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Baltimore shelter for homeless LGBTQ youth vandalized

Suspect charged, police say incident was not hate crime

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Maryland LGBT Chamber, Business History Conference, COBALT Awards, gay news, Washington Blade
A Baltimore City man faces charges in connection with the vandalism of a shelter for homeless LGBTQ youth. (Photo by Bigstock)

Baltimore police on Oct. 2 arrested a 26-year-old Baltimore man on the same day police say he broke into and burglarized Baltimore’s newly launched LGBTQ youth homeless shelter operated by the nonprofit group Safe Haven, according to a police report obtained by the Washington Blade

The police incident report says police charged Elijah Shabazz-Daquan Lewis, a Baltimore City resident, with burglary and breaking and entering after apprehending him on the scene. The report says he was carrying a large plastic bag filled with items he allegedly stole from Legacy House, the new LGBTQ youth shelter on Edmondson Avenue in North Baltimore.

Safe Haven Program Director Ja ‘Nae Tyler told Baltimore’s WMAR 2 TV News that Lewis had attempted to break into the facility once before and he made some “derogatory comments around sexuality and gender.” But the police report says there was no “bias motivation” involved in the incident.

Tyler also told the TV news station that Lewis appeared to have made a threat that “things will happen” if the youth facility did not move out of its current location.

Iya Dammons, Safe Haven’s executive director, told the Blade on Monday that Lewis damaged several TVs by attempting to pull them off wall mounts in several of the rooms where residents of the facility will be staying when it opens in an apparent attempt to steal them. But when asked if she thinks the incident should be listed as a hate crime, Dammons said she believes Lewis’ action was motivated by hate.

“His words said that,” she said in recalling something Lewis said during his earlier attempt to enter the facility that was captured on security cameras with an audio recording function. “He was indicating he did not think people like women who were biologically men should be able to have a shelter space,” Dammons said.

A Baltimore police spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to a request by the Blade for an explanation of why police didn’t list the break-in and burglary as a hate crime.

The police report says the manager of the building, whose name is blacked out in the report, told police the building was unoccupied at the time of the break-in. The report says the building’s owner told police the value of the items stolen by Lewis and recovered by police was about $2,000. The report says the owner told police the damage caused by the break-in, which involved mostly damage to a rear door and door frame, would also come to about $2,000.

The report provides a detailed list of more than two dozen small and medium size items that Lewis allegedly stole and placed in the plastic bag; including a silverware set, a cookware set and multiple other household items. The police report says all the stolen items were returned to Safe Haven.

The GoFundMe appeal, which as of early this week had raised $9,912 of its goal of raising $12,500, also suggests that the break-in incident was a hate crime.

“On Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021, Baltimore Safe Haven’s Youth Homeless Development Program (YHDP), a residential facility which is comprised of seven one-bedroom apartments that will serve as phase two of our transitional housing plan, was broken into,” a statement on the GoFundMe page says.

“During this act of violence against the community in our safe space, several things were destroyed, including our cameras and security system, back door to the facility, TVs and dining furniture,” the statement says. “Additionally, several items were stolen such as kitchenware, bathroom items such as towels and décor,” it says.

“We are asking for your help recovering from this egregious act of violence against our community, in a place that should be deemed safe,” the statement continues. “LGBTQ youth are some of the most marginalized and displaced persons, and our program seeks to provide support, vital resources and transitional housing to these persons. However, it’s these acts of violence against our community that renders us stagnant,” the statement says.

When asked by the Blade whether the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office, which is prosecuting the case against defendant Lewis, is considering charging Lewis with a hate crime, a spokesperson said the office does not comment on pending cases still under investigation. 

However, the online docket report from the Baltimore City District Court shows that the state’s attorney’s office upgraded the charges against Lewis from the charges filed by Baltimore police.

The current charges now pending against him are malicious destruction of property with a value greater than $1,000, theft at a value of $1,500 to under $25,000; burglary 4th degree-Storehouse; and burglary 4th degree theft.

