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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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Monika Nemeth to run for Ward 3 D.C. Council seat

First known trans elected official in city

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ANC Rainbow Caucus, Monika Nemeth, gay news, Washington Blade
Monika Nemeth, the first known trans person to win election to public office in D.C., is running for Council.

Ward 3 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Monika Nemeth, who became the first known transgender person to win election to public office in D.C. when she won her ANC seat in 2018, says she plans to run as a Democrat for the Ward 3 D.C. Council seat currently held by incumbent Democrat Mary Cheh.

Nemeth is a former president of D.C.’s Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, which recently changed its name to the Capital Stonewall Democrats. She currently serves as chair of the ANC Rainbow Caucus, which advocates for LGBTQ issues. She holds the seat for ANC 3F 06, which represents the neighborhoods of North Cleveland Park and Wakefield.

Nemeth’s LinkedIn page says she has worked for more than 25 years in the Information Technology field. She says she currently manages a team of software developers for an IT company.

“Yes, I am planning a run for Ward 3 D.C. Council in 2022,” Nemeth told the Washington Blade. “I will be running as a Democrat, so I plan to be on the Democratic primary ballot,” she said. “I will pursue the public finance option for my campaign.”

When asked what she would do differently from Cheh, who is a longtime supporter of LGBTQ rights and who is expected to run for re-election, Nemeth said only that she will announce her platform at the time she formally announces her candidacy, which she expects to happen in early September.

Cheh was first elected to the D.C. Council in 2006. She is an attorney and tenured professor of constitutional law at George Washington University Law School.

The Washington City Paper has reported that at least one other candidate is considering running against Cheh for the Ward 3 Council seat – Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority attorney Petar Dimtchev. Dimtchev received the Washington Post endorsement when he ran unsuccessfully against Cheh in 2018 as an independent, according to the City Paper.

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UDC hit with anti-trans discrimination complaint

University accused of misgendering student

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Emma Alexandra accuses UDC of misgendering her and outing her to fellow students and faculty. (Photo courtesy Alexandra)

A female transgender student at the University of the District of Columbia on Aug. 2 filed a discrimination complaint against the university on grounds that it is violating the city’s Human Rights Act by continuing to use her legal name on school documents and class enrollment lists unless she obtains a legal name change.

Emma K. Alexandra, 28, a part-time student who was admitted to UDC in April, states in her complaint filed with the D.C. Office of Human Rights that she informed UDC officials that she was not ready to immediately undertake a legal name change. She states in her complaint that she has repeatedly asked that her chosen name alone be used on all documents and student lists that can be viewed by fellow students and professors.

She said she understands that her legal name may be needed for legal admissions and academic transcript related documents. But to her dismay, Alexandra told the Washington Blade, UDC officials put in place what they consider a compromise position that identifies her on all public university documents and student class lists by both her legal name and her chosen name.

She said the university began and currently continues to identify her by her male legal name with her preferred name written next to her legal name inside parentheses in this way: Legal First Name (preferred name Emma); Legal last name (preferred name Alexandra).

“This is an egregious solution,” Alexandra told UDC President Ronald Mason Jr. in a July 4 email. “This is the name that appears everywhere now,” she wrote Mason. “Most notable, it’s the name that was displayed to my fellow students and professor during the class I took this summer on Blackboard,” she said, which is an online site like Zoom on which UDC conducts classes.

“This effectively outed me as trans to every other student and my professor,” she told Mason. “I assume the same will continue when I go to campus in the fall and get an ID. My ID will have this name and out me to everyone I show it to,” she wrote. “This is completely unacceptable, disrespectful and dangerous.”

Alexandra said she currently works full time as a Web Application Architect for Bloomberg Industry Group as part of its News Engineering team. She said the company is fully accepting of her using her chosen name without obtaining a legal name change. She said she has enrolled at UDC to take courses she needs to qualify for applying to medical school to fulfill her dream of becoming a psychiatrist.  

Under longstanding procedures, the D.C. Office of Human Rights investigates discrimination complaints and usually calls on both parties to consider reaching a conciliation agreement over the complaint if possible. If conciliation cannot be reached, OHR makes a determination of whether probable cause exists that discrimination occurred in violation of D.C. law.

If such a determination is made, the case is sent to the D.C. Commission on Human Rights, which conducts a trial-like hearing that includes testimony by witnesses before it issues a ruling on the case.

In response to a question from the Blade about whether a refusal by a D.C. university to use a transgender person’s chosen name violates the Human Rights Act, OHR Director Monica Palacio said OHR cannot provide legal advice on such a question. But in a statement to the Blade, Palacio said for educational institutions, the Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on 15 protected characteristics, including gender identity and expression.

OHR’s regulations related to educational institutions “prohibit creating a hostile environment which could include deliberately misgendering a student,” Palacio said. “If anyone believes the statute has been violated, they may file a complaint with OHR,” she said. “OHR investigations are confidential.”

