Mission & History

 

FreeState Legal 

FreeState Legal is a legal advocacy organization that seeks to improve the lives of low-income lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (“LGBT”) Marylanders. Despite recent, incremental judicial victories for the national LGBT community, the low-income LGBT population continues to struggle with legal challenges such harassment, complex family law issues, and anti-LGBT discrimination in employment, housing, foster care, healthcare and public accommodations. In addition to needing attorneys with specific knowledge of how the law affects LGBT citizens, LGBT 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 LGBT community Maryland receives fair treatment in the law and society.

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FreeState was founded in 2007 by a group of attorneys and law students who recognized that the specific needs of the low-income LGBT population were not being effectively met. To date, FreeState is one of only a few direct service LGBT advocacy organizations in the United States. FreeState began accepting cases in 2008 and began building a network of pro bono attorneys who volunteer their time to assist clients.

Since 2008, FreeState has been expanding the ways in which it promotes justice for the low-income LGBT community Maryland. FreeState (1) provides direct legal services to low-income LGBT clients through its in-house counsel and pro bono attorney network; (2) works towards systemic law and policy changes through governmental advocacy; (3) conducts outreach activities designed to promote self-advocacy within the LGBT community, particularly among LGBT teens; and (4) provides educational training to Maryland lawyers and judges about LGBT legal needs.

 

Equality Maryland

Begun in 1988 under the name of the Baltimore Justice Coalition, then Free State Justice, Equality Maryland (renamed in 2004) has fought diligently in the state capital and local jurisidctions to win equal rights.

  • In 2001, the organization was responsible for passage of the Anti-Discrimination Act, which bans sexual orientation-motivated discrimination in housing, public accommodations, lending, and employment statewide. Today, fewer than half of states in the country have such a law.
  • In 2002, we worked to ban transgender-motivated discrimination in Baltimore City.
  • In 2003, our work resulted in stronger safe-schools regulations.
  • In 2005, Equality Maryland expanded our state’s hate crimes statute to include crimes motivated by a victim’s sexual orientation and gender identity, thus making it a more effective law enforcement and prosecutorial tool.
  • In 2006, Equality Maryland speraheaded the passage The Medical Decisionmaking Act, that extended some medical and funeral decision making rights to domestic partners.
  • In 2007, we passed an ordinance that added transgender protections to  Montgomery County’s anti-discrimination laws. Equality Maryland worked to ensure this law was not overturned on referendum.
  • In 2007, Equality Maryland passed The Family Coverage Expansion Act. This law requires insurance companies to write policies inclusive od domestic partners.
  • In 2007, Equality Maryland also helped pass a law that authorizes insurerd that issue policies of group life insurance to extend coverage to domestic partners.
  • In 2009, we helped pass a law that allows domestic partners to inherit jointly owned primary residences without incurring tax penalities.
  • In 2010 with our help the Montgomery County Council passed a county ordinance requiring contractors who do business with the county to offer domestic partner benefits.
  • In January of 2011, Gender Empowerment Maryland (GEM) was born as a working group to advice and advance trans* inclusive laws, programs, educational unities, and polices.
  • In 2011, Howard County passed trans*-inclusive non-discrimination with the help and collaborative efforts of various groups, including ours.
  • In 2012, Equality Maryland helped pass a Baltimore County law extending anti-discrimination provisions to transgender individuals.
  • In 2012, Equality Maryland was part of the coalition that passed The Civil Marriage Protection Act. 
  • Later that year, Equality Maryland was part of the coalition that helped to defend The Civil Marriage Protection Act at the ballot box!
  • Also in 2012, EQMD joined a coalition that worked to protect DREAM Act at the polls, which we succeeded in doing.
  • In 2014, EQMD was one of the leaders in the coalition that passed the Fairness for All Marylanders Act of 2014. This bill updates the state’s anti-discrimination laws to include transgender Marylanders.

Equality Maryland Foundation’s educational and coalition-building work has included formation of:

  • The Maryland Black Family Alliance, in conjunction with the ACLU. The MBFA brings together straight African American leaders who are supportive of LGBT marriage equality and other legal protections.
  • The LGBT Marylanders of Color Collective, a committee of people of color dedicated to engaging in heart-to-heart dialogue about LGBT people of color.

Equality Maryland has produced groundbreaking publications like Jumping the Broom: A Black Perspective on Same-Gender Marriage, which is now used across the United States;What’s In a Word? A Religious Perspective on Civil Marriage EqualityMarriage Inequality In the State of Maryland, and the video Heart of the Matter: Maryland’s Same-Sex Couples Seek Justice for their Families. Equality Maryland has also produced a video series “Stand With Us.” These public service announcements are written and produced by trans individauls and have been well received.

Most importantly, Equality Maryland has built a strong network of citizen voices and a solid coalition of organizations who are tireless in their commitment to fairness and justice.