Sunday, October 14, 2018

The Pride of Howard County

How Local Candidates View Their Role in the Fight for LGBTQ Rights

In the wake of Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation as Associate Justice to the U.S. Supreme Court, which gives it a decisive conservative tilt, LGBTQ individuals along with many other minorities see themselves in the cross-hairs of those who want to roll back hard-fought legally obtained rights. That includes such landmark decisions as Roe v. Wade and Obergefell v. Hodges.  #hocopolitics

The direction of SCOTUS along with the policies of the Trump administration is of concern to the LGBTQ community and its allies both nationally and locally. 

Even with strong protections in place in Howard County, there is more work that needs to be done to overcome homophobia and transphobia, LGBTQ youth homelessness, bullying and violence to name a few. In fact, the Maryland State Police just issued a report that indicated hate crimes increased in Howard County by 35 percent in 2017 over 2016 in which such crimes against gay males ranked third behind racism and anti-Semitism.

As we approach Election Day, I invited candidates for various local offices and parties to share their experiences involving LGBTQ rights and what they would do, if elected, to further these rights and solidify protections in the county.

By not appearing here, it should not be construed that they are silent on LGBTQ issues. It could be that they have not seen the announcement asking for participation. In other words, please don't draw any conclusions if the candidate is not included. And any Howard County candidate who wishes to participate is welcome to do so at any point.

Each candidate was posed the following questions: 1) Briefly explain your past experience in promoting LGBTQ rights; 2) What do you see as the most pressing concern/issue for LGBTQ citizens in the county/state? 3) If elected, how will you try to advance LGBTQ equality, inclusion, and safety?

These individuals have varying degrees of experience in LGBTQ matters but all believe in diversity and inclusion and that protecting and furthering LGBTQ rights is fundamental.
Below are the participating candidates’ responses in their own words displayed alphabetically by office.


Calvin Ball, Candidate (D) for Howard County Executive

As a Councilman and advocate, I have promoted and fought for a more inclusive environment where every single Howard County resident could feel safe being their best selves. In 2011, I introduced a bill to the Howard County Council to include gender identity and expression as classification to protect the LGBTQ+ community from unlawful and discriminatory practices.

We live in a world where the government is trying to tell us who to love, where we can use the bathroom, and otherwise restricting people’s rights to be themselves. We need to allow everyone the right to live their best lives and be their best selves. As community members, it is our job to ensure that every citizen, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or ability feels welcomed and accepted.

As Howard County Executive, I will work with the LGBTQ+ community to ensure the inclusion and safety of all community members. We will work together to build the best Howard County promoting opportunity for all of us. Diversity and inclusion should not be tolerated; it should be celebrated. In Howard County, we condemn hate bias incidents towards any and all community members. I’ve always believed strongly in nurturing the beautiful diversity of the sexuality and gender identity spectrum communities, and I'll continue to advocate for their rights as your next Howard County Executive.

Allan H. Kittleman, Incumbent Candidate (R) for Howard County Executive

Some of the proudest moments of my career in public service have been working toward advancing and protecting the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals.  As a State Senator, I supported bills for both marriage equality and transgender rights.  In 2018, though no longer a Senator, I provided written testimony in support of a state bill to ban conversion therapy for youth.

When elected County Executive in 2014, I sought to create a more supportive community for LGBTQ+ individuals and their loved ones in Howard County.  I formed one of the first county-focused LGBTQ+ Community Roundtables, appointed one of the first government liaisons to the LGBTQ+ community, and assigned staff to work in the community by assisting with Howard County’s inaugural Howard County Pride, and the SAGE Table event with HopeWorks.  

Finally, I’m proud of Howard County’s recent designation from the Human Rights Campaign awarding Howard County with the Municipal Equality Index’s top score.

I recognize a need for better visibility and acceptance in the workplace, which I plan to promote in my administration so that Howard County government can lead other employers by example.  I also think we need to create a more accepting and welcoming environment for LGBTQ+ youth, and I look forward to elevating this issue with our organizations that work with children and families.

I’m proud to announce that Howard County is preparing an internal diversity policy, which will address equality, inclusion, and safety.  We will also continue to support and put resources behind HoCo Pride, and facilitate meetings between the LGBTQ+ Roundtable and County agencies.

Byron Macfarlane, Incumbent Candidate (D) for Register of Wills for Howard County.

When I was elected as Register of Wills in 2010, I became the first LGBTQ elected official in Howard County history. In this role, I have worked with my counterparts across Maryland to ensure that LGBTQ Marylanders are treated equally and with dignity and respect. I was the first and only Register to publish online a guide to the inheritance tax exemption for domestic partners, which is still available to unmarried same-sex couples today.

