Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Mixed Bag in Annapolis

Marriage amendment was thwarted but so was transgender equality legislation

Senate leadership blamed for the trans-equality defeat

By Steve Charing
Senior Political Analyst

ANNAPOLIS—The Maryland General Assembly, which had been preoccupied throughout most of the session so far with a statewide smoking ban, the death penalty, health care, ground rent, budget concerns and myriad other matters, finally addressed two of the most pressing items that concerned the lgbt community.

House Bill 919 that was authored by notorious homophobe Del. Don Dwyer (R-Anne Arundel) was rejected in the Judiciary Committee by a vote of 12-8, mostly along party lines. Two Democrats—Dels. Kevin Kelly (D-Allegany County) and Gerron Levi (D-Prince George’s County)—joined six Republicans to support the anti-marriage equality measure.

Besides proposing a constitutional amendment that would forever ban same-sex marriages in the state, the bill also included a provision that would prevent public schools from teaching about same-sex relationships.

The defeat of the measure in committee kept it from advancing to the floor of the House of Delegates where it was unlikely to be passed anyway and was opposed by Governor Martin O’Malley.

"It’s gratifying to see the demise of such a mean-spirited bill," said Dan Furmansky, Executive Director of
Equality Maryland, the state’s largest lgbt civil rights organization.

The constitutional amendment effort will probably gain new life should the state Court of Appeals rule favorably in the lawsuit that is challenging Maryland’s 1973 marriage law that defines marriage as solely between a man and a woman. The expectation is that the ruling will be handed down following the current General Assembly session, which would undoubtedly add more turbulence prior to and including the 2008 session.

"The pressure isn’t as heavy right now in the absence of a Court ruling," Furmansky told Baltimore OUTloud. "We must all vigilantly continue to build relationships with our legislators so they will steadfastly show resolve when we most need it."

Most infuriating to lgbt activists, however, was the surprising defeat of Senate Bill 516 in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee by a vote of 6-5. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Lisa Gladden (D-Baltimore), would have prohibited discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression in the areas of employment, housing, credit and public accommodations.
Equality Maryland had assigned passage of this legislation a high priority in its 2007 legislative agenda.

Again, two Democrats—Sen. Norm Stone of Baltimore County and Sen. C. Anthony Muse (pictured) of Prince George's County—aligned with four Republicans on the committee to kill the measure. Sen. Muse, in particular, had indicated his support to Equality Maryland lobbyists and others prior to the vote.

"Senator Muse changed his vote," Furmansky said with exasperation. "We had his vote. Clearly there were mysterious outside forces that made Senator Muse backtrack at the last minute."

Repeated phone calls seeking comments from Sen. Muse regarding his role in defeating the bill and an explanation as to why he changed his mind at the eleventh hour were not returned. His vote, consequently, turned victory into defeat. Sen. Muse’s 26th district includes the Ft. Washington-Camp Springs area.

The bill had no ostensible opposition and seemed like a sure bet to advance to the floor. But it surprisingly got bogged down in committee, which is chaired by Sen. Brian Frosh (D-Montgomery County), and was eventually doomed by the vote taken on March 23.

"Individuals told us the Senate leadership feared a filibuster on the floor," said Furmansky. "We believed [the filibuster fear] was unfounded as we spoke to several Republican Senators who saw no such problem. Plus the Democratic super-majority would have easily squelched such a tactic."

Dr. Dana Beyer, a transgendered woman from Chevy Chase who unsuccessfully ran for House of Delegates this past election, was personally disappointed in the actions of the Senate Judicial Proceedings committee that killed this bill. "We had the votes in this committee, as well as the House committee and both houses, until leadership decided to quash it," she told OUTloud.

"Leadership means standing up for and protecting the rights of those less fortunate," said Dr. Beyer. "Many in the General Assembly understand this and recognize that transgender anti-discrimination is simply a medical issue. I sincerely thank them for their time and support. We obviously have more education to do over the coming year. And I guarantee we will do it," she vowed.

Added Dan Furmansky, "We will continue our important work across Maryland to educate people on the lives of transgender individuals and the difficulties we face with discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression. And we will return in 2008 stronger than ever to pass this long overdue measure."

