Monday, December 28, 2009

2010: A Rebound Year?






2009 was a roller coaster ride for the lgbt community—both nationally and locally. We began the year optimistically with a new president being inaugurated who had declared himself to be a fierce advocate for LGBT rights.

Later, hope turned into anger by many because of the slow pace of ending discrimination in the military, in the workplace and partnership recognition. Tens of thousands took to the streets of DC to express their impatience and frustration.


We did witness some important victories, however, in New England, Iowa and Washington D.C. that offered us hope here in Maryland with respect to marriage equality. The election of a lesbian mayor in Houston confirmed that competence will win out regardless of sexual orientation. The signing into law of a Federal hate crimes bill—the first significant piece of federal legislation that protects the lgbt community—was monumental.

But there were also those bitter disappointments in Maine and New York. The outcome in Maine clearly proved we are not ready to win marriage equality at the ballot box.

And the news of high-profile murders and suicides linked to anti-gay hate and bullying tempered any victories. It demonstrates that there still are some who hate us; we clearly have a way to go.

Maryland didn’t shine either. While some welcome inheritance tax relief for same-sex couples was achieved during the 2009 General Assembly, more significant legislation to protect transgendered individuals and a bill to legalize same-sex marriage never saw the light of day.

We witnessed the demise of esteemed long-time LGBT institutions like the Washington Blade and Lambda Rising bookstore towards the end of the year. And, sadly, it is possible that others may follow.


As up and down as 2009 was, the energy and passion, particularly from lgbt youth and allies, could help make 2010 historic. We are confident that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act has a good chance of passage in 2010 and that concrete steps towards repealing "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" are a real possibility.

Although we do not expect to see marriage equality legislated during Maryland’s 2010 General Assembly, we are calling for our readers and the community as a whole to press lawmakers to ensure that a bill that adds gender identity and expression to the state’s nondiscrimination law and the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act escape the shadows of a committee and make it to the floor so that a full, vigorous debate can take place.

That process can begin during Lobby Day on February 8 when there will be an opportunity to tell your personal stories directly to lawmakers. And it can continue by inundating the responsible committee members’ offices with, letters, phone calls and e-mails.

We also call on Equality Maryland, the state’s largest LGBT civil rights organization, to hold substantive meetings with the Governor and legislative leaders prior to the session to help pave the way for these initiatives.

The fact that 2010 is an election year should not stymie these efforts. When IS the right time?

We should also keep the pressure on Congress and the President to make good on promises yet at the same time recognize that our LGBT-related priorities must compete with the economy and national security.


So, it will be up to all of us to help make 2010 a rebound year that could steady the wild ride of 2009. Have a happy, healthy and safe 2010.

http://www.stevecharing.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

NY Defeat on Marriage Offers Another Lesson





By Steve Charing


As we lose at the ballot box and in state legislatures, we pick up some valuable lessons in our quest for marriage equality in Maryland.

Legislators in Maine earlier in the year approved same-sex marriage and the governor signed it into law, only to have it undone by referendum. That vote in November stripped marriage equality from the state’s LGBT couples. From this we learned that winning marriage equality at the ballot box is a long way off, if it ever happens, and it should be avoided at all costs.

Even with fewer resources (as was the case in Maine) our opponents seem to effectively launch smear campaigns against LGBT couples. Through the use of advertisements, letter writing and e-mail blasts, they lie with impunity concerning our relationships. They rally religious institutions to preach against us. They scare neighbors. They scare educators. Ultimately they scare the voters who buy into this hooey. And since there are far more straight people than LGBT folks and allies, we would be well served to avoid allowing minority rights to be put to a popular vote. The numbers aren’t there yet for us.

Where do we go? Ballot initiatives are out of the question. The judiciary, sensitive to the fictitious label of “activist judges,” is resistant to accepting individual lawsuits plus the legal machinations of these can take eons.

We move on to state legislatures, which, in theory, reflect the attitudes and positions of the electorate. Lawmakers are political animals and are sensitive to the movement of the political winds.

When we were losing the image war in 2004 over gay marriage, politicians—including most Democrats—jumped out of the way as if a wayward bus was driving on the sidewalk. We lost every ballot measure that election and gave politicians the cover to avoid the subject.

Things started to improve slightly as the experience in Massachusetts—the first state to legalize same-sex marriage—proved that the predicted destruction of civilization failed to materialize.

In New York, it seemed that we were on the precipice of adding another state to the five whom have seen the light. The state’s Assembly voted several times in favor of legalizing marriage for same-sex couples. But a handful of Democrats in the state Senate changed their minds and voted against the bill. By a vote of 24-38, the Senate killed the measure that Gov. Paterson was eager to sign into law.

Of course, no Republican voted for marriage equality and proponents of same-sex marriage had counted on the eight Dems who bailed. This defeat occurred despite a recent Marist College poll showed that 51 percent of New York voters support legalizing same-sex marriage while 42 percent opposed it.

Following the vote on December 2, Alan Van Capelle, executive director of the Empire Pride Agenda who pushed for the bill said they now have a road map for 2010. “We certainly know who are our friends. We certainly go to bed tonight knowing where our support is, and that’s a victory,” he said.

