Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Center at the Crossroads


Because the GLCCB was holding only its second or third public town hall meeting in 12 years, it was no surprise that there would be pent-up criticism launched at the Pride coordinators and the Center’s board.  Only two of the five current board members were present on the raised stage on July 23 to field questions and comments about the recently concluded Pride festivities, but it wasn’t a stretch to expect that angry critics of the Center would eventually capitalize on this rare opportunity.

The ghosts of the Center’s past permeated the first floor community meeting room of the Waxter Center, the new digs of the GLCCB since February.  Charges of racism, classism, unresponsiveness, the lack of transparency and accountability in its finances and business matters, failure to reach out to minorities and transgender folks, noncompliance with the organization’s bylaws, and the question of its purpose all but obliterated the concerns about the beverage garden at Pride and other comparatively mundane matters.
While the critics were few in number in relation to the thousands in the community who were invited to this event—there are several ways to interpret the overall attendance—the points raised were largely valid and have obviously been held in the back of the throats of the detractors for a long time until this chance to voice their concerns presented itself.

Most but not all of the charges are applicable to the Center’s past leadership during its over 35- year history; some are legitimately appropriated to the current board.  Kelly Neel, the interim executive director (not a board member), acknowledged these deficiencies and promised, with community help, to work hard at correcting them.  
Indeed, for the first time in memory, the GLCCB at the town hall was forthcoming with the financials connected to this year’s Pride.  It revealed a modest profit of $64,000, which, to me, is not sustainable over the course of the year considering the other overhead expenses needed to maintain the organization.   Neel emphasized that with scarce resources, the Center’s staff cannot do it alone and needs an abundance of community support to keep the Center alive.

The GLCCB is currently at the crossroads.  Significant as the issues raised at the town hall are (and they are vital in winning the confidence of the community), the GLCCB’s fundamental challenge is establishing a rationale for people to support the cause. 
Perhaps former GLCCB board member John Flannery said it best on a recent Facebook post.  “As it stands, most people just don’t know what the Center does outside of Pride...so getting them to donate is a losing proposition. Donate to what?” he asks.  “The days of assuming that the community needs the Center based on general principle alone are over. The community has changed and so have our needs.”

And so has the Center.

As the founders of the Center visualized and after the Chase St. building was purchased, the GLCCB was to be building-centric.  That is, community leaders saw it as a vibrant place to hold public board meetings, house offices including the important Switchboard and provide a safe space for community members to drop in. 

That changed over time as the Switchboard was disbanded and the health clinic broke away from the GLCCB.  Lambda Rising bookstore rented the ground floor meeting area for a decade thus eliminating the space that the founders had envisioned. The building eventually lost being the focal point of the community, its center.
Other deficiencies surfaced.  The GLCCB fritted away the opportunity to be part of the marriage equality and transgender non-discrimination battles.  While some on the board eschewed political issues, the Center could have demonstrated some relevancy and be part of history.  Instead, it sat on the sidelines.

Another miscue was that the eventual sale of building was botched in that Center leadership was not forthcoming as to the actual reasons for the sale. It played into the narrative that the people running the Center leadership lack openness and honesty.
An opportunity to reconnect with the community with the move to the current space was also squandered as the Waxter Center office space was and still is in need of work so it was not ready for an “open house” to re-generate enthusiasm.  It could have been a welcome shot in the arm.

For years the Center has been saddled with the reputation of existing solely for Pride.  To be sure, much of the Center’s visibility has occurred during the run-up to and including Pride.  Afterwards, not much seems to happen.
Can the GLCCB experience a renaissance or is it a lost cause?  The hill is steep but there are actions that can be taken to get back on track.  Some suggestions:

Consider a name change of the GLCCB to something like the more general Baltimore (or Maryland) Pride Center so as not to exclude sexual and gender minorities.
Piggybacking off the financial disclosures at the town hall, continue that path of transparency.

Reactivate the Advisory Council to encourage broad community perspectives that seem to be lacking.
Vigorously recruit historically underrepresented minorities to fill board seats; don’t just wait for applications to roll in. 

Adhere to the Strategic Plan that cost the GLCCB thousands of dollars to develop; don’t simply post it on the website.
Comply with the bylaws to hold open board meetings on a regular basis.

Make better use of Gay Life, Baltimore OUTloud and social media to convey results of board meetings and other important information.
Develop a speakers’ bureau to go out to schools, businesses and government agencies to discuss LGBT issues.

Play “small ball” regarding fundraisers.  Make events affordable and diverse to add visibility to the Center.  The Orioles outings are a fine example.  Partner with other organizations.
Recruit and train grant writers to help raise needed revenue.

And most importantly, identify those projects to secure grants.  Consider areas such as LGBT youth homelessness, school bullying and senior issues and activities, just to name a few.
These are all do-able albeit challenging, but when you’re at the crossroads, choosing the right path is key to finding your way.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Whacky Pirates Take Over Toby's


The Pirates of Pittsburgh may be having an off-year, but The Pirates of Penzance, currently playing at Toby’s, the Dinner Theatre of Columbia, looks sharp and is likely to have a strong summer.  This take on Gilbert and Sullivan’s 1879 good-humored, mischievous work is an enjoyable experience filled with frivolity and tinges of slapstick that will keep you laughing throughout. 

