Thursday, June 29, 2006

Mrs. Ehrlich Turns Troops Into Props

Letter published in the Baltimore Sun--7/2/2006

Most Republican elected officials are dutifully following Karl Rove's playbook by incessantly using patriotism as a means to stoke the conservative base and to bludgeon any Democratic politician who dares to disagree with GOP policies, especially on the tragic war in Iraq. The GOP also trumpets the "support the troops" mantra ad nauseum as a way of sidestepping criticism of their failed policies and to avoid substantive debate.

Whether this tactic will be successful in November is anyone's guess at this point. But Kendel Ehrlich, the wife of the Governor, sees political gain in this strategy even if the war is not the particular subject of discussion ("Critical first lady takes off the gloves," June 28).

Mrs. Ehrlich added a new page to this insidious playbook by invoking the "troops" card when discussing the Democratic effort to allow for early voting. According to the article, Mrs. Ehrlich feels "the Democratic efforts to 'mess with our franchise' makes a mockery of U.S. soldiers who are dying overseas to promote democracy."

The true mockery is using our troops, who were sent to fight and die in a war that has been proven to have no legitimate basis, as political pawns. Mrs. Ehrlich should apologize for her crass remarks in allowing our soldiers and Marines to be props in her political theater.

Steve Charing

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Does the Gay Vote Matter?

Not many candidates trolled for votes at Pride, but maybe there’s a reason
By Steve Charing
Senior Political Analyst

This is a huge election year, both nationally and in Maryland. The direction of the country and the state is at stake as never before. Many tight elections are forecasted, so every vote counts. Every vote matters.

Or does it?

With huge throngs on hand at both the Pride parade-block party event and the festival at the park, a golden opportunity was afforded to local candidates to seek votes from the lgbt community and its allies. The crowds were surely large enough to troll for votes. A phone call to GLCCB executive director Craig Wiley to obtain crowd totals was not returned as of press time. The GLCCB is the producer of the Pride events.

On Saturday, I only saw U.S. Senate candidate Allan Lichtman meandering through the crowd, although Baltimore City Councilman Kieffer Mitchell was at the parade route along with Douglas Gansler, candidate for Maryland Attorney General. But the intense crowds of Saturday’s block party plus the fact most of the people are strictly there to socialize and party wasn’t conducive to normal campaigning and would be likely to be resistant to such activity.

The sultry Sunday at the park presented a better opportunity for candidates. A more laid back crowd is easier to deal with than a partying one. Hundreds of votes or contributions are to be had— just demonstrate your support for lgbt equality and not be Bush and you have a shot. But it was surprising that so few candidates for elected office took advantage of this major event.
Congressional Democratic candidates Paula C. Hollinger and Andy Barth actively worked the masses in pursuit of votes, if not name recognition. They are in a crowded field seeking the 3rd Congressional district seat currently held by Rep. Ben Cardin, who himself, is running for U.S. Senator along with Kweise Mfume, Michael Steele and the aforementioned Lichtman.

Neither Mfume nor Cardin made an appearance although volunteers from both camps handed out stickers to the festival-goers. And Steele wouldn’t dare set foot on rainbow ground; his anti-gay positions would render any campaigning at the festival as seemingly a waste of time. Mfume has been a supporter of lgbt equality and strongly opposes any attempt to enshrine discrimination in either the state or Federal constitutions, as does Lichtman. Cardin has been less forthcoming but opposed the Federal Marriage Protection Act.

The gubernatorial race is hot and is likely to get hotter. But only Martin O’Malley bothered to come to the festival and made brief remarks, which were amply ignored or not heard by the largely politically apathetic crowd. Neither Doug Duncan nor Governor Ehrlich was there, although no one would have expected the latter’s appearance. This despite the startling firing by Ehrlich of an appointee, Robert Smith, from the Metro Transit Board for characterizing homosexuality as deviant behavior.

According to a statement released by Governor Ehlrich, "Robert Smith's comments were highly inappropriate, insensitive and unacceptable. They are in direct conflict to my administration's commitment to inclusion, tolerance and opportunity." The Governor’s memory is short or has an unusual definition of "inclusion;" he fully supports an amendment to the state’s constitution that would ban same-sex couples from marrying. And "tolerance" is not where we want to be. We are seeking full equality.

