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Md. sodomy law used in bookstore arrests of gay men still on books

Only one of two separate sodomy laws repealed in 2020

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Lawmakers in Annapolis, Md., last year struck from a repeal bill the Unnatural or Perverted Sexual Practice Act, which has been used to prosecute gay men for consensual sex. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

In a little-noticed development, the Maryland General Assembly agreed to requests by Republican lawmakers to delete one of the state’s two separate sodomy laws from a sodomy law repeal bill that it approved in March of 2020, leading most LGBTQ activists into incorrectly believing the full sodomy law had been repealed.

According to Maryland House of Delegates member David Moon (D-Montgomery County), who introduced the repeal bill in the state House, which approved the bill on Feb. 20, 2020, the Democratic-controlled Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee voted unanimously to pass an amendment that deleted from the bill a provision calling for the repeal of Maryland’s Criminal Code Section 3-322, which is known as the Unnatural or Perverted Sexual Practice Act.

The act criminalizes oral sex in all possible circumstances, including between consenting adults.

It states, “A person may not: take the sexual organ of another or of an animal in the person’s mouth; place the person’s sexual organ in the mouth of another or of an animal; or commit another unnatural or perverted sexual practice with another or with an animal.”

The offense of violating the act is listed as a misdemeanor but includes a penalty of up to 10 years in prison or a fine not exceeding $1,000 or both upon conviction of the offense.

During its deliberations in March 2020, the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, while deleting the Unnatural or Perverted Sexual Practice Act from the repeal bill, left in place the provision in the bill that called for repealing Maryland’s criminal Code Section 3-321, which criminalizes “sodomy” between consenting adults as a felony with a penalty of up to 10 years in prison upon conviction.

Supporters of the original repeal bill say the two statutes each criminalize same-sex sexual relations between consenting adults and the repeal of one of them and not the other leaves on the books a statute that stigmatizes LGBTQ people even if the law is not enforced.

Supporters of the original bill also pointed out that separate, existing Maryland laws strictly prohibit acts of cruelty to animals as well as any non-consensual sexual acts, including same-sex rape and sex between adults and juveniles. This meant that repealing the Unnatural or Perverted Sexual Practice Act would not prevent anyone engaging in sexual assault, sex with minors, or abuse of animals from being arrested and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

Among those who supported that assessment in testimony before the committee was Lisae Jordan, executive director of the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

But despite these assurances, which were further confirmed at the Judicial Proceedings Committee hearing by Maryland’s Assistant Attorney General Carrie J. Williams, Republican members of the committee, including Sen. Michael Hough (R-Frederick & Carroll Counties) raised strong objections to repealing any existing statute that might be used to prosecute someone engaging in sexual assault or pedophilia.

Sources familiar with the committee have speculated that Hough’s strong hints that he would hold anyone who voted for the full repeal responsible for an inability to prosecute sexual assault and sex with minors as well as incidents of cruelty to animals may have “spooked” the Democrats on the committee to back the amendment.

Sen. William Smith (D-Montgomery County), who chairs the committee; Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher (D-Montgomery County), the committee’s vice chair; and committee members Sen. Shelly Hettleman (D-Baltimore County) and Sen. Susan Lee (D-Montgomery County) did not respond to requests by the Blade for comment on why they voted for the amendment to remove the Unnatural and Perverted Sexual Practice Act from the repeal bill.

Each of them has been supportive on LGBTQ rights on other legislation that has come before the Maryland General Assembly. Lee, for example, introduced a sodomy law repeal bill several years earlier that failed to pass.

The other members of the committee that voted to remove the Unnatural or Perverted Sexual Practice Act from the repeal bill included Sens. Ronald Young (D-Frederick County), Charles Sydnor (D-Baltimore City & Baltimore County), Jill Carter (D-Baltimore City), Robert Cassilly (R-Harford County), Chris West (R-Baltimore County), Justin Ready (R-Carroll County), and Michael Hough (R-Frederick & Carroll Counties).

Moon said the full Maryland Senate quickly approved the committee’s amended bill that repealed the sodomy law but did not repeal the Unnatural or Perverted Sexual Practice Act. He noted the committee’s approval by a unanimous vote came just as the Maryland General Assembly’s 2020 legislative session was coming to an end one month earlier than usual due to restrictions related to the COVID pandemic.

With just one day left before the legislative session was to adjourn for the year on March 18, 2020, Moon said the House of Delegates, which had passed the full repeal version of the bill by a vote of 133 to 5 on Feb. 20, 2020, had a choice of accepting the Senate version or letting the bill die. He said House members decided to approve the Senate bill, with the vote taking place March 18.

“Basically, that change was made in the last day of the pandemic legislative session,” Moon told the Blade. “And so, it was a take it or leave it situation. So, we went ahead and struck the sodomy part out, and here we are,” he said.

He noted that the truncated legislative session did not provide time for the Senate version of the bill to come before a House-Senate conference committee, where supporters of the original bill could have pushed for rejecting the Senate version and sought approval of the House version.

“The next year the Unnatural or Perverted Sex Practice law is being used exactly in the manner we were trying to stop it from being used,” he said, referring to the May 20 raid on Bush River Books & Video store, in which four of the arrested men were charged with Perverted Sexual Practice.

