Thursday, December 22, 2005

Dinner embodied the love at the heart of the holidays

Letter to Howard County Times--Published 12/22/05

Amidst the silly furor over how retailers should be marketing their products during their November-December sales, the Dec. 13 holiday potluck dinner by the Columbia/Howard County chapter of PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) captured the true joy of the season. The embracing of diversity and humankind is what most people come to expect and love about the December's holidays, whether you are Christian or not.

The event at the Owen Brown Interfaith Center, which attracted over 150 people, mostly from the local community, including several elected officials, was a celebration of great food, camaraderie and warmth with all of the customary Christmas colors, poinsettias and decor serving as the backdrop.

The two facilitators of the chapter's Rainbow Youth Alliance - a support and social group for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender teens and young adults - were justly honored for their efforts in helping these young people who are coming out and acknowledging their sexual orientation to cope with a sometimes hostile environment.

Chapter chair Colette Roberts received recognition for her leadership and tenacity in guiding the chapter to the success it has achieved in its 11 years in strengthening so many families.

Moreover, this dinner and celebration was enjoyed by actual families. People of all ages who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered were on hand. Parents who have GLBT children shared in the joy. Same-sex couples who are raising beautiful and happy children were there as well, proud as can be.

The Baltimore Men's Chorus provided the musical entertainment by performing traditional Christmas and other holiday songs of the season and a few that were, let's say, not as traditional. With their talents and spirit the chorus led everyone with a rousing sing-along to conclude the festivities.

The event was the true embodiment of the Christmas and holiday season where love, support and diversity triumphed over hate, division and discrimination.

Steve Charing
Steve Charing is media coordinator for PFLAG- Howard County.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Going for Brokeback

Why ‘Brokeback Mountain’ is an important film to the lgbt community

By Steve Charing

While the Hollywood film industry has been suffering at the gate for the past few years, it seems that controversial films—especially those with a significant advanced buzz to stoke interest—manage to succeed. Last year Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ and Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 911 did just that.

This year’s entry in the controversial genre, as you are probably well aware, is Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain (R rating), which has been widely dubbed as the "gay cowboy movie" or "gay Western." How it will do at the box office is anybody’s guess. Even some gay columnists have scribed opposite viewpoints defining their predictions.

But if the huge crowds that turned out in the opening cities of New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco are an indication, this could be a blockbuster.

To be sure, these three cities have massive lgbt populations; therefore, a movie depicting the love between two hunky men who happen to be cowboys (played by Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal) would likely be an attraction. That type of plot is seldom seen from mainstream movie studios. They are mindful of well-funded and well-organized groups who are always at the ready to pounce and threaten boycotts and demonstrations so that only films that conform to their standards may be seen by the general public.

Some folks have suspected that this fear by movie houses to ward off religious conservative activism prevented an all-out distribution in December. Brokeback Mountain was distributed to limited markets in December to qualify for potential awards. The major distribution will take place next month with the Baltimore premiere scheduled for January 6 at the Charles Theater.

I had asked the general manager of the Charles, Buzz Cusack, if his theater had exclusive rights to the film in this area. "I wish we did have the exclusive rights," he said chuckling. "But the film’s distributors, not the movie houses, decide where the film is shown. Undoubtedly it will be released more broadly later on."

Apparently that is the strategy, which is most likely aimed at reaping maximum profits. According to Mike Lavers of GLAAD—Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, a media watchdog organization—the distributors of Brokeback Mountain were planning an incremental release all along.

How this film will play out in other markets and in red state territory remains to be seen. Neither the backlash, if it comes, nor even the lack of backlash will diminish the glow emanating out of Brokeback Mountain. Indeed, capturing awards form the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and the New York Film Critics Circle, the reception it received at the Venice Film Festival and a gaggle of Golden Globe nominations already in hand surely will not hurt. Neither will the near-universal acclaim it is receiving by film critics.

The run-up to the general release of the movie has some extremist conservative groups like Focus on the Family and the American Family Association gritting their teeth as they try to develop a strategy to badmouth the movie that is destined to win several Oscars. Currently, the sickening Focus on the Family hate group has adopted a low profile scheme in the hope that their lack of involvement would make the movie disappear quietly into the sunset. They feel the more opposition they put forward, the more attention the film it will receive. They want it to go away and fail.

Keep dreaming.

Since the cost of production was around $12 million—a low budget by Hollywood standards—it will not need to fill up every seat in every house in every city to turn a profit.

Having seen the film at a media screening last month, I predict it will contend for key awards. Surely Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Ledger)and Best Supporting Actress (Michelle Williams) nominations are within grasp.

It is not the best movie I have ever seen; it had some flaws like a slow beginning, slowness in the middle and a lack of clarity in spots. But it has an interesting plot adapted from the short story written by E. Annie Proulx and a surprising twist at the end. The strength of the film was the acting and the setting—you can almost smell and taste the gritty Wyoming in the 1960’s.

But I also believe the movie will be historic. It set aside established gay stereotypes in that two "macho" guys get entangled over a 20-year period—not over sex, but love. One can see how society’s pressures and a lack of options available to these two men forged their unorthodox relationship and the determined secrecy of their forbidden love. It is a heartbreaking and groundbreaking story.

Brokeback Mountain will produce enormous profits and capture a string of well-deserved awards, not to mention kudos to the studio and the theaters for the courage to defy the conservative bullies. And it will give wives reason to pause when their husbands alert them to an upcoming fishing trip.

Monday, December 12, 2005

They're trying to take over

At some point our country needs to stand up to such extreme Christian conservative groups like the American Family Association and Focus on the Family, who successfully impose their narrow will on our daily lives .

