Connect with us


Joe Vogel makes his mark in Md. General Assembly

Montgomery County Democrat is one of state’s youngest lawmakers



Maryland state Del. Joe Vogel (D-Montgomery County) at the LGBTQ+ Victory Fund National Champagne Brunch in D.C. on April 23, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Maryland state Del. Joe Vogel (D-Montgomery County) on Sunday during an interview with the Washington Blade praised the many legislative milestones that marked this year’s legislative session.

Most of the lawmaker’s bills addressed the opioid crisis, mental health, gun violence and LGBTQ issues. Vogel noted he opted to work to safeguard people’s fundamental rights.

“We have been leading the way on this [LGBTQ issues.] This legislative session, we passed a bill to expand access to gender-affirming care for Medicaid recipients, making it so that if you are poor and on Medicaid, you have access to the same gender affirming care as if you are wealthy, and on private insurance,” he told the Blade before he attended the LGBTQ+ Victory Fund’s National Champagne Brunch that took place at the JW Marriott Hotel in D.C.

Maryland has also been at the forefront of abortion rights by driving the efforts to enshrine the right into the state’s constitution. The General Assembly also passed a measure to end the state’s statute of limitations for when a civil suit can be filed against public or private institutions when related to child sexual abuse. 

Vogel described Democratic Gov. Wes Moore as “a phenomenal champion for the LGBTQ+ community.” 

“He has been a partner on a lot of these pieces of legislation that I mentioned earlier,” said Vogel. “He had us over at his house recently just to express to our LGBTQ+ caucus — just to express his commitment to our community.”

Vogel differentiated Moore from other governors, including Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.

“He (Moore) is someone who is such a contrast to governors like Ron DeSantis, or Greg Abbott,” said Vogel. “They wake up every morning thinking about what they can do to hurt our community, whereas the governor of Maryland right, Wes Moore, he wakes up every morning, and I’m convinced he thinks about what you can do for the well-being of every Marylander. And that includes the LGBTQ community.”

‘There is a hunger for a new generation of leadership’

Vogel, who represents District 17, is 26 and one of the House of Delegates’ youngest members.

“There is a hunger for a new generation of leadership,” Vogel told the Blade, referring to young politicians who are beginning to take center stage around the country. “And I think, without a doubt, you have a Republican Party that is intent on eroding our democracy — on attacking our fundamental rights.”

Vogel, who was born in Uruguay, noted the similarity he saw between the dictatorship that his homeland suffered in the 20th century and the current situation in the U.S.

“It’s something very interesting about the fall of your democracy — is that what you had going on, there was a far right, that was chipping away at those democratic institutions. And the left was growing hopeless, and losing faith in democratic governance,” he said. “They were saying, ‘Well, the system’s broken anyways, it’s not benefiting us, whatever. We don’t care about anything.’ And if you look at this country right now, though, that is a pattern that we are seeing here, we are seeing a far right attempting to chip away in whatever way they can at our fundamental rights and democratic institutions.” 

Uruguay’s civic-military dictatorship lasted 12 years, from 1973-1985. It carried out many human rights violations that included the use of extreme torture methods and forced disappearances. 

The term “civic-military” refers to the military regime’s relatively slow annexing of power from civilian presidents who continued to serve as head of state — contrary to other Latin American countries in which militaries immediately took control through coups.

Vogel, for his part, did not rule out the possibility of running for higher office, calling it a possibility to continue to “fight” for the issues that are happening today.

“That’s what we’ll do,” he said. 



Bethesda church hosts transgender, nonbinary photo exhibit

Photographer Gwen Andersen showcases community members of all ages, backgrounds



One of the photos that is part of photographer Gwen Andersen's "Becoming Ourselves" exhibit. (Photo courtesy of Gwen Andersen)

Amid the spate of anti-transgender legislation, the bullying of trans students and lack of gender-affirming care for young people across the country, photographer Gwen Andersen’s photo exhibit seeks to portray the trans and nonbinary community in a positive light.

