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Maryland General Assembly passes inclusive schools bill

“There is an important message in this legislation that taxpayer money should never fund those engaging in discrimination, bias, and hate”

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The Maryland Statehouse (Photo Credit: State of Maryland)

ANNAPOLIS – 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 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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Maryland

Trans teacher’s discrimination lawsuit settled with P.G. County

“This settlement vindicates my pleas for help and sensitivity training on LGBTQ+ issues for students and staff”

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Jennifer Eller (Photo courtesy of Lambda Legal)

GREENBELT, Md. – The Prince George’s County, Md., Board of Education and transgender former teacher Jennifer Eller have reached a settlement agreement regarding a 2018 discrimination lawsuit that Eller filed against the P.G. school system, according to a statement released by Eller’s attorneys.

Eller’s lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, charged that Eller suffered years of abuse, harassment, and discrimination at the hands of students, fellow teachers, staff, and school administrators while working as an English teacher in P.G. County’s public schools because of her status as a transgender woman.

The statement released by the LGBTQ litigation group Lambda Legal and the law firm Arnold & Porter, which provided pro bono legal representation for Eller, calls the settlement a victory for her.

“The settlement agreement includes monetary compensation and incorporates policy and training changes to protect transgender students and staff within Prince George’s County Public Schools,” the statement says.

“I’m relieved to see this case finally come to a resolution and satisfied to see that our case led to the adoption of these policy changes and training protocols to improve the school environment for everyone, including LGBTQ+ students and teachers” Eller said in the statement. “This settlement vindicates my pleas for help and sensitivity training on LGBTQ+ issues for students and staff,” she said.

The statement does not provide specific details of the terms of the settlement and does not disclose the amount of monetary compensation provided by the P.G. County Schools to Eller.

The lawsuit, as originally filed, called for the court to grant Eller “declaratory injunctive relief” to legally confirm she was forced to resign due to adverse conditions imposed on her by school officials. It also called for the court to require the school system to provide her back pay, lost benefits, and a possible reinstatement as a teacher.

Lambda Legal spokesperson Samy Nemir told the Blade Eller’s attorneys were not at liberty to disclose the amount of the monetary compensation due to a confidentiality agreement that was part of the settlement.

Washington D.C.’s WTOP News reported that a spokesperson for the P.G. County Public Schools said the school system was committed to “promoting and maintaining learning and working environments that are safe, positive and affirming for all students and staff regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.”

According to WTOP, the spokesperson said the lawsuit was “resolved to the mutual satisfaction of both parties.”

In court filings in response to the lawsuit, P.G. school officials denied Eller’s allegations of discrimination and harassment. In January of this year attorneys for the P.G. schools filed a motion asking the judge to dismiss the case on grounds that the lawsuit failed to provide sufficient evidence that Eller was subjected to discrimination and harassment that forced her to resign due to a hostile work environment.

But in a development that likely prompted P.G. school officials to settle the case, U.S. District Court Judge Theodore D. Chuang denied the motion to dismiss the case and ruled that Eller’s attorneys had introduced sufficient evidence to bring the case to trial.

“The court found that the alleged facts and the information as discovered throughout the case in the discovery process is sufficient to allow a jury to find whether Jennifer Eller was subjected to a hostile work environment and constructive discharge and retaliation unlawfully by the defendants,” Lambda Legal attorney Omar Gonzales-Pagan told the Blade at the time of the ruling in January.

“The settlement reached today is a meaningful result for our client, whose primary goal in bringing this suit was to ensure that no other individuals in the Prince George’s County Public Schools system endured the same treatment that she did,” said Arnold & Porter attorney Lori Leskin. “Our hope is that the policies and training protocols that have been and will be implemented will help foster a more inclusive and accepting environment for all LGBTQ+ individuals in the school system,” Leskin said.

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Anti-LGBTQ+ GOP candidate wins Maryland gubernatorial primary

Cox, a member of the Maryland House of Delegates who Trump has endorsed, defeated Schulz, who Republican Gov. Larry Hogan backed

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From left, state Del.Dan Cox (R-Frederick County) and Democrat Wes Moore. (Screen capture of Cox via WUSA9; screen capture of Moore via WBAL TV 11 Baltimore)

ANNAPOLIS – State Del. Dan Cox (R-Frederick County) on Tuesday defeated former Labor and Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz in the Maryland Republican gubernatorial primary.

