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by Fern Shen8:32 amJun 2, 20180

Two weeks before Pride 2018, Baltimore has no LGBT liaison, no LGBT commission

Mayor Pugh “didn’t come through on either promise,” a frustrated LGBT leader says

Above: Kim Morton, attending a 2017 rally at the War Memorial Building, figures prominently in a lawsuit alleging mismanagement of the city’s water billing program. (Fern Shen)

With less than two weeks to go before Pride 2018, Baltimore’s annual weekend of solidarity and celebration for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, the Pugh administration has no LGBT liaison and no functioning LGBT commission.

The lapses have frustrated the city’s LGBT leaders.

Last January, Mayor Catherine Pugh issued an executive order creating an LGBT commission, prompting more than 170 people to express interest. No set of commission members has yet been announced.

Meanwhile, the person who the mayor had named as LGBT liaison, former Tent City protest leader Samantha Smith, has resigned, complaining that she was “asked to be untruthful with the community that I service.”

While calling the mayor “a wonderful woman that is making great changes in Baltimore,” Smith said, “the people she has working for her are snakes.”

Writing to the director of the Mayor’s Office of Human Services, Smith complained of “unnecessary conversations about my gender identity” that “made me feel uncomfortable in the workplace.” (See letter below.)

Smith, who continues to work in the human services office, did not respond to a request to elaborate.

A Real Commitment?

Smith’s resignation, along with the administration’s failure to seat a commission, has left Ava Pipitone, executive director of the Baltimore Transgender Alliance, wondering about Pugh’s commitment to the community.

“She didn’t come through on either promise,” Pipitone said yesterday.

The problem may stem from the mayor getting bad advice, Pipitone speculated, or from a vision of governing that doesn’t recognize communities like hers.

“The mayor’s priority has been investing in the empowerment of business and development interests. She has chosen that approach over empowering minority groups and grassroots organizations.”

samantha smith letter of resignation

A spokesman for Pugh had no comment other than to say he would try to get answers to questions from The Brew, replying after publication, said the mayor left the formation of the committee to the people who applied.

“The mayor decided she wanted everyone who took the time and energy to apply to have a say in the formation of the Commission,” said James Bentley, deputy press secretary. “The leaders of the committees are the representatives of the official commission.”

Pipitone scoffed at this approach saying it would not result in a balanced group and that it has so far resulted in no announcement of a seated commission.

“That’s not forming a commission, it’s holding a town hall meeting” and leaving the task to others, she said.

Unexpected Appointment

LGBT leaders had been hopeful after Pugh agreed last August to create an LGBT commission, something the city has not had since the Sheila Dixon administration.

But they were surprised when the mayor appointed Smith to the paid liaison position, rather than naming a leader of one of the city’s established LGBT groups.

Smith expressed surprise herself.

Last summer, Smith and others occupied tents on War Memorial Plaza, opposite City Hall, to call attention to affordable housing needs and homelessness.

After 10 days, an end to the action was announced. Smith, declared the group’s leader, agreed to be bused to a closed school in Sandtown, as did 55 other participants.

At the same time, Smith revealed that she had been hired by Mayor Pugh.

“It really was a blessing – she offered me a job in her office,” Smith told The Brew as the Tent City campers moved their belongings into the Pinderhughes building, where cots had been set up.

Samantha Smith, a Tent City participant hired by Mayor Catherine Pugh to be the director of the transitional facility in West Baltimore where participants in the protest were relocated. (Louis Krauss)

Samantha Smith (center) became the director of the Pinderhughes transitional facility after last summer’s homelessness protest in front of City Hall. (Louis Krauss)

Learning her Limits

LGBT leaders said Smith accomplished little in her new role. Pipitone said she was ill-equipped for the job and was argumentative. “We engaged with her, but right away she started picking a fight with the community.”

At the same time, Pipitone said Smith had to deal with insensitive language and attitudes at City Hall. “Samantha had a hard job and didn’t have a lot of clarity about what she was really there for,” she said.

When LGBT leaders learned that Smith was no longer to be liaison, having her duties refocused to “homeless outreach,” they began to organize.

A coalition of leaders outlined the demographic categories and kinds of expertise that ought to be represented at City Hall.

“We have a lot of knowledge and expertise to offer the mayor,” Pipitone said. “We’re hoping to help.”

As for Smith, Bentley said she is “no longer employed with the City.”

Asked her specific job duties, title and salary, he referred a reporter to Terry Hickey, the director of the Mayor’s Office of Human Services.

“I do know she was focused on homeless outreach, focusing on LGBTQ homeless individuals,” Bentley said. “I believe her job classification was Community Liaison.”

As for the now-vacant position of LGBT liaison, Bentley said Pugh does plan on filling it.

Asked if she will be marching in the Pride parade, Bentley said Pugh plans to “as she has done for years.”

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