Andersen’s “Becoming Ourselves” exhibit that documents trans and nonbinary people will be on display at the Bethesda United Church of Christ (10010 Fernwood Road) this summer.

Andersen spearheaded the exhibit along with the Rev. Dr. Jill McCrory from Bethesda UCC. The church paid for the project with a donation it received from Stevie Neal, a trans woman who passed away and left part of her estate to McCrory.

McCrory herself has been a pillar in the LGBTQ community for decades, including while pastor at Twinbrook Baptist Church.

The congregation that McCrory closed dispersed more than $1 million to various ministries and LGBTQ organizations, founded the MoCo Pride Center, and married a same-sex couple on the rainbow stage of Capital Pride in 2010.  Bethesda UCC has also marked the Transgender Day of Remembrance, and hosted a renaming ceremony for a trans baptized member. 

“I happen to have access to a wonderful transgender woman’s (Stevie) donation that she left me to do something for the transgender community,” said McCrory over a Zoom interview. “Andersen came to Rev. McCrory in November of 2023 with the idea. “Gwen knew Stevie. I thought this would be perfect because this is something that would benefit the transgender community.” 

“WIthout Stevie, this surely would not have happened. And I say that with great confidence,” Andersen said in a Zoom interview. 

Stevie Neal with her dog. (Photo courtesy of Gwen Andersen)

“Becoming Ourselves” debuted at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Rockville in March. 

The exhibit features photos of trans and nonbinary people from across the country that Andersen and a number of other photographers took.

The photos feature people from all ages — from preteens to elders from all walks of life that include teachers, community leaders, and athletes. Andersen’s exhibit also showcases people who are proudly showing their top surgery scars. It also shows trans and nonbinary people in a variety of ways, from enjoying music, playing sports, and working.

The exhibit most importantly shows them being happy. 

Anderson’s exhibit has two main goals: Give a space for trans and nonbinary people to see others in their community in a positive way, and to shift the narrative on how people see trans and nonbinary people. 

“It was an emotional issue that won hearts and minds.” said Andersen in reference to the LGBTQ movement to legalize same-sex marriage. “I believe we will reduce the hostility against transgender people by winning hearts and minds.” 

“One of the most effective messages is to protect trans kids,” she added. “Right now the hostility has not just gone against adults, it has gone against children, and children are being harassed, beaten up, and killing themselves. In much the same way as gays and lesbians were killing ourselves 30 years ago. I think what will be effective is tugging on hearts and minds and reclaiming the narrative from hate and fear, to love.”

Andersen wants to eventually get a more permanent location for the exhibit rather than bringing it to different venues. But until then, she plans to bring it to other churches that are interested in hosting it.

Anyone interested in supporting Andersen’s exhibit can log onto the “Becoming Ourselves” website, or directly help any of the photographers whose work is showcased. Andersen has directed folks to support photographer Liam Woods, whose online name is Analogue Papi.

Continue Reading


Moore pardons more than 175,000-plus cannabis-related convictions

Governor signed executive order at State House on Monday



Maryland Gov. Wes Moore (Public domain photo/Twitter)

BY BRENDA WINTRODE and PAMELA WOOD | Gov. Wes Moore pardoned more than 175,000 cannabis-related convictions Monday, nullifying guilty verdicts decided when carrying small amounts of the drug or paraphernalia was illegal.

The Democratic governor signed an executive order during a State House ceremony, granting clemency to thousands of people convicted in Maryland. The convictions to be pardoned include more than 150,000 misdemeanors for simple possession and more than 18,000 for possession of drug paraphernalia with an intent to use.

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

Continue Reading


Silver Spring Pride sign rebuilt in memory of beloved neighbor

GoFundMe campaign has raised more than $4,000



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.

Continue Reading

Sign Up for Weekly E-Blast

Follow Us @washblade