Cox, an anti-LGBTQ member of the Maryland House of Delegates who former President Donald Trump has endorsed, defeated Schulz, who Republican Gov. Larry Hogan backed, by a 56.2-40.3 percent margin.

Unofficial election results that include early voting and Election Day ballots indicate Wes Moore, former Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Pérez and Comptroller Peter Franchot are ahead in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. A state law does not allow the Maryland State Board of Elections to begin counting mail-in ballots until 10 a.m. on Thursday.

Congressman Anthony Brown on Tuesday defeated former Maryland first lady Katie Curran O’Malley in the Democratic primary for attorney general by a 59.6-40.4 percent margin. Brown will face former Anne Arundel County Council member Michael Peroutka in the general election.

“A heartfelt thank you to Maryland voters for putting their faith in me,” said Brown in a statement his campaign released early Wednesday. “Our campaign’s message has resonated with voters and tonight’s results prove it. An attorney general can either be a champion for progress or a defender of the status quo. I’m running for attorney general to dismantle barriers because the status quo isn’t working for Marylanders.”

State Del. Brooke Lierman (D-Baltimore City) will face off against Republican Harford County Executive Barry Glassman in the race to succeed Franchot as state comptroller.

Mizeur, Ivey win primaries

Democratic U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen on Tuesday easily won his primary, and is expected to win re-election in November.

Heather Mizeur easily defeated David Harden in the Democratic primary in Maryland’s 1st Congressional District that includes all of the state’s Eastern Shore. Mizeur, who was a member of the House of Delegates from 2007-2015, would be Maryland’s first openly lesbian member of Congress if she defeats Republican Congressman Andy Harris in November.

Former Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Glenn Ivey defeated former Congresswoman Donna Edwards by a 51.2-35.2 percent margin in the race to succeed Brown in the 4th Congressional District. Ivey will face off against Republican Jeff Warner in the general election.

Anti-LGBTQ state Del. Neil Parrott (R-Washington County) won the Republican primary in the 6th Congressional District. The Washington County Republican will face off against Democratic Congressman David Trone in November.

“In his time in Annapolis, the main thing Neil Parrott has accomplished is building a reputation for ineffectiveness,” said Trone on Wednesday in an email to supporters. “He’s been named one of the least effective legislators in our state. Rather than getting results for his constituents, he’s focused on advocating for hate-filled policies — like requiring people with HIV to get tattoos, taking away rights from same-sex couples and more.” 

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, who represents the 5th Congressional District, easily defeated his primary challenger. Congressmen Jamie Raskin, Kweisi Mfume, John Sarbanes and Dutch Ruppersberger also won their respective Democratic primaries on Tuesday.

“I am honored to have been selected by (Maryland’s 5th Congressional District) to be their nominee for Congress in the general election this November,” tweeted Hoyer on Wednesday. “As congressman I will continue working hard to bring resources and opportunities back to our district.”

Gay, lesbian General Assembly incumbents, candidates ahead

State Del. Gabriel Acevero (D-Montgomery County), who is the House of Delegates’ first openly gay Afro-Latino member, is currently second among the four Democrats who are running in Legislative District 39. State Del. Lisa Belcastro (D-Baltimore County) is third among the three Democrats running in Legislative District 11B.

State Del. Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore City) is second among the six Democratic primary candidates in Legislative District 46. State Del. Bonnie Cullison (D-Montgomery County) is currently second among four Democrats who are running in Legislative District 19.

State Del. Anne Kaiser (D-Montgomery County) is currently first among the five Democrats who are running in Legislative District 14.

Kris Fair is first among the seven Democratic primary candidates in Legislative District 3, while Joseph Vogel is currently third among the four candidates in his race in Legislative District 17. Ashanti Martinez is fourth among the six Democratic primary candidates in Legislative District 3.

The top three candidates in each race will advance to the general election.

