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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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Rehoboth Beach

A busy July 4 weekend in Rehoboth Beach

Del Shores, Lady Bunny, Pamala Stanley and more set to entertain

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Magnolia Applebottom, who performs regularly at Diego’s, is among Rehoboth’s drag stars set to take the stage over the July 4 holiday weekend and beyond. (Washington Blade photo by Daniel Truitt)

As July 4 approaches, another Rehoboth Beach summer is abuzz with possibilities for in-person fun ranging from dinner downtown to live performances featuring local artists.

For starters, stop for dinner at Red, White & Basil. This brand-new restaurant was scheduled open its doors to the Rehoboth community on June 29 after making the move from D.C. to Route 1, where it can be found south of Coldwell Banker and just north of Big Fish. Mark Hunker and Jeff McCracken of Eden and JAM Bistro and Coho’s Market & Grill are behind the new venture.

Diego’s Bar & Nightclub (37298 Rehoboth Ave. Ext.) is entering the July 4 weekend strong. Kick off the new month with a happy hour Friday from 4-8 p.m. On Saturday, don’t miss a Splash Party from 5-7 p.m. or an Independance Party with DJ Steven J from 9:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. all at the same venue.

Come back to the bar on Sunday from 4-8 p.m. for a happy hour followed by a 9:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. Studio 54 Party with DJ Jeff Harrison. Round out your weekend at Diego’s with the show-stopping DJ during the bar’s July 4 Independence Day Dance from 9:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m.

Witness the wonder of local legends Kristina Kelly and Mona Lotts as they perform in a special July 4 drag brunch at The Pines, with doors opening at 56 Baltimore Ave. at 11:15 a.m. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased online. Come back that evening for the Flaming Pianos show featuring local favorites John Flynn and Matthew Kenworthy from 6-9 p.m.

Also at the Pines is Furst Friday happy hour with the Rehoboth Beach Bears on July 1 from 6-8 p.m. That same night, the legendary Del Shores performs “The Tea is Spilled” at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. 

Across the street at Aqua, don’t miss FireWerk with DJ Chord on Friday at 9 p.m.

The Blue Moon (35 Baltimore Ave.) has a robust lineup of entertainment planned, including Show Tunes Sunday on July 3 and Lady Bunny performing on July 4 from 9:30-11 p.m. Tickets are $44. Also at the Moon, don’t miss the talented New York City pianist Nate Buccieri, Monday-Thursday, 6-8:30 p.m.

Freddie’s Beach Bar continues its first summer season with karaoke on Thursdays and Sundays at 8 p.m., Drag Follies show Fridays at 9 p.m., and a DJ dance party on Saturdays at 8 p.m. Freddie’s also hosts the beloved Pamala Stanley on Sunday, July 3 from 6-9 p.m.

Stick around until Friday, July 8 and you can watch local drag star Magnolia Applebottom grace the stage of the Milton Theatre, located at 110 Union St. in Milton, Del. Doors open at 7 p.m., and tickets can be purchased for $20 online.

As visitors from far and wide eagerly await a Rehoboth Beach summer with fewer restrictions, these events will be sure to make everyone’s Independence Day this year is nothing short of spectacular.

Magnolia Applebottom (Washington Blade photo by Daniel Truitt)
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Maryland

Gay, lesbian incumbents, candidates on Md. county ballots

State’s primary is on July 19

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From left: Prince George's County Public Schools Board of Education member Pamela Boozer-Strother, Montgomery County Circuit Court Clerk Karen Bushell, Prince George's County Council candidate Krystal Oriadha (Courtesy photos)

The Washington Blade this week spoke with five openly gay and lesbian candidates who are either running for office or are seeking re-election in Montgomery, Prince George’s and Howard Counties.

Montgomery County Councilman Evan Glass

Montgomery County Councilman Evan Glass. (Photo courtesy of Evan Glass)

Evan Glass serves as the vice president of the Montgomery County Council and as its first openly LGBTQ member. Previously working for 12 years as a CNN journalist, he was first elected in 2018.

