The former director of FreeState Justice, a Baltimore-based legal advocacy organization that seeks to improve the lives of low-income LGBTQ Marylanders, claims to have resigned in protest because members of the board of directors engaged in transphobic and white supremacist behavior.
The organization, which has filed for a temporary restraining order against Jeremy LaMaster, categorically denies the allegations, which it says were made only after LaMaster was terminated. In addition, the organization alleges the fired LaMaster went on to sabotage the group’s website and illegally sent out communications to its 43,000-person mailing list using a company computer while locking out other employees from the system.
“LaMaster unilaterally and without authorization changed user permissions and shared login information so only they had access to numerous systems and accounts,” the group said in a federal lawsuit. “They also removed employees’ administrative access to numerous systems and accounts, leaving such access to only themself. In doing so, LaMaster has left FreeState’s employees with little to no access to client files, case files, dashboard reports, and case notes.”
Phillip Westry, who has replaced LaMaster as the the organization’s new executive director, said he was mystified by the turn of events.
“I don’t know how we got here. Everything from the claims in their email to their decision to seize control of our systems,” Westry said. “The thing that hurts the most is the harm he has done to this organization.”
Westry said that over the past nine months, he and deputy executive director Tina Jones have been able “to expand services to LGBTQIA+ folks across the state.” This includes employment, housing and healthcare discrimination; family law; and new services for seniors.
Westry added: “There is too much on the line right now. We have trans and non-binary folks being denied access to the things we all need to live, youth being bullied, school boards banning the pride flag, people burning the pride flag here in Baltimore, and the Supreme Court threatening the rights to marriage. Our community has a lot to deal with right now. FreeState having to deal with what Jeremy did could have been devastating.”
On Sept. 21, FreeState Justice filed a civil lawsuit in federal district court in Maryland against LaMaster. The organization is seeking a temporary restraining order that prevents LaMaster from administrative access to the company’s IT, email, website and other technology infrastructure.
LaMaster, a 34-year-old Charles Village resident who had worked for the organization for two years prior to the Sept. 16 dismissal, said that the organization never provided a definitive reason.
Asked if they heard racial or transphobic slurs, LaMaster responded: “I do not have first-hand knowledge of slurs.”
Instead, LaMaster said he was familiar with a number of microaggressions and larger instances that exemplified characteristics or qualities of white supremacy.
“We always are looking for racism in the slurs,” LaMaster said. “It’s more baked in than that.”
For example, LaMaster said board members would repeatedly refer to Black transgender women activists as “crazy, Black women.”
“They would share stories about how crazy and wild Black women are. They would share stories and vignettes about angry Black women that I did not feel comfortable with. I would articulate that,” LaMaster said.
LaMaster also recalled that during the state legislative session last spring, board members were critical of witnesses who did not show up to testify at a prison reform bill hearing. He explained that the witnesses did not show because the timing of the testimony was changed and they could not get transportation there.
LaMaster declined to identify which board members purportedly made the comments.
“It’s not about individuals or individual acts,” LaMaster said, adding that it is about “the culture that is enabled.”
LaMaster said the board prioritized relationships with legislators that were not in the best interests of their clients and community, and was guilty of “power hoarding.”
“These are the hallmarks of White Supremacist Culture: the concentration of power, power hoarding, defensiveness, right to comfort, fear of open conflict, hyper-individualism, and a false sense of urgency,” LaMaster wrote in the message to the organization’s mailing list.
The board is 53% white non-Latine/x, 7% Latine/x, 7% Asian or Pacific Islander, 26% Black or African American, and 7% Native American, according to the FreeState Justice website.
Board member Lee Carpenter, who has been a member for three years, said he was shocked to hear LaMaster’s claims against the board.
“These allegations of white supremacist culture and transphobia are categorically untrue,” said Carpenter, who is white, and also donates his free time as a lawyer to clients of the organization. “FreeState’s board members are dedicated volunteers who fully support the organization’s mission. This includes advocating for all members of our community, including transgender individuals and people of color.”
Carpenter said he has confidence in the new leadership of the organization.
“We have received many, many expressions of support from all across the community,” he said. “I also have great confidence in our new leadership. So there is every reason to be confident about this next chapter in FreeState’s history.”
Westry, who is Black and has been with the organization since December 2021, said he has never heard any board members make racist or homophobic comments.
Westry said the staff, who are predominantly Black, Indigenous and people of color and part of the LGBTQ community, stand with the organization and against LaMaster’s allegations.