Friday, January 23, 2015

'One Night in Miami' Wins by a Knockout

What perfect timing for Center Stage to present Kemp Powers’ outstanding play One Night in Miami!  The fictional story of four African-American icons who were also friends—Cassius Clay, Malcolm X, Jim Brown and Sam Cooke—who gathered in a Miami hotel on February 25, 1964, the night of Clay’s upset win over heavyweight boxing champ Sonny Liston that took place during the height of the civil rights struggle.   
We are approaching Black History Month; we celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday; and we’re about to commemorate the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” in Selma as well as the passage of the Civil Rights Act.  But where the past is so often prologue, the country is still living under the shadow of racial tensions ignited by the killings of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Eric Garner—developments not lost on Director Kwame Kwei-Armah who superbly helms Powers’ compelling work.
For full review, visit MD Theatre Guide.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A Hall of Famer Through and Through

Colette Roberts will be inducted into the Howard County Women’s Hall of Fame on March 12, 2015.  She will be joined by four other distinguished women and those wh o had been inducted in the past. 

Here’s why:

Colette Roberts distinguished herself in Howard County’s efforts to advance human rights by identifying the need for equality and support for lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals and their families and friends.  
The mother of four children, one of whom is a lesbian, Ms. Roberts strongly believes that her gay daughter is every bit as worthy and equal as her other children.  She applied this principle to all LGBT individuals, and in 1995, co-founded the Columbia/Howard County chapter of PFLAG—Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.

Throughout the years at the helm of PFLAG-Howard County, the chapter had become a model for the other 500 PFLAG chapters nationally to emulate.  The chapter’s mission includes support, education and advocacy components, and it has excelled in all three under the stewardship of Colette Roberts.

But her contributions to human rights in Howard County transcended the efficient functioning of the chapter.  Over the years, Ms. Roberts had taken countless numbers of phone calls—many during the middle of the night—from parents who have extreme difficulty in dealing with finding out that their child is LGBT. 
Additionally, she received frantic, emotional, sometimes desperate calls from teenagers who have found that not only were their parents not accepting such disclosure, but also were frequently hostile.  Because some parents actually evicted the children, Ms. Roberts worked with community services and individuals to seek placement for these children until stability was restored within the family.

Jefferson Jackson Community Builder Award
from then County Executive Ken Ulman
Understanding that children are vulnerable to the hostility and fear in a society that is not always accepting of LGBT individuals, even in a progressive and inclusive area as Howard County, the chapter, under Ms. Roberts leadership formed a youth support group, now called Rainbow Youth and Allies (RYA). It provides a safe place for LGBT youth ages 14 to 22, to meet, socialize and receive support. 
The RYA has been a success story that has received national attention.  It has been instrumental in establishing Gay-Straight Alliances in the county high schools and has been a safe haven for youth to come to terms with their sexuality and form social and support networks.   Many straight teens and young adults who are supportive have also participated in the RYA.  Moreover, Ms. Roberts worked closely with the Howard County Public School System and its board to foster a safe environment in which all students—gay or straight—may successfully learn.

Under her leadership, Ms. Roberts also established a very successful support group for parents of LGBT children of any age.  In this endeavor, parents who have completed the journey from denial to full advocacy of LGBT equality lend support to parents who are confronted with this issue for the first time.

 In addition, Ms. Roberts, with other members of the chapter’s Advocacy Committee, had continually met with legislators and other elected officials to present the case for full equality for LGBT individuals.

For her efforts, Colette Roberts received an award in November 2005 from Equality Maryland, the state’s principal LGBT civil rights organization.  She was honored before such dignitaries as then Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley and civil rights activist Julian Bond.  Colette Roberts was recognized for her energy and drive in making lives better for the LGBT community and their families in Howard County. 
Receiving Human Rights Commission Award
In 2007, she received the Howard County’s Human Rights Commission Award for her efforts to improve the lives of LGBT citizens and their families.  In accepting her award, Ms. Roberts acknowledged the work of the chapter in supporting parents and families of LGBT children but also in trying to eradicate discrimination. 
“We welcome everyone who shares in the vision of a world that respects all people,” she said.  Calvin Ball, then Chair of the Howard County Council said after the presentation, “Colette Roberts is a committed public servant, and we’re lucky to have her in Howard County.”

In 2010, Ms. Roberts was honored by the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Community Center of Baltimore and Central Maryland (GLCCB) for her years of service to the community. The same year she was honored by the Howard County Democratic Party when she was presented with the Jefferson Jackson Community Builder Award by County Executive Ken Ulman.

Colette Roberts has improved the lives of women by keeping Howard County families together.  She served as a volunteer for the National Organization for Women in its quest to achieve an Equal Rights Amendment.  As a member of an interracial couple, Ms. Roberts experienced first hand the stain of discrimination.  She has fought discrimination all her life and does not want to see her daughter to be a victim of hate and prejudice based on who she is.  Ms. Roberts doesn’t want any other children to be victims either. 

Her achievements in the area of human rights have been bold and enduring.  She helped to create and maintain a viable organization that has garnered an incredible amount of respect and admiration throughout the county.  She succeeded in keeping families together by dedicating much of her time and energy to this cause.  As such, Colette Roberts has made a difference in the lives of Howard County’s citizens.

Ms. Roberts had resigned her post as PFLAG chapter Chairperson in January 2010 for personal reasons.  She along with her husband Jim owned a small business for many years on Ellicott City’s Main Street.  She is currently employed as an administrative assistant at Howard Community College.

Colette Roberts’ legacy in the area of civil rights and improving the lives of so many is lasting and, therefore, is worthy of being selected in the Howard County Women’s Hall of Fame.



Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Localizing for the Right Reasons

The news that a new equality center was planned for North Baltimore that includes the heavily LGBT-populated areas of Waverly and Charles Village was met by a subtle attempt to stir unnecessary controversy by our local mainstream newspaper.  The teaser tweets relating to their story read, “Former head of GLCCB creating her own LGBT services organization” and “Will Kelly Neel’s North Baltimore Equality Center be a GLCCB partner or rival?”
The implication is that Kelly Neel, who had resigned in October from the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center of Baltimore and Central Maryland (GLCCB) as interim executive director and has proceeded to launch a new organization, North Baltimore Equality Center (NBEq), is motivated by her departure in an attempt to stick a finger in the eye of her previous employer.
This is simply not true.

