Investigators probe whether arsonist targeted Decatur gender clinic QueerMed

An Oct. 30 fire at the historic Blair Building in Decatur is being investigated as a first-degree arson. The building tenants include QueerMed, a medical practice that specializes in treating transgender patients. (Matthew Pearson/WABE)

Records obtained by Decaturish show that fire investigators are probing whether an arsonist targeted a gender-affirming medical clinic at the historic Blair Building on Oct. 30.

The Blair Building is a pink-painted structure located at 215 Church Street behind Twain’s restaurant. It’s home to several medical providers, including QMed/QueerMed, which specializes in “gender-affirming care for transgender and nonbinary individuals.”

A Decatur Police report indicates QMed was the victim of the Oct. 30 fire, which is being investigated as a first-degree arson, which is a felony. The report contains several images that have been redacted.

The Decatur Fire Department, however, has been tight-lipped about the investigation. Decaturish only learned about the fire after receiving an anonymous tip. A reporter visited the scene and saw the damage to the building on Nov. 1. The Fire Department did not initially confirm the Oct. 30 fire had occurred, and only confirmed it after Decaturish published a story about it.

“On Monday, October 30, 2023, Decatur Fire responded to a reported structure fire at 215 Church Street,” Fire Chief Toni Washington said on Nov. 2, four days after the fire occurred. “Upon arrival, moderate smoke was visible from the first-floor window. The fire was confined to the point of origin and extinguished upon arrival. There were no occupants in the building, no injuries, and the fire is under investigation.”

When asked about the police report, Washington reiterated that the cause remains under investigation.

“Fire investigators operate under a scientific method of evaluating multiple hypotheses and eliminating each …,” Washington said. “There are four classifications of fire cause: accidental, natural, incendiary, and undetermined. We cannot close the case or label the fire cause as one of those classifications until we have done thorough work and disproved the other causes. In order to protect the integrity of the investigation and avoid jeopardizing any possible future prosecution, the Fire Department will not be answering questions or providing additional information at this time.”

QMed declined to comment, but the clinic confirmed an employee submitted a hate crimes report to the FBI and were told the incident is under investigation.

Decatur’s officials did not say whether this incident is being investigated as a hate crime. Georgia enacted a hate crimes law in 2020, and its protections extend to LGBTQ individuals, and people convicted of a hate crime would face stronger penalties under the new law.

Jeff Graham, executive director of LGBTQ advocacy group Georgia Equality, said while there have been threats against other providers of gender-affirming care, he doesn’t know whether this clinic was specifically targeted and said he has not spoken to investigators.

“I worry that the disinformation that has been spread about transgender individuals in general and gender-affirming care in specific could lead to violence such as what may have happened in this case,” Graham said. “That said, because we don’t yet know all of the facts, I would hate to worry people unnecessarily. It has been a rough year for the transgender community, including their families, medical providers and supporters. I am hesitant to add to that trauma without knowing all of the facts. Whatever may have happened here will not deter us from advocating for access to the essential healthcare that is so important to the well-being of transgender individuals and fighting to affirm the dignity of all members of Georgia’s LGBTQ communities.”

In 2022, Gene Kansas Commercial Real Estate announced a modernization and renovation project for the building. Kansas purchased The Blair in 2021.

Gene Kansas, the building owner, confirmed the fire occurred but did not provide additional details, citing the investigation.

“As you know, there was a small fire at the Blair Building on October 30,” Kansas said. “The City of Decatur Fire Department responded quickly and contained it, and we’re most thankful no one was injured. Right now, we’re working diligently with our remediation partners and contractors to restore the Blair Building to pre-fire condition and hope to have business owners move back in before the end of the year. Given that the incident is under investigation by authorities, we have no further comment.”

He would not say how many tenants were displaced, but tenants have been anonymously contacting Decaturish to speak out about the incident. They said the fire occurred after a lengthy and inconvenient renovation project that has taken longer than expected, and they are frustrated with the situation.

The Blair Building was constructed in 1939 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The building spans 12,500 square feet and two floors. It has been an office building for over 80 years and all the offices have been leased to a variety of companies. According to the Blair Building website, the building is a “stunning example of Streamline Moderne architecture and one of only two buildings of its kind in the city.”

This story was provided by WABE content partner Decaturish.