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Top 10 local stories of 2021

Hate crimes, book bans, and Nellie’s protests

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(Washington Blade file photos)

#10: Gay Asian man, parents assaulted in Northwest  

Sean Lai, 30, an out gay man of Chinese ancestry, was beaten in August. (Photo courtesy of Lai)

A gay Asian man and his parents were treated and released from a local hospital after they were attacked and assaulted on Aug. 7 on a street near the Washington National Cathedral by a male assailant who shouted homophobic and anti-Asian slurs, according to D.C. police and court records.

Charging documents filed in D.C. Superior Court state that D.C. police, who arrived on the scene a short time after the attack, arrested D.C. resident and American University graduate student Patrick Trebat, 38, on one count of felony assault, two counts of simple assault, and one count of destruction of property. The charging document says Trebat allegedly damaged the cell phone of Sean Lai, 30, an out gay man of Chinese ancestry, as he allegedly punched and kicked Lai and Lai’s elderly parents on the 3700 block of Fulton St., N.W. while shouting the words “faggots” and “You’re not Americans.”

Prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office changed the charges to two counts of felony assault with significant bodily injury and listed the incident as an anti-Asian bias related crime. American University in October announced Trebat was no longer a student at the school.

 #9: D.C., Md, Va. pass laws banning panic defense

The D.C. Council and the Maryland and Virginia General Assemblies each passed their own laws in 2021 banning the use of the so-called LGBTQ panic defense in criminal trials.

LGBTQ rights organizations and legal experts have said attorneys representing defendants charged with committing violent crimes against LGBTQ people, including murder, have used the panic defense to confuse juries into finding them not guilty by arguing that their clients committed an act of violence against an LGBTQ person in a form of self-defense in a state of “panic” after they learned that the victim was an LGBTQ person. Supporters of banning the defense say it improperly places the blame for a violent act on the LGBTQ victim.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) signed the legislation banning the panic defense after expressing strong support for the measures. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) declined to sign the Maryland bill but announced he would allow the bill to become law without his signature. 

#8: Gay men arrested under Md. sodomy law in bookstore raid

Harford County, Md., Sheriff’s Office deputies arrested four men on a charge of Perverted Sexual Practice under the Maryland 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.

Four other men were charged with indecent exposure, and another was charged with solicitation for prostitution for a total of nine arrests during the May 20 raid that was prompted by complaints from nearby residents, according to a statement released by the Sheriff’s Office.

An attorney with the LGBTQ litigation group Lambda Legal said the sodomy arrests appeared to be a violation of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2003 ruling declaring state sodomy laws unconstitutional. Lambda attorney Greg Nevins said that although the Supreme Court ruling does not cover acts of sodomy committed in public places, the men arrested in the May 20 raid engaged in alleged consenting sexual acts in a locked video booth, which Sheriff’s deputies unlocked after obtaining keys from a bookstore employee. He said it would be up to a judge to decide whether the video booths could be considered a private space as argued by attorneys representing the arrested men, who were released while awaiting court appearances.

The bookstore raid, meanwhile, drew attention to a little noticed development that the Maryland General Assembly in 2020 repealed only one of Maryland’s two antiquated sodomy statutes, the one outlawing anal sex. At the request of conservative Republican lawmakers, the General Assembly left in place Maryland’s Unnatural or Perverted Sexual Practice Act, which outlaws oral sex. LGBTQ supportive Maryland House of Delegates Member David Moon (D-Montgomery County) said he plans to introduce a bill in 2022 to repeal that statute.

#7: Loudoun County schools’ trans nondiscrimination policy under fire

Loudoun County Public Schools building. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Loudoun County, Va., public school system’s policy of allowing students to use the bathroom or locker room that matches their gender identity came under fire in October after news surfaced that a 15-year-old “gender fluid” boy allegedly sexually assaulted two girls in different high schools.

Law enforcement officials said one of the assaults allegedly occurred on May 28 in the girl’s bathroom at Stone Bridge High School in Ashburn, Va., while the boy was dressed in a skirt. The other assault allegedly occurred on Oct. 6 in a vacant classroom at Broad Run High School, also in Ashburn, after the boy was transferred there while facing charges for the first assault.