To be fair, the environment at the GLCCB prompting Kelly’s resignation last October was, as she described, “tumultuous”.  She believed the Board members at the time did not communicate effectively with her, did not provide needed support, nor did they share her vision regarding the Center’s finances and event planning.  In turn, Board members were not fond of her job performance. 
The permanent job (assuming the word “permanent” is even appropriate) was clearly not going to be hers although her application would have been considered.  She read the handwriting on the wall, saw no chance of reaching common ground, and said adios.  Joel Tinsley-Hall was ultimately selected to fill the position.

Evidence of Kelly’s commitment to the community and not retribution towards the GLCCB was demonstrated by her actions immediately following her resignation.  Instead of leaving the Center bitterly and with her tail between her legs as others in that situation may have done, she meticulously provided a detailed blueprint and set of instructions for her successor to ensure as smooth a transition as possible.  I know Joel appreciated that.
Her biggest gripe as stated in an email blast to her friends and supporters that announced her resignation was not so much the GLCCB but the “culture of disconnect between the various organizations that provide services to our LGBTQ community.”  Kelly lamented the lack of communication and collaboration among the organizations causing some people to be unaware of available services.

If you know Kelly, you understand her passion for helping community members receive services and participate in programs, not trying to compete with other organizations including the GLCCB.  That is one of the reasons she wanted to start an Equality Center in North Baltimore, an area where she resides.  Simply put, Kelly wants to partner with other organizations to help the community.
 “There is a need in our community and I intend to work to satiate it, not to run other organizations out of the game,” Kelly Neel told me in an interview. “Programs are similar to that of the GLCCB because there is a need for these sorts of programs across the city, not solely in Mount Vernon.”  

Indeed, there are AA meetings held at the GLCCB, for example, but AA meetings exist all over the city.  No one entity has a monopoly on a program or service; organizations could and should work together.
“I have met with Joel Tinsley-Hall…and have discussed the potential North Baltimore Equality Center and my plans to include the GLCCB as a partner,” Kelly points out.  “Joel expressed that he is 100 percent on board and would love to collaborate in the future. In addition, I see the North Baltimore Equality Center as a way to bring together the various LGBTQ organizations in Baltimore City to collaboratively tackle the issues our community faces.”

Kelly feels the critical issue of money can be best helped by a shared effort. “In my opinion, if we are all working in partnership towards the same goals, it is much more attractive to potential funding groups and foundations,” she explains.  “Applying for grants jointly and in partnership allows the funders’ dollars [to] travel further, allowing two organizations to serve their community through one grant.”

For sure, funding will be a key to success.  Competing for precious dollars from donors and securing grants is a daunting challenge.  Kelly estimates that $60,000-$65,000 will be needed the first year.  She must overcome that competition with other organizations and selling the idea to a steadily disengaging community.  While responses to a needs survey that coincided with her announced launch have been robust during the early stages, completing a survey and writing a check are two different matters.
Should the NBEq Center become successful, Kelly envisions partner sites around the city to help community member access services and programs. “I think it is important to localize the movement but in a cohesive manner,” Kelly says. “Resources and programs that do not cater to the surrounding community's interest will not be successful. In addition, one central organization becomes less effective if the community it intends to serve cannot reach them. Proximity is a big deal in Baltimore. If I cannot easily and affordably reach your services, I am far less inclined to use them.”

This idea of localization is a good one and is something I argued for on a statewide level last March.  We should decentralize the equality movement and establish local and regional outlets, such as Western Maryland Equality, Southern Maryland Equality, Eastern Shore Equality and the several PFLAG chapters already in place throughout the state to more effectively reach our communities.
Local branches would be better equipped to “put out fires” and deal with corresponding local elected officials, school boards, police departments, and business entities since the folks working with them are neighbors.

Kelly Neel’s NBEq venture would apply this principle and make it easier for community members to benefit from the services and programs offered.  This is a smart approach all the way around and should be supported by our communities.  It is by no means intended to settle scores or create rivalries.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Rep Stage Scores Big in 'The Whale'

The set of Samuel D. Hunter’s 2012 The Whale currently playing at Rep Stage’s Studio Theatre on the campus of Howard Community College screams, “I don’t care anymore.”  An unkempt living room, an untidy kitchen, books in shelves strewn about in haphazard fashion, and clothes hanging in various places in this crummy northern Idaho apartment symbolizes the pathetic, self-loathing, apologetic main character Charlie who resides in this disarray.  His apartment is a mess, and so is his life.  Designer James Fouchard crafted this outstanding, realistic set for this play.  #hocoarts

Michael Russotto as Charlie and Wood Van Meter as Elder Thomas
Photo: Katie Simmons-Barth
Charlie, played brilliantly by Michael Russotto, is a gay man who heartbreakingly lost his partner Allan to an early death.  A teacher of expository writing for an online class and a fan of Herman Melville, Charlie previously had lost his wife because he came out to her as gay, and in the process lost his then 2 year-old daughter 15 years earlier with nonexistent contact. 
As a result of this depression, he ate everything in sight and is morbidly obese to the tune of 600 pounds. His blood pressure is astronomical.  He can hardly move and breathe.  He is dying, and he knows it. 
But before that fateful day occurs, Charlie wants to reconcile, particularly with his estranged teenage daughter, Ellie—a hateful, acid-tongued, potty-mouth, sadistic loner consumed with bitterness over her life and her father’s absence from it.  He also sought to make amends with his ex-wife Mary who struggled to bring up their daughter alone.

Under the direction of Helen Hayes Award recipient Kasi Campbell, a Rep Stage veteran, the ensemble is in complete harmony even if the fictional characters are not.  The actors portray their roles through stunningly realistic performances.  The full range of emotions are carried out expertly, and the audience is made to feel empathy for the “disgusting” Charlie, encased in padding to simulate his obesity.
Scene changes are deftly executed aided by Lighting Designer Jay Herzog’s blackout techniques—sort of like a long blink—so when the lights reappear, characters are seamlessly in a different part of the stage or different characters quietly emerge.

