Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The Two 'Gay Marylands'



By Steve Charing

Former Human Rights Campaign Executive Director Elizabeth Birch, in addressing the 700 or so who attended the recent Equality Maryland Jazz Brunch fundraiser, unearthed a curious paradox. While offering a testimonial to the venerable gay rights advocate Victor Basile, who received the Pioneer for Equality award, Birch shared an anecdote disclosing how she used to make wealthy gay men feel guilty when pressing them for donations. She reminded them of their Armani suits, third houses and other luxuries.

To the many professionals, elected officials, business owners and otherwise well-healed members of the lgbt community and allies who were present at this upscale event, her story garnered chuckles. They knew all too well what Birch was saying and that it made sense.

To others in the community who cannot afford such affairs, much less own Armani suits, had they been present, they would be like, "Huh?"

That’s because there are actually two Gay Marylands—to paraphrase Democratic candidate John Edwards’ "Two Americas." There is one gay Maryland where mostly coupled men and women share a passion for equality and take action to try to make it happen. They are the targets of gay-related fundraisers because these folks believe in the movement and have the financial means to participate. As a result, they attend these functions and often write substantial checks to do so.

Not to generalize, but a significant number of gays and lesbians in this group are older and are settled with partners, many raising children. As such, they are seeking to gain rights to protect their assets and secure their future. They reside in suburban locales or in tony areas of the cities, as well as the "gay ghettos." They shrug off clubs and bars and seek alternative social outlets, usually with a small circle of tight-knit friends. They get involved in the political process and host and attend house parties to raise and contribute money for candidates and causes.

The other Gay Maryland—the overwhelmingly vast majority—consists of those thousands of folks who cram the streets during the Baltimore Pride block party or the parade in DC. They are typically younger, and a good number of them frequent clubs and bars. Most are single and looking, but there are couples as well. They are predominantly urbanites with some living in suburban and rural areas.

This category of gays and lesbians are more apt to be politically apathetic. Much of this could be traced to their domestic situation. Single people are not directly affected by the same-sex marriage debate and are likely to tune out. For various reasons, they do not and cannot contemplate same-sex marriage as a possibility for themselves.

There is also a good deal of bitterness among these folks. They are disgusted with government and their leaders, so it is not a stretch to conclude that this cynicism contributes to their indifference. Others are disinterested based on the norms of the younger generation who see political matters as an annoyance and an intrusion upon their lives.

I personally know a large number of people in this group, and they could care less about politics and trying to advance the cause. Many are clueless as to what is going on. Furthermore, they don’t want to be bothered by it. They seem to attend Pride events for the party aspects, not to celebrate gay history and the sacrifices previous generations made to help in the struggle for equality.

Among those in this segment of Gay Maryland, one can find a good bit of racial and financial diversity. There is a higher proportion of African-Americans and lesbians in this group than in the other Gay Maryland. Some are financially secure or at least comfortable; others are just trying to get by. Few, though, own a Lexus or a vacation home or fill their closets with designer clothes.

These two Gay Marylands aren’t divided cleanly, however. There are young folks, singles, African-Americans, lesbians and people of modest means in the first group. And I know of white, older, professional, financially well-off and coupled folks who fit the second group, so there are exceptions.

As a result of observations in my nearly three decades of covering the lgbt community, the tendency is that the first Gay Maryland is politically aware and active; the other is indifferent and inactive.

Jon Kaplan, who chaired the Jazz Brunch, pointed out at the Brunch that hundreds normally attend Lobby Day, the Equality Maryland organized-event in Annapolis in February that consists of a rally at Lawyers Mall and meetings with legislators. "Can you imagine what impact we would have if thousands attended," he asked rhetorically.

The "thousands" would have to come from the second gay Maryland, but how?

Dan Furmansky, the executive director of Equality Maryland recognizes this challenge and would be extremely happy if this segment of Gay Maryland increases its participation.

"Equality Maryland is holding town halls across the state and also holding low-dollar amount fundraisers like the recent social-centric Equality Beats," Furmansky told me. "We plan to reach out to this section of the lgbt community by having a greater presence at the bars and partnering with bar owners to find creative ways to get their patrons involved in the movement with the understanding that not everyone will be motivated to put down their drink and head to Annapolis."

That’s a daunting task given the degree of apathy that exists. But even these folks would benefit mightily if the two Gay Marylands would merge into one so that we can travel the road to equality together.
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For Marylanders, there is a terrific, moderated newsgroup that focuses on political issues that concern the LGBT community in Maryland. The pertinent links to this group to subscribe and post messages, etc. are shown below:

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