“The sexual assault on our daughter and the subsequent sexual assault by the same individual were both predictable and preventable,” the parents of the girl involved in the first alleged assault said in a statement released by their attorney. “Subsequent to the sexual assault on our daughter, Loudoun County Public Schools formalized the policy regarding restroom use that was easily exploitable by a potential sexual assailant,” the parents’ statement says.

The LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Loudoun released its own statement saying sexual assault cases should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law regardless of the sexual orientation or gender identity of the perpetrator. However, the group said allegations that the perpetrator of the two school assaults was transgender or genderfluid had not been verified. “Attempts to shift the blame of this incident to any individual, group, or policy – other than the alleged perpetrator – does a grave disservice to the victims of these crimes and already marginalized youth in our community,” the Equality Loudoun statement says.

 #6: Supreme Court upholds Va. trans rights ruling

A court ruled that Gavin Grimm had a legal right to use the men’s bathroom at his high school. (Photo courtesy of Grimm)

The U.S. Supreme on June 28 refused to hear an appeal by the Gloucester County, Va., School Board challenging a lower court ruling that transgender former high school student Gavin Grimm had a legal right to use the men’s bathroom at his high school. The high court’s decision not to hear the case leaves in place U.S. district court and U.S. appeals court rulings declaring the school board violated federal law and the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution by prohibiting Grimm from using the same bathrooms as other boys and forcing him to use separate bathrooms. The ACLU, which represented Grimm in his more than five-year legal battle that continued after his high school graduation, called the development a major victory for the rights of trans students.

Four months after the Supreme Court’s action, the Gloucester School Board agreed to settle the case by paying Grimm $1.3 million to cover attorney’s fees that the ACLU says the school board is responsible for.

 #5: Casa Ruby shakeup

Ruby Corado stepped down this year after a dispute with the D.C. government. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Ruby Corado, the founder and executive director of D.C.’s LGBTQ community services center Casa Ruby, announced in a Facebook live broadcast in October that she had resigned from her executive director’s position. Corado stated in her broadcast that her resignation was in response to an ongoing dispute with the D.C. government that resulted in a decision by the city one week earlier to discontinue an $850,000 annual city grant to fund Casa Ruby’s emergency low barrier shelter for homeless LGBTQ youth and adults.

Corado called the decision by the D.C. Department of Human Services not to renew the grant for fiscal year 2022 an act of retaliation based, in part, on what she says was her refusal to agree to a request by the city agency to move the Casa Ruby shelter to a neighborhood unsafe for trans women and LGBTQ youth. The DHS has declined to disclose its reason for ending the grant, saying only that it has arranged for other LGBTQ supportive organizations to carry out LGBTQ-related homeless services.

Longtime D.C. transgender rights advocate Alexis Blackmon, who had been serving as Casa Ruby’s Government Affairs Director, was named the organization’s interim executive director. Corado said that, following a six-month sabbatical, she plans to organize fundraising efforts to support Casa Ruby’s programs independent of D.C. government funding.   

#4: GOP victories in Va. could endanger LGBTQ rights

Governor-elect Glenn Younkin. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The close but decisive wins in the November election in Virginia by Republicans Glenn Youngkin as governor, Winsome Sears as lieutenant governor, and Jason Miyares as attorney general and Republicans winning control of the Virginia House of Delegates raises questions about whether the recent sweeping advances in LGBTQ rights in Virginia put in place by the outgoing Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, and the Democratic-controlled General Assembly could be in jeopardy. 

Youngkin, who defeated Democratic candidate and former Virginia Gov. Terry McAulliffe, expressed opposition to nondiscrimination protections enacted by the Democratic-controlled General Assembly in 2020 for transgender and nonbinary students in the state’s public schools. He has also expressed opposition to same-sex marriage while saying he would not likely take steps to repeal the legal standing of marriage equality.

