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Baltimore house fires investigated as potential anti-gay hate crime

Pride flags set ablaze, three people injured

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(Photo by Jim Becker)

Baltimore police are investigating a fire that injured three people as a potential anti-gay hate crime.

Firefighters and police were called to a home on East 31st Street in North Baltimore’s Waverly neighborhood on Wednesday at 4:30 a.m. and found two separate fires. A home sporting Pride décor was set on fire, which injured three people, and the Pride flag on a house across the street was also ablaze.

The house fire resulted in damages to multiple houses and sent a 30-year-old woman and 57-year-old man in the hospital in critical condition, and a 74-year-old man in the hospital in serious condition. According to a press release sent to the Washington Blade by Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott’s office, the 30-year-old woman has since been released from the hospital, but the men remain hospitalized in critical and serious condition.

In photos of the scene shared by the Baltimore Fire Department, one home appeared to be completely burnt out, and an adjacent home appeared to have sustained considerable fire damage. According to the Fire Department, all the houses’ residents made it out, but the motives behind the blaze remain unconfirmed. 

“I have been on the scene, spoken with residents, and received updates from BCFD and BPD on the investigation status,” Scott said. “At this point, we cannot confirm that this was a hate crime. However, my agencies will bring every appropriate resource to bear to get to the bottom of this tragic event. Regardless, I continue to stand in solidarity with our LGBTQ+ community.”

According to Scott’s press release; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the FBI are assisting in a joint operation between the city of Baltimore, the Baltimore City Police Department and the Baltimore Fire Department to investigate the causes and origins of the fire. 

This is not the first time Pride flags have burned in Baltimore.

Just over a month ago, a man was caught on camera lighting rainbow flags on fire, resulting in a police investigation. In the aftermath of that incident, the neighborhood rallied in support of the LGBTQ+ community, ordering more than 100 Pride flags to give out to residents. After this more recent — and more damaging — fire, Police Commissioner Michael S. Harrison reaffirmed the city’s commitment to protecting its residents from hateful acts.

“It is completely unacceptable that there are now lives at risk and homes destroyed due to the actions of persons who have no regard for the lives and property of others,” Harrison said. “While we are still working to determine the details and motives for these incidents, I want to say that the BPD, the city and our communities will not tolerate any criminal behavior of any sort, let alone actions that may stem from hatred, bias and other bigoted attacks.”

(Photo by Jim Becker)
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Maryland

Abortion rights in post-Roe Maryland, Delaware

Practice generally legal, with some restrictions

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Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (Public domain photo)

The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday overturned Roe v. Wade, which in 1973 found that the decision to receive an abortion was generally protected by the Constitution of the United States. With the broadest federal protection of abortion access now rescinded, the legality of abortion will by and large be determined on the state level.

In Delaware, abortion is legal through the Medical Practice Act — but with some restrictions.

After fetal viability, or the point where a fetus can survive outside the uterus, abortion in the First State becomes illegal unless necessary for the patient’s “life or health,” or if the fetus has a condition “for which there is not a reasonable likelihood” that it will survive outside the uterus, according to Subchapter IX of the act

Additionally, under the state’s Parental Notice of Abortion Act, physicians cannot perform a surgical abortion on minors under the age of 16 unless the patient’s parent or guardian has received at least 24 hours notice from a medical professional. Notice is not required for nonsurgical abortions.

On the federal level, the funding of abortion is illegal through the 1977 Hyde Amendement “except in cases of life endangerment, rape or incest,” according to the Guttmacher Institute, a sexual and reproductive rights advocacy organization. States are only federally required to fund abortions that meet these conditions through federal-state Medicaid programs. 

While some states also fund abortions deemed medically necessary regardless of whether they endanger a patient’s life, Delaware state law does not extend beyond federal guidelines: The state only funds abortions in cases of life endangerment, rape or incest.

Abortion legislation in Delaware mirrors neighboring Maryland, whose laws include similar restrictions on abortion after fetal viability and abortion for minors under the age of 16. But abortion laws in these states are generally more restrictive than other mid-Atlantic counterparts, such as New Jersey and New York.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) weighed in on the state’s abortion law on Friday.

“In 1992, Maryland voters approved a constitutional referendum legalizing and protecting access to abortion as a matter of state law – that measure remains in effect today following the Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson. I swore an oath to uphold the Constitution and the laws of Maryland, and that is what I have always done and will continue to do as governor.”

The impact of Roe v. Wade’s fall in Delaware remains uncertain. While the abortion rate in Delaware steadily declined between 2014 and 2017, recent findings show that instances of abortion are increasing once again in the state, reflecting a rise on the national level.

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Howard County executive announces plans for LGBTQ commission

Calvin Ball made announcement at Wednesday press conference in Columbia

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Howard County Executive Calvin Ball announces plans for new LGBTQ commission. (Photo courtesy of Howard County government)

Under the “People’s Tree” sculpture near the Columbia lakefront, Howard County Executive Calvin Ball announced at a press conference on Wednesday the filing of legislation that would permanently establish the current LGBTQ Workgroup as a formal commission.

