Wednesday, December 05, 2018

The Walls Are Closing In

How will a volatile Trump react to the Mueller findings?

During the run-up to the 2016 election, Donald Trump was already discounting the results if he lost saying it is a “rigged system.” This accusation was offered without any evidence.

However, we are learning that the election was, in fact, rigged but in Trump's favor as interference on the part of the Russian government has been documented by the findings from a number of U S. Intel organizations.  Then after Trump stunned the world by defeating Hillary Clinton in the Electoral College, he claimed, again without evidence, that he lost the popular vote because of voter fraud.

You see, Donald Trump cannot accept losing. He would be portrayed as weak and that's his biggest fear other than losing money.

As the legal walls continue to close in on Trump with likely charges of conspiracy and obstruction of justice facing him as a result of the work of Special Counsel Robert F. Mueller III and his formidable team, the shit is about to hit the fan .

If anyone believes Trump will take these citations calmly and with reverence to the probe, I have seaside property in Kansas to sell them.

Rather, we should anticipate an explosion the likes of which this country has not seen in modern history. I’m not suggesting his fire-breathing supporters will automatically take to the streets with their beloved weapons pointed and shooting everyone.  Nor will there be a civil war of sort as conspiracy theorist Alex Jones suggested .

But we could be entering dangerous territory here. I wouldn’t rule out an increase in attacks against minorities and immigrants even if they’re sporadic as a reaction to their cult leader finding himself in hot water.  Sharp spikes in hate crimes have already occurred since the election so it’s not out of the realm of possibility.  Trump would say or do nothing to quell an uprising regardless of the degree. He has been anticipating such an outcome ever since the “Russia Thing” got underway.

And he seems to be pushing for one.

His rallies with his base have been aimed at whipping up support for himself and defiance towards the Mueller probe while denigrating the “fake news” media and urging action to lock up his opponents.

Moreover, his off-the-rails tweets, which at times have further placed the president in legal peril, are not simply rants that occur often in the wee hours of the morning during an insomnia-induced brain dump. They are also messages to his rabid base to point out how unfairly he’s being treated by his enemies--mostly angry Democrats--who cannot accept a defeat in an election they were supposed to win.

These tweets and incendiary rallies are intended to send signals to his base that anything coming out of the Mueller probe cannot be taken as legitimate. The angry mobs Trump may actually see will not be Democrats (as he predicted following the Democratic takeover of the House) but his own fire-breathing supporters who will deny the inevitable outcome of a serious investigation that is a threat to the Trump’s presidency as well has his family.

A similar view is presented here.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Splashy ‘Little Mermaid’ Surfaces at Toby’s

The cast of "The Little Mermaid" playing at Toby's Dinner Theatre
Photo: Jeri Tidwell Photography

Holy Mackerel! With the arrival of Disney’s The Little Mermaid at Toby’s, the Dinner Theatre of Columbia, it is tempting to bombard this review with a school of fish puns.  But if you think I am going to take the bait, well, you are floundering up the wrong pike.  

I don’t mean to carp on this but there are enough fishy lines dropped throughout the show that with any more from me and you’d be up to your gills in them, wind up with a haddock, and eventually tuna me out.

Not to go overboard, but under the superb direction and choreography of Helen Hayes Award winner Mark Minnick, the perfectly cast, impeccably staged, ultra-colorful, splashy production that kicks off a promising 2018-19 Season reels in a great catch with this presentation of The Little Mermaid.   #hocoarts

Based  on  one  of  Hans  Christian  Andersen’s  most  adored  stories  and  the  1989  classic  animated film, it was no fluke that Disney’s  The  Little  Mermaid netted two Tony Award nominations in 2008. It features music  by  eight-time  Academy  Award  winner,  Alan  Menken,  lyrics  by  Howard  Ashman  and  Glenn  Slater  and  a  book  by Doug  Wright.

It conveys the fairytale love story of a beautiful young mermaid (Ariel) who at first is infatuated with “human things” like a fork and other items discarded at sea and falling to the ocean floor where she resides and then infatuated by a human being—a handsome prince (Eric) who is on a boat at sea. Prince Eric hears her lovely voice and he, too, becomes spellbound.

What then transpires and how they ultimately hook up (oh, dear!) is the essence of the plot and is a joy to behold.