David Jennings (foreground) as Pirate King Photo: Kirstine Christiansen
The comic opera’s music was written by Arthur Sullivan and the clever libretto penned by his co-collaborator W.S. Gilbert.  The Pirates of Penzance was one of the duo’s most popular works—others including H.M.S. Pinafore, The Mikado, and The Sorcerer—and is one of the very few productions from that era still being performed. 

The show’s revival opened on Broadway in 1981 and ran for 787 performances.  It earned seven Tony Award nominations while capturing three including Best Revival plus winning five of eight Drama Desk Award nominations including Best Musical.
Five-time Helen Hayes nominee Mark Minnick ably directs and choreographs the Toby’s production.  As he always seems to do, Mr. Minnick stirs all the ingredients together in a terrific blend of staging, performing and pacing.  The ensemble moves about flawlessly with great quickness and purpose—an indicator of the show’s many strengths.
The Pirates of Penzance is a light-hearted story whose main theme throughout is obligation to duty.  It centers on Frederic (played by Nick Lehan) who upon reaching his 21st birthday is freed from his apprenticeship to a band of pirates who deep down are a bunch of softies.  He had been mistakenly given this indentured status by Ruth (Jane C. Boyle), a piratical maid, who was Frederic’s nursemaid when he was young.  Through an error in communication from Frederic’s father who wanted his son to be apprenticed to be a ship’s “pilot,” Ruth understood the word to be “pirate.”

He meets Mabel (Laura Whittenberger), the daughter of Major-General Stanley (Robert John Biedermann 125), and the two fall in love.  Ruth and the Pirate King (David Jennings) explain to Frederic that he was born on February 29; technically, he only has a birthday each leap year. His indenture states that he remains apprenticed to the pirates until his 21st birthday, and so he must serve for another 63 years. Bound by his own sense of duty, Frederic’s only comfort is that Mabel agrees to wait for him faithfully.
Also part of the storyline is that the Pirates of Penzance, all being orphaned, has a soft spot for other orphans and will free anyone captured if that status is disclosed.  Unfortunately for them, their reputation is well-known and those who claim to be orphaned are released making their efforts unprofitable.  Major-General Stanley had been captured by the pirates…well you can imagine what transpired.

Under the musical direction of Ross Scott Rawlings and his six-piece orchestra, the leads and ensemble turn in highlight-reel performances.  With every member of the cast blessed with talented vocal skills, it is providential that there are so many group numbers, which amplify the music with resounding success.
Hunky Nick Lehan, plays the role of 21 year-old (or 5 if you do the other math) Frederic with such cuteness one could melt. Solid acting abilities and a fantastic singing voice enhance his performance.  Mr. Lehan’s onstage chemistry with Laura Whittenberger as his love interest Mabel is effectively genuine and adorable. 
"The performances are as powerful as they are entertaining and makes for a wonderful summertime experience." 
Ms. Whittenberger owns a robust operatic voice that reaches notes that haven’t even been discovered yet.  Her renditions of “Poor Wandering One!” and “Sorry Her Lot” are worth the price of admission alone.  One would fear that her vocals are so powerful that anybody else would be cast under her shadow.  That was not the case as her duets with Mr. Lehan proved the combination melds beautifully with his clearly being up to the task.  The number “Stay, Frederic, Stay!” is illustrative.
David Jennings, who shined in Toby’s recent production of Spamalot, showcases his marvelous baritone as the swashbuckling, debonair Pirate King.  “Oh, Better Far to Live and Die,” a song he performed with the Pirates, is a standout.  “Now for the Pirates’ Lair” is another fine example.  His powerfully resonant speaking voice and commanding stage presence are evident throughout. 

Robert John Biedermann 125 (yes, that is his name) as Major-General Stanley is perfectly cast for the role.  Despite his lack of military knowledge (a related theme in H.M.S. Pinafore), the character displays his authoritative nature as well as his vulnerabilities.  Mr. Biedermann 125 skillfully performs the iconic number “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General” the way I would suspect Gilbert and Sullivan would have hoped for.  It brought the house down.
Other cast members are outstanding as well.  Veteran actress Jane C. Boyle, who killed it at Toby’s Nunsense and Fiddler on the Roof, puts on another strong performance as Ruth.  Comedic, bouncy and with good quality vocals, Ms. Boyle is an excellent addition to the production.

David James as the Sergeant of Police is his usual sprightly self as he is full of misbehavior and camp.  He always keeps the audience laughing.  Jeffrey Shankle as the loveable pirate Samuel also turns in a fine performance.  Both sing splendidly and let their comic instincts come through in their performances.
Rounding out the talented ensemble that sang and danced so wonderfully and with great energy are Tina Marie DeSimone, CobyKay Callahan, Heather Marie Beck, Jeremy Scott Blaustein, MaryKate Brouillet, Ricky Drummond, Amanda Kaplan, Darren McDonnell, Ariel Messeca, Jonathan David Randle, Russell Sunday, Louisa Rose Tringali and Carl Williams.

The ensemble was neatly fitted in wonderful costumes designed by Eleanor B. Dicks.  An array of authentic pirate garb and keystone cops-like uniforms for the male characters and an assortment of scarlet red rompers with bonnets and colorful Victorian-era gowns for the seven daughters of the Major-General add great visuals to the spectacle.
David A. Hopkins designed a smart set depicting an isolated island with a pirate ship complete with a rope ladder, swings and mast for the first act and a beautifully crafted ruined chapel setting for the second act.  Coleen M. Foley was creative in designing the lighting effects.