During the debate over marriage equality in the Maryland General Assembly in 2012, I testified about how the inability to marry created significant problems for LGBTQ couples when it comes to end of life issues. I spoke with legislators about the 100 instances the word “spouse” appears in Maryland probate law, all of which conferred benefits on married couples that were unavailable to same sex couples. During the referendum that followed, I co-hosted a fundraiser with Howard County Executive Ken Ulman to support Question 6, and served as a field coordinator for the campaign in Howard County.

Over the past decade, I’ve consistently donated to LGBTQ community organizations and advocacy groups, including Howard County PFLAG, the Gay & Lesbian Community Center of Baltimore (GLCCB), Moveable Feast, the ACLU, the Human Rights Campaign.

After many years of hard work, it’s a relief to say that our community has most of the legal protections we’ve always wanted here in Maryland. The work we have to do now is cultural and institutional. Here in Howard County, I think the most pressing concern is how our LGBTQ youth are treated in our public school system. I’ve spoken to many students who feel that their only form of support comes from their sympathetic peers, rather than administrators or parents. We need a Board of Education and a superintendent who take this issue seriously and lead the system to being better educated on how to protect LGBTQ children and advocate for their needs.

We also need to be vigilant in the face of a dramatic increase in hate crimes in America. Just a few months ago, Glenelg High School was defaced with anti-Semitic, racist, and homophobic graffiti. Our community needs to be visible and aggressive in condemning these actions and holding our elected leaders accountable for doing the same.

Here in Howard County and across our country, we must continue to educate ourselves and open our hearts and minds to the ever-evolving spectrum of identities that our LGBTQ brothers and sisters choose in order to live their lives fully and happily. We have a wide variety of sexual orientations and gender identities and we are all part of the same community, and we owe it to one another to work at understanding each other.

As Register of Wills, I’ve maintained a pro-equality workplace and will continue to do so. I will work in the term ahead to recruit and support more LGBTQ candidates to run for office here in Howard County, to ensure our community has a seat at the decision-making table. I’ll encourage my partners in government to adopt LGBTQ-inclusive hiring policies, focusing particularly on my courthouse colleagues here and across Maryland. I’ll also continue to support, financially and otherwise, pro-equality community and advocacy groups, and contribute to lobbying efforts with FreeState Justice when I can be helpful.

Rich Gibson, Candidate (D) for Howard County State’s Attorney

In my capacity as a prosecutor I have prosecuted cases where the victims were LGBT.  It is important to me that every member of our community is safe from violence and free to be themselves within our community.

In my personal life I have attended PFLAG events to show my support for the LGTBQ members of the Howard County community. 

There are many pressing concerns impacting the LGBTQ community; one that stands out to me is bullying behaviors and violence against LGBTQ students.   Addressing this issue requires that students, teachers, and school administration change their attitudes and behaviors related to LGBTQ members of our community.  It would be beneficial to utilize restorative justice practices in the school setting to encourage empathy and avoid criminal sanctions that might stigmatize the students and inhibit their future options.

The State’s Attorney’s mission is to make sure that our community is safe and that every individual in Howard County has equal protection and access to justice regardless of their zip code, socioeconomic status, race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity.  I will take extremely serious any cases where members of our community are harmed based upon bigotry and will ensure the aggressive prosecution of those cases where the evidence supports a finding that bigotry was a motive for the crimes committed.

Marcus Harris, Candidate (D) for Howard County Sheriff

I have not had any specific involvement with LGBTQ issues or concerns. As a parent and coach, I do believe it is imperative we show all people respect and kindness and have made those values clear to my children and all the young people with whom I interact.

We need to ensure that members of this vulnerable community always feel safe. Many states are passing legislation that limits the rights of our LGBTQ community members, such as some of the Bathroom Bills passed in North Carolina and other states. These bills paint the LGBTQ as a threatening population which is definitely untrue and harmful.

As Sheriff, I know that we can have an impact by increasing community engagement and partnerships. I intend to build strong partnerships within all members of the community by increasing community interactions and volunteer opportunities with our youth. If we can increase engagement and interaction with LGBTQ youth, we can better understand their concerns and the issues they face in the community. And by being a welcoming and inclusive institution, we can set an example for the rest of Howard County.

Bill McMahon, Candidate (R) for Howard County Sheriff

During my career in the Howard County Department of Police, including 8 years as the Chief of Police, I worked closely with many community members and groups, particularly those who were most vulnerable to crime and feared for their safety. This included our LGBTQ community.

We provided additional training to our staff, not just to be compliant with the law, but to provide respectful and helpful service to everyone. In fact, we had an issue in which one of our officers did not meet our expectations in a presentation he made. A parent of a transgender student was rightly outraged by the comments and contacted me. We were able to work together to develop a training program that all employees attended. This was a prime example of taking a situation and using it as an opportunity to improve. I alluded to this example in a recent League of Women Voters interview. The relevant information begins at about the 2:00 mark.