Toby’s imaginative artistic team originally wanted to fill the theater with water up to the ceiling so that all the aquatic characters in the show can move about freely in their natural habitat. But with the luscious food at the buffet (seafood and all) getting soggy, the audience drenched if not drowning, and the cast with their mic’s affixed to them getting electrocuted, the show’s run would be limited to one performance, if that.

Abby Middleton, Jeffrey Shankle and Jacob Hale 
Photo: Jeri Tidwell Photography
Rather, a more conventional approach was adopted and it worked magic.  Costumes by A.T. Jones & Sons are magnificent and colorful beyond belief. The aquatic characters including a variety of sea life, such as a flounder, a crab, a couple of eels, other fishes, a flock of seagulls and, of course, a bevy of mermaids replete with extended tails are decked out in creative attire that are sure to please the young children (and adults) attending the show.

The costumes for the sailors above the surface, King Triton, the villainess sea witch Ursula, and the ensemble are similarly outstanding, lavish, intricate and creative.

Another triumph is David A. Hopkins’ vividly chromatic lighting design, which is clearly worthy of a Helen Hayes Award nomination. The spectacular mixing of hues with a blue-green accent to depict the underwater action is first rate.  Mr. Hopkins employs four spotlights from above with each casting simulated sun rays peering down from the sky through the depths of the sea. It is a gorgeous touch.

Mr. Minnick’s choreography is detailed and fluid working the in-the-round stage to near perfection.
Grouper, I mean group numbers, such as “Daughters of Triton,” the clever “Positoovity,” the hilarious “Les Poissons,” “She’s in Love” and the show stopper “Under the Sea” are expertly performed.  This is no small achievement given the bulky costumes worn by the cast members, and the precise execution avoids collisions. Well done!

More top notch choreography is on display in “Sweet Child” and “Daddy’s Little Angel.” Here, two green-clad eels, Flotsam (Taylor Witt) and Jetsam (Joey Ellinghaus) who are loyal subordinates of the sea witch Ursula perform while on rollerblades.  Using synchronized strides and shifting upper body movements, both gracefully and deliberately slither around the stage in artistic, electric performances.

The cast is 'Under the Sea'  Photo: Jeri Tidwell Photography
 Alan Menken’s score is melodic and delivered exceptionally by Music Director Ross Scott Rawlings and his 6-piece orchestra—even without a bass.

Abby Middleton as Ariel, the youngest mermaid daughter of King Triton (Russell Sunday), the ruler of an undersea country, does a laudable job in conveying her yearning for Prince Eric. Possessing a sweet melodic soprano voice, Ms. Middleton excels in one of the show’s popular songs “Part of Your World” and in other solos like “The World Above” and “If Only.”

Her onstage chemistry with Russell Sunday as her father and Justin Calhoun as Prince Eric offers believability to this make believe tale.

Ariel’s love interest, dashing Prince Eric is played outstandingly by Justin Calhoun.  I am pleased to see Mr. Calhoun in a leading role whereby he can showcase his pitch-perfect tenor voice.  His convincing swashbuckling demeanor throughout the production exhibits his fine acting skills as well.

Mr. Calhoun’s romantic solo ballad “Her Voice” and his duet with Ms. Middleton in “One Step Closer” are beautifully performed. 

Mr. Sunday hits the mark as the widowed King Triton, the strict but caring father of his youngest daughter Ariel. Attired in a nautically-themed lavish costume including a wild, eye-catching crown, the King opposes Ariel’s ascent to the surface and her collection of human things as he views all humans as fish-eating threats to his undersea kingdom.

Commanding on stage, Mr. Sunday’s muscular baritone is displayed in “If Only (Triton’s Lament)” and later he is featured in a quartet with Mr. Calhoun, Ms. Middleton and DeCarlo Raspberry as Sebastian in “If Only (Quartet”).

Mr. Raspberry as Sebastian, a crab, is comical and campy. A veritable scene-stealer, Sebastian is a servant of King Triton and is assigned to watch over Ariel and helps Ariel charm Prince Eric.  His spot-on tenor is evident in group numbers “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl.”