Playwright Hunter, who is gay, originally from Idaho and now living in New York, does not overplay the gay angle.  Though being gay is central to the demise of Charlie and his relationships to others who had been in his life, the theme reverberating throughout the play is the whale in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick and the biblical tale Jonah and the Whale.
The added layer of  metaphorical references to whales laced throughout are evident including Charlie’s blubbery figure and his ultimate search for redemption, but to me the plotlines in the play are substantial enough to stand on their own.  Even Sound Designer Neil McFadden joins in the whale motif with sounds of surf rumbling during the blackout intervals between scenes—in landlocked Idaho!

Nonetheless, the strength of Rep Stage’s The Whale lies in the performances by the talented cast.  As Charlie, Mr. Russotto is totally realistic by his struggle just to get up from a chair and his difficult breathing efforts.  He skillfully invokes the right amount of humor and pathos in his role, steering the audience to pull for him. 
Megan Anderson plays Liz, a nurse, who has been the only friend to help care for Charlie.  Her true reason for getting involved in his life is revealed during the play and it comes as a dramatic surprise.  Stoic and loyal, Liz is the reason Charlie made it this far.  Ms. Anderson, a Helen Hayes nominee, turns in a strong performance and exhibits well-delivered witty and sarcastic rejoinders.

Wood Van Meter effectively plays a 19 year-old Mormon missionary, Elder Thomas, who simply walks in on Charlie as he is masturbating to porn on his computer.  Can’t a man have privacy?  I suppose in Idaho doors are not locked, but the practical reason is that it would take too much effort for Charlie to answer it.
The relationship between the two is complex; immediately the sexual possibilities are demolished, but Charlie is curious about the Mormon Church.  Eager to oblige, Elder Thomas, who has a troubled history himself, toils to educate him.  The reason for Charlie’s partner’s death is linked to the man’s involvement in the local Mormon Church, and the young missionary is asked to look into it.  Mr. Van Meter is effective i playing the clean, white-shirt and tie-clad missionary and demonstrates solid chemistry with Mr. Russotto’s Charlie.  He aptly displays anger and calm when called upon.

As the hot-tempered daughter Ellie, Jenna Rossman is dynamic but at times could be a bit over-the-top.  The frequent use of the politically incorrect word “retarded” is wince-worthy, to be sure, but Ms. Rossman defines her character expertly with her no-holds-barred insults towards her father.  It’s hard to melt a block of ice, but in the end, she manages to show a glimmer of warmth.
Late appearing in the play is Mary, Charlie’s ex-wife played by Susan Rome.  Bursting through the door with a purpose, she confronts Ellie and Charlie where she participates in an outstanding dramatic scene.   

The Whale is a potent addition to Rep Stage’s 22nd season.  It hits on issues, such as parenting, teaching, overeating and being gay with religious opposition.  It’s a well-directed play that should not be missed if you enjoy extraordinary acting, well-timed humor, and can manage a tear or two.
Running time: Approximately two hours and 10 minutes with an intermission.

Advisory: The play contains profanity and is not suitable for children.
The Whale plays through February 1 at Rep Stage’s Studio Theatre of the Horowitz Visual and Performing Arts Center at Howard Community College, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia, MD 21044.  For tickets call 443-518-1500 or visit online 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Equality Organization Planned for North Baltimore

In an effort to provide needed services and programs to residents in Charles Village and Waverly, a new non-profit called the North Baltimore Equality (NBEq) Center is being planned. Using the catchy theme “Let’s be Bmore Equal,” the goal, according to founder Kelly Neel, is “to bring a small community center environment with programming and resources through partnerships for all ages, races, sexual orientations, gender identities, religions, etc. with a focus on LGBTQ individuals, in addition to programming and services for all underserved populations.” 

On the new website, an additional explanation is offered stating, “While our main focus is to provide a safe and welcoming environment for the LGBTQ community, we also provide support to the broader community by offering low-cost access to technology, programs, events and educational workshops that boost involvement in the arts and environment, and provide skills for healthy, smart, sustainable living. All we ask is that those who choose to use our services make a conscious effort to treat everyone they meet kindly and equitably and strive to “Bmore Equal”. 
Before any plans are set in concrete, Neel is requesting the community to complete a brief survey on the website.  Respondents are asked to choose among a series of potential community programs ranging from adult education/job readiness to bicycle safety.  People can write in their own choices as well.

For community services, among the available choices are a drop-in center, a media center and studio space available for artists and performers for a nominal hourly rate.  Again, the public can add others as they see fit.
In addition, several support groups were proposed including a youth group, a transgender support group, LGBTQ-friendly Alcoholics Anonymous among others.

The website offers a Project Outline, an About page, a Volunteer Application page as well as the survey.  The Project Outline provides the organization’s leadership structure and responsibilities as well as details concerning the proposed programs and services.
Neel, who was the interim executive director of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center of Baltimore and Central Maryland (GLCCB) before resigning this past September, acknowledges that NBEq intends to offer programs and services that have historically been operated by the GLCCB.  She points out that these services are needed throughout the city, not just in Mount Vernon and that GLCCB executive director Joel Tinsley-Hall is “100 per cent on board.”  Neel is seeking the GLCCB to be a partner in this endeavor along with other community organizations.

Kelly Neel
“I see the NBEq Center as a way to bring together the various LGBTQ organizations in Baltimore City to collaboratively tackle the issues our community faces,” Neel told Baltimore OUTloud.  “If we are all working in partnership towards the same goals, it is much more attractive to potential funding groups and foundations. Applying for grants jointly and in partnership allows the funders’ dollars to travel further; killing two birds with one stone, or in a more PETA friendly terms, allowing two organizations to serve their community through one grant.”  A first year budget is estimated between $60,000 and $65,000.
Space to house the NBEq Center’s programs and services are dependent upon the extent in which the partnering organizations become involved and location feasibility.  Initially, the 29th Street Center is thought of as a good fit because planned programs overlap with existing programs at the Center; however, a partnership has not yet been established. Additional space options are indicated on the Project Outline on the website.

The area in which NBEq intends to serve contains the most concentrated population of LGBT folks of anywhere in the Baltimore vicinity.  However, Neel intends to offer programs and services throughout the city and beyond if this project is successful.