Moon said he plans to introduce another repeal bill at the start of the General Assembly’s legislative session in January 2022 calling for the full repeal of the Unnatural or Perverted Sexual Practice Act. Supporters of Moon’s original bill in 2020, including the Maryland LGBTQ advocacy group Free State Justice, say they will push hard for passage of Moon’s bill next year.

The 2003 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Lawrence v. Texas, which declared state sodomy laws unconstitutional, and other court rulings impacting Maryland made the two Maryland sodomy statutes theoretically unenforceable for consenting adults. But attorneys familiar with the two statutes have said police have made arrests and prosecutors sometimes have attempted to prosecute mostly men, including gay men, charged under the laws in the years following the court rulings.

The most recent known arrests took place on May 20 of this year, when Harford County, Md., Sheriff’s deputies arrested nine men during the raid on the adult Bush River Books & Video store in the town of Abingdon. Four of the men were charged with “Perverted Sexual Practice.” The store is located 25 miles north of Baltimore.

One of the men charged with Unnatural or Perverted Sexual Practice was also charged with indecent exposure. Another four were charged with indecent exposure and one of the men was charged with solicitation of prostitution.

A friend of one of the men charged with indecent exposure told the Blade his friend was with another adult male inside an enclosed video room with a locked door when Sheriff’s Office deputies opened the door with a key obtained from the store and placed the two men in handcuffs as they were arrested.

The friend and others familiar with the arrests said the arrested men spent the night in jail before they were released in the morning and appeared in court. Several of the cases are scheduled for trial on Aug. 2 in Harford County District Court.

Greg Nevins, an attorney who serves as senior counsel for the national LGBTQ litigation group Lambda Legal, said lower court rulings that apply to Maryland and other states, in addition to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Lawrence decision overturning state sodomy laws, have left it largely up to individual trial court judges to interpret these rulings to determine whether consensual sexual activity under sodomy or indecent exposure laws took place in a “private” or “public” setting.

Most of the court rulings declaring sodomy laws unconstitutional have limited those rulings to consensual, non-commercial sexual activity conducted in a private setting.

But according to Nevin, at least one ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which includes Maryland, had the effect of making the Maryland Unnatural and Perverted Sexual Practice statute unenforceable for consenting adults regardless of whether alleged sexual activity takes place in a private or public place.

Nevin and other attorneys have said reports that some of the arrests at the Bush River Books & Video store in Harford County involving Sheriff’s Deputies opening locked private video rooms, where men allegedly were engaging in sexual activity, should be considered private spaces like a rented hotel room.

The owner or a representative of Bush River Books & Video store has not responded to requests by the Blade for comment.

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Virginia

Man who killed one in 2000 Roanoke gay bar shooting dies in prison

One of the worst bias attacks targeting LGBTQ community

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Ronald Edward Gay died while serving life sentences for attacking a Virginia gay bar. (Washington Blade clipping from Sept. 29, 2000)

A man sentenced to four consecutive life terms in prison for the September 2000 shooting at a gay bar in Roanoke, Va., in which one man lost his life and six others were wounded, died of natural causes on Jan. 15, according to the Virginia Department of Corrections.

A spokesperson for the Department of Corrections told WSLA 10 TV News that Ronald Edward Gay died while being treated at a hospital near the Deerfield Correctional Center, a state prison where he had been living as an inmate. He was 75. 

Witnesses and law enforcement officials reported at the time of the shooting that a middle-aged man later identified as Gay arrived alone at Roanoke’s Backstreet Café, a popular gay bar, on the night of Sept. 22, 2000.

According to an account by an eyewitness to the incident who spoke last week with the Roanoke Times newspaper, after ordering a beer and standing next to the bar for a short time, Gay reached into the long trench coat he was wearing, pulled out a 9mm pistol, and fired a round “straight into the chest of 43-year-old Danny Overstreet, before opening fire on the rest of the bar.”

Overstreet, a beloved regular patron at the Backstreet Café, died at the scene of the shooting. Six others, who were wounded by bullets fired by Gay, later recovered, but they and many others who were present and witnessed the shooting were left emotionally scarred, the Roanoke Times reported.

In the weeks following the shooting, news media outlets, including the Washington Blade and the Washington Post, reported findings of an investigation by local police that Gay told police he went to Backstreet specifically to target gay people because he became bitter after years of being taunted and teased for his last name of “Gay.”

The Roanoke Times reported that, among other things, Gay told police “God told him to do it” and that he once wrote that there was an evil inside of him telling him “to shoot or have no rest.”

Gay later pleaded guilty to multiple charges against him, including murder. On July 23, 2001, he was sentenced to four consecutive life sentences in prison for the shooting incident and the murder of Overstreet.

The Backstreet incident in Roanoke was considered by LGBTQ rights advocates and others to be one of the worst incidents in which LGBTQ people were targeted for a shooting until the June 2016 shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., in which 49 people died and 53 more were wounded in a mass shooting by 29-year-old Omar Mateen.