In 2016, I returned to a public safety leadership role when I was appointed as Sheriff when the prior Sheriff retired after a Human Rights Commission investigation into his comments and behavior that were characterized as racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic and otherwise hurtful to any number of minority groups. One of the first community events I attended was a work group hosted by the County Executive that focused on how members of the LGBTQ were treated, or feared they would be treated, in the county. Over the last two years I have been working to improve our policy and training, including issues specific to this community.

I would also point out that I have hired and promoted employees who have identified as being LGBTQ.

I think that LGBTQ citizens have continuing concerns about their safety and being subjected to harassment, bullying and other unfair treatment. While I think Howard County is generally more inclusive than many communities, I know that is not true in every incident. As the Chief of Police, we handled a number of Hate Bias Incidents targeted at county residents and worked hard to both investigate the crimes and hold people accountable, as well as to enhance the victims’ (both primary and the community) feelings of safety.

Specific to my role as the Sheriff, we are making sure that we have updated policies and training to appropriately handle issues specific to LGBTQ citizens. This includes ensuring that we treat people with respect and dignity. We are currently reviewing how we handle LGBTQ citizens who may be detained or arrested to ensure that that they are safe and treated appropriately. In our work in domestic violence, we are aware of some of the additional challenges and fears that LGBTQ citizens may have in working with law enforcement and work hard to ease any concerns.

As I have throughout my time leading organizations, I will work to make sure that we are compliant with current law and best practices in how we do our jobs. We will continue our community outreach efforts and invite input into the policies that may uniquely affect our LGBTQ community members. We are also ready to improve and meet the expectations that our entire community has for us.

County Council

Opel Jones, Candidate (D) for Howard County Council, District 2

In the past, currently, and in perpetuity, I have spoken out against any discrimination against the LGBTQ community via social media (3.5K friends of FB, 1K IG, 550 Twitter), as a member of the Human Rights Commission helping out with the LGBTQ Committee, and attending local LGBTQ events in the community.  I also participated in the LGBTQ Forum for candidates here in Howard County although my opponent refused to participate.

I believe my transgender brothers and sisters deal with one of the most pressing issues, specifically which gender is on their birth certificate. I know in New York they either just passed, or are in the process of passing legislation to add a third category to the birth certificate. That kind of creative legislation, working hand in hand with LGBTQ leaders, and just overall being a thoughtful and nice person, will help all of us!

This is 2018. If any human being can’t be treated equally in Howard County or Maryland at large, then there’s a big problem. I’m going to do my absolute best to make sure we are ALL equal!
If elected, I will continue the legacy of Calvin Ball specifically in District 2 and county-wide by keeping an eye on any bills to bring forth amendments that help the LGBTQ Community, as well as sponsoring any necessary legislation so that my LGBTQ brothers and sisters are never discriminated against.

Deb Jung, Candidate (D) for Howard County Council, District 4

I was a Commissioner on the Human Rights Commission of Howard County for five years during the 1990’s.  We elected the first openly gay person to chair the Commission during that time-Jan Nyquist.  During my twenties, I worked for the National Organization for Women, advancing the Equal Rights Amendment throughout the country, as well as advocating for gay rights (this was before we adopted the LGBTQ initials as a descriptor).  I have marched in favor of LGBT rights, spoken out in favor of LGBTQ rights, and have raised my daughter to have respect for everyone, including those who identify as LGBTQ.

Bullying in the schools, hate-filled social media posts, groups who are determined to undermine the rights of the LGBTQ population, such as the Family Research Council, hate crimes and violence against the LGBTQ population, and efforts to use the religious freedom argument to undermine LGBTQ equality.

I will continue to support the LGBTQ community and keep an open door to make sure that everyone feels safe and included in Howard County and the State of Maryland.  I will ensure that County Boards and Commissions reflect the diversity of the County, including LGBTQ residents, and I will do whatever is necessary to ensure that the County’s antidiscrimination laws are enforced.

Christiana Rigby, Candidate (D) for Howard County Council, District 3

After graduating from college I worked with the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) to help expand workplace protections in Florida. Unfortunately, only 22 states in America protect someone from being fired for being sexual orientation beyond the limited federal law. I have continued to be a supporter of LGBTQ rights in our broader community, and have attended PRIDE and PFLAG events in support.

I'm proud that Howard County receives as 100% score on our Municipal Equity Index rating from the HRC. However, we must continue to improve support within our communities. Given that Howard County is aging at around twice the rate of other counties in Maryland, we should do more to engage with our 50+ LGBTQ community. Inclusive sexual education for youth, vigilance regarding hate crimes, and increased mental health support are all basic, vital aspects of supporting our diverse community.