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Comings & Goings

McCarty named director of partnerships at Universe

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Steven McCarty

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].

Congratulations to Steven McCarty on his new position with Universe, as Director of Partnerships. Universe supports movement organizations, labor unions, and Democratic campaigns, with the software they need to win. On accepting the new position he said, “I’m most excited to take my years of campaign and technology experience to down-ballot Democrats across the country as we fight to preserve our Democracy this election cycle.” 

Prior to this, McCarty was Business Development + Partnerships Lead, at STAC labs (State Technology Acceleration Collaborative), where he spearheaded strategic business development initiatives, expanding STAC labs’ partner network by 400% with the launch of the Progressive Tech Index and doubling DemLaunch user base from four to 11 states within a year. Prior to that he was president at The Kiwanis Club of Washington, D.C.; Senior Customer Success Manager at Crowdskout; Vice President at Circle K International, Indianapolis, Ind.; and a summer fellow at Michigan State AFL-CIO, Lansing, Mich. 

He has done a lot of volunteer work, including being an elected Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for ANC 2G04, representing Blagden Alley, Naylor Court, and Shepherd Court. He received a Youth Champion Award for outstanding support to LGBTQ Youth, from SMYAL; and was named a Kiwanis Member of the Year, Kiwanis Club of Washington, D.C.

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District of Columbia

Cherry Fund files lawsuit  against Republiq Hall

LGBTQ nonprofit says breach of contract led to $137,000 in lost revenue

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Cherry Fund claims Republiq Hall canceled a contract for one of its popular events. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Cherry Fund, the D.C.-based nonprofit organization that has raised money for HIV/AIDS, mental health, and LGBTQ organizations for the past 27 years, filed a lawsuit in D.C. Superior Court on May 31 charging Republiq Hall, a large entertainment venue in Northeast D.C, with abruptly and improperly cancelling Cherry Fund’s reservation to rent the hall for an April 6 event expected to draw 2,000 paid guests.

The event was to be one of several circuit dance parties that Cherry Fund produces as part of its annual Cherry weekend in April, which has raised several million dollars for LGBTQ related organizations since the Cherry weekend  events began in 1996.  

The lawsuit, which charges Republiq Hall with breach of contract, says the contract signed by the two parties in January called for Cherry Fund to pay Republiq Hall an initial deposit of $3,500 on Jan. 10, 2024, to be applied to a nonrefundable rental fee totaling $7,000 for the one-time use of the space on April 6.

Republiq Hall is located in a large former warehouse building at 2122 24th Place, N.E., near the intersection of Bladensburg Road and New York Avenue. 

According to the lawsuit, under the contract, Cherry Fund “was responsible for promoting the event, booking talent, and managing ticket sales,” with Cherry Fund to “retain all door fee revenues and a percentage of the net bar sales.”

The lawsuit states, “On February 28, after Plaintiff had already begun promoting the event and booking talent, the Defendant unilaterally and without just cause demanded an additional $9,000 from the Plaintiff. When the Plaintiff refused to pay the additional amount, the Defendant cancelled the reservation.”

 As a result of Republiq Hall’s action, the lawsuit states, Cherry Fund was “forced to book an alternative venue with significantly less capacity, resulting in substantial financial losses.” 

It says as a direct result of the alleged breach of contract, Cherry Fund “suffered financial damages in the amount of $130,000 in lost door fees and $7,000 in a lost percentage of the net bar sales that were estimated to be collected on the date of the event.”

A spokesperson for Republiq Hall did not respond to a phone message from the Washington Blade requesting a comment and a response to the lawsuit’s allegations.

Court records show that Superior Court Judge Juliet J. McKenna, who is presiding over the case, scheduled an initial hearing for the case on Sept. 6. McKenna issued an order providing guidance for how a civil litigation case should proceed that includes a requirement that Republiq Hall must file a response to the lawsuit within 21 days of being officially served a copy of the lawsuit complaint.