The aforementioned evil Ursula is played mischievously by Lynn Sharp Spears (a great name for the theme of this musical).  She lures Ariel into trading her beautiful voice for legs so she can rise to the surface and reel in Prince Eric. Ms. Spears effectively delivers the song “Poor Unfortunate Souls” and the reprise of that number towards the end in a dramatic, action-packed scene.

Justin Calhoun and Abby Middleton  Photo: Jeri Tidwell Photography
Jeffrey Shankle as Scuttle, a gull, does his usual strong performance in this comic role. Scuttle can’t quite get his facts or his words quite right but Mr. Shankle sings well in the group number “Positoovity” and again in “Positaggity.”

The always fun David James portrays Grimsby, a loyalist to Eric. His mission is to see that Eric fulfills a promise made to his deceased father—a king—that he will marry a princess. Mr. James performs admirably in the group numbers “Beyond My Wildest Dreams” and “The Contest.” He's such a cod!

Jacob Hale energetically plays Flounder who is Ursula’s companion and who accompanies her on searches for human artifacts. He performs well with the Mersisters—Ariel’s siblings—in a wonderful song and dance number “She’s in Love.”

And then there is David Bosley-Reynolds as the comical Chef Louis. In a hilarious scene, he tries to capture Sebastian and cook him for dinner. During the action, Mr. Bosley-Reynolds sings “Les Poissons.”

Rounding out the excellent cast are Elizabeth Rayca, Maggie Dransfield, Rachel Kemp, MaryKate Brouillet, Coby Kay Callahan, Louisa Tringali, Noah Beye, Sylvern Groomes, Ariel Messeca, Brook Urquhart and AJ Whittenberger.

The Little Mermaid at Toby’s with its talented performers and crew under Mark Minnick’s excellent direction is a lighthearted musical for all ages where you will enjoy this production and the buffet hook, line and sinker. I said that just for the halibut.

Running time. Two hours and 40 minutes with an intermission.

The Little Mermaid runs through January 13 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

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Having Our Seat at the (Round)Table

Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman convenes LGBTQ Roundtable
in June 2016     Photo: Office of the County Executive
On November 26, the final County Executive’s LGBTQ+ Roundtable took place whereby several diverse members of the community participated in a discussion on what has been accomplished so far and what needs to be addressed moving forward amid the uncertainty that is inevitable with a change in administration.  The architect of this confab, outgoing Howard County Executive Allan H. Kittleman, was not present for this installment but his mark had already been made.

The LGBTQ+ Roundtable is not a formal group or a commission; it is a periodic listening session for members of the LGBTQ+ community to bring issues to the County Executive’s attention. The Roundtable began in October 2015 fulfilling a campaign promise  made by Mr. Kittleman in 2014, and the meetings have been held on a quarterly basis since.  #hocopolitics

“As County Executive, I convened the LGBT Roundtable to ensure that I continue to have open lines of communication with the LGBT community and to better hear and understand the issues that are important to the community,” Mr. Kittleman told the Washington Blade. “In this way, we can ensure that County government is doing all it can to promote acceptance and inclusiveness of all people, and work to eliminate discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation or sexual identity.”

Participants typically include representatives from PFLAG, Chase Brexton Health Care, Howard County government, a member of the Human Rights Commission, members of the Board of Education, as well as other LGBTQ+ advocates.

At the initial meeting topics discussed included de-gendering single stall restrooms; training for first responders and other County employees; ways to make both County government and private businesses more LGBT-friendly; and generally encouraging greater social acceptance through education and institutional change.

In the next meeting in March 2016, topics covered how senior centers treat LGBT elders and the interaction between transgender individuals and County service providers.

In June 2016 the Deputy Chief of Operations for the Howard County Police Department, briefed the attendees on the types of training officers are given at the entry level and annual in-service instruction including distance learning training on sexual orientation and gender identity.  The training covers such areas as sensitivity, arrest and search, hate bias recognition as well as dealing with implicit and explicit bias incidents directed towards the LGBT population as well as other groups in the county.

Also, the Director of Corrections was on hand to answer questions specifically related to the intake process including forms and the housing of transgender inmates.  Concerns had been raised (and corrective action eventually taken) on how transgender individuals are being misgendered by police and intake personnel at correction facilities and the use of solitary confinement as routine or standard protective placement for LGBT inmates to protect LGBTQ+ inmates.

