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Current, former Md. lawmakers accused of inappropriately touching women in Annapolis

In a file photo from Jan. 31, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) gives a state address at the Maryland State House in Annapolis.
In a file photo from Jan. 31, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) gives a state address at the Maryland State House in Annapolis. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)
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A Maryland state senator and a former lobbyist went public Friday with allegations of sexual harassment, becoming the first women since the #MeToo movement began to publicly name men connected to the State House — a current lawmaker in one case and a lawmaker turned lobbyist in another — who they say touched them inappropriately.

Both men denied the allegations.

Sen. Cheryl C. Kagan (D-Montgomery) said former delegate Gil Genn, who now works as a lobbyist, put his hand on her back during a chance encounter at a bar near the State House on Thursday night and then “ran it down my back to my tush.”

Sara Love, who worked as a lobbyist for the American Civil Liberties Union from 2013 to 2016, said in a separate interview that Del. Charles E. Barkley (D-Montgomery) made inappropriate physical contact with her during that period.

Barkley, she said, “pulled me in too close, held me too long and gave a sloppy wet kiss on my cheek. . . . His behavior crossed the line. It was inappropriate.”

Kagan, who has served 12 years in the General Assembly, and Love said they were speaking out because sexual harassment continues in Annapolis despite news reports in recent months based on the accounts of women who shared their stories anonymously. Kagan said she filed a formal complaint with the legislative human resources director Friday.

“My goal is to serve as a warning for men that they need to clean up their act immediately,” she said, “that they will be outed and shamed and that their behavior is completely unacceptable.”

Kagan said she has experienced instances of sexual harassment during her career but still was shocked by Genn’s “brazen attitude for disrespecting women’s boundaries,” especially given the country’s ongoing national discussion about sexual harassment.

Genn, who served in the General Assembly from 1987 to 1999 and is now a partner at the firm Bellamy Genn, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. He told the Baltimore Sun that Kagan’s allegations were “delusional,” saying, “This is so stunning and shocking, I’m almost breathless.”

Lorenzo Bellamy, managing partner of the lobbying firm, said in a statement: “I am concerned about the allegations raised by Senator Kagan. I have the utmost personal and professional respect for all of my clients and legislators. I do not condone and have zero tolerance for any inappropriate behavior. Thank You.”

Barkley, who has served in the House since 1999, said he did not recall “any behavior that crossed the line” with Love.

“Sara was and still is a very nice person,” he said. “She would give me a hug. I would give her a hug. I don’t remember doing anything other than that. . . . It sounds like I made her uncomfortable. If I did, I’m sorry about that.”

Maryland lawmakers have been grappling with how to address what many describe as a pervasive culture of sexual harassment in the capital. Women until now have been reluctant to publicly describe their experiences.

A recent report from the Women Legislators of Maryland caucus contained searing descriptions of alleged sexual harassment and assault by male colleagues, and a former legislative staffer named Nina Smith told the caucus last month that six lawmakers had touched her inappropriately during her time in Annapolis.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) and House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) have created a commission to review anti- ­harassment policies for the legislative, executive and judicial branches. The commission is scheduled to complete its work by the end of the year.

Kagan said her interaction with Genn occurred while she was meeting colleagues from the Maryland Municipal League and the Maryland Association of Counties at Castlebay, an Annapolis bar and restaurant that has karaoke on Thursday nights.

“Gil came over . . . and put his hand on my back and ran it down my back to my tush,” she said. “I was so shocked that I couldn’t respond in the moment.”

She said Genn then tried to make conversation and she “pivoted” her body away.

“If a lobbyist who needs my vote for his clients can think it’s okay to harass a senator, imagine how he would act around interns or staffers,” Kagan said. “It’s not okay, and I have to speak out.”

Love said she has not filed a complaint against Barkley, who is giving up his seat at the end of the year and running for the Montgomery County Council. She said she came forward after a former Montgomery County delegate mentioned the veteran lawmaker’s name on social media as an alleged perpetrator. And she said she hopes that making her allegations public will help fuel changes in the legislature, which only this year began tracking how many harassment complaints it receives and how they are resolved.

Del. Ariana B. Kelly (D-Montgomery), president of the women’s caucus, has proposed legislation that would require the legislature to have an independent investigator look into complaints. A hearing Monday will determine whether that bill gets assigned to a committee, where it could be considered.

“Enough is enough,” Love said. “There is a serious problem in Annapolis that has got to be addressed, and the focus is on leadership to make serious reforms.”