Ehrlich’s firing of Smith may have appealed to some in the lgbt community and to moderates, while pissing off such conservative bigoted organizations as the American Family Association, which condemned the governor.

To my knowledge, besides O’Malley and perhaps Hollinger, no major candidate bothered to press flesh with the gay voters attending the Pride events. It may not have been a snub though. It was Father’s Day, and other events could have been scheduled as well. Candidates and their staffs must prioritize and allocate their available time.

Given the degree of political apathy that characterizes our community, I believe the other candidates made a calculation that attending the event and working the crowd would not be productive. O’Malley needed to be there to at least try to mend fences with the community for his "marriage is between only a man and a woman" comment. The others probably saw little value to show up in person.

It wasn't that long ago when fiery, passionate political speeches and activism dominated the Pride speakers'stage at various cities. Alas, it’s all about entertainment now, which caters to this community. Perhaps politicians are beginning to take notice of that.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Pride of Baltimore: This is Our Time

By Steve Charing
Senior Political Analyst

Another year has gone by where our community has been under attack by the religious right and by those politicians who are owned by these bigots. Another year of enduring the diatribes denouncing lgbt folks as second-class citizens worthy of discrimination has passed. President Bush and his GOP cohorts in Congress are again pushing a divisive Constitutional amendment to discriminate against gay and lesbian couples.

Massachusetts remains the only state in the U.S. where same-sex marriage is legal. Openly gay and lesbian members of the armed forces still cannot serve their country although convicted criminals can. And members of the same sex cannot hold hands in public lest they get harassed, beat up or more. We continue to be verbally and physically bludgeoned for being who we are.

Many of us are angered; many simply do not care. But our spirits will not be shaken. For it is June—Pride month—and now it’s our time to stand up and be heard as one: gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, black, white, Latino, Asian, old, young, single, coupled, rich, poor, activist, apathetic, you name it. This is our time, and we will celebrate.

And we will do so right here in Baltimore.

A large majority of the people who will be watching and participating in the parade up Charles Street, jamming Eager Street and Charles for the traditional block party (June 17), and/or attending the festival at Druid Park (June 18) were born after 1969 when the Stonewall riots took place.

That historic movement-altering weekend in late June to which most gays all over the world credit as the start of the modern gay rights movement began as another intrusive police raid of the Stonewall Inn—a gay bar in New York’s Greenwich Village. The forceful resistance by the bar’s patrons, consisting largely of drag queens, sparked a small riot outside the establishment over the weekend and sent the message that "enough was enough."

The uprising received little notice initially, but then word of the incident spread rapidly in New York and other gay conclaves throughout the U.S. Starting in 1970 and continuing today, the celebration of this uprising had sprung up in hundreds of cities and towns globally. Even an attempt to march, albeit thwarted by police and right wing opposition, was launched in Moscow recently.

But these younger people today who were not around for this epic event or are shamefully unaware of it, probably have not experienced the trauma of a police raid and its arrests or at least the fear of such an incident.

Nonetheless, despite not knowing the basis of Pride celebrations or the rationale, these folks will still show up at the block party and parade and bring their dogs, partners, friends, or just themselves to the festival in the park. Rainbows, balloons and confetti will abound, as will food, beverages, books, jewelry, literature from myriad lgbt and supportive organizations, music and camaraderie. They will party and run into old friends and make new ones, perhaps oblivious to the symbolic significance of the occasion.

And that is just fine, because this is our time.

Regardless of our ages, gender, race, interests, agendas, or even fetishes, this community can rightly celebrate pride in ourselves. We are who we are, and we shall continue to live our lives the way they were meant to be and not pretend to be somebody else. We should be proud of our own individual accomplishments and what our community has achieved over the years. We will be ourselves this glorious weekend, undeterred by what others may think.

Let’s come out and show our pride. Let’s understand the meaning of the events. And let’s enjoy ourselves. Happy Pride, Baltimore! This is our time.