But of greatest concern among Virginia’s LGBTQ activists is Attorney General-elect Miyares’s voting record on LGBTQ issues in his role as a member of the state’s House of Delegates from the Virginia Beach area since 2016. Since Democrats took control of the legislature in January 2020, Miyares has voted against nearly all of the LGBTQ supportive bills passed during that time, including bills adding LGBTQ people to the state’s anti-discrimination law, adding LGBTQ people to the state’s hate crimes law, banning the use of the so-called LGBTQ panic defense in criminal trials, restricting the use of conversion therapy for minors, and repealing the state’s longstanding but unenforceable statute banning same-sex marriage.

With Democrats retaining control of the Virginia Senate, Republican elected officials hostile to LGBTQ rights cannot — without the unlikely defection of Democratic lawmakers — repeal these and other LGBTQ supportive laws in the state. But activists have expressed concern that, as attorney general, Miyares might be in a position to curtail the enforcement of the LGBTQ supportive laws.

Among the few positive outcomes of the Virginia election, according to LGBTQ activists, was that the three openly LGBTQ members of the House of Delegates, each of whom are Democrats, won re-election, including Danica Roem of Manassas, who is the first openly trans person to be seated in any state legislature in the U.S.

#3: LGBTQ books removed, reinstated in Fairfax schools

(Book cover image courtesy Amazon)

The Fairfax County, Va., Public Schools announced in November that it had returned two LGBTQ-themed books to the libraries of the school system’s high schools after temporarily removing the books in response to objections from some parents who claimed they included sexually explicit content inappropriate for students.

The two books, “Lawn Boy,” a novel by author Jonathan Evison, and “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” an autobiography by non-binary author Maia Kobabe, were deemed to be important works of literature suitable to young adults following a thorough review by two school system committees, according to an announcement by Fairfax Public Schools officials. The officials said that although the books include descriptions of sexual acts, they do not constitute pornography and do not promote pedophilia as claimed by some parents and others opposing the books.

The decision to reinstate the books “reaffirms Fairfax Public Schools’ ongoing commitment to provide diverse reading materials that reflect our student population, allowing every child an opportunity to see themselves reflected in literary characters,” a statement by school officials says.

News of the controversy surrounding the two books in the Fairfax County school libraries triggered efforts by conservative groups to ban LGBTQ-themed books in other school districts throughout the country.

#2: D.C. LGBTQ bars and events rebound as COVID restrictions eased

‘Royals’ nightlife event at Dupont Underground. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Owners of the city’s gay bars and LGBTQ friendly bars and restaurants joined nightlife businesses across the city in rejoicing over D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s announcement in May that restaurants and bars could resume operations at full capacity and return to pre-pandemic operating hours on May 21.

The mayor’s announcement followed what nightlife businesses said was severe financial hardship caused by the earlier full business shutdowns due to COVID public health restrictions followed by a partial reopening with strict limits of only 25 percent of the normal number of customers inside bars and restaurants and a ban on standing in bars or sitting at bar stools.

The lifting of the bar, restaurant and other nightlife business restrictions in May was followed by the city’s decision to lift all restrictions on indoor and outdoor events on June 11. That cleared the way for D.C.’s Capital Pride Alliance to organize several scaled back LGBTQ Pride events, including a June 12 Pride Walk, which began at Dupont Circle and traveled to Freedom Plaza, where a rally was held. The Walk drew widespread attention when U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband joined the walk as it approached Freedom Plaza.

Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband joined a Pride Walk in June. (Screen capture via WJLA)

The enthusiasm over the full reopening of LGBTQ nightlife venues, especially the bars, became evident with long lines of patrons waiting to get into some of the bars that were filled to capacity.

#1: Nellie’s hit with protests after Black woman dragged down stairs

Protesters outside Nellie’s earlier this year. (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

A June 13 incident in which a black woman was dragged down a flight of stairs by a security guard during a brawl that broke out at the D.C. gay bar Nellie’s Sports Bar led to a boycott and months of protests against the bar, an investigation into the incident by the city’s liquor board, and charges by some LGBTQ activists that Nellie’s and other D.C. gay bars had racially biased policies and practices.