This past August 20, representatives from the school system attended the Roundtable and discussed the fact they had met with students, staff, PFLAG, GLSEN to deal with myriad issues related to the transgender population in the schools. Topics, such as using the preferred name/pronoun and how students feel safe in classes, bathrooms, locker rooms, field trips, extracurricular activities, etc. were addressed.

Individuals from other departments and agencies as well as outside organizations have attended the meetings. They include but are not limited to: Office of Children and Families; Community Resources and Services; Howard County General Hospital; Department of Social Services-Foster system, Department of Human Resources, SAGE; and the Office on Aging and Independence.

In addition, the intersectionality with other marginalized groups, such as the homeless population, youth, seniors, and those LGBTQ+ individuals incarcerated has: (1) fostered better understanding of these groups; (2) taken steps to remedy any identified deficiencies; (3) proactively reviewed policies and procedures (4) incorporated concerns in departmental training; and (5) enhanced overall success in ensuring equity and inclusion in the county.

As far as I know, this executive-level gathering that focuses on LGBTQ+ issues had never been implemented in the state.  However, Baltimore City government recently established a formal LGBTQ+ commission with similar goals as the Howard County Roundtable.  

“I am so indebted to County Executive Kittleman for being the first Howard County Executive to start an LGBTQ+ Roundtable,” said Susan Garner, a retired Howard County school psychologist and former President of PFLAG-Howard County. “He initiated the idea to invite various county agencies to our quarterly roundtable meetings to increase their competence in understanding LGBTQ+ issues and to follow through on initiatives to make Howard County a safer place for LGBTQ+ individuals, their families and allies.”

Attendees of the Roundtable have found reassurance through these meetings.

“It’s amazing to live in a place where our leaders sit down to listen to the LGBT community and heed our words,” said Suzi Gerb, an educator and a member of the PFLAG-Howard County steering committee. “It becomes a great comfort to know that those who run our government are aware of our existence and take our needs into consideration.”

The group attending the November 26 meeting identified areas that need further examination in 2019.  Among them are: conducting surveys with LGBTQ+ inmates in correctional facilities to gauge the prisoner population climate; meet with state-level Department of Social Services to discuss foster care for youth and prospective parents; and coordinate with the Howard County Economic Development Authority to create a relationship with the Maryland LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce.

“The County Executive’s LGBTQ+ Roundtable is more than just a simple gathering,” explains Jumel Howard, Vice President of PFLAG-Howard County and the chair of the HoCo Pride Planning Committee. “It is a driving force for Howard County’s LGBTQ+ community. The wealth of knowledge that is brought to the table and the diversity of the group are a true testament to the excellence of our county.”

Whether or not the LGBTQ+ Roundtable will continue under the new County Executive Calvin Ball remains to be seen.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Conventional Wisdom the Loser in Local Elections

Current County Executive Allan Kittleman and new County Executive
Calvin Ball         Photo: Baltimore Post Examiner

On a chilly Election Day evening, hundreds of Howard County Democratic partisans packed Kahler Hall in Columbia, Md. to do what folks had hoped to do: celebrate victories. National and local returns were projected on screens via cable news programming and a laptop while people huddled around the screens, sat at round tables engaged in high-spirited political conversations, hitting the buffet line, mingling about, or taking selfies as polls were closing in much of the East.  #hocopolitics

The traditional venue for such occasions has been a horror show for Democrats in 2014 and 2016.  This night would be different, many of the Dem supporters hoped and believed.  And they were right.

When the Howard County numbers eventually rolled in with only a handful of precincts remaining on this November 6 night, several deafening roars exploded as it appeared that Dr. Calvin Ball, a three-term member of the County Council, was poised to upset incumbent Allan H. Kittleman as County Executive. Prosecutor Rich Gibson followed with a lusty defeat of Republican Kim Oldham as the new State’s Attorney, and most of the other offices down the ballot followed suit.  The much ballyhooed Blue Wave was indeed washing throughout Howard County.

Click here for all the election results in Maryland.

The biggest loser in these local elections was conventional wisdom, which took a back seat to other dynamics that were in play. Below are examples of how conventional wisdom was shattered:

The top of ticket pulls up lower candidates. Governor Larry Hogan handily defeated his Democratic challenger Ben Jealous by a 56% to 43% margin.  Gov. Hogan, the odds-on favorite and a leader in just about every poll, was supposed to help Republican candidates down the ballot. 

