Metro Weekly

Equality Maryland to stay open, but at reduced capacity

LGBT rights organization has raised $10K as part of longer-term fundraising campaign to achieve financial stability

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Equality Maryland is not down for the count just yet. 

The Boards of Directors for the 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) arms of the Free State’s top LGBT rights organization voted on Sunday to continue to keep Equality Maryland operating, though at a reduced capacity.

In June, the organization had sent out an alert to supporters warning that it might have to reduce its operations or close for good due to declining revenues. Donations to Equality Maryland reached a peak around the 2011 and 2012 fights to legalize marriage equality and defend it at the ballot box, but have declined sharply since that time. 

When it made its announcement that it was experiencing financial difficulties, the organization extended an open invitation to the public to comment on what an appropriate course of action would be. It also launched a fundraising campaign, “Save Equality Maryland,” to collect enough money to continue some of the organization’s various initiatives aimed at advancing LGBT rights.

In a statement posted on its website and sent via email to supporters on Monday, the organization wrote: “One day, our phone may stop ringing with calls from people needing help to confront discrimination, whether in the workplace or at school or walking down the street. One day our full community may be guaranteed access to health care, including necessary transition-related care for transgender people. One day our full community may be able to live free from homophobia and transphobia compounded by racism or anti-immigrant prejudice. But that day is not today.”

Equality Maryland Acting Director Keith Thirion will continue to lead the organization and serve as its sole staff member, working with a newly elected transitional board to continue the progress made on LGBT rights. Thirion has been credited with working on a LGBT safe space training program for school staff, youth service providers, government officials and religious groups, and with expanding the organization’s initiatives to reach underrepresented constituencies within the LGBT community and geographic communities within the state.

Rabbi Stephanie Bernstein will serve as the chair of the Board of Directors for the Equality Maryland Foundation, the organization’s 501(c)(3) educational organization, which aims to eliminate anti-LGBT discrimination and prejudice through community outreach and building coalitions with other grassroots social justice organizations. Lawrence Jacobs will serve as the chair of the Board of Directors of Equality Maryland’s 501(c)(4) advocacy organization, which is tasked with lobbying government officials to enact policies that advance the rights of LGBT people through the legislative process.

“We must ensure that Equality Maryland remains the advocacy voice for Maryland’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities in Annapolis, local governments, and agencies across the state,” said Thirion, Bernstein and Jacobs in a joint letter to supporters. “From strengthening protections for LGBT youth and parental rights to being the watchdog holding Governor Hogan and General Assembly members accountable to our community, there is a clear need for the political power Equality Maryland has built.”

In that letter, Thirion, Bernstein and Jacobs also said the organization would be crafting a legislative agenda that they hope to see enacted during next year’s General Assembly session this coming winter. Thirion also told Metro Weekly that Equality Maryland would continue working on a number of initiatives. Namely, those include its safe space training program; programming for LGBT youth, such as its recent “open mic night” in Montgomery County in June; an educational campaign, currently in the works, that will inform Marylanders about the transgender community and the discrimination they can face; and hosting events and “listening sessions” for LGBT people and potential allies in Maryland’s Eastern Shore communities. Thirion also added that Equality Maryland will continue co-chairing the Baltimore Police Commissioner’s LGBT Advisory Council, which seeks to foster strong working relationships between police and members of the LGBT community writ large, as well as recruit officers from the LGBT community. 

Equality Maryland also announced on Monday that it has set an immediate goal of raising $25,000, and hopes to raise $50,000 in total by the end of the year through the “Save Equality Maryland” campaign. So far, the campaign has raised $10,000 through individual donations, Thirion says.

“It’s important that people know that the goals set for the ‘Save Equality Maryland’ campaign are not just to cover immediate costs, but are carefully thought out, with an eye toward long-term sustainability,” Thirion adds. “Long-term financial stability is important in order to keep our critical work sustained.”

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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