Mateen, who was shot and killed by Orlando police after a three-hour standoff, told police in a phone call from inside the nightclub after the shooting began that he swore allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and his attack against the gay nightclub was motivated by the U.S. military intervention in Iraq and Syria. The FBI later classified the incident as a terrorist attack.

The Roanoke Times reported that the shooting incident at Backstreet Café prompted LGBTQ residents and allies to gather in the days and weeks after the incident for vigils and marches. About 1,000 people walked through the streets of downtown Roanoke to honor the life of Overstreet and to urge Congress to pass federal hate crimes legislation, the newspaper reported.

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Va. senator introduces anti-transgender student athlete bill

Democrats have vowed to thwart anti-LGBTQ measures in state Senate

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transgender, Gender Conference East, trans, transgender flag, gay news, Washington Blade
(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A Virginia lawmaker has introduced a bill that would ban transgender students from joining school sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity.

Senate Bill 766, which state Sen. Jennifer Kiggans (R-Virginia Beach) introduced on Friday, would require “each elementary or secondary school or a private school that competes in sponsored athletic events against such public schools to designate athletic teams, whether a school athletic team or an intramural team sponsored by such school, based on biological sex as follows: (i) ‘males,’ ‘men,’ or ‘boys’; (ii) ‘females,’ ‘women,’ or ‘girls’; or (iii) ‘coed’ or ‘mixed.'”

“Under the bill, male students are not permitted to participate on any school athletic team or squad designated for ‘females,’ ‘women,’ or ‘girls’; however, this provision does not apply to physical education classes at schools,” adds the bill. “The bill provides civil penalties for students and schools that suffer harm as a result of a violation of the bill. Such civil actions are required to be initiated within two years after the harm occurred.”

Kiggans introduced her bill less than a week after Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin took office.

Youngkin during his campaign said he does not support allowing trans children to play on sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity. Elizabeth Schultz, an anti-LGBTQ former member of the Fairfax County School Board, has been named the Virginia Department of Education’s Assistant Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The General Assembly’s 2022 legislative session began on Jan. 12 with Republicans in control of the state House of Delegates. Democrats still control the state Senate, and they have pledged to thwart any anti-LGBTQ bills.

“Let’s be clear: This is part of an ongoing, nationwide effort to exclude trans people from enjoying the benefits of sports like their cisgender peers,” tweeted the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia on Friday after Kiggans introduced SB 766. “We won’t tolerate this.”

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Comings & Goings

Hazen inducted into Cooperative Hall of Fame

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Paul Hazen

The Comings & Goings column is about sharing the professional successes of our community. We want to recognize those landing new jobs, new clients for their business, joining boards of organizations and other achievements. Please share your successes with us at: [email protected] 

The Comings & Goings column also invites LGBTQ+ college students to share their successes with us. If you have been elected to a student government position, gotten an exciting internship, or are graduating and beginning your career with a great job, let us know so we can share your success. 

Congratulations to Paul Hazen on his being inducted into the 2022 Cooperative Hall of Fame.  On receiving the honor, he said, “I am very lucky to be given the opportunity to combine my work in international development with my volunteer cooperative development work in Washington DC.”

Hazen is executive director, U.S. Overseas Cooperative Development Council (OCDC) and has devoted his career to elevating the cooperative voice domestically and internationally. U.S. co-ops include Ace Hardware, Land O’Lakes, Inc., Sunkist, REI and the Associated Press. Hazen helped establish federal legislation promoting rural co-op development.  

Prior to joining OCDC, he was CEO of Washington, D.C.-based National Cooperative Business Association CLUSA International. During his 25-year tenure with the organization, he held key positions, including chief operating officer, vice president of public policy, vice president of member services and director of consumer cooperatives.

He worked for Rep. Al Baldus (Wisc.). He was executive director of Rural Housing Inc. in Madison, Wisc., where he developed co-ops and affordable housing projects in rural communities. 

As a volunteer, Hazen formed the Community Purchasing Alliance (CPA) with 12 congregations in D.C.  In 2020, CPA secured more than $18.7 million in contracts resulting in an investment of $13 million in D.C.-based small businesses owned by people of color.

Ben Finzel

Congratulations also to Ben Finzel, who was inducted into the National Capital Public Relations Hall of Fame. Upon receiving the honor, he said “To be recognized by your peers is wonderful; to be honored by them is amazing. I still can’t quite believe I have done enough to be worthy of this recognition, but I know enough to be thankful and appreciative of this high honor. Thank you PRSA National Capital Chapter for including me in such inspiring company; I will be forever grateful.”

Finzel is president of RENEWPR, a D.C.-based public affairs, communications consulting firm. In 2004, he helped launch FH Out Front, the first global LGBTQ communications practice at an international firm, Fleishman Hillard, and served as its first global chair. He started DC Family Communicators, a professional networking group for LGBTQ communications professionals. Finzel served on the Victory Campaign Board of the LGBTQ Victory Fund from 2007 to 2017.

His firm is currently celebrating its seventh year in business. To recognize that accomplishment, Finzel is launching an endowed scholarship at his alma mater, Texas Tech University. His business is certified as an LGBT Business Enterprise by the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce.

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