FreeState Justice, a social justice organization focused on serving the LGBTQ community in Maryland formed by the merger of Equality Maryland and FreeState Legal, has released its first Strategic Plan as a newly merged organization. This strategic plan shows FreeState Justice’s unwavering committment to serving those at the greatest risk for discrimination, with a stated focus on
You can read the full FreeState Justice Strategic Plan 2016-2021 here. Below are relevant excerpts from the plan that highlight the organization’s focus moving forward.
III. OUR VISION AND MISSION
We envision a Maryland where people across the spectrum of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer identities are free to live authentically, with safety and dignity, in all communities across the state.
Many LGBTQ Marylanders continue to experience discrimination in all aspects of their lives. FreeState Justice is a social justice organization that works statewide to improve the lives of LGBTQ Marylanders and their families through legal services, policy advocacy, outreach, education, and coalition building. Our work brings to the forefront the experiences of those of us at greater risk for discrimination, such as youth, communities of color, low-income individuals, and transgender and gender non-conforming people.
FreeState Justice recognizes the need to serve populations within the LGBTQ community that are at greatest risk for discrimination. We adopt the philosophy that we better serve the entire LGBTQ community by focusing on those with the greatest need. If we are able to remove barriers and improve outcomes for LGBTQ Marylanders at the intersections of gender, sexual orientation, race, socioeconomic status, age, and other identities, then we will simultaneously break down those same barriers for those with greater access and privilege. Accordingly, our work will focus on serving the needs of the following populations within the LGBTQ community:
• Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming People
• People of Color
• Low-income people
• Geographically underserved communities
Issue Areas of Focus
With limited resources and seemingly unlimited need, FreeState Justice must focus its efforts to best address issues that have the greatest impact on priority populations within the LGBTQ community. FreeState Justice’s work will focus on the following issue priority areas:
• Police Interactions, Corrections, and Criminal Justice
While Baltimore City has been in the news for how its police disastrously deal with community members, the entire state has longstanding issues with how it handles people in the criminal justice system. LGBTQ individuals face extra – often dangerous – problems throughout the system.
• Name and Gender Change for Transgender and Non-Binary Individuals
While our culture continues to evolve around transgender issues, major barriers like access to changing one’s name and gender on identity documents remain, putting transgender and non-binary people at risk for discrimination in jobs, housing, travel, and schools.
• Enforcement of Anti-Discrimination Laws Regarding Access to Public Accommodations
Legal equality does not mean lived equality. All too often, transgender Marylanders are denied access to restrooms and locker rooms in places of public accommodation, despite having legal protections enshrined in state law that allow the use of restrooms consistent with one’s gender identity.
• Family Law
Passage of marriage equality did not resolve a host of family law issues that continue to impact LGBTQ families in Maryland, such as parental rights and custody determinations. Moreover, unexplored areas of family law as they apply to LGBTQ families leave parents with a great deal of uncertainty about whether their parent-child relationships will be recognized.
• Access to Quality, Affirming, and Inclusive Health Care
The Affordable Care Act went a long way to ensure that LGBTQ people had access to better care, but the law doesn’t guarantee that our community will receive access to care and work remains to ensure that LGBTQ people have access to quality, affordable, inclusive, and often life-saving health care.
• Education and Youth Policy – including foster care, juvenile justice, and education
With increased access to information through the internet and social media, young people are coming out as LGBTQ or non-binary at much younger ages. Even those fortunate enough to have the love and support of their parents and guardians may find their schools to be hostile and sometimes dangerous environments, particularly in more conservative parts of the state. LGBTQ youth in the foster care and juvenile justice systems are at special risk of harmful, dangerous, and even deadly situations.
An organization’s values are reflected in its founding documents, early strategic plans, and even in the notes from the first few years of board meetings. One can glean an organization’s values by looking at many factors, such as: systems; ways of talking about the organization, its work, its constituencies, and its place in the community and world; and even the ways decisions around hiring, firing, and retention are made.
The merger of FreeState Legal and Equality Maryland creates a rare opportunity where current leaders are beginning to mine the rich history and values of both organizations to create a unique set of core values for FreeState Justice.
A deep vein of service runs throughout FreeState Legal’s founding, along with the core values of dedicated advocacy, education, innovation, stewardship of resources, and partnership with community members and organizations. Likewise, Equality Maryland’s quarter century of work was driven by core values of tenacity, adaptability, and optimism that equality is indeed possible in our lifetime.
The merged organization continues to have an acute awareness of the responsibility we have been entrusted with as we work to make legal equality lived equality for all Marylanders. As a social justice organization, we are constantly called to re-examine our efforts to ensure that we are achieving the goals we set out to achieve, and that we are serving all intersecting identities within the LGBTQ community.
During the strategic planning process, the FreeState Justice Board and staff articulated core values that are intimately connected to the core values of the two former organizations.
• Intersectionality is the lens through which we view social justice; specifically, we are driven by an agenda that is pro-youth, pro-trans, anti-racist, and anti-poverty. In an environment of safety and inclusivity, we work to empower those we serve to be their own best advocates, and we will actively provide opportunities for them to learn and take leadership. We will participate in and build coalitions that amplify our collective vision and values, and we will model how to be thoughtful, collegial, visionary, and strategic partners.
• Accountability is multidimensional and interconnected on personal, organizational, and community-wide levels. Our credibility comes from being approachable, honest, and having integrity. We are trustworthy, non-partisan partners. We are committed to clear, effective communication.
• We aspire to be a model organization that is Sustainable, Stable, and Transparent. To us, being sustainable means that we have a healthy mix of professionalism, discipline, agility, creativity, civility and a passion for work that is impactful, innovative, and focused. We achieve stability through a self-awareness that helps us to identify and address where we fall short as we strive for excellence. Diversity infuses our work at all levels and we welcome ongoing conversations about how to make sure our organization reflects the communities we serve. We understand that an environment of healthy self-care is critical to happy, productive employees and is key to retention. We strive to make our processes, practices, financial records, official meetings, and programs as accessible and transparent as possible, except in cases of client confidentiality and where barred for legal reasons.
• Love is our engine, fuel, and spark. We never forget that our clients and those with whom we interact on their behalf, our staff and volunteers, our coalition partners and colleagues, and especially those with whom we disagree are human beings deserving of kindness, empathy, compassion, acceptance, and affirmation.
• Service, for us, is grounded in humility and true partnership with our clients, coalition partners, and the larger community.
Special appreciation goes to the Goldseker Foundation and the Open Society Institute – Baltimore for their financial support in the strategic planning process, to Verna Myers Consulting Group for facilitating a board governance/diversity training for our Board of Directors, and to Michael Mitchell of Mighty Big Change for facilitating discussions and writing the strategic plan in consultation with our staff and Board.