Board of Education

Vicky Cutroneo, Candidate for Howard County Board of Education

As PTA Council President, I advocated for LGBTQ student representation on policy committees, most recently the dress code and sexual discrimination policy review committees.   Over the summer I met with PFLAG advocacy chair to discuss ways we can better support students and grow GSAs at individual schools and connect to student councils.  As a candidate for public office over the last 2 years, I have remained steadfast and vocal in my support for LGBTQ rights, especially as it relates to students.  As an aunt of a transgender nephew and friend to many in the LGBTQ community, I am a proud advocate and vocal supporter.

I believe the most pressing concern for LGBTQ students is school climate and safety.  Students are often faced with hostile learning environments where bullying and teasing are common which can compound stress, anxiety, depression and lead to suicide.   Every single day, LGBTQ students enter through the school’s main doors and they don’t feel safe when they’re there. 

·       55.5% of LGBTQ students feel unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation.

·       30.3% miss at least one day of school per month because they feel unsafe.

·       Over a third avoid gender-segregated spaces in school because they felt unsafe.

·       68% report avoiding school functions and extracurricular activities because they felt unsafe.

·       74% were verbally harassed, 36% were physically assaulted.

·       56.7% who were harassed or assaulted in school did not report the incident to school staff, most commonly because they doubted that effective intervention would occur or it would become worse if reported.

·       LGBTQ youth seriously contemplate suicide at almost three times the rate of heterosexual youth

·       LGBTQ youth are almost five times as likely to have attempted suicide compared to heterosexual youth.

·       LGBTQ youth who come from highly rejecting families are 8.4 times more likely to have attempted suicide as LGBTQ youth who reported no or low levels of family rejection.

Schools need to be not only safe, but also affirming and empowering and I have learned that having what sounds like great countywide policies mean nothing if they are not ACTIVELY carried out at the school level or if a hostile/unsupportive school culture exists.  For example, though students may be allowed to use gender specific bathroom that they identify with, it doesn’t mean they will.  Many will ask to use staff bathroom because they are afraid. 

What are ways that the school system can become more inclusive?  One way is thru a curriculum that mirrors the real lives of students; however, many teachers will not enter into the domain of using curriculum that includes LGBTQ related topics because of perceived or real lack of administration support or parent push back.  As many as 6 million American children and adults have an LGBTQ parent and most schools have students who identify as LGBTQ or parents who are gay.  The curriculum should at least acknowledge/reflect real life. 

We also need to make bullying reporting more user friendly; anonymous two way texting has found great success in a number of other jurisdictions.  Students do not want to fill out a form.  More than that, we need to address root cause, not just treat the symptoms. This needs to begin in elementary school, with comprehensive and relatable anti-bullying/sexual harassment programs.  It needs to be weaved into the fabric of the curriculum and the school day.  Empathy and acceptance can’t be taught in a one-hour high school health class.  It needs to amped up in middle school, when bullying escalates and self-esteem plummets. (boy, am I glad my kids are all done with middle school…)

The GSA is a great way for students to feel connected and empowered, but it’s success is largely dependent on administration support and willing sponsor.  For example, are meetings announced on loudspeaker?  Moreover, we need to work towards expanding GSA opportunities at the middle school level.  I have discussed with PFLAG advocacy chair Jumel Howard ways in which GSAs could become more connected with each other and with student councils.  I believe GSAs should also engage with each other at the county level, much like student councils; a monthly meeting with a GSA representative from each school as well as with SMOB/student council leadership.

I believe specific training/professional development on how to better support LGBTQ students is needed so that there is some uniformity between schools.  I was stunned to learn from a teacher that currently there is nothing in place.  If we want all of our schools to be LGBTQ inclusive and supportive then we must move from a passive to active mindset and provide the appropriate tools and resources to administrators and staff.   This is especially true if a student has a non-supportive family, sometimes it just takes one teacher to change the trajectory of their lives and improve mental health. 

Policies and codes of conduct set the foundation for an inclusive and accountable school system and both are under the purview of the Board of Education.   We need to ensure that policies are carried out at the school level and adequate resources and training are in place so that it’s more than just lip service. Something I have worked towards was ensuring adequate LGBTQ representation on policy review committees.  I would love to see more students serving in this capacity and will work with GSAs towards this end, as well as engaging with LGBTQ staff to serve on committees.

An inclusive, accepting school environment is impossible if there has been no training or professional development, if there has been no dialogue with students.  It’s just words put together without action.   Moreover, inclusion, equality and safety are impossible if students do not feel empowered to speak up and if they feel there will be no consequences or retaliation.  As with policy, student codes of conduct only work if they are actually adhered to, if there are consequences, if there are reparations including restorative practices opportunities. 

