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Trans woman sues officials over abusive treatment in Baltimore jails

Lawsuit says sexual assault occurred after she was placed in all-male dorm

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Attorney Eve Hill (standing at podium), representing Chelsea Gilliam (seated on left), speaks at a news conference last week announcing a lawsuit.

A lawsuit filed in federal court in Baltimore on April 18 charges the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services and seven of its high-level officials with subjecting a transgender woman to “cruel and unusual punishment” during the six months she was held in two Baltimore jails.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Chelsea Gilliam, 33, says Gilliam was arrested in December 2021 on an assault charge and was being held while awaiting trial at the Baltimore City Correctional Center and the Maryland Reception, Diagnostic and Classification Center.

“Both facilities refused to accept Ms. Gilliam’s legally changed name and her gender identity,” according to a statement by the Baltimore law firm Brown, Goldstein & Levy, which is representing Gilliam. “While at the Baltimore jail, Ms. Gilliam was placed in a dormitory of all men for three months, from December 2021 to early February 2022,” the statement says.

“Despite her femininity and gender identity as a woman, Ms. Gilliam was forced to live and shower with male inmates,” the statement continues. “During this time, she was harassed by both officers and inmates and ultimately sexually assaulted by another inmate,” it says.

“The jail took no action when Ms. Gilliam reported the assault. She was also denied her hormone treatment,” the statement says.

The statement, which provides a summary of the 35-page lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, says that in February 2022, Gilliam was moved to the Maryland Reception, Diagnostic and Classification Center in Baltimore, which serves as an intake prison for male inmates, according to its website.

It says that during her entire time there Gilliam was placed in segregation, which is a form of solitary confinement, solely because she is transgender.

“Officers shackled Ms. Gilliam by the hands, waist and ankles each time she left her cell, even though she never violated the facility’s rules,” the statement says. “Ms. Gilliam suffered a great deal of anxiety and distress from these experiences,” it says.

The lawsuit alleges that Gilliam was subjected to “cruel and unusual” treatment in violation of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act based on her status as a transgender person with the condition of gender dysphoria.

“Ms. Gilliam received hormone treatments for her gender dysphoria for 18 years prior to her incarceration and has continued to receive hormone treatments since her release,” the lawsuit says. Among other things, it cites reports from experts in the field of medicine and mental health stating that hormone treatment is needed for most people with gender dysphoria and the denial of such treatment is harmful to individuals receiving it.

The lawsuit also states that in their action or lack of action that placed Gilliam in danger while she was incarcerated, corrections officials failed to comply with existing regulations that specifically call for taking steps to protect transgender inmates from potential harm.

Court records show that Gilliam pleaded guilty to a charge of second-degree assault on May 12, 2022, and was sentenced to supervised probation and released.

Eve Hill, the attorney representing Gilliam, told the Washington Blade that Carolyn Scruggs, the current Secretary of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (MDPSCS), who is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, was appointed to her position in January by the state’s newly elected governor, Wes Moore. Moore has been a longtime supporter of the LGBTQ community.

“We would hope that such a strong supporter of LGBTQ+ rights would want to resolve this matter and make the state’s correctional facilities safe for transgender people, but we have received no response from our overture,” Hill told the Blade.

Hill said that under the federal court system, it is up to the judge to determine the extent of mediation or negotiation that may be required to potentially resolve a lawsuit through a settlement before it goes to trial.

Shortly after the lawsuit was filed, the MDPSCS released a statement saying it could not comment specifically on a pending lawsuit but said it “takes very seriously – and treats with urgency – the protection of every single incarcerated person’s dignity and safety.”

The statement adds, “The Department has met with advocacy groups and has tirelessly worked on the complex issues related to the transgender incarcerated population and is committed to updating its policies as necessary based on correctional and medical professionals’ recommendations to ensure safety of everyone in our facilities.”

The statement concludes by saying MDPSCS is audited by Department of Justice certified auditors that audit one-third of the state’s correctional facilities each year. It says the department “is not aware of any facility that has ever received a corrective action for a transgender related issue.”

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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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Maryland

Trans woman wins Miss Maryland USA, making history with a list of pageant firsts

Bailey Anne Kennedy won crown on June 1

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Bailey Anne Kennedy smiles with tears in her eyes as she holds a bouquet and wears a tiara and Miss Maryland 2024 sash. The previous year's winner adjusts her sash and other beauty pageant contestants smile and applaud behind her. (Photo by Anthony M. Gomes/Miss Maryland USA)

BY JOHN-JOHN WILLIAMS IV | She’s 31. She’s married to a military officer. She’s Asian American. And she’s a trans woman.

When Bailey Anne Kennedy was crowned on Saturday as Miss Maryland USA, she broke almost every barrier that existed in the state’s pageant history. And she did it with her first pageant.

The rest of this article can be read on the Baltimore Banner’s website.

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Maryland

How Hogan, Alsobrooks are courting LGBTQ support in Md. US Senate race

Republican former governor marched in Annapolis Pride Parade

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Larry Hogan, middle, U.S. Senate candidate and former governor of Maryland, hugs supporters as he marches in the Annapolis Pride Parade and Festival on June 1, 2024. (Photo by Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

BY PAMELA WOOD | With a rainbow sticker affixed to his campaign ballcap and another on his black polo shirt, Larry Hogan zig-zagged from one side of the street to the other, shaking hands and posing for selfies at the Annapolis Pride Parade on Saturday afternoon.

The former governor, now a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, was marching in his first-ever Pride Month event. “How you doing? Happy Pride!” he said to obliging parade-watchers. Others quietly dodged Hogan and a few openly booed him.

“Get Republicans out of Pride!” one person shouted.

The rest of this article can be found on the Baltimore Banner’s website.

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