Monday, December 29, 2008

The OUTIES: Best (or Worst) of 2008

Happy New Year, readers!

In keeping with the year-end tradition of columnists’ picking the best, worse and whatever, I am introducing OUTspoken’s list of the Best (or Worst) of 2008, or the OUTIES. It’ s an unapologetic, biased, subjective, slanted list of the best (or worst in some cases) of politics, culture, the city, the state and the scene. Some selections call for a brief explanation; others clearly do not.

In no particular order, welcome to the 2008 OUTIES:

Best Date of the Year—November 4, 2008.

Best Campaign Slogan—"Yes We Can"

Most Inaccurate Campaign Slogan—"Putting Country First"

Best Political Decision—Barack Obama’s eschewing public financing to raise private contributions instead

Worst Political Decision— You betcha! John McCain’s picking Sarah Palin as his running mate. (See Most Inaccurate Campaign Slogan above)

Most Disappointing Outreach Effort—Obama’s selecting Pastor Rick Warren to deliver the inauguration’s invocation

Gutsiest Political Decision—Obama’s choosing Hillary Clinton to be Secretary of State

Most Nauseating Character in the Campaign—"Joe the Plumber"

Most Nauseating Word in the Campaign—"Maverick"

Most Influential Entertainer During the Campaign—Tina Fey

Most Ironic Disclosure—Turns out that daughter of social conservative Sarah Palin isn’t so big on abstinence only

Best Court Decision—California’s Supreme Court ruling that same-sex marriage should be legal

Worst Election Result—California passing Proposition 8, which negated the court decision above

Best Hollywood Straight LGBT Ally—Brad Pitt, for his substantial contributions to defeat Prop 8.

Best Hollywood LGBT Person—(Tie) Neil Patrick Harris and Ellen Degeneres

Worst Hollywood LGBT Person—Elton John, for his problem with the word "marriage" during the Prop 8 debate

Most Supportive Straight TV Commentator—Keith Olbermann

Best Lesbian TV Commentator—Rachel Maddow

Best Local Elected Official on Marriage Equality—Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler, for his public support at a legislative committee hearing

Most Disappointing Local Elected Official on Marriage Equality—Gov. Martin O’Malley

Most LGBT-Supportive Baltimore City Elected Official—Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake

Most Vile Democrat in Maryland—Sen. President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller for standing in the way of transgender protections and marriage equality

Most Vile Republican in Maryland—Too many to mention

Best LGBT OrganizationPFLAG-Columbia/Howard County, for not only offering year-round support to the parents of LGBT children, welcoming all LGBT folks and allies to the organization and providing a safe space for LGBT youth and their friends, but also producing on a shoe-string budget the splendid multi-media "Someone You Love is Gay" ad campaign that has been praised by PR pros. In addition, the chapter formed the largest contingent at Equality Maryland’s Lobby Day and its advocacy work has been a prototype for other PFLAG chapters.

Best Political Event—Join the Impact on November 15, which through the use of the Internet and a zero budget, on just 5 days notice managed to muster about a thousand (half of them straight) to a protest Prop 8 rally outside City Hall.

Best Non-political Event—Baltimore Pride, for its colorful, well-run parade, block party and festival

Best Gay BarPW’s Sports Bar in N. Laurel, for its friendly staff and crowd and its wide range of events and community involvement

Best Karaoke Gay Bar—Hippo with Steve Smith as the emcee and The Drinkery as runner-up

Best Happy Hour—The Quest

Best LGBT Bartender—David from the Hippo’s Karaoke room

Best Hair Studio and Day Spa—Neal’s on Park and Read

Best Piano Bar—Jay’s on Read

Best Change in Bars and Restaurants—Ban on smoking. Our lungs get to survive another year.

Best Baltimore Drag Act—Dimitria

Comeback of the Year—Britney Spears

Best Departing Hero—Dan Furmansky of Equality Maryland

Saddest Departing Hero—H.E.R.O.