We need to be honest about the realities that go on within the confines of our school buildings; slicing and dicing bullying and harassment data to give us the rosiest picture or making it hard to report bullying is a disservice to our students. As a board member, I will continue to engage with students and parents directly to get the real story. 

I will not simply sit behind the dais and depend on the HCPSS interpretation of student reality as my primary source of information and I will work to ensure that board policies and student codes of conduct do indeed foster an inclusive and accepting school climate.

Danny Mackey, Candidate for Howard County Board of Education

I have long been an advocate for our LGBTQ community. Most recently I have used my position as a candidate for public office to discuss the need to provide LGBTQ students learning environments that are supportive, understanding, and safe.

We are lucky to live in an incredibly diverse county that is so widely accepting of LGBTQ members of our community. As candidate for Board of Education I tend to think about our LGBTQ youth and what issues they may face as students in our school system. 

Many young people come to understand their sexuality/gender identity during their formative adolescent years. For these youth we can do a better job creating support systems within our community, both inside and outside of HCPSS, to make coming out a less stressful process and make every student in HCPSS feel as though they can be themselves when they’re at school.

As a member of the Board of Education I will engage members of our LGBTQ community to bring their voices to the table and inform better decision-making at HCPSS to encourage an environment that is welcoming and supportive of all HCPSS students.

Jen Mallo, Candidate for Howard County Board of Education

As an engaged citizen, I vote for candidates who support LGBTQ rights, especially the rights to same-sex marriage, the civil rights not to be discriminated against in housing, employment, healthcare, education, and more.

As the former Chairperson of the Community Advisory Council, I supported policies and initiatives that promote equity, diversity, and inclusion.  I was an outspoken advocate for anti-bullying efforts, laws, and more.  I currently sit on the dress code policy review committee with an eye toward making sure all our students are treated fairly and equitably.

As a Board of Education Candidate, I have been outspoken in my ardent support for students who are Transgender to use the facilities that correspond to their gender identity even in the face of hostility.

As a proud parent of a member of the LGBTQ community, I am acutely aware of how my every day actions are an integral part of promoting LGBTQ rights and acceptance.  I have shared our family’s journey with friends and community members, promoted how normal it is to believe that love is love regardless of gender, and promoted acceptance of transgender students. 

I am an ally.

Some of the most pressing concerns are the high rates of suicide for LGBTQ youth, bullying of LGBTQ youth, and the growing need for acceptance and inclusion of our youth who are LGBTQ.
I commit to examining HCPSS policies for ways to advance equality, inclusion, and safety.  As someone with years of experience in HCPSS policy review, examination, and revision, I am uniquely qualified to tackle this challenge.

I commit to meeting with and listening to members of the LGBTQ community to fully understand where we can make a difference.  The LGBTQ students know better than anyone else what they are experiencing, and it is important for me to listen and then act to support them.

I commit to accepting our students who are LGBTQ as individuals who need to be safe and supported, and to be educated fairly and wholly.

Robert. W. Miller, Candidate for Howard County Board of Education

To date, I do not feel that I have done anything very significant in promoting LGBTQ rights. As a teacher, however, I have tried to be supportive of LGBTQ students, staff, and parents, and as a candidate for the Board of Education I have tried to be supportive of LGBTQ concerns. I hope that I will have the opportunity to be supportive of LGBTQ rights on the Board.

Because I am running for the Board of Education, I am focusing my comments regarding LGBTQ students. If I had to pick one concern, I would choose the maintenance of these students’ emotional health. Many LGBTQ students face challenges that are often greater than straight students, including bullying, suicide, social prejudice and discrimination, depression, and relationships with family and peers. The atmosphere and expectations set by the school system could go a long way toward enabling LGBTQ students to have enjoyable and emotionally healthy years in school.

If elected I would work with the other members of our Board of Education to encourage the respect of diversity and to provide an inclusive environment for LGBTQ students. Not only should specific needs be met, such as the ability to use the restroom of their choice like any other student, but LGBTQ students should expect to be respected like any other student by school staff, and these expectations should be backed up by policy and deed. Furthermore, they should expect school staff to work toward bringing about that same kind of respect from their peers, so LGBTQ students will feel as included and respected as straight students.

Provision of appropriate school system policies; staff training; emotional health supports within the school and community such as counselors, psychologists, and social workers; appropriate facilities; appropriate usage of names and pronouns, restorative justice practices; and a culture of inclusiveness and respect for diversity; should help LGBTQ students generally to have more positive and fulfilling experiences in school, and to be more likely to maintain good emotional health. These practices should also help to make our schools safer places for LGBTQ students physically, as well as emotionally.