This production of The Pirates of Penzance is brilliantly synthesized under the direction of Mark Minnick.  The performances are as powerful as they are entertaining and makes for a wonderful summertime experience.  Bring your appetite, too; Toby’s famous buffet has never been better.
Running time. Two hours and 20 minutes with an intermission.    #hocoarts

The Pirates of Penzance plays through August 31 at Toby’s The Dinner Theatre of Columbia, 3900 Symphony Woods Rd., Columbia, MD 21044.  For tickets, you may call the box office at 410-730-8311 or visit online.
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Friday, July 11, 2014

Elliott Brager: A Major Force Passes On


To be sure, Elliott A. Brager, a well-known attorney in the Baltimore area, had his detractors.  He displayed a brash, caustic often overbearing personality, which many folks in his personal and more likely his professional life could not deal with.  However, I am confident that an overwhelming number of people who truly knew Elliott loved him.  Count me in the latter group.

Elliott Brager (L.) with close friend Steve Shavitz at a 2012 AIDS Action
 Baltimore fundraiser
I was deeply saddened by the news that Elliott passed away on July 7, just two days after his 72nd birthday from heart failure.  Elliott was a good friend to Bob and me, and he was the only other person whom I ever entertained in each of my three domiciles spanning nearly 37 years in Maryland.  While he could come off as gruff, passionate and aggressive— traits he took full advantage of during his lengthy law career—there was virtually nothing he wouldn’t do for you if asked.
His work in the early days on behalf of the then named Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Baltimore as a principal fundraiser is probably the reason the Center still exists.  He would aggressively push people to buy tickets to the many fall fundraisers and spring brunches in support of the Center.  So intimidating was he, that I was pressured to buy a couple of tickets in 1985 even though I was scheduled for near-emergency eye surgery the next day!

He believed in a number of other causes with AIDS Action Baltimore among them.  And when he attached himself to a cause, he went in with both feet.  Don Davis, owner of Grand Central, aptly called him a hero. 
You can read about some of his efforts in the splendid obituary by the Baltimore Sun’s Jacques Kelly here.

The thing I loved Elliott most besides his passion to do good deeds was his amazing, if acerbic, sense of humor.  It was a challenge to keep up with him, but I tried.  He never missed an opportunity to remind me when we were in a public setting how much shorter I was than his 6 foot 4 inch frame.  I found areas to counter-punch him, but won’t mention them here.  My attacks, though, were good-natured.
We were neighbors in an apartment complex in Randallstown, and on a sunny Saturday we were relaxing by the pool.  He offered me a peach as a nice gesture.  I told him I am allergic to fresh peaches (among other fruits), and if I ate one, I’d go into anaphylactic shock and likely die.  He replied (I think jokingly), “Have two!”

One day when visiting his apartment, I noticed he had huge stacks of newspapers on the floor.  I asked Elliott why he was saving the papers.  He said that he is behind in his reading and needs to catch up.  I promptly informed him that Truman upset Dewey in 1948.
As an attorney, Elliott was most helpful to me in the early 1980’s when he provided legal input as part of a story I was writing for the Baltimore Gay Paper on the police crackdown on hustling in the Patterson Park area of Eastern Avenue.  He outlined in clear, explicit terms the dangers a “john” would face in such an encounter and what would happen if arrested in terms of being incarcerated and how it could affect the john’s career.  It was a compelling, instructive part of the article, and hopefully, if people read it, that contribution from Elliott may have steered them away from such risky actions.

Until recently, I had never seen Elliott in action in court, but I had heard his antics were legendary.  One could actually feel sympathy towards judges, opposing counsel and people he had cross-examined over the years, if his reputation was accurate.    
Elliott Brager in 1986
As fate would have it, we were both appearing in a Howard County District courtroom fighting speed camera citations.  It turned out it was the last time I saw him.   

I was called ahead of Elliott to plead my case (to no avail) but had the good sense to hang around and watch this legal lion in action.  His defense was that the camera was not functioning properly.  While he lost his case in the end, observing the way he went about his business and going toe-to-toe with the judge—respectfully, of course—was literally worth the price of the ticket.  He was a gem.
Regrettably, our lives drifted in different directions, and we did not see each other as often as we once did.  Nonetheless, each year we’d exchange holiday cards to stay in touch.  His cards were always risqué during the years Lambda Rising was still in business.

We shared a lot of laughs and I totally enjoyed his company.  We shared a mutual respect for one another with Elliott being such a force in our community and him being an avid reader of my work.
Beneath his tough exterior, Elliott was a sentimental sweetheart.  He loved Bob and was so thrilled that he and I enjoy a happy relationship.  Back when Bob and I threw a combination Valentine’s Day and 6th anniversary celebration, although we expressly requested that the guests do not bring us gifts, Elliott still gave us a bottle of Mouton-Cadet Bordeaux (1983).  We were so moved that we decided not to open it.