Alexandra said she had yet to receive a direct reply to her email message to Mason as of early this week. But last week she was contacted by phone by an official from the university’s admissions office and from Dr. William Latham, UDC’s Chief Student Development and Success Officer on behalf of Mason.

According to Alexandra, the two explained that her legal name was needed on certain legal documents. She said Latham explained that a software system the university uses to manage student records known as the Banner system, doesn’t support preferred names and currently prevents the school from displaying only her preferred name.

The officials said the university planned to upgrade to a newer version of Banner in October and the new system “may” support using preferred names, Alexandra said.

“Overall, I thought this was a really ridiculous conversation where folks from UDC tried to convince me that they are using my preferred name while also stating that they cannot use my preferred name as it should be used, mostly due to limitations of software,” Alexandra told the Blade. “I don’t think the Human Rights Act has an exception for software systems,” she said.

The Blade contacted UDC President Mason by email on July 20, asking him to comment on Alexandra’s concerns and asking him what, if any, problems would be caused if the university used Alexandra’s chosen name rather than her legal name on the various public, external documents and lists in which her legal name is being used.

“In response to your July 20 email, the Office of the Registrar can enter the student’s preferred name in Banner (via all access screen for faculty and staff awareness), however all official documents, such as the academic transcript, will require the use of the student’s official legal name,” Mason told the Blade in a one-sentence response.

His response didn’t address the issue raised by UDC official Latham in his phone conversation with Alexandra in which Latham said the Banner software system couldn’t currently identify Alexandra only by her chosen name. Mason also didn’t respond to the Blade’s question of why UDC could not adopt a policy like the D.C. Public Schools system, which accepts a request by transgender students to use their chosen name without having to obtain a legal name change.

Alexandra, meanwhile, points out that UDC’s refusal so far to allow her chosen name alone to be used on all public university documents and student lists without her legal name being attached to it appears to be at odds with a May 4 open letter Mason released to the university community expressing strong support for using the appropriate pronouns for transgender and gender non-conforming students.

“The University of the District of Columbia (UDC) strives to be an inclusive campus that supports and values all members of our community, including LGBTQIA+, nonbinary, intersex and gender non-conforming students,” Mason says in his letter.

“Choosing to not use or ignore the pronouns someone has requested you to use implies that person shouldn’t and doesn’t exist and does not deserve respect,” Mason wrote in his letter. “Therefore, we encourage all faculty and staff to use pronouns in their email signatures as an act of solidarity and to foster a culture of respect for every Firebird,” he concludes in referring to the symbolic name used for members of the UDC community.

UDC is governed by a 15-member independent Board of Trustees. Eleven of the members are appointed by the D.C. mayor and confirmed by the D.C. Council. Three are appointed by UDC alumni and one by students, according to information on the UDC website.

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LULAC Lambda announces 2021 scholarship awards

Castro, Javier Rodriguez win $1,000 honors

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Brian Castro and Victor Javier Rodriguez are this year’s LULAC award winners.

The D.C.-based LGBTQ Latinx organization LULAC Lambda has announced it has selected two D.C. residents bound for graduate studies in foreign affairs and higher education to receive its 2021 annual scholarship award.

“For a fourth year in a row, LULAC Lambda will provide scholarships to outstanding scholars who come from our LGBTQ+ Latinx community,” said Erik Rodriquez, the LULAC Lambda president, in a statement released by the group. “Our scholarship program will help these scholars achieve their academic goals and reduce their student debt,” Rodriquez said.

The statement says one of the two scholarship awards, for $1,000, will go to Brian Castro, who will begin studies for a master’s degree in the fall of 2021 at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service.

“The generous scholarship provided by LULAC Lambda will complement my studies by going directly into my tuition costs,” Castro said in the statement. “Though I have been a resident of Washington, D.C., working full-time at a leading public health consulting firm, I am grateful to have received the support from an organization that is also committed to social justice,” he said.

The other scholarship, for $1,300, will go to Victor Javier Rodriguez for his doctoral work in education at Florida State University. The LULAC Lambda statement says Javier Rodriquez’s academic interest lies in “exploring the relationship between school communities and districts’ implementation of anti-racist practice and student success.”

In his own words, Javier Rodriquez said, “A long-term career goal of mine is to affect change at the federal level through the United States Department of Education, in which I would work to address our nation’s education crisis by advocating for equitable policies and practices that improve the outcome for all our students, especially those who are most vulnerable.”

LULAC Lambda says it was founded in October 2014 “to mobilize and strengthen the LGBTQ+ and Latinx communities of Washington, D.C. through community and civic engagement.” It is one of 1,000 chapters across the country affiliated with the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the nation’s largest and oldest Latinx volunteer-based civil rights organization, the group’s statement says.

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