Best Newcomers—Joe King and Makemie Taylor, for organizing the Join the Impact rally. It was a model for grassroots organizing.

Gay Bar Owner of the Year—John Cook, owner of PW’s who generously allows worthy LGBT organizations as well as community groups to hold fundraisers at PW’s

Best Conscience for People of Color—Rev. Meredith Moise. She speaks her mind and does it so well.

Best Jack-of-all Trades—Skip Koritzer

Best ‘T’ in LGBT—Drew Saine who does a fabulous job with the OUTloud website and Mara Drummond, a beautiful person through and through and who is active on LGBT issues. I love them both.

Best Baltimore LGBT Friendly TheaterSpotlighters

Best LGBT Movie—"Milk." Will the homophobes in Hollywood keep it from winning Oscars?

Best in Mining for Gold—Michael Phelps (not too shabby in a Speedo either)

Best Baltimore Sports Team—The Ravens who also wear our fave color purple, and Todd Heap is still a great Tight End

Best Orioles Off-Season Move—Finally getting "Baltimore" written across the road jerseys for 2009.

Worst Team in 2008 (and All-Time)—Bush-Cheney

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Obama's New Pastor Problem

Just when we thought the Rev. Jeremiah Wright was behind us, President-elect Barack Obama has a new pastor problem. In selecting Rev. Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at the Inaugural on Jan. 20, Obama stuck a finger into the eye of every LGBT person in America.

You would think by now that he would be a tad more sensitive to this group of Americans who worked their asses off for him, helped raise and donated millions of dollars to his campaign and where 70 percent voted for him despite his opposition to same-sex marriage.

We overwhelmingly trusted this man to deliver the change we need and have long sought. But there were earlier warnings that, after some protests from gay activists, were generally forgotten as the dramatic campaign moved forward. Obama's controversial choice of gospel singer Donnie McLurkin--an anti-gay, ex-gay--to join him during the South Carolina primary campaign was not a good sign. But Obama at least acknowledged the mistake.

Now he chooses Rick Warren of the Saddleback mega-Church to have a prominat role in a high profile historic event. The gay community is not the only sector of the progressive wing who is upset. Besides his anti-gay marriage stance, Rev. Warren is anti-choice and anti-stem cell research.

Rick Warren, although he has been a friend of Obama, should not have been chosen. The decision is angering gays and lesbians all over the country. Warren was very vocal in support of Prop. 8. [See video clip below.] We understand Obama's desire to govern the entire nation, but really, did the GOP ever bring in lefty preachers to officiate major events?

Joe Solmonese of the Human Rights Campaign has written a letter to Obama asking him to reconsider. Here's an excerpt:

"...We feel a deep level of disrespect when one of architects and promoters of an anti-gay agenda is given the prominence and the pulpit of your historic nomination. Only when Rev. Warren and others support basic legislative protections for LGBT Americans can we believe their claim that they are not four-square against our rights and dignity. In that light, we urge you to reconsider this announcement."

That about sums it up. Another pastor problem for Obama. Another headache for him and for all of us. I do feel he owes us now.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Targeting the Persuadable Middle

By Steve Charing

The bitter reaction to the Proposition 8 fiasco last month has sparked a debate among gay activists as to the correct course of action we should pursue in our quest for equality. Some favor confrontation with opponents; others seek a more measured approach.

But which would be the most effective? The general lgbt strategy ought to be constructed with an eye towards gathering as much support as possible as opposed to simply fighting our enemies.

As I see it, our country is divided into three groups when it comes to LGBT rights. You have on one side of the spectrum most, but not all, of us. This segment also covers straight allies and supporters and otherwise progressive-minded citizens. They are in our camp. All we need to do is "activate" them more, especially those all-too-many gays and lesbians who are politically apathetic.

On the other end, there are religious people who see homosexuality as a sin. Added to this group are those who have no overwhelming interest in religion but despise, fear or are ignorant of gay people anyway. They are the homophobes; it is unlikely that we can change their minds. Some may come around especially if they discover a lgbt member of their family. But otherwise, their bigotry is entrenched and intractable.

