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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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Maryland gubernatorial candidate: Restrict transgender in schools

“We cannot have transgender indoctrination in kindergarten. That’s preposterous. That’s exactly what my opponent supports”

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Dan Cox and Wes Moore debate at Morgan State University in Baltimore on Oct. 12, 2022. (Screen capture via C-SPAN)

BALTIMORE – Republican Maryland gubernatorial candidate Dan Cox on Wednesday said there is “transgender indoctrination” in the state’s kindergartens.

“We’re not doing enough because too many times we exclude the parents from involvement,” said Cox in response to a question about support for LGBTQ students in Maryland schools during a debate against Democrat Wes Moore that Maryland Public Television hosted at Morgan State University in Baltimore. “I fought against a bill that would literally allow 12-year-olds to receive counseling without their parents even knowing. That’s wrong. We need to make sure parents are involved.”

“What I will do also is ensure that the indoctrination stops,” added Cox. “We cannot have transgender indoctrination in kindergarten. That’s preposterous. That’s exactly what my opponent supports. It’s on his website. I will stand against that and eradicate that from the curriculum and get back to world class learning.”

Cox also noted “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” a book that nonbinary author Maia Kobabe wrote, depicts “things that I cannot show you on television, it’s so disgusting.”

“We’re going to change that and say let’s get back to math, let’s get back to making sure that our kids know how to read and write,” said Cox.

Moore in response to the question said “many of the issues that we’re discussing are being addressed at the local level and it’s important for the state to understand that we’re a partner in that, but we don’t dictate to the local jurisdictions as to how their education processes work.”

“I have an 11-year-old daughter and an 8-year-old son,” said Moore. “All I ever want for my children is for them to be seen and for them to feel like they are being heard and I want the same thing for every child.”

Moore noted rates of homelessness are higher among LGBTQ youth in Maryland than for those who identify as heterosexual. He also pointed to a statistic that indicate 80 percent of transgender people in the state have considered suicide.

“I want to say to all of our LGBTQ youth and families: I see you and I hear you and all policies that will be made will be made in partnership because that is how we have to lead as a state, in partnership,” said Moore.

Cox, who represents District 4 in the Maryland House of Delegates, last October sought to amend an education bill that would restrict what he has described as “classroom indoctrination” around gender identity in kindergarten through third grade. The Trump-backed Republican, among other things, has also said he would ban transgender students from girls’ sports teams.

A poll the Washington Post and the University of Maryland released last week shows Cox is trailing Moore by 32 points.

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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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Neighborhood recovers after possible hate-crime fire in Baltimore

“What we do know is that they [fires] were all intentionally set. What we don’t know is if this is a hate crime”

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After the fires last month, neighbors in Baltimore’s Abell neighborhood responded by flying Pride flags. (Photo courtesy Jim Becker)

BALTIMORE – One month after a fire damaged multiple homes and hospitalized three people in North Baltimore’s Abell neighborhood, the investigation into the blaze remains ongoing.

The city of Baltimore and the Baltimore City Police Department are working with the FBI and the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms to investigate the fires. At this time, no person of interest has been named, and the fires, while determined to be intentionally set, have not yet been ruled a hate crime.

“In terms of the investigation, there were four fires that morning in the same area: a dumpster fire, a car fire, this fire, and one down the street. The house fire and the one down the street from it had Pride flags involved,” Council member Odette Ramos, who represents the Abell neighborhood, told the Blade. “What we do know is that they were all intentionally set. What we don’t know is if they are all related, and we don’t know yet if this is a hate crime. We really have the best of the best working on this … they are working diligently.”

As of last week, all three victims were out of the hospital and doing well, and according to Ramos, all the homeowners whose houses were damaged in the blaze have begun rebuilding.

“I’m grateful that they are digging in and ready to get back to the neighborhood,” she said. “The community came together to support the homeowners and raised about $15,000 at a recent fundraiser that I think the whole city attended … It was really nice to see.”

The Baltimore Peabody Heights Brewery hosted the fundraiser on June 23, with the goal of raising $5,000, and according to the Abell community Instagram, the fundraiser ended up raising $18,000 to go toward the homeowners’ rebuilding efforts.