"These services are needed throughout the city, not just in Mount Vernon."--Kelly Neel

“I have stated before that the needs of the community in North Baltimore are different than the needs of the community in say Canton/Fells Point, which differ from the needs in Midtown or Mount Vernon, and from Federal Hill to Druid Hill,” Neel explains. “My hope is that down the road, this type of targeted resource can be established through the North Baltimore Equality Center project by people in those communities. I do want to stress that this in no way implies that programs that are already established will be taken over; my goal is for the project to help support these programs and find a way to more easily house programs/resources in one cohesive location in each community in the city.” 

But now Neel’s focus is to get the organization established and running successfully to serve the North Baltimore population. “Haste makes waste; therefore, I want to make sure everything we do is well planned and supported so that each program can be executed successfully before taking on additional responsibilities and tasks.”
To keep up with developments, follow NBEq on Twitter @bmore_equal or on Facebook at  Questions can be emailed to

Monday, January 05, 2015

‘Gayzing’ Into My Crystal Ball: What’s in Store for 2015?

One thing about crystal balls, they’re not always crystal clear.  However, I’ve relied on them for some time now to make my annual predictions.  Twelve months ago, when I tried to forecast how 2014 would likely work out for the LGBT world, I was accurate in some cases and blew it in others.  That’s the risk you take when you depend on an inanimate object.

Graphic: Joe Velazquez
Looking back, I wrote correctly that 2014 would be a good year for marriage equality advances throughout the country, which came true in stunning fashion.  I also said that an interesting development would take place regarding at least one local LGBT organization.  Bull’s eye on that one, too, as the GLCCB found a new home.
Happily, I was off the mark regarding non-discrimination protections in Maryland based on gender identity.  I reasoned that with 2014 being an election year, the folks in Annapolis wouldn’t touch the hot-button issue.  Well, they did, and the Fairness for All Marylanders Act is now the law without the anguish from a referendum battle.

With some trepidation from a history of mixed bags in predicting, I will keep the tradition going with some forecasts for 2015. 
I’ll start not with a prediction but a statement.  In Maryland, this will be the first year in a decade where neither the major issues of marriage equality nor transgender protections will be a focus by advocates in Annapolis.  There remains other work to be done, for sure, but unfortunately these initiatives are not headline-grabbers like marriage equality.

Equality Maryland, who has helped fight those eventual winning battles, laid out their agenda for the 2015 General Assembly consisting of three bills they would like to see passed: 1)  a bill that would allow transgender people to change their Maryland birth certificate when it’s right for them; 2) a bill that would ensure  equal insurance coverage for same-sex married couples in the area of in-vitro fertilization; and 3) a bill that would ensure  that when parents separate, the best interests of the children will be the criteria to determine a non-legal (de facto) parent’s rights and responsibilities.

Though not glamorous, these are worthy measures and we should support them. In addition,  I would like to see  Equality Maryland, FreeState Legal Project and other members of the coalition comprising the Youth Equality Alliance (YEA) attempt to advance at least some of the recommendations contained in the YEA report released last August. 
This report focused in stark terms on the way LGBT youth are subject to poor treatment in schools, and in the foster care and juvenile justice systems—the “school to jail pipeline."  I predict, however, not much will happen in that regard.

Nationally, marriage equality will again be front and center.  While they’ve punted in the past allowing various federal Circuit Courts of Appeals’ decisions prohibiting same-sex marriage bans to stand, the U.S. Supreme Court justices will have to hold their collective noses and issue a national ruling on the legality of same-sex marriage once and for all.  There is that much momentum going; 2015 should be the year.
I predict the tragic suicide of young transgender Leelah Alcorn will be the big fight in 2015 as activists will go all-out in an attempt to ban conversion therapy and to fight intolerance.  Sadly, we tend to rely on suicides and murders as catalysts to get people energized.

The decades-long attempts to end workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity (ENDA—Employment Nondiscrimination Act) during this Congress will continue to be met with frustration.  Though the Senate a year ago passed a bill by a 64-32 majority, the House leadership refused to take up the measure despite the likelihood it would have passed (since there were more Democrats in the 113th Congress before the election) and President Obama would have signed it into law. 
As we approach the 114th Congress—the one with the largest GOP majority in 83 years—there is no incentive on the part of Republicans to move on the bill and cause further fissures between social conservatives and establishment, more pragmatic lawmakers.  The newly elected and empowered representatives will not support ending this discrimination.  Thus, ENDA will continue to languish at least through 2015. 

As interest in the presidential race for 2016 heats up, there will be anti-marriage equality rhetoric from potential contenders—especially from socially bigoted, er, conservative hopefuls Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz and Rick Santorum, which could push other candidates to the right.  It would be a certainty should the Supreme Court rule favorably on marriage equality.
In sports, I believe another pro athlete will come out.  It would be great if it originated by a player from our national pastime, but I would be celebrating no matter who it is. Baseball umpire Dale Scott set a promising tone with more support than not.  Also, look for Michael Sam to land a spot on an NFL roster.

An even more confident prediction is that should a gay athlete come out, anti-gay folks will declare they “don’t care” or they “don’t want to hear about it.”  That is the new meme for disliking the fact a male pro athlete announces he’s gay. 
Back home again, Chase Brexton Health Care, after establishing an LGBT Health Resource Center, will likely take on an expanded role in providing other LGBT services that had not been done before by Chase Brexton.

And one thing I will predict with sure-fire certainty: now that Pride has moved—at least temporarily to July where drag queens and leather folks could melt and form puddles in the summer’s heat—people will find a way to complain about the dates and location.  It’s a Baltimore tradition like crabs, Natty Boh, and snow panic.
Have a safe, healthy and happy 2015 and let’s toast that the good predictions come true and the bad ones don’t.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The OUTIES: the Best (and Worst) of 2014

It’s that time when I once again look through the rear view mirror and award the OUTspoken OUTIES for the past year.  I reviewed the events of this past year in the areas of politics and culture and am presenting an unapologetic, subjective, biased list of winners (and losers) who are deserving of the OUTIES trophy. In no particular order, here are the OUTspoken OUTIES of 2014.

Best Politician: Hands down, it’s Larry Hogan.  The Republican managed to rise from obscurity in a state that is 2 to 1 Democratic and ran a steady race to upset Anthony Brown (see below).  His economic message was focused, and his debates’ searing zingers hit the mark. The Brown strategists’ ineptitude and voter apathy helped.
Worst Politician: Hands down, it’s Anthony Brown.  Having cruised to a primary victory, aided by the Democratic establishment, a solid running mate and outspending his opponent by a 5 to 1margin, Brown went negative too early to lift Hogan’s name recognition giving him a chance at victory and squandered a clear opportunity to be the state’s first African-American governor.