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

A double standard on public duplicity

Letter Published in the Baltimore Sun--March 20, 2007

Words and sentences in red were cut out by the editors:

Thomas Sowell's lament over the prosecution and conviction of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby was a classic case of the double standard exhibited by himself and his fellow conservatives ("Meat-grinder politics in 'Scooter' Libby case." March 15).

He maintains that the outing of a CIA operative, Valerie Plame, was not a crime and, therefore, memory failures on the part of Mr. Libby did not merit an investigation, much less prosecution for perjury. In committing to an investigation, special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald consumed three years, and as a result, "a man's life is ruined," according to Mr. Sowell.

Yet, I don't recall Mr. Sowell protesting the lengthy, costly and fruitless investigations into the Clintons' Whitewater land deal. While conservatives gleefully cheered on special prosecutor Kenneth Starr as he pursued of evidence of wrongdoing allegedly taking place several years prior to Mr. Clinton's being elected president, he managed to stumble on Mr. Clinton's extramarital affairs.

It was President Clinton's lying under oath during a civil lawsuit brought on by one of his alleged mistresses that worked up the conservatives and had them storming the windmill with torches in a continuing effort to damage Mr. Clinton and his presidency. The ultimate result was a needless impeachment process and a severe bruising of our nation.

Ironically, Mr. Libby's deficiency in disclosing the truth (which led to his conviction on four counts) not only fails to similarly anger the disingenuous Mr. Sowell but garners his sympathy. Maybe "meat-grinder politics" are indeed at play.

Steve Charing

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Check the Facts

Letter Sent but Not Published in Howard County Times

This newspaper has the responsibility and an obligation to the community to vet false claims by letter writers. Where statistical allegations are made by a writer, there ought to be a tenable source. The letter written by Thomas M. Crawford (letters, March 8) illustrates how inaccurate information cloaked as fact is an abuse of the Times' letter forum.

In expressing his views opposing same-sex marriage, Mr. Crawford (N. Laurel, MD) throws out absurd generalizations to the readers. One example was, "Recorded human history has consistently shown homosexual behavior to be detrimental both to individuals and to society at large." Before the readers buy into that nonsense, the writer should be forced to produce irrefutable data to back up such an outlandish claim.

Mr. Crawford's statement that people choose to be gay flies in the face of the growing body of medical, biological and psychological evidence that supports the contention that being gay is not something a person chooses to be-that it is innate. He should ask himself: did he choose to be straight; that he was confronted with a choice. He will find the answer there.

But the most egregious "fact" offered by Mr. Crawford was that "Literally thousands of former homosexuals and lesbians. have turned their back on their practices, and become re-oriented sexually." Really? May we please see where those numbers come from?

It is interesting that Mr. Crawford believes that marriage is a privilege and not a right "subject to societal rules and approvals." Our society allows murderers, rapists, child molesters, terrorists, drug dealers and armed robbers, among other felons to marry. Is it a privilege for them but not for law-abiding, contributing gay and lesbian members of our society? Is that the society Mr. Crawford finds solace in?

If heterosexuality is indeed the determining qualification, then Mr. Crawford clearly is homophobic and not truly concerned about protecting marriage. If he were, he would be advocating a ban on divorce.

The real fact here is that Mr. Crawford maintains reactionary views towards marriage. The institution has evolved over the centuries and has in fact been redefined. A wife was once the husband's property. It was only a few decades ago that African-Americans could not marry whites in this country. Did he oppose these changes, too? Opening up marriage to loving, committed couples does not destroy the institution; it strengthens it.

Instead, Mr. Crawford clings to world that has long since moved forward, as evidenced by his referring to Asians as Orientals.

Steve Charing

Monday, March 12, 2007

This "F-Word" Thing Could Help Us

By Steve Charing

The vile Ann Coulter, a flame-throwing, hate-filled ultra-conservative author, columnist and commentator has joined the growing parade of highly publicized verbal anti-gay bashers. And I welcome her.