Ramos said that investigators are also looking into potential links between the June 15 fire and other fires intentionally set in the same area a week or two prior. Although the clearance rate for arson is low — around 30% — Ramos said that the neighborhood has been proactive about sending in tips and that residents remain hopeful.

In response to the fires, many Abell residents are showing solidarity by displaying Pride flags, and part of the sidewalk was painted in rainbow colors.

“We don’t know that it was a hate crime, but for many members of our community, it really felt like it. And so, we have been really proud of our community — everybody has a Pride flag and everybody is making sure folks feel safe and welcomed,” Ramos said. “This neighborhood was one of the first neighborhoods to be welcoming to the LGBTQ community in Baltimore City, and we want to keep it that way.”

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Arrest in anti-LGBTQ+ vandalism in Prince George’s County, Maryland

Takoma Park man charged with hate-related malicious destruction of property for allegedly spray painting “groomer” on two library buildings

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(Photo courtesy of the P.G. County, Maryland Police Dept.)

GREENBELT, Md. – 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.

“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.

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Baltimore rowhouse fire investigated as potential anti-LGBTQ+ hate crime

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

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(Photo by Jim Becker)

BALTIMORE – Baltimore city 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.

(Photo by Jim Becker)

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.”

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Maryland school district bans Pride Flag

One parent stated she believed that the presence of Pride flags and discussions of sexuality and gender identity could end up harming students

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Carroll County Board of Education banned Pride flags in schools (Screenshot/YouTube WBAL-TV 11 Baltimore)

WESTMINISTER, Md. – The Carroll County Board of Education adopted a policy on Wednesday that prohibits Pride flags from being displayed in schools under its jurisdiction.

Under the new policy, which the board adopted by a 4-1 vote margin, flags that are not specifically included in its language cannot be “flown, posted or affixed” to school buildings and facilities. The language signals that, although the policy does not explicitly mandate a ban on Pride flags, such flags cannot be displayed, as they are not included in the list of flags that the policy permits.

Patricia Dorsey, the only board member to vote against the policy, expressed her disapproval of the measure to the board during the meeting.

“I think that we’re doing them a disservice if we do not include saying that, ‘Yes, let’s just go ahead and have their safe spaces designated by the flags in the classroom,’” Dorsey said.

In public comments made to the school board for their meeting; parents, faculty and members of the community made impassioned arguments against the new policy.

“The students of color and the students of [the] LGBTQ [community] are bullied in this school system on a regular basis,” one public commenter said. “We have students that have come in here and talked to you specifically about the fact that they have tried to commit suicide because of the way they are treated in this school system. I do not find [these to be] acceptable policies.”

However, other members of the public came out in support of the new policy, believing Pride flags to have no place in school spaces.

One parent stated how she believed that the presence of Pride flags and discussions of sexuality and gender identity in the classroom could end up harming students rather than helping them.

“It overstimulates a curiosity that [students] are not remotely able to comprehend yet and could further their curiosities, potentially causing harm to themselves or others out of pure confusion,” the parent said.

The commenter asserted such conversations and displays of support should be kept private and away from the classroom.

“Allies can be made and known and shared in a separate setting with an appointed advocate equipped with the correct resources to properly address these issues with our children who are struggling with them,” she said.

The separation from and neutrality on the topic of Pride flags and discussions in schools has been echoed by multiple members of the board who voted in favor of the policy.

Board member Tara Battaglia told the Washington Blade how she believed voting for the policy would achieve fairness among those in the county’s schools.

“Schools should always be a neutral environment and welcoming to all students,” Battaglia said.

Dorsey and other members of the public who chose to speak during the meeting denied the notion that allowing the display of Pride flags in schools was an inherently political or destructive gesture, framing it, rather, as a gesture of humanity.

“We’ve got students who are saying, ‘See me, see me, look at me for who I am, accept me for who I am,’” Dorsey said.

The adoption of the policy has since gained attention from across the state, with multiple statewide candidates for office responding to the decision.

Former Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler, who is running for governor, took to Twitter the day after the meeting, sharply criticizing the policy.