It’s still with us, and when Bob and I celebrate our 35th anniversary in February, we’re going to finally pop the cork and toast Elliott Brager.  It’s time.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Journey from Stonewall To Marriage



Text of remarks made to Maryland EEO professionals at Baltimore City Community College, July 10, 2014

 

Greetings!  It is an honor to speak before such an important group of professionals, and I appreciate the opportunity. 

When I was first invited to do this, I was asked to provide an overview of “gay. ”  So I Googled “gay” and came up with 1 billion, 880 million pages.  In trying to craft a presentation based on that many references, I estimated my talk would last 9 months and 22 days.  Clearly, it needed refinement or a different topic. 
Eventually, the subject of “same-sex marriage” was suggested, and I found 134 million pages on the Internet.   My presentation would have been reduced to merely 3 or 4 weeks in length but still that could be an ordeal for me as well as you, the audience.

Therefore, I decided to whittle that down to a brief description of the journey to achieve same-sex marriage and discuss how we reached the point whereby we’re just a Supreme Court decision away from making marriage equality the law of the land.
Before I begin this discussion, I want to introduce you to the end result of the quest for marriage equality for me personally—my husband Bob, whom I married in Massachusetts nearly 5 years ago.  All told we’ve been together over 34 years.

Pre-Stonewall.  To appreciate how far we’ve come, we must briefly examine how the world existed before the famous Stonewall uprising that occurred the weekend beginning June 27, 1969.  As you may be aware, in this historic episode, bar patrons fought back against the police after yet another raid saying in effect, “enough is enough.” 
Although this was a seminal event, and is arguably the launching pad for the modern gay rights movement, the Compton riots in San Francisco in 1966 involving transgender and transsexual folks may have really kick-started the movement but it didn’t generate as much publicity over the years as Stonewall did.

At the time of Stonewall, frequent gay bar raids occurred with police demanding ID’s under the threat of arrest.  
Entrapment by the police was astonishingly commonplace especially in what are called “cruising areas.”  So was blackmail.

Names of the arrested were published in the newspapers: Jobs lost.  Tenants evicted from apartments.  Families were torn apart. 

Gays were beaten up by straights with alarming frequency.  Same-sex dancing was prohibited, as was touching.  Gay sex was criminal behavior.   

There were no laws on the books to protect against discrimination in employment, housing or public accommodations.  

Gays and lesbians were banished from the military following extensive witch-hunts. 
There were no domestic partner benefits or any rights based on same-sex relationships at major corporations and few universities. 

There were no openly gay elected officials, and anyone in the public eye remained in the closet. No officeholder supported an end to the harassment, much less advocated for equality.  The thought of marriage between same-sex partners didn’t even exist.
A television show with a major gay character was unthinkable, as well as an openly gay actor.  Any gay characters portrayed in movies were either depressed, suicidal, flamboyant or a victim of some sort. There were few, if any, gay-related periodicals.

Homosexuality was viewed as a psychological disorder; queers were considered sick and fair game by a hostile, homophobic society.  
Most chose to remain in the closet. 

Partners were introduced as “roommates.”
And because of family pressures, so many gays and lesbians were virtually forced to date or marry members of the opposite sex to deflect any suspicion of being gay.

Post-Stonewall.   In the ensuing years, gay people had to endure a phenomenal amount of setbacks but overall, we have come so far as a community, it defies imagination.  We have progressed from merely hoping for tolerance to later seeking acceptance, and now full equality is within our grasp some day.
The complexity and scope of the gay rights movement at both the national and local levels cannot be appropriately captured by a simple chronological timeline. Events and legal outcomes have spanned over decades.  Instead, it is more instructive to highlight the progress and setbacks according to a few key landmarks and issues.  There are, of course, numerous other victories and defeats, but these have been the key turning points in my opinion.

American Psychiatric Association. One of the early breakthroughs in the post-Stonewall era was the finding from the American Psychiatric Association in 1973, which removed homosexuality from the official manual that lists mental and emotional disorders. Two years later, the American Psychological Association passed a resolution supporting this removal.

HIV/AIDS.  Though there was some degree of momentum heading in the 1980’s a setback of catastrophic proportions devastated the gay community with the discovery of HIV/AIDS. 
Gay and bisexual men by the tens of thousands were infected by the disease in the U.S., and thousands died from it.

In the beginning of the scourge, the public saw it as a “gay disease” although HIV can be transmitted by intravenous drug users and tainted blood transfusions. 
Politically, the AIDS epidemic was used to bash gays and their so-called lifestyle by homophobes, religious and other social conservatives. Funding for dealing with the crisis was unconscionably insufficient. 

Military.  In another key development, President Obama signed a law that ended the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that had been in effect since 1994.   Then President Clinton, who sought to end the ban on openly gay and lesbian individuals serving in the armed forces, settled on a compromise fashioned by Congressional and military leaders known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
In the 16 years that transpired under this policy, over 13,000 service members were discharged, a significant number of whom held critical jobs for our national security, such as Arabic linguists. 

Furthermore, a study conducted by GAO and later by an expert commission found that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” had cost taxpayers $363 million during the first 10 years alone.
Hate Crimes.  When 21 year-old Matthew Shepard was kidnapped and brutally beaten to death in 1998 in Laramie, Wyoming, the crime had garnered national and international attention to the dangers that gays are exposed to at the hands of those who are hateful.

