Illustration by Shanti Flagg

Street harassment, affordable and LGBTQ+-friendly healthcare, education, reliable employment, domestic violence, and sexual assault.

Those are the concerns most on the minds of Maryland’s LGBTQ+ residents according to “Pushing Back: A Blueprint for Change,” a report released last month by FreeState Justice.

The report was conducted between February to May of 2016—and is only now being released because the report’s author, M. Saida Agostini, left FreeState shortly after completing the survey. But current FreeState Justice Executive Director Mark Procopio suggested that they finally release the results of what is the first-known statewide effort of its kind. The study was funded through a grant from the Goldseker Foundation and FreeState Justice was able to develop the final report with a help from from Lush Cosmetics.

Agostini approached the work surveying LGBTQ+ Marylanders a few ways: through online forms, real-life listening sessions, and a leadership roundtable. People who participated in the online surveys shared details about their income, education levels, race, gender and sexual identities and their life experiences.

Over 500 people participated. It was an opportunity for LGBTQ+ folks in Maryland to come together in their community and talk about what they had seen go wrong, talk about the ways that they have felt unsafe, talk about strategies to create not just safety but live actually in a state of joy.

The sessions were held all over the state. Some of the groups who collaborated to host the sessions were the Lower Shore LGBTQ Coalition, Maryland Trans* Unity, Hearts and Ears, and Chase Brexton Health Care.

Researchers surveyed Marylanders from 20 of 24 Maryland counties. More than a quarter of respondents identified as people of color and 23.3 percent told researchers they identified as transgender, non-binary, two spirit and/or agender.

The report shows that LGBTQ+ Marylanders still face considerable challenges having their most basic needs met. Safety is a major concern. Over 27 percent of those surveyed said that street harassment is an “urgent issue.”

“Using public restrooms is the worst thing on earth. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked for my ID or had someone say ‘this is the ladies room,’ I’d be rich,” one person said in the report.

“My partner and I have had bottles thrown at us, and even shattered our front windshield,” a Salisbury, Md. respondent told surveyors.

Another respondent reported this interactions with police: “My friends and I were leaving a bar one night and a car pulled up, about four guys got out of the car and started calling us names and throwing beer bottles at us. We took off running, called the police. When the police arrived, our response from the police was we should expect that to happen to us because of our lifestyle.”

The Department Of Justice’s investigation into the Baltimore Police Department was released in August 2016, a few months after the time period in which the reporting represented in “Pushing Back: A Blueprint for Change” was conducted. In many ways, BPD’s cruelty towards the LGBTQ+ community described in the DOJ report is reflected here as well, though FreeState Justice’s report also offers a crucial corrective. Inexplicably, the DOJ report only addressed issues of transphobia (“I don’t know if you’re a boy or a girl. And I really don’t care, I am not searching you,” an officer told a transgender woman in 2015 according to the DOJ) and did not address homophobia within the department. “Pushing Back: A Blueprint for Change” address all forms of discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community.

One respondent detailed how nurses and police did not take a sexual assault seriously and even denied that a sexual assault had occurred: “The nurse at Mercy hospital as well as the cop and the detective mocked me and told me that I was lying and that women don’t rape women. They didn’t take my case seriously and so the woman who raped me is most likely still walking around Baltimore. More recently, just two years ago, I had a very serious partner who I moved in with. One month after moving in with her, she assaulted me. When I called the cops, again they mocked me and they treated me like a criminal for fighting back and made me apologize to her for fighting her off me. They also left my words off of the police report.”

Photo by Lisa Snowden-McCray

On Thursday afternoon at Baltimore Center Stage, Agostini, along with a panel of LGBTQ+ activists and experts unpacked the report. None of the report’s findings were surprising but they were disappointing all the same.

“The education [section] of the report tells the same sad story that many of us have known forever,” said Jabari Lyles, the LGBTQ Liaison for the Baltimore City Mayor’s Office. “We only see incremental change for our young people.”

Almost half of survey respondents said they either have experienced discrimination in school personally or know someone who has because of their gender identity and/ or sexual orientation.

Sandy James, a staff attorney at FreeState Justice, said that the report especially highlights the way that many of the most outstanding needs of the LGBTQ+ community are interconnected.

“People come in for an issue. They say, ‘I want a name change’ for example. And as you are talking to them…all of the other issues that are pointed out in this report come up,” James said.  “And the reason that person is there, is connected to the fact that they can’t get employment. They lost their job. They don’t have stable housing. They don’t have stable income.”

The panel also discussed allyship: what it looks like and how an ally is defined within the LGBTQ+ community and outside that community. Jamie Grace Alexander of the Baltimore Transgender Alliance, said would-be allies should be challenged with tough questions.

“Countering that unspoken, unhatched allyship with my anti-respectability politics tells me to ask those hard questions,” they said. “Tells me to ask you, ‘Will you put yourself between me and a police officer now that you know that I am at a higher risk of violence in that situation?’”

You can read “Pushing Back: A Blueprint for Change” here.

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