“This is shameful, regressive, and exactly the wrong message to be sending to our LGBTQ+ youth, who deserve a learning environment that welcomes them for who they are,” Gansler wrote. “Also, this is begging for a constitutional challenge. I call on the school board to reconsider.”

Just hours later, former Democratic National Committee chair and fellow gubernatorial candidate Tom Perez referred to the decision as “utterly disgraceful.”

“Our classrooms — and every community across Maryland — should be a welcoming, safe place that empowers every person to be who they are,” Perez wrote. “At a time when our LGBTQ+ youth face incredible challenges, we need to do all we can to support them.”

As concerns among national and state advocates rise over the future of LGBTQ students’ access to affirming spaces and conversations in schools, advocates in Carroll County and around the country continue to convey a message of humanity.

“We’ve heard a lot of voices from the students that we really do have to acknowledge,” Dorsey said. “Let’s just see them, let’s hear them and let’s validate them for who they are.”

Debate on possible ban on flags in Carroll County Public Schools:

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Maryland lesbian couple hope law requires Christian school to enroll son

“She also said that she learned that the Grace Academy has admitted students with same-sex parents in the recent past”

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Jennifer Dane, son Brayden and her partner Megan Stratton (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Dane)

WASHINGTON COUNTY, Md. – A lesbian couple is hopeful that Maryland’s nondiscrimination laws will require the Grace Academy, a private non-denominational Christian school in Hagerstown, Md., to reverse its decision earlier this month to deny admission to their 11-year-old son Brayden.

Jennifer Dane and her partner and fiancé Megan Stratton point to a May 8 letter from the academy’s upper school principal saying, “We regret to inform you that, due to a lifestyle counter to the Biblical worldview we teach, we have decided to deny enrollment to Grace Academy” for Brayden. 

The two women say the letter followed an interview they had with the principal in question, Mark Koontz, Jr., in which he initially expressed support for Brayden’s enrollment but quickly changed his tune when the women asked him about the school’s anti-bullying policy. According to a report by the Advocate, Koontz said he couldn’t control Grace Academy’s community reaction to a student with two moms and he would have to consult with the school’s director about admitting Brayden.

When school officials received word that Dane and Stratton might file a discrimination complaint against the school, Grace Academy director Greg Whitley sent an email to the couple saying their sexual orientation wasn’t the reason for the school’s denial of admission for Brayden.

According to the Advocate, Whitley claimed that a lack of regular church attendance, prayers, and family devotions conflicted with the school’s “worldview” and that this was the “lifestyle” issue referred to in the earlier letter.

(Screen capture via WNBC4 Washington D.C.)

Dane told the Washington Blade this week that she and Stratton strongly dispute the school’s denial that it refused admission to Brayden for reasons other than his parents’ sexual orientation based on what he told them during their interview. Dane said the couple told Koontz in the interview that Brayden is a practicing Christian who prays and reads the Bible and that he attended another Christian school before the family moved to a different part of Hagerstown resulting in his enrollment in a public school, which he currently attends.

The couple has since learned that Grace Academy has received federal and state school funding in the past and may have lost its state funding under a specific program for not complying with certain requirements. Dane said she also learned that the school in the recent past has admitted students with same-sex parents.

The Advocate reports that a spokesperson for U.S. Rep. David Trone (D-Md.), whose district includes Hagerstown, said Trone strongly objects to Grace Academy’s decision to deny admission to Brayden and that Trone’s staff is investigating the matter.

Dane said she heard that the state Department of Education may also be investigating whether the school is currently receiving state education funds and whether receiving such funds requires the school to comply with the state law barring discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The Blade, meanwhile, has been unable to immediately reach spokespersons for the Maryland State Board of Education and the State of Maryland Commission on Civil Rights, to determine whether a religious school like the Grace Academy is bound by the state’s nondiscrimination laws that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The federal nondiscrimination law and some state laws include an exemption for religious institutions.

“That’s what we’re trying to figure out,” said Dane, who said she and Stratton were waiting to hear back from attorneys they have called to find out if they have grounds to file a discrimination complaint under state or county law.

Dane said the two have learned that Grace Academy has received federal and state education funds under various programs, which could require that it comply with state nondiscrimination laws as a condition for receiving state funds.