Anita Pandey, Ph.D., Candidate for Howard County Board of Education

Since I started teaching at the college level in the USA, in 1997, I have been actively promoting LGBTQ rights.  In my childhood (growing up in mostly developing countries), I was pleased to see the “hijra” community celebrated in northern India, and that was my first exposure to the LGBTQ community.  In many of the other nations where I resided, LGBTQ rights were never discussed, so once I was made aware, I wanted to be an advocate. 

At The University of Memphis, my students and I organized several Pride and anti-bias workshops focused on educating residents of Shelby County on respect for members of our LGBTQ community.  My former graduate student, Marvin Skinner who now teaches in Minnesota and one of my biggest advocates was a proud member of the community and can attest to my advocacy.  At Morgan State University where I currently work, I continue my advocacy through classroom discussions, resources on LGBTQ rights that I make a conscious effort to include (e.g., oral and written testimonials, visuals and writings on language bias vs. inclusive verbal and nonverbal language). 

At least two members of my department who are active members of the LGBTQ community can also speak to my role in promoting LGBTQ rights.  In HoCo, my family and I have attended informative sessions offered through HopeWorks of Howard County, and with parental support, my high schooler signed up to share in this important work.  [Our youngest is also an advocate but does not yet meet the age requirements to sign up.]

Inclusion—in a comprehensive sense—is what I see as the most pressing need for our LGBTQ members.  This includes free choice in bathroom use when bathrooms are gender-designated.  Members of the LGBTQ community should have the freedom to decide which bathroom they wish to use without being made to feel ashamed and/or attacked.  Safety is a related and equally pertinent concern.

I will continue to call for respect and inclusion for the LGBTQ and other marginalized communities.  I will build and galvanize school- and community-wide support through open dialog.  I will recommend that resources that feature our LGBTQ community—and in a positive light--are required readings at every level of education, and that we have LGBTQ support groups at every school, and PRIDE celebrations at every neighborhood.  I will push for the construction of unisex bathrooms at both new and existing schools (like the welcoming “Everyone” restrooms at Erikson Institute in Chicago), so that members of our LGBTQ community do not feel singled out.  In literature that goes out from HCPSS and at school “family lounges” (which I would love for schools to have), I will ensure that LGBTQ communities are represented through visuals and other means.

Sabina Taj, Candidate for Howard County Board of Education

Through my work over the past decade as an adviser to a family foundation, I’ve helped the family identify and support a number of initiatives focused on anti-bullying and inclusive curriculum efforts supportive of the LGBTQIA community. For instance, we supported the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network based in NYC to train teachers to recognize and appropriately respond to bias based behaviors. We also recently provided support to the DC-based Advocates for Youth for teachers to deliver a new and comprehensive LGBTQ-inclusive sexuality education curriculum in schools across the country.

Though Maryland was the first state in the country to pass same-sex marriage laws, the state and county continue to face challenges in supporting the LGBTQIA community. Maryland falls in the middle of the pack with respect to how well the state protects its LGBTQIA citizens. Howard County, too, faces challenges. Even the Board of Education candidates have had a difference of opinion about the positions they feel the public school system should take to support LGBTQIA students, notably transgender students. I have been unequivocal in my support of the LGBTQIA community, in forums and throughout my campaign, and will continue to do so.

If elected to the Board, I will support all efforts that promote a nurturing environment and will protect LGBTQIA citizens from bias and harm in any way I can.

I’ve included a statement on my campaign website that says: “We need to protect LGBTQIA youth, educators, and staff from all discrimination, whether expressed as bias in the curriculum, bullying on the playground, or bullying in the workplace. All school students and staff should be educated and made aware that there are trusted adults to whom they can turn.”

Chao Wu, Candidate for Howard County Board of Education

I have been a strong advocate for all students in our county, including LGBTQ group. I have friends in LGBTQ group. I attended their community meetings and I support their fight for equal rights.
The most pressing concern/issue is to make sure LGBTQ group is not left out (their voice can be heard) nor singled out (they are treated equally as others) in our community.

I believe all students, including those in Special Education, immigrant and undocumented students, LGBTQ, and racial minorities, should be treated equally. As an immigrant and minority myself, I know the challenges first hand.

As a board member, I will ensure all the policies are non-discriminatory. I will ensure these policies are implemented in a non-discriminatory way. Most importantly, I will ensure everyone feels welcomed in school and everyone is expected to achieve the highest standard no matter which “basket” he or she is in.

Family involvement and effective communication is another crucial component of creating a supportive and encouraging environment in our schools. We need to create an avenue for families to communicate to the Board about the inequities they are facing in order for the Board to pass policies to address these inequities. We should create a straightforward, efficient and effective feedback mechanism for each policy and each program such that we can engage with the students who are not treated equally or need resources. Only through continuous effort and improvement, we can provide an equitable learning opportunity for all.

