adult bookstore.

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2021 Best of LGBTQ DC Readers’ Choice Award Finalist Voting

Vote for your favorite finalist in our 2021 Best of LGBTQ DC categories through October 3rd.

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It is Decision 2021! You nominated and now we have our Top 5 finalists. Vote for your favorites in our 2021 Best of LGBTQ DC categories through October 3rd. Our 2021 Best of LGBTQ DC will be announced at the Best of LGBTQ DC Awards Party on October 21st and our special issue will come out on Friday, October 22nd.

Thank you to our sponsors: ABSOLUT, PEPCO, Washington Regional Transplant Community.

Vote below or by clicking HERE.

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Veteran restauranteurs to open Drift in Rehoboth

Second Block Hospitality eyes 2022 debut for new raw bar

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Double L, Diego's Hideaway, Fourth, Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, gay news, Washington Blade
A new raw bar is coming to Baltimore Avenue in Rehoboth. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Despite the generally anti-business positions of the current Rehoboth Beach Mayor and some members of the Rehoboth Beach Commission, there are still some entrepreneurs who have faith in Rehoboth Beach.

One such group is the newly announced Second Block Hospitality Group, which brings together local industry leaders Lion Gardner, Tyler Townsend, Bob Suppies, and David Gonce.

According to the partners, “The mission of Second Block Hospitality is simple…to deliver exceptional hospitality. Second Block projects will be designed to become places that matter; that bring the community together. They aim to create unique spaces that foster positivity, a creative atmosphere, and memorable experiences. Driven by this philosophy we are thoughtful in everything we do, down to the smallest detail. In all our endeavors we are committed to crafting unique guest experiences through innovative design, authentic flavors, and warm hospitality.”

Their first new venture, Drift, will be a raw bar and dining room on Baltimore Avenue. The new project, already underway, is a massive restoration designed to transform the existing building, originally built in 1890 and used as a camp meeting house, into a modern structure with historic charm. Drift restaurant will feature a refined design, open airy spaces and lots of glass for open vantage points with an indoor/outdoor bar area and intimate back patio that will add to the allure of Baltimore Avenue.

“We could not be more excited to be breaking ground on another passion project,” said Suppies. “Coming through the last year brought many new challenges to our industry, but we were able to get very creative and grow as a company, so this new venture is very exciting for us.”

Another of the partners, Gardner, brings his skill set as a longtime chef to the new venture.

“One of my roles in the company will be to oversee the menu and kitchen at Drift and all of our projects moving forward,” Gardner said. “The great thing about our ownership group is that even though each partner has his own area of expertise, there is collaboration across the board; we are all involved in all aspects of the business. I am excited to learn and contribute in other areas as well, and luckily for me I’m working with a group of really talented, experienced and passionate guys.”

Drift is slated to open sometime in early 2022, and things are in full swing for the new restaurant owners, including menu planning. Townsend said, “Drift will be a true raw bar focusing on the art of raw seafood and not just oysters, along with traditionally prepared dishes influenced by the sea. From a beverage standpoint we will feature craft cocktails and eccentric wine and beer offerings. Think small and intimate, rustic and classic, yet casual with a focus on culinary inventiveness and creative spaces.” and good times. For more information visit driftrb.com.

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McAuliffe participates in Virginia Pride roundtable

Gubernatorial candidate highlighted plans to keep Va. ‘open and welcoming’

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Terry McAuliffe, gay news, Washington Blade
(Washington Blade photo by Lee Whitman)

Terry McAuliffe on Monday met with Virginia Pride in Richmond to discuss his plans to keep the state “open and welcoming” for the LGBTQ community.

“Great opportunity to speak with @VA_Pride in Richmond this AM,” McAuliffe tweeted following the roundtable that took place at Diversity Richmond’s headquarters. “VA is the #1 state for business because we are open and welcoming — but that’s all at risk this November. Glenn Youngkin’s far-right social agenda would harm LGBTQ+ Virginians and send our economy into a ditch.”

McAuliffe and Youngkin are running a close race for the governorship, according to a Washington Post-Schar School poll released Saturday that shows the former Virginia governor leading by a 50-47 percent margin among likely voters.

The Human Rights Campaign endorsed McAuliffe, who was governor from 2014-2018, for his record of supporting LGBTQ rights, including supporting marriage equality and signing an executive order prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQ state employees as his first action in office. 

“LGBTQ leaders in Richmond had a great meeting with Gov. McAuliffe where he was able to lay out his agenda for building on the tremendous progress Virginia has made towards equality,” said Virginia Pride Program Director James Millner in an email to the Washington Blade. “The governor talked extensively about his record on LGBTQ issues and promised to work with us to ensure that every LGBTQ Virginian is able to live openly and authentically.”

McAuliffe’s legacy includes welcoming businesses turned off by North Carolina’s passage of its anti-transgender “bathroom bill.” 

When North Carolina’s House Bill 2, a law requiring students to use public restrooms and locker rooms aligned with the gender on their birth certificates, took effect in 2016, McAullife recruited CoStar, a real estate information company that operates databases for Apartments.com, ApartmentFinder.com and similar companies, to move its headquarters to Richmond. This recruitment brought 730 jobs to the state.

David Dorsch, a senior vice president at Cushman and Wakefield, which represented CoStar nationally, told the Charlotte Business Journal that CoStar’s primary reason for choosing “Richmond over Charlotte was HB 2.”

Youngkin is a former business executive who previously ran the Carlyle Group, a private equity firm named by the HRC in 2019 as a “Best Place to Work for LGBTQ Equality” in its annual Corporate Equality Index. HRC, however, has called out Youngkin for “anti-LGBTQ and transphobic language” during his current campaign.

McAuliffe in April released an LGBTQ rights platform that includes a call to repeal the so-called “conscience clause,” which allows religious-based adoption agencies to discriminate against same-sex couples.

Governor Ralph Northam, who was McAuliffe’s former lieutenant governor and has signed historic LGBTQ-inclusive legislation during his time in office, also endorsed McAuliffe for governor.

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