During the next 11 years, Matthew’s mother, Judy Shepard, tirelessly lobbied around the country and in the corridors of Washington to secure legislation that would add extra penalties to those convicted of a crime based on hate.
In October 2009, the aptly named Matthew Shepard Act was passed so that the Federal Hate Crimes statute was expanded to include crimes motivated by a victim's gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.  President Obama signed the measure into law.

Decriminalization.  The decriminalization of gay sex marked another turning point.   This occurred on June 26, 2003   when the U.S. Supreme Court by a 6-3 decision, struck down the sodomy law in Texas in the case Lawrence v. Texas. 
The majority held that intimate consensual sexual conduct was part of the liberty protected by substantive due process under the Fourteenth Amendment.

Lawrence effectively invalidated similar laws throughout the United States that purport to criminalize sodomy between consenting same-sex adults acting in private. It also invalidated the application of sodomy laws to heterosexual sex.

At the time, the decision was considered by many as the most significant legal victory in the U.S. for gays and lesbians.

Marriage.   The subject of same-sex marriage hardly made it to a national conversation until the late 1980’s when the AIDS crisis brought questions of inheritance and death benefits to people’s minds.
In 1993, opponents of same-sex marriage  had started to rev up their rhetoric following a Hawaii State Supreme Court ruling that found the state’s refusal to grant marriage license
is to same-sex couples was discriminatory.
 
DOMA. In 1996, in what appeared to be a move to squash any efforts to achieve marriage equality by the states, Congress passed a veto-proof measure, which President Clinton reluctantly signed into law.  It was called the Defense of Marriage Act or DOMA.
DOMA’s main provisions were to give the states the right not to recognize same-sex marriages in states where they may occur and to deny federal benefits to same-sex married couples.  The House Judiciary Committee, however, expressed the true intent: to “reflect and honor a collective moral judgment and to express moral disapproval of homosexuality”.

Massachusetts.  On November 18, 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled on the case Goodridge v. Department of Public Health that barring same–sex couples from marrying was unconstitutional.
Given 180 days to take whatever action was deemed appropriate, then Governor Mitt Romney ordered clerks to issue marriage licenses on May 17, 2004.

Accordingly, the controversial subject of gay marriage was one of the major issues during 2004 presidential election.  Religious and cultural conservatives denounced the prospect of same-sex marriages as a threat to the sanctity of the institution and would destroy society.
Criticizing “activist judges,” they had successfully heightened the fears of the public and used the issue as a fundraising tool.

Here’s a fun fact: As to same-sex marriage being the ruin of the institution of marriage, Massachusetts, the state where marriage for same-sex couples has existed longer than any other, has the lowest divorce rate in the U.S.

Also, I know of no documented case whereby a heterosexual couple sought a divorce because a same-sex couple became married.
2004.  In 2004 Republican political guru Karl Rove exploited the ruling in Massachusetts to drive a wedge among Democratic voters—particularly targeting African-Americans.  Republicans managed to place constitutional amendments on the ballots in 11 states that would prevent same-sex couples from marrying.  They all succeeded.

Many believe that the scare tactics and ballot initiatives worked in the presidential election in that a higher than normal turnout among evangelical voters in the swing state of Ohio may have been the difference.
Also, there was an effort to propose a constitutional amendment called the Federal Marriage Amendment which, if passed by both houses in Congress and ratified by 38 states, would define marriage as between one man and one woman.  The measure failed in July 2006 in the House of Representatives. 

Prop. 8. At the state level, one of the more publicized contests, however, took place in California in 2008 where voters approved Proposition 8 that denied the right for same-sex couples to marry after the legislature had previously passed the measure.
This setback sent tremors among LGBT folks worldwide.  Not only was California the most populous state but a high Democratic turnout in support of Barack Obama during the election was seen as a way to overcome largely Republican opposition and the measure would fail.  It wound up passing for a variety of reasons including heavy funding from outside organizations and well-timed and poorly answered scare tactics through TV ads.

Maryland.  Since 2004, advocates in Maryland have sought civil marriage for same-sex couples, whereby religious institutions are exempt from being forced to marry couples if they do not want to.
Roughly 40 percent of couples in Maryland are married in city halls, town clerks offices and by justices of the peace.  Those marriages are still valid even without a religious ceremony.

A lawsuit was filed in July 2004, which charged that excluding same-sex couples from marriage violates the state constitution’s guarantees of equality but the state’s Court of Appeals ruled against the 19 plaintiffs in 2007.  The decision upheld the 1973 law which states that marriage is between a man and a woman but signaled that the legislature can address the issue.

However, various attempts to gain marriage equality through the legislature had failed.

In February 2010, Maryland's Attorney General Doug Gansler issued an opinion that Maryland law could recognize valid same-sex marriages performed in other U.S. states.
In 2011 for the first time the Civil Marriage Protection Act passed the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee and then went on to pass in the Senate.

However, after realizing there were a couple of votes short of passage in the House of Delegates, supporters of the bill voted it back to committee, thereby ending the effort in 2011.
2012.  Then came 2012, which became arguably the most pivotal year in the fight for marriage equality. Never before had voters supported same-sex marriage at the ballot box.  In that year’s General Assembly, Governor O’Malley reversed his long-held position and stated he now supported marriage equality in Maryland.  His leadership was instrumental in enabling the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act to pass both chambers, and the governor promptly signed the measure on March 1.