Glass told the Blade that running to continue as a member of the Council was rooted in the change that has been able to be made thus far.

“When I first raised the Pride flag in an official manner in 2019, I received a lot of pushback and hate,” Glass said. “But we persisted and have continued expanding Pride events and celebrating our beautiful diversity.”

Since his election, Glass’ initiatives in Montgomery County have included a host of local legislation aimed at promoting and furthering social justice and LGBTQ equality in the county. 

Along with measures, such as the county’s Housing Justice Act and Oversight and Small Business Investment Act, Glass’ efforts led to the Council to pass its Pay Equity Act designed close the gender wage gap by modifying how the county determines salaries for employees. He also worked to spearhead the passage of the county’s LGBTQ Bill of Rights, which expanded its anti-discrimination code to include gender expression and HIV status and ban discrimination in areas such as healthcare facilities, nursing homes and personal care facilities.

As he makes his bid for reelection later this summer, Glass said that he hopes to expand on the accomplishments he has been able to make so far.

“I’m proud of my work to create more affordable housing, to make our buses free for all youth, and to keep our residents healthy and safe during the pandemic,” Glass said. “These efforts haven’t been easy, but they are critical to fostering a more fair and equitable community.”

Montgomery County Circuit Court Clerk Karen Bushell

Montgomery County Circuit Court Karen Bushell (Photo courtesy of Karen Bushell)

Karen Bushell grew up in the Midwest before moving to the D.C. area in 1985, where she met her wife in 1995. Bushell had four children and her wife had two children when they met, and according to Bushell, “we had a very, very busy house.” 

Bushell started serving in the judiciary in 2001 — as an HR associate, and then as a judicial assistant for many years. When Barbara Michael retired as Clerk of the Court in April 2021, Bushell was appointed to the position, making her the first openly LGBTQ person to hold it. 

The Clerk of the Court serves as an independent record keeper of what happens in the courts, and Bushell described the clerk’s role as primarily that of a public servant. 

“I love my job; I love being part of the judiciary. Being a public servant, it’s always good to know at the end of the day, that you help somebody,” Bushell said. “I think being a public servant is something that is important to me, so that is one of the reasons that that I’m running.”

Prince George’s County Public Schools Board of Education member Pamela Boozer-Strother

Prince George’s County Public Schools Board of Education member Pamela Boozer-Strother (Photo courtesy of Pamela Boozer-Strother)

Pamela Boozer-Strother first became involved in LGBTQ and reproductive rights advocacy in the late 1980s as part of what was then called the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. During the decade she spent working with NLGJA; she worked towards inclusive workplace policies, fair and accurate news coverage of LGBTQ issues, and domestic partner benefits. 

After living in Adams Morgan for years, Boozer-Strother moved to Prince George’s County with her spouse Margaret, where they adopted a child and built a life together. Boozer-Strother first became involved in the school system when her son started attending public school in Prince George’s County, and in 2018 she ran for the Board of Education and won. 

“I had an opportunity to make a difference by being visible, and finding other gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender families and staff — and ultimately, students — and helping to build that network of support,” Boozer-Strother said. “It’s taken some time; I ran for the board in 2018 as an out candidate and I won, and I am thrilled to live in a community that saw that as an asset.”

Boozer-Strother has worked extensively on school construction, educational equity policy, LGBTQ-inclusive curricula and the board’s climate change action plan.

“Of course, I focused in on the relevance of my representation and my skills and background that I could bring to [my platform.] But really, I got into this because of school construction,” Boozer-Strother said. “I’m really proud to say that, as of today, seven projects that serve District 3 students are fully funded.”

