Monday, October 22, 2007

Raising LGBT Visibility in Northeast Baltimore








By Steve Charing




Cindy Grim lives with her partner Barbara Stratton and their two young boys Charlie, age 7 and Ridgeway, 10 months, in the Gardenville neighborhood of Northeast Baltimore. The two moms had explained to Charlie that there are all types of families including single-parent families, families with two moms and families with two dads.

Seven year-old Charlie understood. But not everyone else has that understanding. Accordingly, it became the mission of Cindy and Barbara, as well as other lgbt couples in the area, to help educate the public and elected officials that can only visualize families in the mode of "Ozzie and Harriet."

"Our family is no less of a family as anyone’s," Cindy said, clutching on to Ridgeway, to an applauding gathering of lgbt neighbors and activists from legislative District 45 at a town hall on October 13.

What led to this eventual town hall meeting was that one of the delegates in District 45, Talmadge Branch, had an Ahmadinegad moment a couple of years ago and reportedly denied the existence of gays and lesbians in the district.

This nonsense motivated Susan Francis, who is now the Development Director at Equality Maryland, and a few other people to organize and spread the word that in fact, lgbt people do live in the district, have families and are viable members of the community. There are two gay bars in the district—Thirsty’s II and the Blue Parrot.

Del. Branch’s alleged comment plus the desire to maintain a dialogue with district legislators throughout the year on issues that concern the lgbt community resulted in the formation of Equality 45 by a handful of Baltimore City Lobby Day participants.

To raise the visibility of lgbt folks in the district, Equality 45 maintained a booth at this past Pride festival in Druid Hill Park that featured a map of District 45. The group’s members were encouraging pride-goers who lived in the district to paste a colored star on the map where their home is located. At the end of the day, it was clear that there was a sizable lgbt population within the district, and the members of the fledgling group were determined to see that these numbers from the star-studded map translated into political influence in Annapolis.

Equality 45 took the next step and organized the town hall event on October 13 that would serve as a platform to thank those legislators who had supported the lgbt community in the past. They would also feature actual lgbt couples—some with children—who would explain why they need the same protections that routinely accrue to heterosexual couples.

About 60 people from Lauraville to Rosemont and from Beverly Hills to Overlea attended the October 13 event at Jerusalem Lutheran Church at the corner of Moravia and Belair Roads. It featured comments from several lesbian and gay District 45 activists, Equality Maryland’s executive director Dan Furmansky and two legislators from District 45—Delegate Cheryl Glenn and Senator Nathaniel J. McFadden.

One invited lawmaker, Delegate Hattie Harrison could not make it but dispatched a representative Ava Scott to attend Equality 45’s town hall. Delegate Talmadge Branch, who now apparently realizes there are gays and lesbians in the district, could not attend as well. All but Del. Glenn, who was just elected in 2006, have supportive lgbt legislative records according to Equality Maryland’s website.

Dan Furmansky kicked off the program by outlining Equality Maryland’s legislative agenda for 2008 and emphasized the goal of achieving same-sex marriage via the General Assembly. Furmansky applauded the formation of Equality 45 and indicated to OUTloud that his organization would "absolutely" help other districts organize similar town hall events

In addition to Cindy Grim, other speakers, such as Pam Watkins and Louise Harmony, discussed how they are just like everybody else and want similar rights. All the speakers from Equality 45 told their personal stories and explained why marriage equality is important to them.

Then it was the legislators’ turn. Delegate Cheryl Glenn disappointed the audience by candidly stating that she opposed same-sex marriage based on her religious beliefs. She is supportive in other areas of concern for lgbt people and backs the community’s right to fight for same-sex marriage. But her faith keeps her from envisioning a married couple that does not consist of one man and one woman. Del. Glenn maintains that she represents everybody in the district and acknowledges the issue is important to gays and lesbians. She is willing, unlike homophobic elected officials, to maintain an ongoing dialogue.

On the other hand, Senator Nathaniel J. McFadden pleasantly surprised the audience when he stated that the issue of same-sex marriage should not be tied directly to the religious aspects of marriage. Raised as a Southern Baptist, Sen. McFadden said his position "evolved" and had heard the same arguments before in places where blacks could not marry whites.
"Discrimination in any form is unacceptable," he declared to the cheering audience.

Susan Francis was the principal organizer of the town hall, but other key people like Brian Armstrong and Tim McCoy—both co-chairs of Equality 45—as well as several other core members had significant roles in this event.

According to members of the Equality 45 steering committee, this town hall will lay the foundation to future individual meetings with the legislators on lgbt-related matters. "The District 45 Town Hall was a successful beginning in establishing a dialogue between the lgbt community in northeast Baltimore and our elected state representatives," said Tim McCoy.

The next meeting of Equality 45 is scheduled for November 10. "It will focus on next steps...how to engage the elected officials further and to work with them to understand better the issues that are affecting our community, including civil marriage," said McCoy.

For more information about Equality 45 you may contact Tim McCoy at tmccoydc@yahoo.com or Brian Armstrong at BRA1978@comcast.net.

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