Opponents immediately vowed to gather enough signatures to petition the law to referendum.  Emboldened by the success of Prop. 8 and believing the trend would continue where a vote on same-sex marriage would again be defeated at the ballot box, opponents of the law easily reached the required number of signatures .
Along with other issues such as the Dream Act and gambling, marriage equality was placed on the November ballot and was called Question 6—a Yes vote meant that the law would stand.
The battle to defend the law was led by a coalition consisting of a wide array of social justice and LGBT organizations as well as unions and civil rights groups under the umbrella organization Marylanders for Marriage Equality. 

A heated political battle ensued.  Opponents claimed as they did during the campaign for Proposition 8 that if this law is not overturned, homosexuality would be taught in the schools, overlooking the fact that local school boards determine curricula.

They also used the outdated notion that being gay is a choice.  The term “sexual preference” rather than the more accepted phrase “sexual orientation” was used.  I don’t think there is a gay or lesbian person on earth who would state that they chose to be gay…any more than straight people can admit that they chose to be heterosexual.
They say that marriage is for procreation.  There are thousands of married couples who cannot or do not want children and their marriages are valid.  Furthermore, legalizing same-sex marriage would not impede a heterosexual couple’s desire to procreate.

Opponents argued that children do better with both a mother and a father.  Credible studies have demonstrated that children do better with two parents rather than one, and that the children of gay parents are as well-adjusted and healthy as children of opposite–sex parents.

And, of course, there were plenty of references to the Bible to argue against same-sex marriage, but I will not comment on those here.
Proponents of Question 6 received an unexpected but welcome boost when Vice President Biden followed by President Obama endorsed marriage equality in the spring of 2012. Additionally, the NAACP followed suit.  More public officials, including some Republicans, indicated support, and momentum was swinging towards equality.

Ultimately, Marylanders for Marriage Equality outraised and outspent the opponents, and the other ballot initiatives crowded out much of the available TV air time to allow opponents to use their tried and true scare tactics.
In the end, Maryland, along with Maine and Washington, became the first states to win marriage equality at the ballot box.  Until then, voters in 30 states had denied same-sex couples the right to marry and to enjoy the dignity and security that goes with it not to mention the over 1,100 benefits and rights that are afforded heterosexual married couples.. 
At the stroke of midnight on Jan. 1, 2013, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake officiated the first same-sex wedding in Maryland in Baltimore City Hall.

Momentum was clearly gaining.  Polls show that 10 years ago, less than 40 percent of the U.S. population supported same-sex marriage.  Now it is close to 60 percent and counting.  Never has a movement progressed with such speed as the quest to achieve marriage equality.
Supreme Court.  The next big turning point occurred last year when the U.S. Supreme Court by a 5-4 decision in Windsor v. the United States ruled that the portion of DOMA that denies federal benefits to lawfully married same-sex couples was unconstitutional.  The Court also dismissed the appeal of Prop. 8 in the case of Hollingsworth v. Perry based on jurisdictional grounds so that same-sex marriages may resume in California.

Since then, one state after another—some of which are “red” states—had legal challenges to their bans on same-sex marriage reversed by lower courts with many of the decisions based on the majority opinion expressed in the Windsor case.  Some of these rulings have not been challenged by the states in question; others are appealing.  Consequently, every state in the U.S. where bans are still in effect now has a legal challenge in this matter.
The Supreme Court did not issue a broad, sweeping ruling last year that negate the state bans on same-sex marriage.  But it will likely face that opportunity in the near future as one of the challenges—probably Utah—will wind up in the highest court of the land.

In conclusion, we have traveled a long, sometimes bumpy road to be where we are today, but the journey is far from over.  The voyage has been exciting but the destination is most important. Much work needs to be done in obtaining a federal ban on discrimination in the workplace that is based on sexual orientation and gender identity.  We need to continue to curtail bullying of LGBT kids in schools and over the Internet.  We must address the needs of the growing LGBT senior population and to effectively deal with the homelessness problems facing some LGBT youth.
There is a lot to do yet, but these problems are not beyond our reach.  For no one ever thought even 10 years ago that we’d be discussing the success of same-sex marriage today.

Thank you and I welcome any questions.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Pride Shows Us the Distance Traveled


With most of the Pride celebrations throughout the world now in the rear view mirror, it is beyond amazing how far we have traveled down the road to equality.  Keep in mind there is so much unfinished business needing to be addressed throughout the U.S. and the world, but what has transpired over the 45 years since Stonewall should definitely put a smile on our faces.

To put it in perspective, here is what the gay world looked like before Stonewall:
Frequent gay bar raids occurred with police demanding ID’s under the threat of arrest.  Entrapment by the police was astonishingly commonplace especially in what are called “cruising areas.”  So was blackmail.

Names of the arrested were published in the newspapers: Jobs lost.  Tenants evicted from apartments.  Families were torn apart. 
Gays were beaten up by straights with alarming frequency.  Same-sex dancing was prohibited, as was touching.  Gay sex was criminal behavior.

You had Mafia-owned bars serving overpriced watered-down drinks whose owners often worked in collusion with the police and cared not one bit about the gays and lesbians who were their customers as long as they could make money off of them.  Bar bouncers roughed up drunken gays.
There were no laws on the books to protect against discrimination in employment, housing or public accommodations.  