Nonetheless, many gay activists have concluded that fighting for our rights—whether it represents same-sex marriage, non-discrimination in employment or the ability to serve openly in the Armed Forces—should be waged in the churches, synagogues and mosques throughout the country. Churches, and in particular the Mormon Church, have recently been the targets of protests, demonstrations and commentary on the blogosphere following the passage of Prop 8.

To be sure, the religious arguments against homosexuality are open to interpretation and are, at the very least, outdated. As such, the cited chapters and verses in the Bible have been cherry-picked to promote discrimination for eons. Other condemnations in Scripture are ignored while the infamous one in Leviticus pertaining to homosexuality is offered up ad nauseum.

Going to war with religious institutions and their flocks, however, is a losing proposition. This is decidedly true if one is arguing directly with the zealots who push Scripture as the basis for anti-gay thinking. We are not likely to be successful in puncturing their homosexuality-is-a-sin mantra.

Do we abandon the religious segment entirely? Not at all. We should maintain a channel of communication with clergy of all denominations. There is a small chance that some will at least understand the human rights element involved in discrimination and its effect on families and perhaps some may soften their hard line opposition to a degree. So it is worth it to engage religious leaders and establish a respectful dialogue.

But the preponderance of our energy and effort should be directed to the third group—the larger group—which I refer to as the persuadable middle. These folks are not committed to any one position on lgbt rights.

The subject may not interest them. They may be uncertain as to whether granting rights to gays and lesbians would have any consequences. They may have concerns with homosexuality but resent government interference in private lives. Or they may be turned off by religious dogma. This group is generally softer on the issue and, therefore, persuadable. We must educate them as well as our elected officials on our issues.

Fred Phelps and his Westboro, Kansas clan of "God Hates Fags" extremists (see photo) ironically help our cause. Not only does this group hate gays, but they also hate America. They have thanked God for the tragedy of September 11, dragged the American flag along the ground, and defiled military funerals.

This image of insane extremism turns off the moderate middle, thereby providing an opportunity to make the case for equality.

While arguing point-by-point Biblical references to homosexuality with religious citizens usually leads to a dead-end, it is legitimate to debunk some of the biblical inconsistencies when discussing our plight with the middle segment of society. And there is plenty of fodder to choose from, especially in terms of what is a sin. (See this excellent piece by Cenk Uygur on the Huffington Post.)

Moreover, we can make our case in terms of fairness and the impact of discrimination on the tens of thousands of LGBT families. That would help penetrate any resistance on the part of persuadable middle.

Evidence proves that this moderate approach is a winner. Recent polling indicates that we are gaining in all areas pertaining to LGBT rights. It explains why more and more corporations and localities are implementing non-discrimination and/or domestic partnership policies. These shifts are coming from winning over the middle, not from converting the religious right or the homophobes.

The positive trend is attributable to the middle’s feeling more comfortable with gays. Increased tolerance among the youth is a big factor. And as more people come out of the closet, it enhances the probability that someone will actually know a gay person on a personal level and would tend to be supportive.

Accordingly, we should continue to use our energy and resources to target the persuadable middle where the potential payoff is greatest. Let the bigots defeat themselves.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Huckabee Loses Again

Would be Pastor-in-Chief Mike Huckabee got undressed by The Daily Show's Jon Stewart on the issue of same-sex marriage. Huckabee failed to apply logic, common sense, fairness and history in making his case that gays should not be allowed to marry. Rather, he gloated as to how the majority asserted their will on the minority in statewide ballot initiatives.

Stewart was unflinchingly strong in his arguments; the best one being: "Religion is far more of a choice than homosexuality. And the protections that we have, for religion -- we protect religion -- and talk about a lifestyle choice! That is absolutely a choice. Gay people don't choose to be gay."

When asked by Stewart at what age Huckabee chose not to be gay, he had no answer. Hmm.
Stewart also could have also questioned procreation as the justification for heterosexual marriage. Should the marriage licenses of couples be revoked if they choose not to or cannot have children?