It did not work in Howard County. Mr. Hogan garnered 56.7% to Mr. Jealous’ 42.2% (similar to the overall state vote) yet the Democrat Dr. Ball defeated the Republican Mr. Kittleman 52.4% to 47.5%, and most other Dems in the county won as well.

Results were similar in other central Maryland counties. In Baltimore County, Gov. Hogan handily defeated Mr. Jealous by a 61.7% - 37.3% count in that jurisdiction, but the Democrat John Olszewski, Jr. defeated Republican Al Redmer, Jr. by a 57.5% to 42.4% margin.  In Anne Arundel, the divergence was even greater.  While Gov. Hogan walloped Mr. Jealous 69.1% to 29.8%, Democrat Steuart Pittman outlasted Republican Steve Schuh 52% to 47.9%.

In all three jurisdictions, incumbent County Executive Republicans succumbed to Democratic challengers despite the Governor’s margin of victory.  Clearly, there were no coattails.

Howard Co.
Howard Co.
Kittleman     47.5
Hogan      56.7
Ball              52.4
Jealous     42.2 

Baltimore Co.
Baltimore Co.
 Redmer      42.4
Hogan      61.7
Olszewski   57.5        
Jealous     37.3 

Anne Arundel
Anne Arundel
Schuh          47.9
Hogan     69.1 
Pittman        52.0        
Jealous    29.8  

A favored candidate shouldn’t start off campaign attacking opponent.  One of the criticisms of frontrunner Anthony Brown’s ill-fated 2014 gubernatorial bid was that he began his campaign by immediately hitting the relatively unknown Larry Hogan with negative ads thus elevating his profile. Shrugging off that philosophy, in 2018, the Republican Governors Association launched vicious attack ads against Mr. Jealous painting him as “too extreme for Maryland” and one who is guaranteed to raise taxes to fund his programs. Mr. Jealous was slow to respond and never recovered.

It should be noted that although Mr. Kittleman had been favored to be re-elected in Howard County, he did not engage in negative attack ads, and Dr. Ball did not either, resulting in an unusual but refreshing contest.

Endorsements help candidates. Republican candidates throughout the state, sensing an easy victory for Gov. Hogan, did not hesitate to include “Hogan Endorsed” as part of their materials, advertising and signage. By and large, it did not work.  Endorsements are overrated and popularity is not transferable when other more important factors are in play.

Incumbency has an advantage.  The benefits of incumbency are clear. The candidate has name recognition. He or she probably has a residual war chest from the previous campaign to spend in the current campaign, which takes some pressure off of fundraising. The candidate has a record of accomplishments to run on. And the higher level of visibility based on the time in office serves as an additional advantage.

In Howard County, however, Republican incumbents except those whose districts spilled into more conservative terrain in Carroll County lost. Nonetheless, all Howard County Democratic incumbents won.

Calvin Ball was not predicted to win.  Mr. Kittleman had all the benefits of incumbency (see above) and money plus he enjoyed relatively high job approval and personal popularity. Moreover, a Mason Dixon poll  released merely six weeks before the election indicated Mr. Kittleman should glide to victory as he enjoyed a 16% lead. For Dr. Ball’s part, an internal poll  had forecast a much tighter race.

Dr. Ball benefitted from his own positive personal attributes, a strong ground game and solid messaging including his vision for the county that hit the target especially in the weeks leading up to the election. However, the “Trump effect” played a significant role, not only in the County Executive race but also with others down ballot.

Governor Hogan enjoyed high job approval across the board and pulled in a good chunk Democratic and independent votes. But after that, Democrats were driven to turn out to vote Democratic in part, as a protest to Trumpism and the Republican Party that has enabled it.

Mr. Kittleman, hardly a Trumpster, was caught between a rock and a hard place. With less than a third of the county’s active voters identifying as Republican, Mr. Kittleman needed to pull in Democratic and independent support. His conundrum was that if he railed against President Trump, he would alienate those GOP voters who are ardent Trump supporters.  If he was to be silent concerning the president (he largely was), then Democrats could not see him as a viable antidote to Trump’s policies and bigotry.