The recent spate of "Mel Gibson" moments began with reports that actor Isaiah Washington called fellow Greys’ Anatomy co-star T. R. Knight a "faggot" during an altercation on the set. Then when former National Basketball Association player John Amaechi came out as gay, another retired NBA player, Tim Hardaway, said, among other derogatories, "I hate gays."

Now Ann Coulter. What a surprise!

At a Conservative Political Action Conference earlier this month, Coulter referred to presidential candidate John Edwards as a "faggot." Yes, the other "F-word!

"I was going to have a few comments on the other Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, but it turns out you have to go into rehab if you use the word ‘faggot,’ so I—so kind of an impasse, can't really talk about Edwards," she snorted.

Now you have to understand that this isn’t something said in the heat of the battle, such as Isaiah Washington’s epithet. Nor was it a dumb remark by Tim Hardaway who should have been wise to keep his homophobia to himself. Ann Coulter is a shock writer. She makes her living off of this very type of vitriol. She, as they say, serves up red meat to the right wing bigots and homophobes that comprise much of the conservative base of the Republican Party.

To give you an idea, Slate, an online magazine, offered examples of some Coulterisms:

"The ‘backbone of the Democratic Party’ is a ‘typical fat, implacable welfare recipient"—syndicated column, Oct. 29, 1999.’"

"To a disabled Vietnam vet: ‘People like you caused us to lose that war.’"—MSNBC, Oct. 11, 1997

"I think there should be a literacy test and a poll tax for people to vote."—Hannity & Colmes, Aug. 17, 1999

Get the picture?

Her calling Edwards, who is an obviously straight man, a "faggot" is not surprising, and we shouldn’t be dismayed by this witch (no offense to witches). But the significance of this comment and the others cited earlier is more about the action and reaction that followed.

When Isaiah Washington called T. R. Knight a "faggot," there was a major uproar led by GLAAD and other lgbt organizations. A petition drive was underway, the show’s producer rebuked his slur, and Washington’s job on the show was in peril. Following Hardaway’s comments in an interview, he was banished by the NBA from its all-star weekend festivities in February and lost an endorsement. The NBA Commissioner swiftly denounced his remarks. The Continental Basketball Association also disassociated itself from Hardaway.

Being anti-gay or saying anti-gay stuff could cost you. And that is precisely the way it ought to be.

Coulter’s offense prompted a similar backlash. Another petition drive was launched that was directed to Universal Press Syndicate, which fans out her idiocy to newspapers. At least four newspapers have since dropped Coulter's syndicated column, and a letter-writing campaign has been directed at major TV networks demanding they don’t include her commentaries. In addition, three corporations, including Verizon, stopped advertising on Coulter's web site after she made the comment.

John Edwards, who is not quite "there" yet on marriage equality for gays and lesbians, successfully exploited her slur and exceeded a goal of raising some $100,000 in "Coulter Cash" from it. Of course, other Democrats, led by Howard Dean and Senator Edward Kennedy, predictably called it hateful, and that it should not be part of the political discourse.

The leading Republican presidential hopefuls— Rudy Giuliani, Sen. John McCain and Mitt Romney—provided tepid protests, mainly characterizing her slur as "inappropriate." Other notable Republicans who attended the event, such as the equally nefarious Vice President Cheney, said nothing in response. Way to defend your daughter. Dick!

Later, she followed with a lame, flippant explanation that fortunately no one believed.

As soon as Coulter spewed her homophobic venom, there was a brief collective gasp in the audience. That was followed immediately by applause from the homophobes attending. Anyone who saw the clip on the news or on You Tube would have clearly noticed that reaction.

The first thing I thought listening to the anti-gay crowd applauding with approval Coulter’s remark is that this is going to kill the Republicans. And I think I’m right on this one.

Republican politicos scrambled to distance themselves from her—who many rightly see as an embarrassment—but she will forever be linked to Republican dogma. This will have an effect in 2008 where the independents and centrists in the country will be decisive in the national election. These folks do not care much for the homophobia that Republicans manage to use as a wedge to divide the country. They witnessed how the Rove-led campaign for George Bush in 2004 and the congressional elections of 2006 used the fear of gay marriage to win votes, and they didn’t like it.