Worst Example of Citizenship: The tens of thousands of voters who sat out the election but undoubtedly will grumble ad nauseam about how bad our elected officials are.
Worst Political Bet: Equality Maryland’s PAC for riding the front runner and endorsing Brown before the primary while alienating Mizeur and Gansler supporters in the process.  With three proven allies for LGBT equality running, EQMD should have remained neutral until the general election.

Most Gratifying Success: The passage of the Fairness for All Marylanders Act (FAMA) resulting in non-discrimination protections for transgender folks without having to deal with referendum drama.  The hyped bathroom scare didn’t work.

More Good Fortune for Trans: Movies, TV shows and a cover story on TIME helped propel more visibility for the transgender community.  Recall how Will & Grace and Real World helped gays to be more accepted.
Worst News for Trans: Two more brutal murders of trans women in Baltimore with little likelihood the cases will be solved.

Doing More With Less: A scaled down Equality Maryland, financially and in staff, managed to be a significant player along with other groups and individuals in getting FAMA enacted.
Best Local LGBT Organization: FreeState Legal Project for providing important pro bono legal assistance to those LGBT folks who can least afford it.

Most Altruistic Organization: Repeat winner Brother Help Thyself, which raises much needed money for non-profit LGBT orgs. Great work and they do it every year!
Most Popular Job: Executive Director at the GLCCB.  Three people have held that (or interim) position during 2014.  Here’s hoping for more stability at the Center.

Least Popular Move: Shifting the Pride block party to the MICA-Mt. Royal-Artscape area from Mount Vernon and eliminating Druid Hill Park met with significant blowback from communities.  The GLCCB is listening.

Best ‘I Got the Message’ Organization: The GLCCB, under fire for a lack of transparency and inclusiveness, has taken a series of concrete steps to help alleviate concerns.  It needs to continue.
Best Eatery to Lunch in Mount Vernon: Tavern on the Hill on Cathedral Street offers up a broad menu, tasty food and friendly service at a reasonable price.

Best Mount Vernon Restaurant for Dinner: The Mount Vernon Stable, an area fixture, provides a nice atmosphere for LGBT folks and serves fine dinners (and brunches and lunches) from a friendly staff.
Sorry to See You Go: The closing of The Quest was a blow to the Highlandtown locals and others who wanted to venture from other LGBT venues.  Its neighborhood feel is hard to duplicate.

Best Gay-Friendly Theater: Basically all local theaters are LGBT-friendly.  But Toby’s of Columbia with its large number of resident gay performers and staff gives it an edge.  Sometimes when visiting it seems like Pride with a buffet.  And the shows are reliably superb.
Best Gay Film: The BBC-produced Pride, which ran at the venerable Charles Theater, was my favorite.  It told a heartwarming story of how blue collar laborers and gays bonded to form a strong and successful alliance during the 1980’s miners’ strike in the U.K.

Best Gay Play: Iron Crow Theatre’s Homo Poe Show wins here. Well directed and acted, Homo Poe Show is a weird play in true Iron Crow tradition that consisted of a series of short pieces in an attempt to present Edgar Allan Poe’s works through a queer lens—forevermore.
Best Gay Musical: Dundalk Community College’s splashy production of one of my all-time favorites La Cage Aux Folles wins.  Given that there were gay main characters, the music and lyrics were penned by a gay composer Jerry Herman and the book written by Harvey Fierstein who is also gay, there is no question it deserves the OUTIES trophy.  Moreover, La Cage gives us the unofficial gay anthem “I Am What I Am.”

Best TV Show with a Gay Character: Move over Modern Family and make room for the Boston-based The McCarthys.  Ronny, the gay character played by Tyler Ritter (who is straight), is a hoot as is the rest of his snarky, loveable, sports-obsessed Irish-American family.
Best Kiss Since Al and Tipper Gore: Michael Sam locking lips with his sculpted abs boyfriend Vito Cammisano on ESPN upon learning that Sam was the first openly gay player to be drafted in the NFL.  Sadly, he failed to make a team—yet.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Stonewall v. Ferguson: Different Eras, Outcomes

In the wake of nationwide demonstrations protesting controversial grand jury decisions in Ferguson, Mo. and New York, a provocative piece ran on the Bilerico Project website titled “Gays Condemning Riots: The Greatest of Hypocrisies”.

The melee outside the Stonewall Inn in June 1969
The guest blogger who authored the article, Matt Comer, editor of QNotes, a Charlotte, NC-based LGBT newspaper, saw a parallel in the riots that accompanied the Ferguson protests and the Stonewall Inn uprising and asserted, “Some gays are hypocrites: They condemn the rioting in the aftermath of extreme miscarriages of justice for black people, all the while ignoring the fact they gather once a year to openly celebrate and commemorate a riot—a violent outburst that served as the so-called birth of their movement.”
I have some issues with the premise. True, there are gays who oppose what is occurring in Ferguson and New York and in other cities around the country as do people in the non-gay population.  Nonetheless, I am reasonably confident that far more LGBT folks have stepped forward in support of the protesters.  We see the failure of justice continue to plague African-Americans combined with the strained relations blacks as well as LGBT folks historically have endured with local police departments.  There is a natural alliance here. 

Moreover, LGBT organizations and individuals have not only empathized with the protesters with public statements, they have joined hands in the marches, which have been, except for Ferguson, non-violent and restrained considering the level of injustice that has sickened so many.
I also contest the notion that gays celebrate and commemorate the Stonewall uprisings every year.  They are supposed to be doing that, but ask any LGBT millennial (and I dare say even older) if they are even aware of Stonewall or understand its significance.  Clearly, some do; I’m equally sure, however, most either do not or simply don’t care. 

