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Equality Maryland, the Free State’s top LGBT rights organization, announced on Tuesday that it will either reduce or cease operations next month as a result of declining revenues.
In a press release, the Board of Directors of Equality Maryland and the Equality Maryland Foundation hailed the progress made in Maryland with respect to LGBT rights, most notably on marriage equality and nondiscrimination protections for transgender Marylanders. But the board also acknowledged that the organization has been unable to reverse the downward trend in revenues that began after the legalization of marriage equality in 2012.
“It’s been a gradual decline,” Equality Maryland Foundation Board Chair Isabella Firth-Shycoff said. “I think the high point was our advocacy around marriage equality, in both the legislature and the ballot initiative.”
Asked if there was a dollar amount at which the organization could continue operating in a reduced capacity versus closing its doors, Firth-Shycoff said the board was looking into what that financial threshold might be.
“We believe there’s more than enough work left to do, but current realities to not allow us to do that,” she said, noting that other LGBT organizations throughout the country are grappling with similar issues. “We have examined every possible option to change our trajectory on funding.”
Firth-Shycoff noted that the organization has sought financial support from the community, contributions from board members and grants that would allow Equality Maryland to continue operations. She also said that Equality Maryland had considered a merger and had entered into discussions with Free State Legal. But a proposed merger “just did not work out.”
Patrick Paschall, executive director of Free State Legal, said his organization was “saddened” by Equality Maryland’s announcement and has been “excited” to have partnered with the organization in advocating on behalf of various LGBT issues.
“Certainly we care deeply about the work that Equality Maryland has done and thank them for all the victories that they’ve led across our state, including, but certainly not limited to, marriage equality and the transgender rights law that passed last year, as well the in vitro fertilization bill and the law making it easier for transgender people to update their gender marker on their birth certificates,” he said. “It’s sad for the community and sad for the state, because Equality Maryland really has been the leading voice in the legislature for their entire history. If Equality Maryland is unable to immediately raise the funds to stay open, it’s going to be a real loss for the state. We…want to do everything we can to help Equality Maryland make it through a difficult financial time.”
The board also praised the tenure of Equality Maryland’s former executive director, Carrie Evans, whose last day with the organization was June 5. The organization is now being led by interim executive director Keith Thirion. The organization will continue working in coalition with other organizations to help advance racial and economic justice measures, such as immigration reform, earned sick leave and marijuana policy reform; advocating for LGBT youth; co-chairing the Baltimore Police Commissioner’s LGBT Advisory Council; and working on its ongoing transgender needs assessment.
In terms of the decision of whether to scale back operations or shut down, the board also called for community members to provide feedback and input on what the organization should do. Equality Maryland has also launched a fundraising campaign, “Save Equality Maryland,” that it hopes will be able to collect enough money to avoid ceasing operations completely. A final decision regarding the organization’s fate will be made in the coming weeks.
“We’re heartbroken, but hopeful that the community will respond positively to our situation,” Firth-Shycoff said. “We hope there is significant support in the larger community to allow us to keep operating. We know there’s a lot of need.”
Equality Maryland is welcoming input and questions from the community regarding its upcoming decision to scale back operations or close down. All comments and questions should be submitted via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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