FreeState Justice (FSJ) is preparing to tackle next year’s legislative session in Annapolis. Join FSJ for an open house and to participate in a community survey to help them set priorities.

On Thursday, December 13th, FSJ will host the open house and appreciation ceremony from 5 to 8 pm at the group’s offices (2526 St. Paul Street, first floor, Baltimore). Join with FSJ to thank the group’s volunteer attorneys and organizational partners, and find out more about FSJ’s work. Beer, wine and light fare will be served. The event is free, but please RSVP at Bit.ly/2AMIbwF.

This past fall, FSJ hosted nine house meetings across the state with LGBTQ people, allies, and local activists, to find out what issues matter to them most.

“This year, and in years ahead, we’re trying to move our advocacy efforts toward a community-organizing based model,” said Mark Procopio, FSJ’s director. “We want to create more opportunity for community voice, participation, and leadership in every step of the process from agenda-setting, to policy development, to crafting solutions to leading advocacy campaigns. The process will take time, and we hope to learn things each year that will make the process better and more inclusive of a variety of voices. Given that the mission of FSJ is to serve those in the LGBTQ community most at risk of facing discrimination, we made an intentional effort to get voices at the table that represent the diversity of the community along such lines as race, gender identity, age, and geography, amongst others. We’re going to continue to try and find ways to make the process even more accessible and inclusive.”

“We started by partnering with organizations across the state to hold these small group listening sessions. A rich array of stories was told, and issues surfaced at these meetings. We conducted a trend analysis on the notes taken from these meetings to develop a generalized sense of common issues being raised across meetings and jurisdictions. This means that there was not a one-to-one data-point mapping from what was shared and the final analysis of the house meeting trends. Those trends are what is being shared in the survey we are calling the Virtual Issues Assembly, which helps us learn what the community at large wants prioritized amongst the trends surfaced.”

The issues included in the survey, are broken down into six general policy areas.

• Education and youth policy: including bullying in schools, state and district non-discrimination policies, LGBTQ youth homelessness, support for GSAs, and LGBTQ competency training for youth-focused professionals.

• Access to quality, affirming, and inclusive health care: including consistency of access to affirming care, ID requirements for care (insurance, hospital admission, etc.), cultural competence of providers, and discrimination in health and mental health care.

• Enforcement of anti-discrimination laws and access to public accommodations: including employment discrimination, unemployment in the LGBTQ community, and lack of safe and affirming spaces.

• Police interactions, corrections, and criminal justice: including safety in schools, communities, and prisons/jails, law enforcement misconduct and cultural competency training, hate crimes / harassment, and criminalization of sex work.

• Gender change for transgender and non-binary individuals: including refusal of service (at Motor Vehicles Administration, Social Security Administration, etc.), need for a third gender marker, and complexity and burden of the gender-change process.

• Family law: including streamlined second-parent adoptions and domestic and intimate partner violence.

To participate in the community survey, visit Bit.ly/2FSv2Ii, where you can rank the issues within each category by priority. (You may get an error message from Bitly when trying to access the page – just try again. FSJ is aware of the issue and is working to resolve it.)

“This will be an important resource for prioritizing and setting our policy agenda for 2019 and for the years ahead, but it won’t be the only resource used,” said Procopio. “We also utilize the types of legal issues and requests for help that we receive from people coming to FSJ for assistance. These are incredibly important voices in helping us see what urgent needs our community is facing, especially those with low and limited incomes. Finally, we continue to prioritize critical issue that are facing members of our community whose attendance at a house meeting or participation in the online survey may not be easy. For example, issues facing LGBTQ elders, people with differing abilities, youth in foster care, and those incarcerated are still going to be taken into account when setting a final agenda, though the issues may not have been given as much voice in the house meeting process.”

One area that was raised at house meetings, but which was not included in the published summary, even in the “other” category, or in the survey, was HIV policy issues. While the issues in the “other” category did not actually make it into the survey, there wasn’t recognition that those issues had been raised. With people living with HIV / AIDS, especially in communities of color, being some of the most at risk to discrimination, this was concerning. It was noted that in the past, FSJ’s predecessor, Equality Maryland, rarely prioritized HIV policy issues, often leaving that community to fend for itself.

“Through the process I have described,” said Procopio, “HIV-related policy issues like life insurance denials for those on PrEP, other health insurance issues, and the striking of laws criminalizing HIV in Maryland are still very much on our radar. I do not feel equipped to comment on Equality Maryland’s history, but I can tell you about our work moving forward. We certainly can, should, and will continue to do better regarding HIV policy issues. We will continue to increase our expertise on our staff and build relationships with advocates and organizations focused on meeting the needs of our community living with HIV. One concrete step we’ve taken is signing on to the U=U statement. We look forward to working with this coalition and getting more active in their work. I know these are just words, but I hope in the years to come we can show our community that we’re backing them up with actions.”

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Bill Redmond-Palmer
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