In the early years following Stonewall, there was that energy to create social and political change as people gathered to mark that eventful June uprising with signs, speeches and rallies.  Today, not so much.  Pride is more about where celebrants can openly drink, who will be the entertainment and how organizations can profit from the event.  You never hear a political or rallying speech anymore though so much more work needs to be done. The historical value is rapidly being lost.
I agree with Comer that there are some similarities between Stonewall and Ferguson though he cites the acts of violence as the main reason.  In my view, the common thread is the fact that the participants were fed up with a cumulative effect of unjust police actions and disparate treatment gays and blacks have received. Yet there are differences. 

By most reliable accounts, Stonewall occurred as a result of two factors: bar patrons were angered by the constant police raiding of their “home” and also they had been appalled by the Mafia-run operation of the bar that included pricey, watered-down bootlegged liquor and unsanitary conditions within the establishment. The violence on that early June 28 early morning escalated at Stonewall when a lesbian was being roughed up by the police on the way to the paddy wagon and either she or someone else shouted, “Do something!” 
"Whatever coverage was offered on Stonewall, it appeared to have marginalized the demonstrators, demeaned them and used stereotypes to perpetuate the narrative."

African-Americans in Ferguson have had tense relationships with the police for a long time.  It boiled over when Michael Brown, 18 and unarmed, was gunned down on a Ferguson street by a policeman.  Residents and supporters were hoping that a grand jury would indict the officer, Darren Wilson, for committing a crime and there at least would be justice in the tragedy. 

The grand jury did not indict him and that’s when anger spilled out on the streets.  Although the testimony was murky and often contradictory, my impression was that the prosecutor did not want to see an indictment handed down or he wouldn’t have allowed Wilson to present his side of the story—an unconventional but not unprecedented tactic in the grand jury system.
Another dissimilarity between Stonewall and Ferguson was that Stonewall did not occur as a result of a death.  In fact, there were only minor injuries reported, mostly sustained by police personnel.  Ferguson, as we know, was sparked by the killing of Brown.

With Stonewall, there was no social media to fuel any uprisings.  They occurred mainly from word-of-mouth, and it certainly didn’t attract any national attention or protests until the one-year commemorative march in 1970. 
Local newspapers gave it little “ink” at the time—tiny articles buried among the other news of the day in the New York Times.   Demonstrations were commonplace in New York during that era because of the Vietnam War.  Therefore, Stonewall was merely a blip on the screen. The New York Daily News, the city’s tabloid that dwelled on the sensational, did run a front page article several days later with the headline, “Homo Nest Raided, Queen Bees Are Stinging Mad.” 

That’s another distinction between the two episodes.  With Ferguson, other than conservative news outlets, most of the media has been rather supportive of the demonstrators except when TV footage focused on the looting and burning.  The media today generally understands, at least, why this is occurring.  Whatever coverage was offered on Stonewall, it appeared to have marginalized the demonstrators, demeaned them and used stereotypes to perpetuate the narrative.
Unquestionably, the largest difference between the two events is race.  In Stonewall, the uprising bar patrons were from multiple races.  Race was never the storyline.  In Ferguson, the opposite is true. 

Race has become again a big part of a national conversation and debate.  The response in Ferguson, New York and elsewhere brought to the forefront dubious police tactics in dealing with African-Americans, the prevailing mistrust, as well as obvious flaws in our justice system.  Hopefully, it will spark reform in these areas.
That will be Ferguson’s legacy.  We are realizing Stonewall’s legacy today.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

In A Christmas Carol, Morella Acts Like the Dickens

Any actor will tell you that playing a role is not simply memorizing lines from a script and following the play’s director. One needs to do research and delve into the character’s qualities and persona and for a couple of hours lose one’s own identity and virtually become that character. 
Paul Morella in 'A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas 
Photo: Stan Barouh
In A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas now playing at the Olney Theatre Center’s Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab, multiple Helen Hayes Award nominee and Olney stage veteran Paul Morella does exactly that.  Except there is a major difference: he not only acts out a singular character, he plays over two dozen characters in this heartwarming, imaginative adaptation of Charles Dickens’ 1943 classic novella A Christmas Carol.
Mr. Morella’s hand in this one-man show stretches out from not only performing the myriad roles but also to being the theater’s usher (welcoming audience members with a warm smile and handshake), self-directing his own performance and turning in a fine job as set co-designer.  This is not a new experience for Mr. Morella as the current adaptation that is now running through December 28 is his fifth consecutive year at Olney—clearly a popular Christmastime tradition for the D.C.-area audience.

For full review, visit MD Theatre Guide.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Thanksgiving Turkeys to Carve Up

Thanksgiving offers a great opportunity to reflect on our blessings and bring those not as fortunate into forefront of our thoughts.  To be sure, from a personal standpoint I feel I’m blessed.  Regarding the accomplishments within our LGBT community to which I’ve dedicated a good portion my life, there have been blessings aplenty, which make me feel proud and fulfilled.

I’m proud that Baltimore achieved a perfect score in the Human Rights Campaign Metropolitan Equality Index that reflects myriad achievements on various levels to help bring our community to at least on par with the rest of the citizenry.  I am also elated that my state was wise enough to allow same-sex couples like ours to marry and finally be able to receive the benefits that marriage affords.  I am also happy that the state ended discrimination against my transgender friends this year by asserting that all of our citizens should not be subject to discrimination.

Thus, with the rainbow flags flying high and proud, this Thanksgiving brought into focus other areas of concern that afflict our communities. I don’t want to sound dour but there is a set of realities or turkeys that should also noted.
Around the same time HRC’s pat-on-the-back to Baltimore came out, GLSEN presented some disturbing news that indicates we’re not making sufficient progress in Maryland’s high schools when it comes to bullying and related issues.  In the report GLSEN’s survey revealed a staggering high percentage of secondary school students in Maryland who have heard taunts, name-calling and/or experienced various forms of bullying that are LGBT-oriented. 

Just as disappointing is the fact that only 14 percent attended a school with a comprehensive anti-bullying/harassment policy. We have been led to believe the state has such policies in place and perhaps the students aren’t aware of them.  But with so many of the students reporting such incidents you have to wonder. 
Recently, I represented PFLAG-Howard County at a county parks and recreation teen opportunities fair and heard mixed results from the students.  One student said that her gay friend at her high school is doing fine with being openly gay and has not experienced any problems with respect to bullying.  Yet, another student from the same high school, if you can believe it, mentioned her gay friend has been hospitalized due to the stress he received from being bullied by other students.