In addition, Republican activists charged Mr. Kittleman with trying too hard to get Democrats on board and not paying enough attention to Republican concerns.

Other factors hurt the incumbent as well including the controversial mulch legislation, his opposition to Howard being a sanctuary county and the rebuilding plans following the second Ellicott City flood in three years.

The intensity of enthusiasm benefitted Dr. Ball; the lack of same hurt Mr. Kittleman. The lopsided early voting margin for Democrats conveyed excitement and proved too steep of a hill for Mr. Kittleman to climb. Hoping to eradicate the Dem lead, Mr. Kittleman only managed 142 more votes than Dr. Ball on Election Day.

The County Executive race ended with sportsmanship and civility.
The defeated candidate does not concede in person.  
Finally, as the crowd at Kahler Hall continued to cheer, hug and high-five one another, news swept among the masses remaining in the ballroom that Calvin Ball’s opponent, Allan Kittleman, was in the lobby to personally concede the election and congratulate the victor. In a stunning and classy move, Mr. Kittleman, his wife and three children, clad in their campaign yellow t-shirts, entered the building with the candidates embracing and raising their locked arms as if they both won.

They did. But conventional wisdom lost.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

When it Comes to the Military, Trump is AWOL

Image: Vanity Fair

Oh, how President Trump likes to brag about his love for the military! He was reared in a military boarding school, surrounds himself with generals, wanted his inaugural to be a remake of a Moscow military parade, and while campaigning (his perennial activity) he said he would be “so  good at the military, it will make your head spin.”

But beneath that thin faรงade, the real Donald Trump has been so disrespectful to the military it would make your head spin, I can tell ya.

Never mind he was a 5-time draft dodger that included his fabled excuse of bone spurs. He also had been clueless as to the meaning of the Purple Heart believing it was some form of memento or souvenir from military service.  Or that he's currently using our military as political props at the border for political purposes to thwart that menacing "caravan."  Also troubling is the fact he has yet to visit U.S. combat service members overseas. 

But there's more.

Richard Allen Smith, a military vet, penned in Rolling Stone in October 2017:

“[Trump disrespecting] the wartime POW service of John McCain, fantasizing about shooting an Army sergeant held captive by the Taliban for five years, repeated instances of military charities not receiving promised donations, smearing another Gold Star family of color, insulting uniformed leaders and pledging to fire them all, ridiculing combat veterans with PTSD, kicking uniformed personnel off the National Security Council, abdicating responsibility for troop strength in combat theaters, disrespecting the retired four-star general and Gold Star father who runs his White House, shaming the National Security Council on live television, pledging to kick transgender troops out of the armed services, blocking a prominent veterans’ group on Twitter, attacking John McCain again, waiting nearly two weeks to remark on the death of four Special Forces soldiers in combat... He referred to sleeping with models as his ‘personal Vietnam’ and his attempt to kick homeless veterans off 5th Avenue out of disgust.”

As we enter Veterans Day Weekend in 2018, Trump continues to spit on the military and especially its Fallen. On November 10, Trump cancelled his visit to Belleau Wood battlefield and cemetery 50 miles northeast of Paris because of “scheduling and logistical difficulties caused by the weather,” according to a statement from the White House. 

In other words, on the 100th anniversary of the armistice ending the war, Trump wouldn’t pay a visit to the cemetery where  over 1,800 U.S. soldiers and Marines were killed on the battlefield are buried. Some facetiously speculated it was either because his notorious hair would get wet or he still hasn’t mastered the complexities of opening and closing an umbrella.

Nonetheless, Trump received major blowback for his decision prompting a rash of criticism on Twitter. Nicholas Soames, a British member of parliament who is a grandson of former Prime Minister Winston Churchill, said that Trump was dishonoring U.S. servicemen.

“They died with their face to the foe and that pathetic inadequate @realDonaldTrump couldn’t even defy the weather to pay his respects to the Fallen,” Soames tweeted.

Conservative Bill Kristol wrote: “On the Marine Corps' 243rd birthday, President Trump has cancelled, because of light rain, his long-planned attendance at the ceremony at Aisne-Marne, where Marines who fought at Belleau Wood are buried. The WH COS and JCS Chair will be there. The President couldn't be bothered.”