The new commission would follow the work of the LGBTQ Workgroup launched in 2019 by Ball.

“This commission will help move Howard County forward and will identify best practices to affirm members of the gay and transgender community; recommend initiatives to support LGBTQIA+ families and children; and advise us on policy and programs that impact our gay and transgender community, and on how to improve outcomes for underserved and at-risk members of the LGBTQIA+ population,” said Ball in his opening remarks in front of a crowd that included members of the LGBTQ Workgroup, county employees, members of the county’s Human Rights commissioners and LGBTQ activists and allies as well as elected officials and candidates.

He added, “The commission will support, plan, and help execute events, like PRIDE, to celebrate and affirm our community.”

Ball, speakers at the event included Human Rights and Equity Administrator Yolanda Sonier; Register of Wills Byron Macfarlane; Howard County Human Rights Commissioner Bob Ford; PFLAG-Howard County President Jumel Howard and community member Vicki Weiss Vivrette.

“Howard County and Maryland have always led the way on LGBTQ+ rights,” said Macfarlane, a lifetime Howard County resident and the first openly gay elected official in the county. “From Howard County’s anti-discrimination law passed many decades ago, to hate crime and anti-discrimination laws at the state level, to Maryland becoming one of the first states to pass marriage equality — not by judicial fiat — but by popular vote. Our community and our allies have achieved so much, but we know our hard-fought rights are under siege as we speak.”

Ford, the only out member of the county’s Human Rights Commission, continued that point. 

“From a failed attempt to disrupt a Pride celebration in Idaho, to storming into a drag queen storytelling session in California, to over 200 bills in state legislatures aimed at stripping the rights of LGBTQ people especially trans kids — these are wake-up calls. Moreover, at one political party’s convention in Texas this past weekend, language was added to their platform that ‘homosexuality is an abnormal lifestyle choice’ and that party opposes ‘all efforts to validate transgender identity.’”

Ford pointed out that recent Pride flag burnings in Baltimore and that Pride flags have been banned in neighboring Carroll County schools, the chopping down and theft of a welcoming sign from a local church, and a vocal group of parents trying to ban LGBTQ content from books to curricula in schools indicate Howard County is not immune to hate.

The plan for the establishment of the new commission requires the approval of the county council and will be filed in July.

The George Howard Building, the headquarters for Howard County government, was bathed in rainbow lights after Wednesday’s event.

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Man arrested for anti-LGBTQ vandalism at P.G. County libraries

Graffiti of word ‘groomer’ listed as hate crime

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(Photo courtesy of the P.G. County Police)

Prince George’s County, Md., police on Thursday charged a Takoma Park, Md., man with two counts of hate-related malicious destruction of property for allegedly spray painting in large yellow letters the word “groomer” on two public library buildings of the Prince George’s County Memorial Library System.

A June 16 statement released by P.G. police states that Charles Southerland, 30, of Takoma Park allegedly carried out the vandalism at the Greenbelt Branch Library at 11 Crescent Rd., Greenbelt, Md., on June 4 and at the New Carrollton Branch Library at 7414 Riverdale Rd., New Carrollton, Md., on June 9.

WTOP News reports that Sutherland himself is a librarian working at the Prince George’s County public school system’s library at Northview Elementary School in Bowie, Md. The school system says Southerland has been placed on administrative leave.

“The preliminary investigation revealed Southerland spray-painted the word ‘groomer’ on the exteriors of both buildings,” the P.G. County police statement says. “He has confessed to the incidents,” the statement continues. “Anyone with information on Southerland is encouraged to call 301-699-2601,” it says.

Organizations monitoring hate groups in the United States have said anti-LGBTQ organizations and individuals have for the last few years used the term “groomer” to describe their claims that LGBTQ people attempt to “groom” school children as a means of recruiting them into homosexuality and to transition.

“From what we can tell, that’s one of the kinds of dog whistle words that the anti-LGBTQ+ extremists are using this year,” said Nicholas Brown, a spokesperson for the P.G. library system. “There’s been some national news coverage about that word specifically,” he said.

In a statement released shortly before P.G. police announced they had made an arrest in the vandalism incident, the P.G. public library system condemned the vandalism and said it would not waiver from its commitment to maintaining “welcoming spaces for LGBTQ+ customers and their allies,” which some observers have suggested could have been the reason the suspect targeted the two library buildings.

“The Library is nationally recognized for its outreach and programs in support of LGBTQ+ inclusion through staff leadership and partnerships with a wide range of local government and non-profit partners,” the library system’s statement says.

Brown said he wasn’t at liberty to disclose how police linked Southerland to the vandalism incidents. But in response to a question from the Washington Blade, he said the library system has a video surveillance system in place that monitors both the interior and exterior of all its buildings.

It couldn’t immediately be determined whether Southerland had appeared in court following his arrest and whether he will be held or released pending trial.

Charles Southerland (Photo courtesy of the P.G. County Police)
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