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Keeping Our Cool

Radical reactions to defeats will not bring about the changes we need.

By Steve Charing

Believe it or not, I agreed with Bill O’Reilly’s recent assessment that the actions taken by a group of radical gay activists in a Lansing, Michigan church would hurt our cause. Of course, O’Reilly’s looking out for us warrants suspicion, but his point is well taken.

We have just experienced one of the most gut-wrenching defeats in our struggle for equality when the nefarious Proposition 8 that banned same-sex marriages in California was approved by voters by a relatively narrow margin on the same night we decisively elected Barack Obama president.

The consequences of Prop. 8 were stunning and tragic. A coalition of religious organizations and social conservatives managed to scare enough voters to restrict marriage to a man and a woman.
Tempting as it may have been to vent frustration and anger, the results do not give license to irate LGBT folks and supporters to act out their impulses by defacing religious buildings or other targets, as was widely reported. And it is no excuse for a radical queer group, Bash Back!, to disrespectfully disrupt services at Mount Hope Church in Michigan.

According to reports, about 30 gay activists in pink and black garb from the Lansing chapter began shouting during a service on November 9, throwing fliers at the congregation and making out with one another. They allegedly yelled, "It’s OK to be gay" and "Jesus was a homo" among other slogans.

From the Bash Back! website:

It received some media coverage, especially from a delighted FOX News, to heighten Bash Back!’s visibility—a stated goal on its website.

And with other Bash Back! chapters in such places as Chicago, Memphis, Milwaukee, Denver, Olympia, Philadelphia, Upstate New York and Washington, DC, we can expect similar outbursts around the country. This doesn’t help win friends and influence people, as the saying goes.

Barring any surprise legal victory in the California Supreme Court, our defeat on Prop 8 will clearly delay the ultimate goal of full marriage equality for those who aren’t fortunate to live in Massachusetts and Connecticut. It’s back to the drawing board where our efforts must be directed towards educating the public as well as clergy of all denominations that gay people marrying will not infringe upon their religious beliefs nor will it destroy the institution of marriage.

We must continue to tell our stories to elected officials so that they can see the human side of discrimination. We must explain how continuing to be treated as second-class citizens hurts families.

We must also point out that in Massachusetts, where same-sex marriage has been legal for over four years, the institution of marriage has not been undermined as the State’s divorce rate remains among the lowest in the nation.

This approach does work if the politician has an open mind.

One of the positive outcomes of the Prop 8 travesty was the nationwide mobilization of a movement called Join the Impact. In just a few short days of grass roots organizing and effective use of the Internet’s social networking sites, the campaign on November 15 mustered sign-waving crowds in the hundreds of thousands across the country from D.C. to Seattle to peacefully and resolutely demonstrate in support of our goal of marriage equality.

In Baltimore, for example, a thousand attended a rally outside City Hall last month to hear speakers tell their stories to a diverse crowd of gays and straights, old and young, blacks and whites.

"Our mission is to encourage our community to engage our opposition in a conversation about full equality and to do this with respect, dignity, and an attitude of outreach and education," says the JoinTheImpact mission statement on Facebook.

JoinTheImpact in Baltimore is quickly amassing hundred of supporters on Facebook, which validates its principles of educating the public and elected officials.

The tactics used by Bash Back!, on the other hand, will only serve to alienate moderate citizens and embolden right wing conservatives to continue their attacks on us as out of the mainstream and to generate fear of gays.

Our ultimate victory, whenever that will be, will be won at the ballot box and in the legislatures. Elected officials will vote according to the wishes of their constituents. We need to make our case and convince them respectfully. Allowing Bill O’Reilly and others to whip up anger against us because of radicalism will stop us cold.