I’d like to personally thank all the candidates who have taken time out from their busy schedules and agreed to participate in this effort and for their thoughtful positions on this important topic.  Their campaign logos are along the right side panel and if you click on them, you will reach their websites. 

Monday, September 24, 2018

Standing By His Man

President Trump standing by Brett Kavanugh Photo: Mother Jones

There have been some flawed nominations for the United States Supreme Court in the past, but the current one, Brett Kavanaugh, is one for the books.  

In what is projected to be pure theatre should the scheduled sham hearing take place on Thursday by the Senate Judiciary Committee, the lead-up will have your heart pounding and head spinning.

Now, not only one allegation of sexual misconduct—attempted rape to be precise—in which Judge Kavanaugh has been accused while in prep school, another just surfaced last night whereby he allegedly pushed his genitals into a face of another woman while at Yale.  The accuser in the latter case, Deborah Ramirez, admitted memory lapses from a drunken stupor but believes the incident did occur.

While Senate Leader Mitch McConnell and Chairman Charles Grassley intend to “plow through” this “hiccup” in the confirmation process regardless of the testimony from Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, this second allegation adds a new wrinkle. Such accusations would ordinarily be troublesome, and in normal times with a normal Republican president, the nomination would be pulled with a new right wing, anti-minority, anti-choice candidate would be brought up.

Not this time, at least not yet. President Donald Trump is steadfastly standing by his man. There are three primary reasons for this stubborn, if not politically fatal, position:

1.   Trump knows the hearing will be a sham and regardless of what Dr. Ford has to say, the Republican majority on the committee will vote yes in pure rubber-stamp fashion and refer the confirmation to the full Senate.

2.     By pulling the nominee from consideration, Trump would be forced into admitting—whether or not he actually says so, and he won’t—that he made a mistake.  More likely, he will blame the Democrats, the “deep state,” the media, President Obama, Hillary Clinton, James Comey, the NFL and all his myriad enemies for this smear campaign against this “fantastic man."

3.     Most importantly, Trump wants Kavanaugh on the bench because of the judge’s previous declarations  about strong executive power and that sitting presidents be shielded from criminal prosecution and civil lawsuits while in office. In other words, Kavanaugh would protect him where his Attorney General Jeff Sessions would not.

The hearing should it occur will be a disgrace  as well as a sham in that an FBI investigation will not have taken place prior to the proceedings and other witnesses will not have been subpoenaed. It is clear the president as well as the servile Republicans on the committee don’t want to get to the bottom of the allegations and learn the truth for the three reasons cited above.

The losers in all this besides the Republican brand heading into the midterms just six weeks away are all the victims of sexual assault and misconduct who again will be doubted and disparaged, and it explains why these people are reluctant to report such incidents in a timely manner. Trump loses, too, because it reminds folks that he has been subject to some 17 accusations of sexual misconduct.

Thank you Randy Rainbow:

Friday, September 21, 2018

Sassy Ain’t Misbehavin’ Swings into Toby’s

The cast of 'Ain't Misbehavin''  Photo: Jeri Tidwell Photography

Step into Toby’s time machine and visit Lennox Avenue in Harlem during the 1920’s and 1930’s. You will experience the famous Cotton Club, the Savoy Ballroom, rent parties, and an assortment of smoke-filled honky-tonk bars along that stretch where the conversation is loud; the slide piano-playing jazz, Dixieland, ragtime, and swing music manage to compete with the din; and the hard partying never seems to end. 

It was the world that the legendary composer, jazz pianist, comedian and singer Thomas “Fats” Waller lived in. This accomplished artist lived for only 39 years before succumbing to pneumonia, but he clearly left his mark on American culture and was a noteworthy contributor to the Harlem Renaissance.  #hocoarts

The world of Fats Waller, with its laughter and partying mixed in with some introspection generated by the social realities of the time, is brought to life in an energetic production of Ain’t Misbehavin’ playing at Toby’s the Dinner Theatre of Columbia.

With some 30 songs performed by a talented hard-working cast of five under the direction of Monique Midgette, choreographed by Shalyce Hemby, and supported by Ross Scott Rawlings and his seven-piece orchestra, this musical revue pays homage to black musicians of the era with Waller’s prints all over it.

He either composed, collaborated or recorded these songs—some of which had become standards—including the title song “Ain’t Misbehavin’”, “Honeysuckle Rose,” “The Joint is Jumping,” Black and Blue,” “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter,” and “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love.”

Ain’t Misbehavin’, which captured three Tony Awards in 1978 and launched the career of Nell Carter, features a book penned by Murray Horwitz and Richard Maltby, Jr., with the music created by various composers and lyricists as arranged and orchestrated by Luther Henderson.  