The action by the security guard was captured on video taken by one of the customers on their phone that went viral on social media, prompting LGBTQ activists and Black Lives Matter organizers to demand that Nellie’s take appropriate action to review its security procedures. Nellie’s issued an apology for the incident the following day and announced it had fired the private security company whose employee, who is Black, dragged college student Keisha Young, 22, down the stairs. Nellie’s also announced it would temporarily close for business to assess what happened and develop plans to reopen as a safer space for all members of the community.

After two months of staging Friday night protests outside Nellie’s from June through most of August, protest leaders announced at a community meeting that they would discontinue the protests but continue to ask the community to boycott Nellie’s.

Nellie’s reopened 35 days after its self-imposed closing. But on Oct. 20, the D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, following an investigation into the June 13 incident, approved a compromise agreement with Nellie’s that called for Nellie’s to pay a $5,000 fine and serve a seven-day license suspension for violations that liquor board investigations found had occurred in Nellie’s handling of the fight on its premises that led to Young being dragged down the stairs.

An order issued by the ABC Board said the license suspension would take place from Dec. 20-26 of this year.

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Virginia

Arlington candidates greet LGBTQ voters at ‘Ice Cream Social’

150 turn out at home of gay bar owner Freddie Lutz

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An ice cream social took place at the Arlington home of Freddie Lutz, center. (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

About a dozen elected officials or candidates running for public office this year in Arlington, Va. and surrounding Northern Virginia areas expressed strong support for LGBTQ rights at an event organized by the Arlington Gay & Lesbian Alliance (AGLA) that drew more than 150 LGBTQ and allied residents of Northern Virginia.

The event, billed as an Ice Cream Social, took place on Sunday, Sept. 25 at the Arlington home of Freddie Lutz, the owner of the Arlington gay bar Freddie’s Beach Bar and the nearby restaurant Federico’s, and Lutz’s husband Johnny Cervantes. The two served as hosts for an event that appeared more like a meet-and-greet for local politicians.

Throughout the event attendees had access to unlimited free servings of ice cream from a commercial ice cream vendors truck parked in the driveway of Lutz and Cervante’s house.

Among those who spoke at the event was gay Virginia State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D), whose district includes parts of Arlington, Alexandria, and Fairfax County. Ebbin, along with several of the other speakers, expressed strong opposition to Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s recently proposed policy guidelines for transgender students in the state’s public schools.

The proposed policy, which Youngkin says will take effect after a 30-day period of public comment, rescinds the trans supportive school policies put in place by former Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration that allowed trans students to use the bathrooms, changing rooms and other facilities that match their gender identity.

Under the new policy guidelines released by the state’s Department of Education, whose leaders were appointed by Youngkin, the state’s 133 school districts must require transgender students to access school facilities and programs that match their biological gender. They also require teachers and school officials to inform parents if their child attempts to present as transgender in school, a development that critics say is the equivalent of “outing” trans kids in a way that could create mental health issues.

“We want to be clear that we value our transgender students,” Ebbin told the gathering. “The governor is bullying and endangering students for cheap political points,” he said. “And his new guidelines are in violation of not just federal court rulings but of the Virginia Human Rights Act, which explicitly states that there shall be no discrimination against transgender people, including in public schools,” Ebbin said.

Others who expressed similar views along with general support for LGBTQ rights, including marriage equality, were State Sen. Barbara Favola (D-Arlington), and Virginia House of Delegates members Alfonso Lopez (D-Arlington/Fairfax Counties), Patrick Hope (D-Arlington), and Elizabeth Bennett-Parker (D-Arlington/Alexandria/Fairfax). 

Bennett-Parker defeated gay House of Delegates member Mark Levine in the June 2021 Democratic primary. Like others who spoke at the AGLA event, Bennett-Parker urged LGBTQ residents of Northern Virginia to do all they can to support state, local, and congressional Democrats in this year’s election and in 2023, when the entire Virginia General Assembly is up for election.

“We need your help to make sure we maintain a commonwealth that will be safe and welcoming and inclusive towards all,” she said.