Clearly, anti-bullying policies must be tightened and enforced, and students, faculty and staff alike must be educated on these policies.  While it is true that today’s youth are increasingly supportive of equal rights for LGBT people, there is still evidence that it is not universal and bullying of all forms need to be eradicated.  No longer should a report emanating from GLSEN state that Maryland schools are unsafe for LGBT students.
Too many teens have taken their lives as a last resort because of kids who have the need to raise their own self-esteem at the expense of others.  According to The Trevor Project, an organization dedicated to ending suicide by LGBTQ youth, suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 24.  LGB youth are four times more likely (and questioning youth three times) to attempt suicide than their straight peers.  And about 25 percent of young transgender individuals have attempted suicide.

Another turkey that needs carving is the rate of homelessness among LGBTQ youth.  As the frigid, cold winter dawns upon us, it is imperative to acknowledge that homeless LGBTQ youth are sleeping outside in boxes or on grates just to survive. 
The National Coalition for the Homeless reports that 20 percent of homeless youth are LGBT.  (Some organizations’ estimates are even higher, even up to 40 percent.)
While homeless youth typically experience severe family conflict as the primary reason for their homelessness, LGBT youth are twice as likely to experience sexual abuse before the age of 12.  LGBT youth, once homeless, are at higher risk for victimization, mental health problems, and unsafe sexual practices. Over 58 percent of LGBT homeless youth have been sexually victimized compared to 33.4 percent of heterosexual homeless youth. LGBT youth are roughly 7.4 times more likely to experience acts of sexual violence than heterosexual homeless youth. 

"LGBT organizations must seriously direct their efforts to preventing homelessness among LGBTQ youth and dealing with those who are." 

To the issue of suicide, homeless youth who are LGBT commit suicide at higher rates (62 percent) than heterosexual homeless youth (29 percent).  Transgender youth are even far more vulnerable.
These statistics are as chilling as the weather and illustrates that parents and families who continue to reject their children based on sexual orientation and gender identity either throw their kids out on the streets or make their environment so inhospitable that the kids need to run away.

Foster care is not a solution at this point because of the discrimination homeless LGBT youth experience, and these situations promote a homophobic atmosphere leading many youth to run away believing they are safer on the streets.  
LGBT organizations must seriously direct their efforts to preventing homelessness among LGBTQ youth and dealing with those who are.  It’s not as sexy a cause as marriage equality where tons of money had been raised.  But this crisis needs to be met if those organization still aspire to remain relevant.

This little reminder only scratches the surface.  We still need to face the epidemic of HIV/AIDS as folks are mistakenly assuming that unsafe sex practices are OK now.  They aren’t.
We have a developing crisis in the rapid growth in the aging population whereby seniors are experiencing discrimination in assisted living and nursing care facilities.  The discrimination among those entities are driving LGBT seniors back into the closet and preventing their partner’s access to them.

There are other such turkeys that need carving providing more food for thought to chew on, but this list should fill you up for now.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

A Misfire Saved and Changed Josh Deese’s Life

At a recent meeting of the Howard County chapter of PFLAG, a handsome young man named Josh Deese, who was celebrating his 21st birthday, introduced a short film named Trevor.  The movie described how a gay youth named Trevor had been bullied to the point of suicide but then recovered to live, hopefully, a better life. 

Among the audience at this screening were a couple of dozen of members of the chapter’s Rainbow Youth and Allies group, ages 14-22.  The normally energetic youths sat riveted in stone silence throughout both the film and Josh Deese’s powerful post-film discussion that described a similar path he himself traveled and how it ultimately led him to be a compelling spokesman for The Trevor Project— the nation’s leading LGBTQ youth suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization.  Most young people who turn 21 go out partying to celebrate; Josh decided to help educate the community.
Josh’s life has been anything but easy.  Openly gay, he grew up in a small town in South Florida called Clewiston with all of its Southern charm hovering over the town’s sugar cane, orange farms and alligators.  “Clewiston is every Southern boy’s dream – if he were straight,” says Josh.
His parents were of modest means living in a 2-bedroom mobile home where he shared a twin-size bed with his little brother.  He was always treated differently beginning with elementary school.  Josh watched CNN in the 2nd grade, read newspapers and followed the 2004 Presidential election hoping to impress his teachers.  His friends traveled a different road, and the differences between Josh and them were beginning to widen.

“In middle school, I was treated differently because I was the kid who everyone thought was gay,” Josh recalls. “The teases and insults turned to slight shoves and slaps. Eventually, it got worse. The school administration never did anything to those responsible. I remember crying to my father in 8th grade asking ‘Why? Why don’t those kids get in trouble?’” He looked at me and ultimately said, ‘Well, that’s just how the world works. They’re at the top, and we’re not.’ Then he said something that really stuck: ‘But you can be… you can be. And one day, you will be.’”
As the only openly gay student in high school, he was known as “Josh, the faggot.” “Not “a faggot,” but THE faggot,” he emphasizes. School life was filled with isolation and fear. “From the members of my wrestling team, who hazed me intensely in an effort to get me to quit the team, to the rest of my peers, who threw insults, as well as punches.”

Josh was constantly taunted, books were slammed out of his hands in the hallway, and he was shoved into lockers.  All the usual epithets were hurled at him.
After staying after class one day to speak with his English teacher,  he decided to take a shortcut home and noticed three guys following him.  He tried to move faster but it was too late. 

“A swift yank from a strap of my backpack and a stinging smack to the face knocked me to the ground. No one was there to help me. The three guys punched, kicked, and slammed me. I recognized one of them – a boy on my wrestling team; someone I trusted and confided in. ‘Deese,’ he said, calling me by my last name, ‘I’m sorry man, but we’re doing you a favor,’ he concluded, as he kicked me square in the gut. I got up, bloodied and bruised, and limped my way back home.

“My parents were furious. My father wanted blood. My mother just wanted the violence to end. My nose was fractured, my jaw bone suffered injury, and I had a busted lip – a hearty reward for the boy who just wanted a friend.”
Josh had begun looking for resources for LGBTQ youth on Google. He found The Trevor Project, which has a website full of resources and tips. “They had a 24-hour lifeline that LGBTQ youth could call if things ever got too tough and an awesome website – TrevorSpace – a social networking site, where LGBTQ youth from all around the world could talk to each other.”