Gays and lesbians were banished from the military following extensive witch-hunts. 
There were no domestic partner benefits or any rights based on same-sex relationships at major corporations and few universities. 

There were no openly gay elected officials, and anyone in the public eye remained in the closet. No officeholder supported an end to the harassment, much less advocated for equality.  The thought of marriage between same-sex partners didn’t even exist.
A television show with a major gay character was unthinkable, as well as an openly gay actor.  Any gay characters portrayed in movies were either depressed, suicidal, flamboyant or a victim of some sort.   There were few, if any, gay-related periodicals.

Homosexuality was viewed as a psychological disorder; queers were considered sick and fair game by a hostile, homophobic society. 
Most chose to remain in the closet.  Partners were introduced as “roommates.”  And because of family pressures, so many gays and lesbians were virtually forced to date or marry members of the opposite sex to deflect any suspicion of being gay.

The world then was hardly decorated with rainbow flags and pins.  For those of us who have experienced it, we know all too well how depressing and lonely it was. 
When the first Pride took place in New York a year after Stonewall, it was all about trying to gain rights and not to be treated as second-class citizens.  There were speeches, signs and banners proclaiming liberation (or at least hoping for it).  There was no celebrating; it was a coming together of people who had suffered indignities and to demand changes.

Now fast-forward to today and just think of how much has changed.  Without going into the myriad significant achievements, particularly over the past 10 years, all one needs to do is to take a look at Pride 2014 here and elsewhere, and it will be mind boggling.   
Today, Pride has mirrored LGBT acceptance to the point that politicians are falling over each other to be seen in a Pride parade.  Candidates at all levels proudly march with LGBT supporters at their side.  The President of the U.S., governors, mayors and aldermen routinely issue proclamations denoting LGBT Pride month.

Mr. Obama stated in his proclamation: “As progress spreads from State to State, as justice is delivered in the courtroom, and as more of our fellow Americans are treated with dignity and respect — our Nation becomes not only more accepting, but more equal as well.”  By contrast, 45 years ago Richard Nixon was president. 
Banks, airlines, breweries, credit card companies and numerous other corporate entities see the business advantages of participating and/or sponsoring Pride events to cash in on the trend.  They want their brands associated with Pride.

Over a million attended New York and San Francisco’s Pride events.  A Pride flag flew at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv during that city’s Pride week celebration.  Professional hockey players marched in the WorldPride Parade in Toronto.  Burger King rolled out its own Pride-themed “Proud Whopper” wrapper in SF that says, “We are all the same inside.”  How cool is that?
For the first time in 82 years, a Chicago Cubs baseball game was not scheduled on a Sunday in favor of the huge Chicago Pride parade that would snarl traffic near Wrigley Field.  A tradition of that magnitude yielding to LGBT Pride would have been considered inconceivable just a few years ago.

In Baltimore, the big debate was not how to achieve basic rights but whether Pride attendees should be allowed to openly consume alcohol during the Pride festival.  It seems so trivial when you think about it, but it’s also a statement of how much has been achieved insofar as this was the burning issue of the day.
Through the spirit of the celebratory nature of Pride around the world, we must also recognize that there is much work that needs to be done.  Nonetheless, the comparison between the conditions existing before the first Pride and the Pride events of 2014 poignantly illustrates the distance traveled on this incredible journey. 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Some Sportscasters Not Onboard with the Gay Thing


Ah those loveable Chicago Cubs!  One of the most futile franchises in professional sports may not raise eyebrows on the field but inadvertently managed to raise some issues regarding gays and sportscasting.

Chicago Pride
On June 29, for the first time in 82 years, the Cubs did not schedule a Sunday game at Wrigley Field.  The reason for this anomaly is that traffic congestion and gridlock would cause a commuting nightmare near the venerable ballpark due to the fact Chicago is holding its  annual LGBT Pride parade in the area.
The Washington Nationals—one my favorite teams—played the weekend at Chicago and were the recipients of this rare Sunday off (as were the Cubs, of course).  The Nats’ TV announcers, Bob Carpenter and F.P. Santangelo pointed out several times from the series leading up to the Nats’ date with the Cubbies into the weekend itself that a game would not be played on Sunday because of a “pride parade.” 

There was no further explanation provided.  It wasn’t described as a “gay pride parade” or maybe an “LGBT pride parade,” just a generic, non-controversial “pride parade.”  Santangelo did admit he understands the reason for not scheduling the game but all he offered was his lament that he cannot spend a Saturday night out in the Windy City.
The avoidance by this broadcasting duo to impart the true reason for the non-scheduling of the Sunday game came as no surprise given that they never mentioned, to my knowledge, the semi-annual Night Out with the Nationals events.

But wait.  The second game of a day-night doubleheader on Saturday was telecast over Fox.  An opportunity between pitches existed for play-by-play man Kenny Albert, a son of sportscasting legend Marv Albert, and the aforementioned F.P. Santangelo doing the color for the telecast to explain to perhaps to a different audience why the Sunday game was not scheduled.  Albert described it as a “pride parade” but he hesitated before “pride.” 
It was almost like he wanted to say “gay pride” or something like that but caught himself as if was about to drop the “f-bomb.”  It may have been an equivalent the way he paused.