State Sen. Mary Washington (D-Baltimore City) on Tuesday was unopposed in Legislative District 43

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Newsom pardons Maryland man for 1967 gay sex conviction

Newsom’s decision to approve a pardon came after Pachnowski, with the help of his lawyer, submitted an application for the pardon last fall

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Henry Pachnowski was arrested in California in 1967. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

SILVER SPRING, Md. – California Gov. Gavin Newsom on July 1 granted a pardon for an 82-year-old gay Maryland man for his conviction in Orange County, Calif. in 1967 on a charge of lewd conduct after he was caught having sex with another man in a car parked in a secluded area in Long Beach.

Newsom’s decision to approve a pardon for Henry Pachnowski, who currently lives in Silver Spring, Md., came after Pachnowski, with the help of his lawyer, submitted an application for the pardon last fall in which he explained the circumstances of his arrest more than 54 years ago.

“I engaged with consensual intimacy with a male partner in a deserted industrial area in his car and was caught by a security guard who said we had gone against ‘God and nature,’” Pachnowski stated in his pardon application form sent to the governor’s office.

“He turned us into the police, and I pleaded guilty to a lewdness charge in exchange for the dropping of a ‘sex perversion’ charge,” Pachnowski states in the application. “A pardon would not only recognize and remedy the injustice that I suffered from being targeted and convicted because of my sexuality, it would also ensure that I do not face any future obstacles, such as employment and housing-related ones, stemming from this conviction.”

The pardon granted by Newsom for Pachnowski was one of 17 gubernatorial executive pardons he issued on July 1, according to a statement released by his office. In his official declaration pardoning Pachnowski, Newsom explains the circumstances surrounding Pachnowski’s arrest and conviction and his reason for granting the pardon.

“On August 24, 1967, the Superior Court of California, County of Orange, sentenced Mr. Pachnowski to three years of probation and 10 days in jail for misdemeanor solicit lewd act,” Newsom states.

“Mr. Pachnowski was convicted and sentenced pursuant to a charge commonly used, and used in this case, to punish men for engaging in consensual adult sexual conduct with other men, criminalizing them based on stigma, bias, and ignorance,” he states in the pardon declaration. “With this act of executive clemency, I acknowledge the inherent injustice of the conviction,” Newsom states.

“By the laws of this state it is proper that I, as Governor of the State of California, give testimony that Mr. Pachnowski merits this pardon,” Newsom wrote in his declaration, adding that under California’s constitution and statutes he grants to Henry Pachnowski “a full and unconditional pardon for the above case.”

Pachnowski, who along with his parents, is a Nazi Holocaust survivor, said he applied for the pardon at the advice of his attorney, who had been helping him renew his permanent U.S. residence status after decades of uncertainty as a “stateless” person.

He told the Blade in an interview on Wednesday that he was born in Germany in 1940 after his parents, who are from Poland, were taken against their will to Germany following the Nazi takeover of Poland, where they were placed in a forced labor camp. After surviving the dangers in Nazi Germany during World War II, Pachnowski said he and his family remained in Germany until 1951 when they immigrated to the U.S.

But because he couldn’t claim citizenship legally from Poland or Germany, his decades of living in the U.S. have been marked with uncertainty, he said, from an immigration standpoint.

Jayesh Rathod, a professor with the Immigrant Justice Clinic at American University’s Washington College of Law, has been serving as Pachnowski’s attorney. Rathod told the Blade that after several years of interactions with U.S. immigration officials, Pachnowski was in the final stages of having his permanent U.S. residence status renewed and should be receiving his long sought Green Card.

Although a misdemeanor arrest like the one Pachnowski faced back in 1967 would not likely prompt immigration officials to deny his request for permanent residency, Rathod said he and others working on Pachnowski’s immigration case thought it would be best to seek a pardon for the conviction.

“We just wanted to get it off the record, both because of the immigration reason but also because we felt morally and legally it was an improper and unjust prosecution,” Rathod said.

“And I think it’s just great that the governor did this,” said Rathod. “It’s so important to kind of correct all these wrongs against the LGBTQ community,” he said. “Although it’s a relatively minor conviction, obviously it’s really significant for him and it’s important for the community.”

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