Sean Morris, the Cherry Fund president, issued a statement expressing disappointment over the developments leading to the lawsuit.

“Our organization, powered by volunteer efforts, relies on our annual event to fundraise for local non-profits,” he said. “This abrupt and unforeseen demand, and subsequent cancellation, has severely affected our ability to support vital community programs focused on HIV/AIDS, mental health, and LGBTQ+ advocacy,” Morris says in his statement.

The lawsuit concludes by stating, “The Plaintiff, the Cherry Fund, respectfully requests the following relief: Direct compensatory damages for the lost benefits it was entitled to under the terms of the contract; Restitution for the benefits retained by the Defendant in unjust enrichment; Reasonable attorney fees and costs of this action; and Any other relief this court deems just and proper.”

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Maryland

Silver Spring Pride sign rebuilt in memory of beloved neighbor

GoFundMe campaign has raised more than $4,000

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Tony Brown's neighbors help repaint the Pride sign his late partner created in their Silver Spring, Md., neighborhood. (Photo courtesy of Molly Chehak)

Residents of Silver Spring’s Rosemary Hills neighborhood have come together to rebuild a Pride sign. 

The sign was constructed in June 2020, and was meant to stay in place throughout Pride Month. Neighborhood residents, however, requested it stay up past its intended month-long display, and has remained in place for more than four years. 

The sign spelling LOVE is at the neighborhood’s entrance between Sundale and Richmond Streets. It was made from plywood and the O was painted in the colors of the Pride flag.

“We wanted to take it down, but we just felt it was not ours anymore and belonged to the neighborhood.” Tony Brown told the Washington Blade during a telephone interview. “It was a positive thing for the neighborhood and began to take on a life of its own.” 

Brown and his partner, Mike Heffner, designed the sign and said the Black Lives Matter movement inspired them to create it as a strong symbol of an accepting community.

The sign was vandalized numerous times last fall, resulting in neighborhood residents taking turns repairing it. Brown and his partner could not do the repairs themselves because Heffner was fighting Stage 4 lung cancer.

Heffner passed away on Oct. 6, 2023.

A GoFundMe page was set up to help raise funds for the replacement Pride sign, and it has raised more than $4,000. The replacement sign is more permanent and made of metal.

“I can’t speak for the neighborhood overall, but people who knew Mike I think are happy that we were able to honor his memory with this sign because this sign is so him,” Molly Chehak, a friend who lives next door to Brown, told the Blade. “He (Heffner) was an outgoing super social (person) who just made you feel good the way this sign does. It’s a perfect tribute to him.” 

Chehak and other neighbors created the GoFundMe account.

Heffner’s family and his neighbors are still working to rebuild the Pride sign. It has become a memorial to Heffner.

“We wanted to do one that was clearly a Pride reference,” said Brown, noting the L is a fully painted Pride flag that spirals across the entire letter. 

“For the O we wanted to do something reminiscent of times in the past, a throwback to the 60’s and 70’s so it’s a hippie montage of flowers and butterflies,” he said. 

Brown described the V as being colorful, nonbinary people hugging each other with the idea that love is more than what one may see. 

“During COVID, he had started painting rocks and putting kind and fun messages on them leaving them around places as sort of a pay it forward Karma and so the E is basically that stylized writing and to embrace a bunch of ways we embrace love,” he said. 

The final letter had the phrase “love is love” written repeatedly in various handwritings to pay homage to Heffner and what he did for his neighborhood during the pandemic. Brown’s four daughters — one of whom is a professional artist — and their friends designed it.

The landscape around the sign has also been transformed with rocks that honors Heffner’s love for Rosemary Hills and his passion for rocks.

Chehak also said Heffner always wanted a bench, and neighbors are looking to install one soon next to the Pride sign.

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