FreeState Justice is a legal advocacy organization that seeks to improve the lives of low-income lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (“LGBTQ”) Marylanders. Despite recent, incremental judicial victories for the national LGBTQ community, the low-income LGBTQ population continues to struggle with legal challenges such harassment, complex family law issues, and anti-LGBTQ discrimination in employment, housing, foster care, healthcare and public accommodations. In addition to needing attorneys with specific knowledge of how the law affects LGBTQ citizens, LGBTQ clients need attorneys who will treat them with respect and understanding. FreeState’s mission is to combine direct legal services with education and outreach to ensure that the low-income LGBTQ community Maryland receives fair treatment in the law and society.
FreeState Justice was formed when FreeState Legal Project and Equality Maryland merged in the spring of 2016; the new name (an earlier name of Equality Maryland) was announced at an event in Baltimore on June 30, 2016. A history of each organization follows.
Equality Maryland’s primary focus was achieving legislative victories in Annapolis, and its efforts made Maryland one of the most inclusive states in the country for LGBTQ people. Equality Maryland was responsible for the passage of numerous laws affecting the LGBTQ community including the Anti-Discrimination Act, which bans sexual orientation-motivated discrimination in housing, public accommodations, lending, and employment statewide; an expanded state hate crimes statute that includes crimes motivated by a victim’s sexual orientation and gender identity; the Medical Decisionmaking Act that extends some medical and funeral decision-making rights to domestic partners; and the Family Coverage Expansion Act, which requires insurance companies to write policies inclusive of domestic partners.
In 2012, Equality Maryland was part of the coalition that passed the Civil Marriage Protection Act, and then later that year, helped to defend the Civil Marriage Protection Act at the ballot box, making Maryland the first state to pass marriage equality by popular vote. Equality Maryland can also be credited with leadership in passing the Fairness for All Marylanders Act, a 2014 law that prohibits gender identity discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, and credit.
FreeState Legal Project was a legal services organization founded in 2007 by a group of attorneys and law students who recognized that the specific needs of the low-income LGBTQ population in Maryland were not being effectively met. FreeState Legal began accepting cases in 2008 and began building a network of pro bono attorneys who volunteer their time to assist clients, making FreeState Legal the first statewide LGBTQ-specific direct legal services organization in the country.
FreeState Legal provided direct legal services to low-income LGBTQ clients through its in-house counsel and pro bono attorney network; worked towards systemic law and policy changes through governmental advocacy; conducted outreach activities designed to promote self-advocacy within the LGBTQ community, particularly among LGBTQ teens; and provided educational training to Maryland lawyers and judges about LGBTQ legal needs.
After longstanding advocacy by FreeState Legal, including litigation on behalf of individuals and a request to federal regulators to require Maryland to prohibit transition-related care exclusions from state-regulated insurance plans governed by the federal Affordable Care Act, the Maryland Insurance Administration issued bulletins in December 2015 prohibiting individual, small-group, and student health insurance plans sold in Maryland from excluding health care coverage for services and procedures related to gender transition.