And former Republican political operative Steve Schmidt noting how Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participated despite the rain, “This is what dignity, leadership and duty look like. Trump debased his office, disgraced the memories of fallen American heroes and shamed himself today. He is as unfit for his office as he is weak and cowardly”

Trump can have all the military parades and trappings he wants. He can lie about his military spending vis-ร -vis Obama’s, but it can’t alter the fact that this Commander-in-Chief does not understand or respect the military and those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

The Inciter-in-Chief

Thankfully, no blood was spilled as a result of the packages containing explosive devices sent to prominent Democrats and a major news organization less than two weeks before the midterms. But make no mistake; there is blood all over President Trump’s hands even if none was actually spilled (yet).

These packages were sent or delivered to billionaire and Democratic funder George Soros, former Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, former Secretary of State and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Former Attorney General Eric Holder, Rep. Maxine Waters, former CIA Director John Brennan, former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Kamala Harris, Robert DiNiro, Tom Steyer and CNN headquarters. .

What they all have in common is that these people and CNN have been critics of President Trump and have been constant punching bags during his highly charged, incendiary political rallies. He has ranted against those pipe bomb recipients at virtually every rally or meeting with the media.  

Trump asserts that if Democrats are elected (and he calls them “evil”) there would be angry mobs.  The crowd of migrant workers meandering its way towards the U.S. border consists of Middle Easterners, rapists, gangsters and other criminals, says he without a shred of evidence, and they will take over the homes of American citizens. And a familiar refrain from Trump is that the "fake news media" are the enemy of the people.  In essence, he works his supporters into a rabid-like frenzy and they buy into his lies and conspiracy theories—tactics that helped get him elected in the first place.

With these bombs that fortunately did not detonate, Trump may not have direct responsibility. But he has clearly dialed up the temperature in a bitterly divided county and incited some unhinged individual or group to take his rhetoric to heart and act upon it. It was just a matter of time.

As activist Ryan Knight tweeted:

Following the reports by the very media he hates, Trump made a statement at the White House on October 24, which if there was an award for the least convincing, least enthusiastic statement in modern presidential history, he would be carting off a large trophy. The second place finisher was his speech after the Charlottesville tragedy.

Accused bomb maker Cesar Sayok's pro-Trump van
 “I just want to tell you that in these times, we have to unify,” Trump said going through the motions. “We have to come together and send one very clear, strong, unmistakable message that acts or threats of political violence of any kind have no place in the United States of America.”

This prompted another tweeter to note:

Unify…hmm.   Maybe he should play back his speeches at his rallies to see how much he has attempted to unify. Since his inauguration in front of a sparse crowd, he has shown he is president of only his base and not the entire country. I wrote about this point in August 2017 following the Charlottesville debacle.

Trump’s hollow plea for unity is a desperate and insincere attempt to distract from the blame most of the country has assigned to his divisive rhetoric as a contributor towards this domestic terrorism. It came at an inopportune time for Trump just prior to the midterms as the future of his presidency will be largely influenced by the outcome.  He has no one to blame but himself for a change.

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. Or it could be that bringing attention to these issues is not politically advantageous.  Therefore, 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.

Bob Glascock, Candidate for Howard County Board of Education

During my 38 years as an educator in the Howard County Public School System and the Maryland State Department of Education, I tirelessly focused on access, inclusion, and equity for all children. 

As a social studies teacher for 10 years in Glenwood Middle School, I created an environment that promoted an acceptance of all students and their families and helped students grow and learn about people from present and past cultures through the world.  I created experiences that help students break down barriers and perceptions from people who were different from them. For example, I organized and implemented the first school-wide disability Awareness Day where students interacted and learned about people with disabilities through presentations and activities such as a wheelchair basketball game.

When I became an administrator in the central office, I created an initiative that emphasized “All children should see themselves in the curriculum.”  This leads to a more inclusive curriculum.  As Assistant Superintendent, I advocated that sexual orientation must be included in the school system’s policy on anti-discrimination.

As a member of the Board of Education, I will take the lead on developing a policy on equity for students and staff.  A policy on equity is the cornerstone of building and maintaining a culture of acceptance and inclusiveness in the Howard County Public School System.

I am a lifelong educator who embraced diversity, inclusiveness, and equity and will continue my advocacy on the Board of Education.

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.