Prince George’s County Council candidate Krystal Oriadha

Krystal Oriadha (Photo courtesy of Krystal Oriadha)

Krystal Oriadha studied business at Howard University before getting an MBA and working at Hewlitt-Packard. After a few years with HP, Oriadha moved back to the DMV area, where she said that “I wanted to use my skill set to help people and make an impact.” 

Oriadha has now been a community organizer and advocate for more than 12 years — she worked with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on human trafficking prevention, reproductive healthcare, domestic violence campaigns and tribal nations issues for about four years before she made her first run for office, for the same seat for which she is running now. Although Oriadha lost that election by 30 votes, she became the new council member’s policy director, which gave her the chance to work on making legislation as a staffer.

“I think I learned that I wanted to be the principal even more, because they had the ability to make deals, cancel what I thought was really good legislation,” Oriadha said. “It’s really different when you’re the person that gets the make that last call — that’s the difference between having a seat at the table and being outside of the room when decisions are being made.”

Oriadha currently serves as the executive director of PG Change Makers, a local nonprofit she co-founded after returning to Prince George’s County to do community work in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder. Although she was not initially planning to run for office again, Oriadha said that she is doing so at the request of her community.

“I was not planning on running again because it is a lot of work and I never really cared about being elected, but the community is asking me to, so I decided to go ahead and give it another try,” Oriadha said.

Oriadha said that proudly representing all aspects of her identity is a crucial part of her campaign.

“When I first ran, there was a lot of talk about how not to talk about the LGBTQ+ part, because I’m straight presenting. And for me, what was so important is that I made it very clear who I am, and that I didn’t shy away or hide that part of myself, because to me, you’re not breaking the [glass] ceiling if people don’t even know the ceiling existed. I think that we’ve never had an openly elected LGBTQ+ person sit on our County Council before,” Oriadha said.

“I think what this will show is that you can run and be yourself and it won’t cost you anything. I think that’s what is so important about this election.”

Howard County Register of Wills Byron Macfarlane

Byron Macfarlane, gay news, Washington Blade
Howard County Register of Wills Byron Macfarlane (Washington Blade photo by Drew Brown)

Howard County Register of Wills Byron Macfarlane has served in the position since 2010 and was the first openly LGBTQ person elected in Howard County.

Along with his involvement in a plethora of state and local groups and organizations and being admitted to the state bar association, Macfarlane gained experience working for multiple prominent lawyers and politicians including County Councilman Guy Guzzone, Circuit Court Judge Richard Bernhardt, state Sen. Edward Kasemeyer and the late-U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.)

During his tenure in office, Macfarlane has made supporting the LGBTQ community an integral facet of his identity as a public official and a fellow citizen. 

“Queer kids see the hate coming from the dark corners of our community,” Macfarlane wrote on Twitter. “They need to hear from us — from you — that we love and support every one of them.”

Since being elected, Macfarlane has overseen a number of reforms implemented in the Register’s office, including modernization of its technological aspects and a cut on taxpayer expenditures for antiquated procedures. Modernizing the Register’s office and leading on reform, while also being receptive to his constituents, Macfarlane has said, have been some of his top priorities.

“I’ve proven myself as a reliable and responsive figure in our local government, that I’ve been extremely effective delivering meaningful reform, and that now more than ever our community needs steady, forward-looking leadership they can trust,” Macfarlane told the Blade. “I’m running for re-election because representation matters, because I want to continue serving the public with professionalism, compassion, and fairness, and because I want to continue pushing reforms to make probate faster, fairer and less expensive for Marylanders.”

Editor’s note: Somerset Mayor Jeffrey Slavin, who is openly gay, won re-election on May 10.

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West Virginia

Eastern Panhandle Pride brings celebration to rural W.Va.

‘Martinsburg is an inclusive city’

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A scene from Eastern Panhandle Pride on June 4. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Smiling faces spilled into downtown Martinsburg, W.Va., on June 4, welcomed by booths swathed in rainbow colors lining the road.

