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University of Maryland students march for LGBTQ rights on ‘Maryland Day’

Participants wore Pride flags, waved ‘say gay’ placards

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LGBTQ students march to McKeldin Mall at the University of Maryland in College Park, Md., on April 30, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Tinashe Chingarande)

LGBTQ students at the University of Maryland marched across campus Saturday in response to legislation passed in many states that bars the discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation in schools. As this happened, families from across the state were gathered all over campus to celebrate the university’s annual community outreach event, “Maryland Day.” 

The “Let’s Say Gay Parade” began in the Adele H. Stamp Student Union, trekked through McKeldin Mall—where many Maryland Day attractions were situated—and ended in the student union. Students, parents and members of the campus community were in attendance. 

“For the people who aren’t at this event today, call [and email] your local representatives,” said Veena Aruldhas. 

Aruldhas, 23, is a senior studying information science at the university. They are also vice president of the school’s Pride Alliance and also work on the Pride month committee within Multicultural Involvement Community Advocacy, a campus inclusion group.

“Show up for the people who can’t speak for themselves because their rights have been infringed upon,” said Aruldhas. 

Legislation aimed at erasing discussions about gender and sexual identity in schools has been on the rise across the country. 

Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the controversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill in late March that bans public school teachers from providing instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in classrooms. The bill also allows parents to sue schools that violate its prescriptions. 

Ohio lawmakers also proposed a similar bill in early April that, in addition, limits education about other “divisive concepts” such as the 1619 Project, critical race theory and “any other concept that the state board of education defines as divisive or inherently racist.”

While Maryland legislators this year haven’t launched attacks on classroom instruction like the other two states, recent efforts to provide health equity for transgender individuals through the Trans Health Equity Act were stalled in this year’s General Assembly 90-day legislative session.

Therefore, graduate student Joey Haavik, 26, believes the rise of homophobic legislation around the country escalates the need for Marylanders to review local legislation. 

“This didn’t get as much attention,” they said in reference to the Trans Health Equity Act. Haavik is studying international education and policy and works as an advisor to campus LGBTQ organizations. “So, even though people experience many differing levels of hatred, there’s many ways to advocate for our community.”

State Sen. Mary Washington (D-Baltimore City), who attended the event and also gave a keynote speech, spoke on the bill’s failure.

“Events like these empower us to mobilize against attacks on marginalized people in our communities,” she said. “We must be relentless in the fight for a fair and just world.”

House of Delegates candidate Ashanti Martinez also spoke about the bill at the event. 

Martinez is a Democrat campaigning for the District 22 seat, and if elected will be the first openly gay Afro-Latino man from Prince George’s County to represent the jurisdiction in the chamber. 

“The [bill] vanished … [and] we want to know why,” he said. “This erasure of LGBTQ folks is intentional.”

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Maryland

Md. General Assembly passes inclusive schools bill

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan has 30 days to sign HB 850

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The Maryland State House (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Maryland General Assembly voted Monday to ban state-funded schools and county boards of education from discriminating against students on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity race, nationality, disability, and other identity markers. 

The House of Delegates passed the Inclusive Schools Act, also known as House Bill 850, by a 96-36 margin. It is now headed to Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s desk and the governor has 30 days to either sign or veto the legislation. If he takes no action, the bill will take effect on July 1. 

“After five years of introduction, me and [Sen. Cory McCray’s] prohibition on discrimination in schools has reached final passage,” said state Del. Jheanelle K. Wilkins (D-Montgomery County) in a Twitter post Monday evening. 

Wilkins was one of the bill’s sponsors. 

Should state-funded schools  — pre-kindergarten, primary and secondary — and boards of education not adhere to nondiscrimination policies, they risk losing part of all their financing. The bill also prohibits retaliatory actions against students, parents and individuals who file complaints alleging discrimination.

“There is an important message in this legislation, as well, that taxpayer money should never fund those engaging in discrimination, bias, and hate,” said FreeState Justice Executive Director Jeremy LaMaster in an online press release Tuesday morning.  

The Maryland State Department of Education will increase general fund expenditure by $42,100 in fiscal year 2023 to accommodate provisions for the bill, according to the bill’s fiscal and policy note.  

The passing of the Inclusive Schools Act follows years of documented discrimination in schools around the state. 

The Baltimore Sun reported in 2020 that Black students in the Carroll County Public Schools District were subjected to harassment that included being called racial slurs, bullied, caricatured when classmates asked to touch their hair, and being perceived as unsafe to be around. 