Arlington County Board members Matt de Ferranti and Kattie Cristol said they and their colleagues on the Arlington Board, which serves as the county’s legislative body, would continue their strong support for the LGBTQ community. De Ferranti noted that the board’s recent legislative actions in support of LGBTQ rights prompted the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ rights organization, to award Arlington a 100 percent rating among municipalities nationwide on LGBTQ-related issues.

AGLA Treasurer Daniel Hays, who served as moderator for the part of the event in which the candidates or public officials spoke, said the LGBTQ group invited all candidates and elected officials representing Arlington to attend and speak at the event, including Republicans and independents as well as Democrats.

Among those who spoke were Karina Lipsman, the Republican candidate running against incumbent U.S. Rep. Don Beyer (D-Arlington), a longtime supporter of LGBTQ rights.

“I am pro-marriage equality,” said Lipsman, who identified herself as “the only Ukrainian born refugee immigrant running for Congress in the entire country.”

Also speaking was Matthew Hurtt, communications director for the Arlington County Republican Committee. 

The LGBTQ attendees, which local activists say was reflective of the largely Democratic electorate of Arlington and Northern Virginia in general, responded with polite applause for Lipsman and Hurtt as well as for Adam Theo, a candidate for the Arlington County Board who described himself as a progressive libertarian running as an independent.

One of the final speakers was gay D.C. Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Travis Swanson of ANC 7B03 in Ward 7, who thanked the speakers for their support of the LGBTQ community and called on those attending the event to urge their members of Congress to support D.C. statehood. 

“AGLA is not endorsing any of the candidates you heard today,” Hays told the gathering in closing remarks, noting that it is a nonpartisan group.

“However, what we strongly endorse is that you go out and make sure you are fully aware of what the individuals who are asking for your vote to be able to have another two years or four years or six years in office, that you know exactly what they’ve done or what they’re going to do,” he said.   

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District of Columbia

White House officials, HHS secretary praise local monkeypox response

D.C. Health points to data showing sharp decline in new cases

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HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra praised D.C. Health’s response to monkeypox.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and two leaders of the White House monkeypox response team joined officials with the D.C. Department of Health on Thursday for a visit to D.C.’s recently opened Monkeypox Vaccine Clinic on Martin Luther King Jr. Ave., S.E. in Ward 8.

In a briefing for reporters, who were invited to join Becerra and the White House officials on a tour of the clinic, the D.C. and federal officials pointed to a sharp decline in new monkeypox cases in D.C. as a sign of a successful federal and local government partnership in dramatically boosting the number of people at risk for monkeypox who have been vaccinated.

“I welcome you all to our Ward 8 Monkeypox Vaccine Clinic,” said Dr. Sharon Lewis, Interim Director of the D.C. Department of Health, which is also referred to as D.C. Health.

“Please take note that D.C. Health was very active in initiating back in May” the city’s effort to address monkeypox, she said. “We started our planning and as soon as we were aware of the first case in June, we had actually set up vaccines and were ready to implement our plan.”

Dr. Anil Mangla, the State Epidemiologist for the D.C. Department of Health, told the gathering the number of D.C. monkeypox cases peaked during the week of July 17, and new cases in the District have declined since then by an average of over 20 percent per week.

“I would call it our success story in D.C.,” Mangla said. “So, our cases peaked nine weeks ago, the week of July 17. If you look at the national trends and statistics, the nation essentially peaked about six weeks ago, so we were already three weeks in advance,” he said.

Mangla pointed out that the clinic where the HHS and White House officials visited on Thursday at 3640 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave., S.E. and the city’s two other Monkeypox vaccination clinics are walk-in facilities where D.C. residents can go for a vaccination without an appointment. The other two are located at 1900 I St., N.W. and 7530 Georgia Ave., N.W.

Becerra praised Mangla and his boss, Dr. Lewis, and their team of public health officials for aggressively reaching out to those at risk for monkeypox, including gay and bisexual men, to encourage them to get vaccinated and promptly treating those who tested positive for the monkeypox virus.

“So, let me first say to Director Lewis, Dr. Mangla, and to all your team, thank you for being affirmative in bringing in the steps to stop monkeypox,” Becerra said. “And more importantly, to go where the people are rather than waiting for the people to come to you.”