They will recall who (conservatives, read: Republicans) applauded Coulter at the conference, which will be remembered more for Coulter’s calling Edwards a faggot than anything else that went on there. This will reinforce the GOP’s image as homophobic, no matter how often they characterize her remarks as "inappropriate."

Equally significant is the nearly universal condemnation of her epithet. The newspapers that dropped her column were refreshing. Coulter makes her living with her evil style, but sooner or later she will have truly gone too far.

Maybe America is waking up. The hope is that using the new "F-word" will be just as deleterious as using the "N-word," and hate will be costly to the haters.

Friday, March 02, 2007

A Long Way From Equality

Many gays see themselves as second-class citizens, but we haven’t progressed that far.

By STEVE CHARING Friday, March 02, 2007

WE’VE HEARD THE argument frequently made during the struggle for non-discrimination and civil marriage equality: “We don’t want to be treated as second-class citizens.” But are we really considered second-class citizens?

I always thought that second-class status is a category that encompassed society’s outcasts, like criminals. You know, murderers, rapists, drug dealers, armed robbers, child molesters, thieves, terrorists, illegal immigrants and so on. As disdained as that group is by America’s “first class” citizenry, those pariahs may take for granted rights that gays and lesbians haven’t yet achieved.

You see, such people have the right to marry whom they choose. As an example, the loathsome Menendez brothers, who riddled their parents in cold blood with a barrage of bullets, were legally permitted to marry their sweethearts while incarcerated. One such “ceremony” took place over the telephone, no less, which hardly conforms to traditional marriage that equality opponents love to tout.

So if these vile people — second-class citizens, if you will — can get hitched and we cannot legally marry our partners, where does that leave us?

And it doesn’t stop at marriage equality and its attendant benefits. Our standing in the military relegates us to third-class status, as well. Under the nefarious and ineffective “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, gays and lesbians may serve our country but to do so, they must conceal the essence of their sexual identity. And should they be uncovered, the military is compelled to discharge them.

The exit doors of the barracks continue to swing wide open for gays and lesbians during a time of war depriving the armed forces of critical skills and personnel thereby compromising national security. At the same time, the entrance portals are allowing some of those very folks who are members of the second-class coterie, not to mention non-U.S. citizens, to report for duty.

Leading publications like the New York Times have noted that dire recruitment needs by the military are resulting in the lowering of moral and intellectual eligibility standards to beef up the ranks.

THIS, OF COURSE, is ludicrous. The Defense Department is playing games with our national security by compromising the quality of our troops to reach desired numeric goals. The Pentagon chiefs are dead-set on keeping openly gay and lesbian volunteers from serving under the guise of maintaining unit cohesion. Yet they basically gloss over straight sexual assaults originating in the barracks as well as recruitment stations, of all places.

THE MAIN ARGUMENT against allowing openly gay and lesbian people to serve in the military is that it would negatively impact troop morale. No legitimate survey of the troops, to my knowledge, has ever been conducted to confirm that theory. But if the troops would have a problem with a gay soldier in the ranks, imagine how good the morale will be with an influx of drug addicts, arsonists and thieves. Clearly gays and lesbians are on the bottom rung.

Our assignment to third-class status is evident beyond the institutions of marriage and military. Felons, drug abusers and adulterers may participate with aplomb in the world of sports and make piles of money from it. But an out gay or lesbian athlete in a major sports league? Forget about it.

So bad is the environment for a gay man in sports that on those rare occasions that one comes out of the closet, the disclosure takes place well after his retirement. They talk of the homophobia that exists within the locker rooms and team offices and how they would be shunned by their teammates, fans and potential corporate sponsors.

And while an ex-con can blithely walk down the street holding the hand of his or her loved one, a member of a gay or lesbian couple doing the same must be mindful of a baseball bat being struck on the back of the head.

Despite the fact that most gay folks work hard, pay taxes, abide by the law, make positive contributions to the community, even help revitalize declining neighborhoods, we are still viewed as third-class citizens. We must continue to fight to by pass the second rung and get to the top where we belong.