“We all have to live by these certain rules and regulations in order to avoid the speculation [that] we’re doing something bad,” student Kelechukwu Ahulamibe told the Baltimore Sun, referring to the “rules of survival” his mother taught him to maneuver his surroundings. 

Black people comprise 3.9 percent of the county’s population, according to Census data. This has translated into a lack of Black students in its school system that has left some feeling like outsiders in their community.

To remedy this, public schools in the area have created student cultural organizations where marginalized children and allies can congregate and support each other. The Carroll County Public School District also has an Equity and Inclusion Outreach program available for parents and students as a resource for educational programming and accountability.

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Transgender health care bill passes in Md. House committee

Trans Health Equity Act of 2022 passed by 14-8 vote margin

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conversion therapy, gay news, Washington Blade
(Photo by Chad Zajdowicz by Flickr)

A bill that would require Maryland’s Medicaid program to provide coverage for gender-affirming treatment for transgender people passed in a Maryland House of Delegates committee on Friday.

The House Health and Government Operations Committee passed the Trans Health Equity Act of 2022 by a 14-8 vote margin. It will proceed to the House floor next week for consideration.

Legislators who sponsored the bill include state Sen. Mary Washington (D-Baltimore City), who believes that the committee vote is “a promising step in the right direction.”

“It’s been eight years since we passed legal protections outlawing discrimination against trans people in the areas of employment, housing, public accommodations and credit,” she said in an email statement to the Washington Blade. “We are one step closer to enhancing these basic economic civil rights with the passage of a bill that protects the public health and safety of all LGBTQ people.”

Washington also added that the bill will remove barriers within the Medicaid program to cover the full range of gender affirming treatment and procedures for low-income people. 

According to the bill’s revised fiscal and policy note, Medicaid would be required to cover individual procedures that range from less than $800 for voice therapy to more than $25,000 for facial feminization or masculinization surgeries. 

This would increase Medicaid expenditures by $52,743 for individuals who are transitioning from male to female and $52,493 for individuals who are transitioning from female to male. The bill would also increase the number of Medicaid enrollees seeking treatment to 25 people a year, according to the Maryland Department of Health. 

Prior to the vote, the Blade spoke to activists who attended a rally on Thursday in Annapolis in support of the Trans Health Equity Act. 

Trans Maryland, Annapolis Pride and Baltimore Safe Haven, among other advocacy groups, organized the rally.

“It was a beautiful expression of trans resilience and pride at a time when so many states are attacking trans rights,” said Sam Williamson, a Skadden Fellow for Homeless Persons Representation Project, which provides free legal services for low-income persons who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

“This bill will save lives and bring Maryland Medicaid up-to-date with the leading medical standards for gender-affirming care,” they said. 

Other activists also expressed faith in the bill’s future, given its prior success in the Senate. 

“I feel good about it having passed the Senate, which is usually the more difficult chamber to get things out of,” said CP Hoffman, policy director at FreeState Justice, an organization that provides legal services and policy advocacy to trans individuals in the state. 

Hoffman is also a practicing lawyer and member of the Maryland State Bar Association. 

“Usually, I try to stay cautiously optimistic with all bills until they’ve passed every chamber,” they added. 

Optimism among advocacy groups in the state isn’t blind. 

Legal action will be imminent if Republican Gov. Larry Hogan doesn’t sign the bill into law.

“We are considering filing a complaint with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and bringing a federal discrimination action under Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act,” said Hoffman.

FreeState Justice in the past has helped pass comprehensive non-discrimination state laws in favor of LGBTQ healthcare provisions.

In 2020, it helped overturn an archaic state law that prohibited nursing homes and hospitals from discriminating on the basis of race or national identity, but not sexuality. It also had health insurance non-discrimination rules, under the Affordable Care Act, written into state law so health insurers can’t discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, race, national origin and sex, among other identity markers.

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Church’s welcoming sign vandalized in Howard County

‘As a community, we must not accept hate’

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This sign was cut down by someone using a chainsaw last week. (Photo courtesy LLUMC)

If you drive east on Route 108 just beyond the River Hill Village Center in the Clarksville area of Howard County, Md. you can’t miss the 3 ft. by 6 ft. sign in front of the Linden Linthicum United Methodist Church. That sign boldly proclaimed, “EVERY ONE IS WELCOME HERE” with rainbow-colored decorations on it.

Well, you will miss it now, at least for the time being.

Apparently, not everyone buys into the message of inclusion. Under the cover of darkness on the night of Feb. 24, a person or persons used a chainsaw to cut through the substantial wooden posts supporting the sign adjacent to the church located at 12101 Linden Linthicum Lane and removed it.