The historic sight marked the first time that Martinsburg welcomed an official Pride celebration to its streets — but not all residents viewed the new event favorably. As the celebration came into full swing, two protesters marched straight to its center, carrying a sign with homophobic slurs and a seven-foot cross.

The protest quickly turned the heads of passersby. As more and more people approached the demonstration, a group of more than 30 attendees formed a circle around the protesters, separating them from the event. Some joined hands and, attempting to drown out the protesters’ hatred, chanted: “Love wins!”

When Joe Merceruio began working at Eastern Panhandle Pride nine years ago, he set out to help unite the community of West Virginia’s easternmost region, working with fellow organizers to create Pride celebrations in a Shepherdstown park.

But when assuming the role of president in 2019, he never anticipated that just three years later, the organization would be invited by the mayor of the panhandle’s largest city to throw a celebration in the Berkeley County, W.Va. seat. “We’ve never had a city reach out to us and ask us to do Pride, it was always the other way around,” he explained.

Born and raised in Martinsburg, Merceruio was moved by the way his community came together at this year’s Pride celebration. After two years of restricted celebrations due to public health concerns, seeing so many people celebrate in person, including many allies, was deeply meaningful, he noted.

Beth Roemer, who helped organize this year’s festivities, said she was especially proud of the way her community peacefully organized against the protesters — especially those young people she credited with leading the charge. The group was “surrounding them in a very passive way so that they couldn’t do any more damage,” she recalled.

Participating in Pride each year has shown Merceruio and Roemer alike the ways their community is changing, fueled by advocacy from LGBTQ individuals and allies within it.

Berkeley County is known for being more conservative, which meant that Roemer “wasn’t sure” exactly “how far we had come” in accepting the LGBTQ community. But her hopes for inclusivity were quickly realized when she saw how many people supported this year’s celebration.

“We had a local business downtown reach out to Joe and I, and he said he just never believed in a million years that we could have Pride downtown,” she added. “He was super happy.”

According to Merceruio, Pride offers an opportunity for community building especially important to rural West Virginians.

“I think you can let the stereotype of West Virginia interfere with the reality of the West Virginia that’s really out there,” he explained. “There is ignorance, there is hatred, but there’s also a tremendous amount of love and support.”

“It really gives people who want a community a chance to see that there is a community in Martinsburg,” Roemer said. At this year’s celebration, Roemer added that she met an 18-year-old woman who was able to attend Pride for the first time after her parents did not support her desire to go growing up. “She goes, ‘Now I have a community,’” Roemer recalled.

As an organization that serves a primarily rural region, Eastern Panhandle Pride operates differently from many Pride organizations in major cities. Merceruio noted that there are some challenges associated with organizing Pride in a rural area, like receiving less attention from sponsors and having to work harder to find and provide resources.

Still, Merceruio said rural Pride celebrations have a certain charm that major Pride celebrations cannot always replicate.

“I have people that have texted me and said, ‘We’re so excited to do this, our 11-year-old daughter has been waiting for this,’” he explained. “I think you get more of a family atmosphere in rural areas.”

Some of Merceruio’s favorite moments from this year’s Pride included this type of “personal interaction” with community members, he added. “I guess that’s a bit more of what you get from a smaller town for Pride.”

At this year’s Pride, Martinsburg Mayor Kevin Knowles spoke directly to attendees, welcoming the celebration to the city’s streets and reading a proclamation officially recognizing June 2022 as Pride month for the city.

“Martinsburg is an inclusive city. We include everybody, no matter where they come from or what they do,” Knowles said at the event. “The city of Martinsburg is moving forward.”

In the near future, Eastern Panhandle Pride hopes to continue to offer programming for the local LGBTQ community and its allies, and to further support community needs through advocacy. For Merceruio, this work is an important part of giving back to the place he calls home.

“I love being from West Virginia. Our culture and our society and our neighbors,” Merceruio said. “It’s got its problems, but it is awesome.”

See photos from the event here!

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