He said D.C. efforts in addressing monkeypox were among the efforts in other cities and states across the country where a joint federal-local partnership was taking place. 

“We need strong partnerships,” he said. “We need your help, because you know the many trusted voices in the communities that you’ve got more of than we would,” he said. “We’ll provide the vaccine,” said Becerra, noting that the Biden administration in partnership with various federal agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration, has distributed more than a million vaccine doses nationally.

Among the White House officials who spoke at the briefing and joined the tour of the Ward 8 Monkeypox Vaccination Clinic was Robert Fenton, who President Biden on Aug. 2 named as White House National Monkeypox Response Coordinator. Also speaking was Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, who Biden named as White House National Monkeypox Response Deputy Coordinator.

A statement released by the White House at the time Biden appointed the two men says Fenton has served as Regional Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Region 9 in the western part of the U.S. and was considered one of the nation’s most experienced emergency management leaders.

The statement says Daskalakis, a leading public health expert, is currently the Director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of HIV Prevention.

“Widely known as a national expert on health issues affecting the LGBTQIA+ communities, his clinical practice has focused on providing care for the underserved LGBTQIA+ communities,” the White House statement says.

In his remarks at the briefing on Thursday, Daskalakis also praised D.C. Health officials and the communities they have reached out to for encouraging behavioral changes among the groups most at risk for monkeypox.

“So, the clear message is that gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men, transgender individuals, and other gender diverse folks who have sex with men are not only getting the vaccine and testing, but also what they can do in their daily lives to be able to prevent infection,” he said. “I think that is another testament to the work you’ve done and is another example of the great partnership between federal public health and local public health.”

The D.C. Department of Health’s most recent data on monkeypox cases in the city shows that as of Sept. 15, the city had a cumulative total of 488 cases, with 19 hospitalizations and no deaths. Out of the 488 total, 97.3 percent were male, and 1.2 percent were female.

Regarding the sexual orientation of those who make up the 488 cases, 48 percent were listed as gay, 5.7 percent as bisexual, 3.9 percent as straight/heterosexual, 1 percent as “other,” and 41.4 percent as “Unknown.” The data released included an asterisk for the number of lesbian cases, which a footnote says could be four or fewer such cases.

At the briefing on Thursday, the Blade asked Dr. Mangla, the D.C. Health epidemiologist, to explain why he thought the number of D.C. monkeypox cases in gay men and other men who have sex with men were initially listed by D.C. Health officials to be over 90 percent of the total cases. But in recent weeks, the Blade pointed out, the data show the number of “gay” cases were at about 50 percent or a little lower and a new category of “unknown” sexual orientation cases was in the 40 percent to 50 percent range.

Mangla said he thought the discrepancy was due to a flaw in the data gathering during the early stage of the monkeypox outbreak in D.C. that has since been corrected. “It took us a few weeks to make that kind of adjustment and to say we are now confident enough that the data is accurate for policy decisions and anything else,” he said.

He did not say whether he or D.C. Health knows which demographic groups made up the “Unknown” category of 41.4 percent in the most recent data released.

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Maryland

FreeState Justice files lawsuit against former executive director

Jeremy LaMaster allegedly launched ‘coordinated attack’ on organization’s operations

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Former FreeState Justice Executive Director Jeremy LaMaster (Photo courtesy of Jeremy LaMaster)

FreeState Justice on Wednesday filed a federal lawsuit against its former executive director who has accused its board of directors of having a “white supremacist culture.”

The lawsuit, which FreeState Justice filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, notes the board on Sept. 16 informed Jeremy LaMaster that “they were relieved of their duties, and the final two weeks of their employment were to be spent cooperating in the transition of FreeState’s operations.”

“LaMaster abruptly left the meeting early and immediately began a coordinated attack on FreeState’s operations; in particular, its IT assets,” reads the lawsuit. “When FreeState discovered LaMaster’s improper interference, it terminated their employment effective immediately, ordered them to cease and desist and to rectify their actions. LaMaster did not abide and continued to hijack and misappropriate FreeState’s IT infrastructure and documents.” 