He created a TrevorSpace account and began speaking to some of the first gay guys who he ever had interacted with. “It was refreshing to see so much diversity on the coming out spectrum. People on this site made me feel accepted, safe and happy.”
Through this site he made some friends. “I even found a boyfriend: a beautiful boy named Kyle. He was from Missouri. His parents were Baptist preachers. His beautiful blonde hair, radiant blue eyes and gorgeous white smile had taken me aback. I was in love. WE were in love.”

After a month of chatting on Skype, Josh and Kyle began dating.  They talked about their dreams of being together.  “Kyle suddenly went missing,” Josh says.  Over three weeks later Kyle’s sister contacted Josh to tell him that their father found out about Josh and discovered gay porn on Kyle’s laptop.  They were forbidden to speak to one another and Kyle was sent to a gay-reversion clinic.
“Three months later, I received a message on Facebook.  It was Kyle – he was back. I remember quickly rushing through my computer to get to Skype, so I could see his beautiful face again. My eager excitement turned to worry and deep concern. For the next few weeks that we talked, he wasn’t the same anymore. He wasn’t smiling anymore. His voice was monotone. His eyes looked sad and empty.”

After exchanging goodnight kisses through the webcam, Josh never heard from Kyle again.  The friend who had introduced them on TrevorSpace messaged Josh.  He asked if Josh was OK and asked him if he heard about Kyle. The friend attached a newspaper article from the Internet that indicated Kyle had hung himself.
“This beautiful boy felt so upset and hated and depraved by his parents, that he felt the only way out was to take his life. I lost it – I cried uncontrollably and felt hopeless. I didn’t know what to do,” Josh recalls.

“The next few days went by like a blur. I didn’t care about anything. I just wanted to be happy.  My parents didn’t understand me, I didn’t have any friends, and the first love of my life was gone. I had nothing else to live for. So I planned, and I waited.”

Since Josh’s father was a police officer, there were many guns in his house.  One evening when he was alone, Josh went to his parents’ room and took his father’s service pistol back to his bedroom.

“I sat on the bed, holding the gun, and began to cry. This is what my life had become: one of sadness, and sorrow, and fear. I put the gun to my right temple, counted to three, closed my eyes, and squeezed the trigger. My eyes still closed, I thought, ‘Is this death? I didn’t feel a thing.’ I opened my eyes, and saw that I was still in my room. No pain. No blood. No bang. I was alive. It appeared that the gun was loaded, but the firing pin didn’t strike the bullet properly – crazy odds.”
He put the gun down and began to cry again. “There had to be a better way to solve this… a safer, more peaceful resolution. I began to think and that’s when it hit me – The Trevor Project. I called the lifeline and was relieved to find a warm, caring voice on the other end of the line. His name was Adam who was a counselor for The Trevor Project. I told him about everything that had happened in my life and why I felt the way I did. He was supportive, caring, and accepting. He assured me that my life was full of value and meaning. He made me feel special and significant.”

"There had to be a better way to solve this… a safer, more peaceful resolution."

Josh continued to call the lifeline for the next few months and began his road to recovery. “It was around this time where I was approached by a friend I had met on TrevorSpace, who told me that The Trevor Project was looking for LGBTQ youth who had leadership potential to join a special youth council. I applied and was accepted.”
He persuaded his parents to allow him to fly to Los Angeles to attend his first Trevor Project training. “I spent the weekend meeting with a group of LGBTQ high school and college students who had also been admitted to The Trevor Project Youth Advisory Council. We shared experiences and stories with each other, gave each other advice, and allowed each other to grow.”

Josh learned LGBTQ 101, the basics of sex and gender, suicide prevention and crisis intervention strategies, as well as more background information on The Trevor Project’s programs and services. He was able to take all of the information that he had learned back home to Florida and did what he was taught to do: educate.
“I started with my parents. Now, they had never disagreed with me, they just didn’t understand – and who would, in a small town where no one talks about sexuality and gender? I explained the basics of LGBTQ 101 and it all began to fall into place. My parents understood and were full of questions, which I happily answered.”

Josh is proud and grateful for his family’s support along his journey.  His success with his parents led him to take that experience to school.  “People started to understand. People started to accept me. This was the first time where I had finally met some actual friends, in the flesh, who wanted to actively participate in my life. What my Youth Advisory Council advisor told me was true, ‘Education trumps ignorance.’ This is when I began my journey as an activist for LGBTQ rights, suicide prevention, and mental health awareness.”

Josh found his final two years of high school to be amazing.  He had friends, boyfriends, and many fun experiences.
At his graduation, Josh  presented his last act of defiance by “doing the Cat Daddy” next to his principal, and walked off a proud graduate of Clewiston High School’s Class of 2012.  “One month later, I’d be on a plane to Washington, D.C., starting my new journey as a freshman at the University of Maryland, to pursue my passion for politics and public service.

Josh found the past two years in the D.C. area to be both rewarding and challenging.  His work with The Trevor Project allows him to speak at events and fundraisers, meeting Members of Congress, sharing his story and  explaining the importance of legislation that would benefit and increase LGBTQ education and life-affirming services to LGBTQ youth everywhere.
“I’ve had the privilege of being invited to the White House and working with President Obama’s staff to discuss important initiatives and programs for LGBTQ people. I was also humbled last year to win The Washington Blade’s Best of Gay D.C. Award for Most Committed Activist. I’ve even met an amazing guy that I’ve grown very fond of.”

Unfortunately for Josh, last semester he lost his co-signer for his student loans and was unable to pay for school, thus, forcing him to withdraw from the University of Maryland.  The financial worries have contributed to his anxiety. 
“I’ve been stuck working full-time in order to pay my living expenses, but am currently facing eviction. I’m unable to have a social life or see any of my friends because I’m not in school.”

 “As I said, happiness, or the lack thereof, has been the focus of my life. I continue to clutch closely, my father’s words to me. ‘But you can be… you can be. And one day, you will be.’ I think of this in my mind every night before I go to bed, thinking of a way out. Someone once said, ‘Some men aren’t meant to be happy. They are meant to be great.’ I intend to challenge this and prove it wrong. I know it’s possible. I don’t know how… but I’ll prove it wrong.”
Hopefully, he will. Josh deserves happiness.