Nearly every female lawmaker in Annapolis has signed on to an open letter that appears to push back against a recent report by their own women’s caucus that contained searing descriptions of alleged sexual harassment and assault by male colleagues.
The letter — signed by 57 of the state’s 60 female delegates and senators — says lawmakers were offended by a recent news broadcast that quoted an anonymous staffer in the report describing the Maryland General Assembly as a “frat house.”
That characterization, the letter said, “is unfair and . . . is disrespectful to the work that we do every day.”
The lawmakers said they want to make clear — as allegations of sexual harassment in Annapolis continue to become public — that “we are not defined by such behavior. . . . We are strong, capable women who will ensure that the behavior highlighted in the press is not tolerated on any level. But, neither will we allow the completely unacceptable behavior of a few to overshadow our work together on policy initiatives for the benefit of the citizens of Maryland.”
The 38-page report by the Women Legislators of Maryland caucus includes anonymous accounts from current and former staffers, legislators and lobbyists and offers recommendations to improve the legislature’s anti-sexual-harassment policy.
It was distributed in February at the first meeting of the Workplace Harassment Commission, created by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) and House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel).
In their letter, the female lawmakers said women have made tremendous strides in Annapolis, holding about 1 in 3 seats in the legislature as well as multiple leadership positions.
Among the signatories is Del. Ariana B. Kelly (D-Montgomery), the president of the women’s caucus. Kelly said she was told the letter was a response to a media report that she did not see personally but that other lawmakers said made the legislature seem out of control. “I think the point of the letter was that it’s not always a frat house. Not that it’s never a frat house. That’s why I signed,” she said in a text message.
Del. Kathleen M. Dumais (D-Montgomery) said lawmakers felt the “frat house” description overshadowed the recommendations of the caucus and “all of the other things we need to do.”
“We were trying to shift the story to the improvements that we’re working on and the hard work of the women’s caucus,” Dumais said. “We are no way accepting the behavior that was described.”
House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga (R-Baltimore County), a member of the Joint Legislative Policy Committee that has made changes to the legislature’s anti-sexual-harassment policy in the past two years, said the report sent “a wrong message . . . that this is a frat house, and it’s not.”
She said that in comparison with other states, Maryland is “ahead of the curve” in addressing sexual harassment.