PW’s: Howard County’s Friendly Gay Bar

By Steve Charing

There are several characteristics that would describe a successful neighborhood gay bar: diverse crowds, high energy, entertainment, friendly bartenders and staff, tasty affordable food, ample off-street parking, and giving back to the community. It’s clear that PW’s Sports Bar and Grill—situated in a strip mall at Route 1 and Whiskey Bottom Road in North Laurel—fits all of these. Yup, put a check next to each one.

It also happens to be the only gay bar in Howard County. By dint of its centralized location, PW’s is the social center between the bar scenes of Baltimore and Washington, D.C. The ownership takes that role seriously and is involved in a variety of activities that have advanced the visibility of the lgbt community as well as the viability of important lgbt organizations.

"The community has been good to PW’s, and we have tried our best to be good to the community," says John Cook, who is the owner of PW’s.

The bar is divided into two sections. The drinks are made and served in the saloon area. It has several TV’s going usually with a sporting event going on. The other larger rectangular multi-purpose room is a combination dining area, poolroom, cabaret and bingo parlor.

It was in this room that the bar recently held a successful fundraiser for Equality Maryland, the state’s principal lgbt advocacy organization. The place was filled to capacity as "Drag Bingo" was played. Each participant purchased a set of cards for $20, which coincidentally is the prize should you win a game of Postage Stamp, Big O or even Straight Bingo. The numbers were called by "Trixie," the colorful drag star of the evening.

Gay men and women from Baltimore, DC, Glen Burnie, all over Howard County, Bowie and all points in between descended upon PW’s to take part in the evening’s festivities. "I like bingo—it's the only gambling I do—and this was for a good cause," says Ron Hube of Baltimore. "[Trixie] did a great job. And it was fun to watch her get more and more drunk as the evening went on."

While everyone had fun playing the various bingo games and enjoying the campy hostess, the biggest winner was Equality Maryland, which netted $1,100.

PW’s is proud to host fundraisers for other LGBT organizations as well as worthy organizations in the Laurel and Baltimore areas. "We like the idea that members of the community look out for each other like an extended family," says Cook.

In the past 18 months PW’s held fundraisers for Equality Maryland, Breast Cancer Research, The Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS foundation, LARS (Laurel Advocacy Resource Services, which assists families during time of need), and is planning a fundraiser in the spring for the Howard County chapter of PFLAG –Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.

"Our chapter is the only LGBT organization in Howard County, and PW’s is the county’s only gay bar," says Colette Roberts, the chapter's chairperson. "It makes good sense that we partner together for the benefit of both entities."

PW’s had also sponsored runners in the AIDS Marathon, and donated money to the "No on Prop 8" campaign in California.

The bar has scheduled another fundraiser that will be a combination of raising money for Equality Maryland and taking donations for the ‘Toys for Tots’ program. "We would love to see everybody here on December 20 starting at 8 p.m.," says Cook.

PW’s is active in the LGBT Chesapeake and Potomac softball league by sponsoring two teams. They also field a bowling team in The Capital Area Rainbowlers Association in Laurel. And they sponsor a women’s volleyball team and have donated to a local basketball team –all burnishing the bar’s sports cred and generosity.

If that isn’t enough, PW’s hosts the regular parking lot show by the Straight Eights—a popular antique car club for members of the lgbt community. They meet on the third Sunday each month.

Drag shows are a regular feature at PW’s as they occur on the 2nd Friday of the month. "This is an attraction that brings in lots of straight people from the area," says Scott Gould, who is partnered with John Cook. They feature Miss Gay DC, Miss Gay East Coast, Miss Gay Keystone, as well as others.

Other attractions include Free Pool Play on Wednesdays and Karaoke on Thursdays and Saturdays. And if you are a football enthusiast, Sundays and Monday nights are for you. Each night there is a special drink special going on.

PW’s boasts a diverse, tasty and reasonably priced food menu that includes breakfast, lunch and dinner. It offers healthy choices as well as old time favorites. PW's opens at 6 a.m. How many gay bars can make that claim?

If you are interested in finding out what the latest fundraiser or event is at the bar or which current food or alcohol specials are running, visit their website .