At least the word “pride” was used during the week and the hope that most people would be sufficiently knowledgeable so that the dreaded “g-word” would not have to be uttered.   
The Orioles telecast on Sunday presented another opportunity.  But instead of chalking up the scheduling matter in Chicago as some form of pride event, Orioles broadcaster Gary Thorne threw “pride" under the bus.  He avoided it altogether referring to the traffic snarls being caused by a Wrigleyville parade.  Good gracious! 

Famed sports broadcaster Howard Cosell always believed that people in that profession are journalists and should report events factually and truthfully: "telling it like it is," he used to preach.  The reluctance to utter "gay pride" by these announcers failed the Cosell test.

One cannot draw any conclusions from this nonsense because we don’t know what the producers want their announcers to say or avoid saying.  Nonetheless, it demonstrates that if the subject of a gay baseball player surfaces for whatever reason, there is still discomfort in the booth, and that’s something to which we should pay attention.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Pride's New Beginning


Pride became the hottest topic in the two months leading up to the annual event.  When is it going to take place?  Why did it move?  What about the block party?  etc., etc., etc. 

More room to roam this Pride
It’s not that these aren’t legitimate questions.  They are.  Pride has been growing for years and more of the community has either participated in the festivities or are at least aware of Pride.  Much of the uncertainty for this year’s edition can be attributed to the GLCCB, who has run Pride for over 35 years, for being slow out of the gate in disseminating the information that would have quelled most of the questions and suspicion. 
However, logistical issues, such as delays in permit requests and other requirements that are not visible to the general public but are essential in carrying out this large enterprise, prevented an early release of the information. It wasn’t that they were deliberately trying to perpetuate a mystique.

One of the complaints raised had to do with the move to the Artscape area from the familiar Eager and Charles locale that had been the venue for the block party for over a decade.  This was not a result of some sinister plan; it was out of necessity, and it wasn’t a last minute decision either as some suspect.   
Former executive director Matt Thorn announced to the GLCCB Advisory Committee last July—merely a month removed from the 2013 Pride—that the Center was considering a move to the Mount Royal area where Artscape takes place.  Therefore, the move had been contemplated for quite a while.

Recall just days before Pride last year the controversy led by the City Café’s concerns regarding underage drinking and sanitation issues at the block party.  The GLCCB complied with the request or demand depending on how you look at it that the block party would begin at Morton and Eager—a block away from the City Café—restricting the celebration to an even smaller area.  No doubt, the resulting brouhaha propelled the Center’s leadership to consider alternative sites.
Of course, the rumblings about the move to Mount Royal followed.  “It lacked the celebratory nature we’re accustomed to,” said one.  “It was too organized,” said several.  Those who like to consume a lot of alcohol and act “trashy,” as one put it, objected to the new venue.  Though alcoholic drinks could be purchased at two beer gardens, customers were confined to the fenced-in areas.  Some said they would never participate again; others said that they didn’t attend this year because of the changes. 

What’s being overlooked here are the countless members of the community who avoided past Prides because of the mayhem at the block party and who favor the change.  The previous block party site was simply too crowded.  Vendors lined up on both sides of Eager St. narrowing the street further.  Some folks plunked down lawn chairs on the sidewalk that impeded the flow of foot traffic even more. 
I was bothered, as were so many others, that navigating through the block party in the past was nearly impossible.  Few places to sit and little shade available made the experience worse.

Thus, you can count me in as one of those who were happy about the move.  Am I completely satisfied about this year’s Pride?  No, but I give the Center high marks for attempting to run a major event for the first time in a new space.
With some tweaks to improve the operation, Pride should be enjoyable for years to come.  I do say, however, that the second day should have remained at Druid Hill Park.  It was a good location to enjoy the laid back essence of the day, relax and have a good time.  As a contrast to the frenetic block party, it attracted more families to the event as well.

Having both days’ celebrations at the same place should be reconsidered.  It was essentially more of the same on both days with some minor changes, yet an argument could be made that people who could not attend on one day could do so on the other.  You can also argue for a single one-day celebration if the park is not an option. 
Asking less affluent LGBT groups or non-profits to pay higher fees for a space and requiring a two-day commitment if they choose to participate was ill-advised. The vendor roster became too commercialized, too corporate and priced out these smaller yet valuable organizations.

The beer gardens should have tables and chairs as most similar set-ups do.  Standing around in a pen drinking looks like people standing around in a pen drinking.  Better access to the beer garden near the Main Stage is desirable, so the hillside, which was packed on Saturday, needs a pathway to the beer garden site.
Also, more security—either by the GLCCB or the police—is needed towards the end of the Saturday event to discourage scuffles at closing time.  It’s a wider perimeter to protect at this new site.

I am certain there are other areas of improvement, but these come to mind.  I give the GLCCB kudos for its overall administration of this year’s Pride and its desire to keep it fun and manageable.  This organization is comprised mostly of volunteers so cut them a little slack. 
They had to endure a move to a new headquarters and a change in the executive director position all during the months leading up to Pride.  They still carried it off and needed to since this is the GLCCB’s most significant fundraiser each year.  To its credit, the Center will welcome community input on this past event and plan for next year’s during town hall meetings to be scheduled in July. 

The operation of Pride will never reach a full consensus throughout our communities.  But the move is a good beginning to build on.