The lawsuit alleges that LaMaster “unilaterally and without authorization changed user permissions and shared login information so only they had access to numerous systems and accounts.” 

“They also removed employees’ administrative access to numerous systems and accounts, leaving such access to only themself,” reads the lawsuit. “In doing so, LaMaster has left FreeState’s employees with little to no access to client files, case files, dashboard reports,and case notes. LaMaster also changed the password to FreeState’s WordPress account, leaving LaMaster in sole control of FreeState’s website.” 

LaMaster, who uses nonbinary and binary pronouns, in a message they sent from his FreeState Justice email account on Monday announced their resignation after they said the board declined to step down.

“This morning, I requested the FreeState Justice board of directors to submit their immediate resignations due to persistent violations of our board handbook, consistent failures in their fiduciary responsibilities, and using positions of power to engage in partisan lobbying within FreeState Justice and their repeated refusal to add new members and leadership to the board,” wrote LaMaster.

LaMaster in their email noted they “exhausted every avenue over the past two years to get our board fully staffed and running, and I made good faith efforts to work with the board to ensure that our clients and low-income LGBTQ Marylanders remained at our center.” 

“Instead, the board has refused to accept any new board members since 2021 and refused to staff and run core board activities as per our handbook,” wrote LaMaster. “Instead, they have worked to consolidate power and amend the board handbook in secret to lower the minimum number of board members required and ensure that our policy positions prioritize relationships with legislators, not the best interests of our clients and community. I have provided clear warnings and consistent concerns over these issues that were repeatedly ignored.”

“These are the hallmarks of white supremacist culture: The concentration of power, power hoarding, defensiveness, right to comfort, fear of open conflict, hyper-individualism, and a false sense of urgency,” added LaMaster.

FreeState Justice in response to LaMaster’s allegations said it fired them on Sept. 16 “after prolonged and thoughtful deliberation” and further noted their statement “does not reflect the views or ideals of FreeState Justice’s board and staff.” FreeState Justice has named Phillip Westry as LaMaster’s successor.

The lawsuit alleges LaMaster “has commandeered” Westry’s Google account, “rendering him unable to access his emails, internal work calendars, and collaborative documents shared and worked on via Google Drive.” 

“LaMaster also now has unfettered and improper access to employee lists, donor lists, volunteer lists, mailing lists, client lists, and pro bono attorney lists,” reads the lawsuit. 

“Despite FreeState’s insistence that they cease their unlawful activities and restore operations immediately, LaMaster proceeded to upload a defamatory post to FreeState’s website and disseminated it to approximately 43,000 recipients on FreeState’s mailing list, which they accessed without authorization,” it notes. “The post, titled, ‘Whistleblowing: Public Call for the Resignation of the FreeState Board of Directors’ falsely depicts the circumstances surrounding their departure from FreeState by stating that they resigned, without basis alleged that the Board engaged in ethical violations, and likened FreeState’s Board to White Supremacists, claiming they supported white supremacist culture and practices, and were not ‘anti-racist.’ This is false, defamatory, and denigrating of FreeState and its board members, and extraordinarily damaging for a social justice organization.” 

The lawsuit further notes that because “LaMaster did not comply with FreeState’s cease and desist letter, because LaMaster continues to infiltrate FreeState’s systems and accounts, and because LaMaster, after receiving FreeState’s cease and desist letter published a post defaming FreeState, and without authorization, posted it to FreeState’s website, and disseminated it to its mailing list of approximately 43,000 people with his FreeState email address, FreeState has no choice but to seek judicial intervention to prevent further unlawful conduct, and irreparable harm to FreeState.”

“FreeState requests an immediate hearing on this matter,” reads the lawsuit. “It can be reasonably presumed that LaMaster will continue to use FreeState’s proprietary information to interfere with FreeState’s business relations and continue to interfere with FreeState’s possessory interests in its systems and accounts, depriving FreeState personnel of access to the accounts, documents, and files they need to perform their work.”

The Washington Blade has reached out to LaMaster for comment on the lawsuit. 

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