Gayle Annis-Forder, pastor of the roughly 500-member congregation church promptly took to the Clarksville Happenings group on Facebook—one that typically includes member posts requesting information on contractors, babysitters, lost pets, and the like—to explain that it was not the church that took down the familiar sign but someone else had done the deed. She pointed out that the sign had been defaced last June and despite its unauthorized removal this time, “LLUMC still believes what the sign said, that everyone is welcome here.”

A total of 300 reactions appeared along with 150 comments all supporting Pastor Gayle and the church and denouncing the act of vandalism, which was reported the next morning to Howard County Police. Many believe this act should be investigated as a hate crime.

Bob Ford, a member of the Howard County Human Rights Commission, stressed the importance of reporting hate bias incidents to the police. “Even if a crime is not committed, being the victim of racial, religious, ethnic or sexual orientation and gender identity slurs should be reported to the police as hate bias incidents,” Ford explains. “Data must be compiled by law enforcement concerning these incidents so that measures can be implemented to reduce them in the future.”

In this matter, however, a crime was committed as private property was vandalized and removed.

“I’ve always loved that sign, big, bright, and right up front for all to see,” Charlotte Gammel Wojcik posted as an example of the type of comments displayed in response to the incident.

“I’m sorry some jackass ruined it. I hope you’ll replace it because I believe many who saw it felt supported, even if they never entered the church.”

Another comment was posted by Howard County Councilwoman Deb Jung whose district currently includes LLUMC.

“There is no doubt in my mind that you and your congregation live the values represented by your beautiful and welcoming sign. Reading these comments warms my heart knowing there are so many in our community who will not allow this to stand. We will replace the sign and it is my hope that we can make the sign replacement an event that will allow us all to come together and celebrate our love for one another. Later, Jung told me, “It was a despicable act of hate and vandalism.”

Janssen Evelyn, who is opposing Jung in the Democratic primary in that district, weighed in as well.

“The fact that someone went there with a chainsaw meant that they were intentional in their hate. We must be more intentional than that individual in our resolve and in our love. As a community, we must not accept hate. This is our watch, and we must show that everyone is welcome in our community.”

Pastor Gayle points out that although the sign contained rainbow colors, the welcoming message is not exclusively aimed at members of the LGBTQ+ community. She noted that members of that community would recognize the color scheme and understand that they are welcome. The message is broader, however. “LLUMC welcomes everybody.” 

Indeed, the church’s Statement of Values and Inclusion on the website reflects that point.
“As followers of Jesus, we the people of Linden Linthicum United Methodist Church are committed to welcoming and loving everyone as he did, without regard to ability, race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, family make-up or religion. We embrace the principles of love over hate, inclusion over bias, respect over prejudice, equality over bigotry, and caring for all. Therefore, we reject the targeted hate messages and exclusivist ideologies advocated by any group. Such messages are antithetical to the inclusive message of Jesus. We are committed to living out non-discriminating love in our lives, worship, study and service.”

Nonetheless, the LGBTQ community especially transgender kids have been under attack and would find this church a spiritual safe space for them and their family members to receive support. As an example of the assault on members of the community, Republican Senator from Florida, Rick Scott, laid out a widely panned agenda that says that there are only two genders, failing to acknowledge the reality of a gender identity spectrum. Moreover, Florida passed legislation dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill whereby the subjects of sexual orientation and gender identity cannot be discussed in primary grade levels.

Recognizing these developments in Florida and Texas specifically, Becca Niburg, an immigration attorney and a candidate for the Maryland House of Delegates from Howard County, issued the following statement:

“The sign referenced states that all are welcome across a rainbow background, specifically signaling inclusion to those in the LGBTQ community. Especially under the backdrop of the governor of Texas persecuting Trans kids, the removal of the sign signifies hate and division in our community and those who perpetrated the destructive act should be punished to the full extent of the law both criminally and civilly. I stand with the LGBTQ community and the Church, ready to assist and support.”

Adds Byron Macfarlane, the County’s Register of Wills and the first openly gay elected official in Howard County, “This is a reminder that Howard County isn’t immune to criminal acts of hate and intolerance. We have to reject hate in all its forms, call it out when we see it, and stand together. Our amazing rainbow LGBTQ+ community and our tremendous allies, including so many faith partners, must remain vigilant and undeterred as we build enduring relationships based on love and solidarity. These criminals can take down a sign, but they’ll never stop the march to true and lasting equality.”

Pastor Gayle has been moved by the support she has received from the community and by other faith leaders in Howard County. She indicated a new sign will be ordered and a celebration outside the church whereby community members can join in and observe the new welcoming sign is under consideration.

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