Such organizations dictate how private retailers should market their products during the holidays. They seek to impose their own definition of science on the school's curriculum. They rant about the sanctity of marriage but discredit basic spousal rights as exhibited during the turmoil surrounding theTerri Schiavo fiasco. They're pro-life but also pro-death penalty. They decide for us which toothpaste to use when they organized a successful boycott of Procter and Gamble.

Now they've succeeded in determining which cars the public should buy because they are unhappy about where Ford Motor Co. places their ads. It is disgraceful how these oganizations have been allowed to corrupt our free enterprise system and our basic freedoms.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Here's My New Year's Revolution

By Steve Charing

Our nation was born out of the American Revolution. We did just fine plowing through the Industrial Revolution. We partied through the Sexual Revolution. Heck, we even survived (barely) the Reagan Revolution. But as the fortunes of this country sink lower than the approval ratings of an incompetent president and his corrupt cabal, what we need is a new revolution.

Let’s call it the Freedom Revolution of 2006—because we want our government to be free from the corporate influence, especially Big Oil and Halliburton, powerful lobbyists, and religious extremists (think Supreme Court nominations) who have corrupted and own many of our Republican officials including the President. And we want to restore our Freedom of Speech from those who prefer to silence critics and call them traitors, or in the case of the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame, compromise our national security for the sake of revenge.

This is the year we can make headway in ridding ourselves of the baneful politicians that have contaminated our nation. All members of the House of Representatives, one-third of the Senate and the Governors of Maryland and other states are up for re-election, not to mention all members of Maryland’s House of Delegates and Senate.

To succeed, like any revolution, we need to be bold, take no prisoners and set out a course which will lead us from this horror of a government that is being controlled by religious extremists, powerful corporations and freedom-hating, self-described patriots.

President Bush and his record will be the fulcrum of this revolution because it is his policies and presidency that has pulled our nation down into the economic, environmental, international and social swamp that it is in.

He has provoked the revolution. We need to fight it. Bush cannot be up for re-election, but most of his GOP cronies who are complicit in his dastardly performance are.

It’s pointless to rehash the endless list of vile policies, decisions and indecisions that this presidency has wrought upon us with the help of his rubber-stamping power-at-all cost Party. This revolution that I’m proposing, through the electoral process, hopefully will extricate this nation from the incompetents that have caused our pain here and abroad.

The key is making sure every Republican candidate at all levels who stood by Bush in the wake of the catastrophic war in Iraq, the raping of the environment, the ill-advised tax cuts for the wealthy, the cavalier response to Katrina, the coziness with Big Oil (recall that oil company executives were suspiciously not required to testify under oath to a Congressional committee), the CIA leak, etc., etc., etc, pay for those misdeeds.

We should also oppose those candidates who, with Bush as the main draw, have raised money for their own campaigns. That would include such senators as Jon Kyle (R-AZ) and the reprehensible Rick Santorum (R-PA). You can throw in virulently anti-gay Congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave (R-CO). Then there is Senate wannabe Lt. Gov. Michael Steele and Maryland’s own Governor Robert Ehrlich as well.

For Michael Steele, a recent (disappointing) fundraising visit from Bush ought to prove devastating. Steele can try to distance himself from the failed policies of this administration, but by using the appearance of the president to raise money (which he gladly accepted), he is in bed with him, figuratively speaking.

With recent polls showing Bush’s approval rating in Maryland at an all-time low 32 percent, Steele is banking on a short memory of this event and the attendant photos. As part of the strategy for this 2006 revolution, the Democrats must use the photos to link Steele and Bush in their commercials. Governor Ehrlich is also aligned tightly with Bush, and his opponents should remind the voters of that fact.

With a spate of ethical scandals that are expected to make GOP congressmen drop like leaves in 2006 and the possible expanding fallout from the CIA leak, this is indeed the time to cash in. Echoing Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean’s line, all political advertisements must always rail against the "culture of corruption."

Moreover, the candidates running against Republican Bush hacks should, if nothing else, show the footage of Bush’s door malfunction in China with the caption, "No matter where he is, President Bush has no exit strategy." This is also part of the Freedom Revolution of 2006. Time to get nasty—just like Republicans.

The renewed onslaught on same-sex marriage will emerge in 2006. Several states (possibly Maryland) will try to change their constitutions to ban such marriages. We will constantly be bombarded with loose rhetoric about how the sanctity of marriage must be preserved, how we must protect traditional marriage, that the gay agenda is an assault on marriage and God and everything else. Incredibly, on this issue our country is to the right of South Africa, of all places.

Remember, this is a revolution and instead of letting our opponents dictate the terms, we must finally fight back with a vengeance. Not only should we defend our turf on the basis of equality—a principal inherent to the founding of our country—but also we should vehemently argue that heterosexuals—not lgbt people or "activist judges"— undermine marriage.

Are gays responsible for the high divorce rates? Are they to blame for babies born out of wedlock? Do gays encourage straights to have sex outside of marriage? Do they foster domestic abuse among heterosexual married couples? Do gays create poverty so that heterosexuals find marriage an economic burden? These are the questions we and our allies must raise.

They falsely and maliciously argue the quest for same-sex marriage is a threat to the so-called sanctity of the institution. And it doesn’t stop there. These idiots go so far as blaming gays for abortions, not to mention hurricanes and terrorist attacks. Really. Time to fight back, folks!

The Freedom Revolution of 2006 must not depend solely on the self-destruction of the corrupt GOP office holders who will be dealing with indictments in 2006 and those who have close ties to President Bush. The revolution also requires us to articulate a vision and a plan to enact it.
The late John Lennon wrote: "You say you want a revolution/Well you know/We all want to change the world…"

The Freedom Revolution of 2006 is not aimed at changing the world—just America. And with honest, competent people in office to lead the state and nation, we may never need another revolution.