Scenic Designer David A. Hopkins neatly sets the atmosphere at Toby’s with a host of old-time chandeliers suspended from the ceiling and a major ballroom chandelier centered above the round stage.  There is also a mirror ball emitting lights around the theater to simulate a dance hall scene. A piano, emblematic of Waller’s iconic instrument, appears often as does a portable platform from which several numbers are performed.

Intermittent black and white projections are displayed on screens around the theater to add context to the moments, and the use of fog machines to denote cigarette and cigar smoke in the clubs is an effective touch.  All the atmospherics have been enhanced by Lynn Joslin's effective lighting design. 

If you’re not familiar with Ain’t Misbehavin’ (I last saw the show 30 years ago when I was just a toddler), as a musical revue, the production consists of song after song—high tempo and sultry ballads in the mix—with no plot, no chronology, nothing really tying the songs together other than Fats Waller’s involvement.  It’s a pleasant, sit back and relax toe-tapping experience that takes you back to an important part of American musical culture.

Kelli Blackwell,  Bryan Jeffrey, Kadejah Oné, Tobias A. Young and
Kanysha Williams
Photo: Jeri Tidwell Photography
Yet, it’s not a static concert where the numbers are merely sung. The songs come right at you from the get-go with hardly a pause except for intermission. There are lots of movement, dancing and action taking place on different parts of the stage and on a stairway. Ms. Midgette and Ms. Hemby ably take into account the in-the-round format and the cast performs accordingly.

The five talented artists performing are Kadejah Oné, Kelli Blackwell, Kanysha Williams, Tobias A. Young and Bryan Jeffrey. Since the program lists them in the song list by their first names only, I will also refer to them in that way.

They vigorously perform with sass, attitude and playfulness as they are featured in solos, duets, trios and as a company. Individually, the performers shine and collectively they blend beautifully. The joy and warmth exhibited by these performers tell the audience they are truly having a great time onstage.

Dancing adroitly to the swing and jazz numbers, they are in constant movement throughout. It should be noted that for a large man, Tobias acquits himself very well nimbly dancing in such numbers.

"The joy and warmth exhibited by these performers tell the audience they are truly having a great time onstage."

The cast, attired in colorful period costumes by Janine Sunday, are dressed to the nines, which replicate classic Harlem Renaissance style. For most of the show, Kadejah, Kelli and Kanysha  are wearing solid colored dresses—blue, purple and red, respectively; Tobias is in a three-piece suit and Bryan in a snazzy jacket and slacks combo with a pink tie.

Furs for the women are also adorned. Yes, they were not only acceptable during that era, they were desired.

At times, however, the sound became problematic the night this production was reviewed forcing the vocalists to project more than they probably wanted to.  This led to the blurring of some of the lyrics and causing an occasional issue with pitch. Hopefully, this will be rectified as the run progresses.

Nonetheless, the cast members deliver. “Honeysuckle Rose” performed by Tobias and Kadejah is strong.  So is the fine dancing number “Handful of Keys” with Kanysha and the company. Kelli does well in her solo “Squeeze Me.”

Bryan and Tobias utilize the steps in the well-performed “The Ladies Who Sing with the Band.” Kanysha’s solo of “Yacht Club Swing” is quite fine.  Kadesha excels in “Cash for Trash.”  The company performs ably in the lively dance number “The Joint is Jumpin’” closing out the first act.

Bryan’s comical performance of “Viper’s Drag” at a rent party is superb. Tobias shows off his vocal prowess in his solo “Your Feet’s Too Big.” The duo hooks up neatly in a well-executed song and dance number “Fat and Greasy.” For their duet, Kelli and Kadejah are excellent in “Find Out What They Like.”

The non-stop party takes a more somber tone just before the finale in the company number “Black and Blue”. While the projection screens show images of “Whites Only” signs to reflect the Jim Crow segregationist era, the group movingly performs the poignant song and is a highlight for me.

Because Ain’t Misbehavin’ focuses on a specific slice of American music, it may not appeal to everybody as other Toby’s productions generally do. However, it is an important time for the resurgence of black music from the 20’s to the 40’s and a significant part of our history.

Whether you enjoy Fats Waller’s music or not, you will appreciate an exceptionally talented cast who gives their all to entertain you.  Plus there’s always Toby’s luscious buffet.

Running time. Approximately two hours with an intermission.

Ain’t Misbehavin’ runs through November 4 at Toby’s the Dinner Theatre of Columbia, 4900 Symphony Woods Rd., Columbia, MD 21044.  Tickets may be purchased by calling the box office at 410-730-8311 or visiting online

Thomas "Fats" Waller