A spokesperson for the school couldn’t immediately be reached early this week for comment.

A message by school officials sent out Monday night to parents, which was provided to the Blade, detailed the school’s position on the controversy:

Dear Grace Families,
In lieu of a recent situation regarding a denied enrollment, Grace Academy has found itself to be in opposition with the individuals who sought admission.  Since having been denied, the individuals involved have taken further action, including going to the media.  The Board of Directors and the Administration Team are aware of the circumstances and are taking the necessary steps to conclude this matter in a way that will be honorable to God while upholding the Christian Values that we hold dear.  At this moment, we would ask that you hold the Board and the Administration in prayer, that they would be led by God’s wisdom throughout this process.  
We thank you all for your continued support and belief that Grace Academy is the institution that will both educate your children, but also aide in their ability to stand for Christ.
If you have need to seek further information, please contact Mr. Whitley, our Head of School.
God Bless,
Grace Academy Board of Directors and Administration 

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University of Maryland’s LGBTQ+ students march for LGBTQ+ rights

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

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LGBTQ students march to McKeldin Mall at the University of Maryland (Blade photo by Tinashe Chingarande)

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – 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

Maryland school board bans ‘political’ LGBTQ+ flag calling it a ‘gateway’

“Any youth in this county who’s LGBTQ who commits suicide, that is on you,” she warned. The board was unmoved

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Carroll County Public Schools via Facebook

By David Badash | WESTMINSTER, Md. – A Maryland school board has banned the LGBTQ pride flag by falsely claiming it is “political,” a “gateway for other flags,” and even claiming ones provided by PFLAG for free to those who wanted them were “shoved down teachers’ throats.”

The move came in response to a local chapter of PFLAG donated “a collection of small rainbow Pride flags” to the Carroll County Public Schools district. Fox News reports “schools staff members were encouraged to display them as support for the LGBTQ community.”

“These flags were shoved down teachers’ throats to put on their desk – that’s not inclusive,” school board President Kenneth Kiler said. “That’s not the way it ought to be.”

School board member Tara Battaglia said, “What this does is open up a gateway for other flags to come into our schools that other people will not like.”

“We’ve already banned the Confederate flag, and that was done a couple of years ago. … The premise behind the Pride flag was social advocacy … which is political.”

Parent Caitlin Edmondson told Fox News the pride flags are “very concerning” and “being forced upon teachers. They “do not solely represent the gay community. They also represent gender identity and transgender ideology.”

(“Gender identity” and “transgender” are not ideologies.)

“As a parent of a 6-year-old in CCPS, it is very concerning that anyone would think it is OK to push these agendas on our youngest and most vulnerable,” Edmondson added.

Fox News reports the schools superintendent made clear the flags were not “forced” on any teacher, and did not report any teacher complaining they were.

School board member Donna Sivigny during last week’s meeting suggested the LGBTQ pride flag is part of a political agenda that students need “protecting” from. She also suggested the flags created a hostile work environment,

“I also respect the rights of teachers to work in a non-hostile work environment, deliver an effective lesson and support all kids in the best way that they can, but we require that they do it in a politically neutral way that creates a safe space for every student in our schools,” said Sivigny, who opposed masks in schools last fall, asking, “Where’s the emergency?

She claimed, “many teachers have reached out to me saying that they’ve been pressured or bullied to put flags in their classroom, and that’s a problem that needs to be addressed.”

The right-wing local group Concerned Parents of Carroll County supported the move to ban the pride flags. They say they are working with another right-wing group, Moms for Liberty, to provide American flags for classrooms in the district.

Numerous parents spoke at last week’s meeting, with several warning that LGBTQ students are at risk, including for suicide. One parent (video below) made clear board members are creating a hostile environment.

“Any youth in this county who’s LGBTQ who commits suicide, that is on you,” she warned. The board was unmoved.

CCPS Board of Education Meeting April 13, 2022:

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David Badash (@davidbadashis the founder and editor of The New Civil Rights Movement, an award-winning news & opinion site.

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The preceding article was previously published by The New Civil Rights Movement and is republished with permission.

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