And that’s our lesson.

In Maryland we have been completely stymied by the fact that the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act and its predecessor bill has yet to make it through the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. This, despite the fact we have a Democratic governor, Democratic leaders in both the House and Senate and an overwhelming majority of Democrats in each chamber. That committee has also been responsible for applying a stranglehold on transgender protection legislation.

By keeping the marriage bill as well as the transgender measure bottled up in committee, we are deprived of an up-and-down vote to determine who our friends—and our enemies—really are.
Those close to the legislative process believe that Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller wants to keep it that way because he is loathe to see such a potentially contentious and divisive bill make it to the floor.

But we need to help shake it loose during the 2010 General Assembly, which will begin next month. As a community, we must support Equality Maryland’s efforts to free the bill from being held hostage by the Judicial Proceedings Committee.

We will be told that it is an election year and little will happen on the marriage front because of it. That song is getting old. Because it IS an election year, there is all the more reason to put pressure on the lawmakers, especially Democrats, as they will be trolling for contributions and ultimately votes later in the year.

Check out Equality Maryland's website to obtain contact information on the committees’ chairmen and members. We must barrage these people with phone calls and e-mails to make things happen.

Don’t depend on Equality Maryland to do all the heavy lifting.Grass roots organizing will be essential to accomplish our mission. At the very least, we must push for these bills to leave the shadows of the committee and make its way on the floors of the Senate and House so that the spotlight can shine on the legislators who must go on record with a vote.

That should be our immediate strategy and a lesson well learned from N.Y.

www.SteveCharing.blogspot.com.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Going Rogue: Adam-Style





Was Adam Lambert’s performance at the AMA over the top or marketing genius?


By Steve Charing


We’re at the time of the year where we have earned the right to escape, albeit temporarily, from such weighty matters as Afghanistan, the economy, the vitriolic healthcare debate, and how Levi Johnston’s Playgirl photos disappointed. Instead, we will go light and examine the antics (or strategy) of the newest gay centerpiece, Adam Lambert.

As you probably know, the 27 year-old Californian was the runner-up in last year’s American Idol. Throughout the season Lambert mesmerized the audience and judges with his exceptional vocals and his flamboyant appearance (guyliner, sequins, black nail polish, etc.).

He tried to keep a public lid on his sexuality by not directly addressing the question lest homophobia do him in at the contest’s end. He wasn’t very good at that as photos of his kissing other males surfaced on the Internet. By the time the finale rolled around, Lambert was all but out to America. He made it "official" in a Rolling Stone interview following that show.


Alas, Adam lost to the bland but charming "safe" choice, Kris Allen. Although Lambert was arguably the most compelling performer ever to compete in the show’s eight seasons, he lost to Kris due to a combination of reasons with homophobia clearly at the forefront.

On the national tour virtually all the media’s attention and general buzz were directed towards Lambert, not the winner. That says more about the voting process than anything else and how the winner could seem more irrelevant than those contestants who had been eliminated. Case in point: Taylor Hicks the winner, Chris Daughtrey eliminated in Season 5.

At the recent American Music Awards, on the eve of his first release, For Your Entertainment, Lambert’s appearance was hyped throughout the evening until he finally emerged at the end of the otherwise banal show to perform the sexed-up title track from the album. Any lid Lambert attempted to keep on his sexuality during Idol was immediately blown off by a 100-mph wind gust.

With a back-up ensemble of scantily clad dancers of both genders and a clear S&M motif throughout, Lambert, wearing a silvery suit with spikes on his left shoulder led two male dancers by a leash. He simulated oral sex with another dancer, and (gasp!) he kissed his straight male keyboardist right on the lips. Lambert also stumbled on the stage during the number but recovered seamlessly. That stumble, however, was completely overshadowed by the suggestive moves during the song.

The AP reported 1,500 complaints to ABC from viewers over Lambert’s antics, which the network characterized as "moderate." And the network’s Good Morning America cancelled his appearance the next day.

Lambert was taken aback by the fuss.

"It's a shame because I think that there's a double standard going on in the entertainment community right now," Lambert told Rolling Stone after the show. "Female performers have been doing this for years -- pushing the envelope about sexuality -- and the minute a man does it, everybody freaks out. We're in 2009; it's time to take risks, be a little more brave, time to open people's eyes, and if it offends them, then maybe I'm not for them."

Adam Lambert is right on. Back in 2003, Britney Spears, Madonna and Christina Aguilera stuck their tongues in each other's mouths at the MTV awards but didn’t get much protest from the viewers. Women kissing does not elicit the "ewwws" as men kissing does for sure.

And gay men are a whole different category altogether.

In October when straight Mormon Donny Osmond (eventual winner) planted a kiss on the cheek of ABC’s Dancing With the Stars gay judge Bruno Tonioli and suggested more out of the camera’s view in an embrace and a dip, there was no ostensible brushback from the viewers. It was seen as a joke. But when the gay man kisses another guy, the earth falls off its axis.

Lambert performed on CBS’ Late Night with David Letterman three days later. He closed the show with a sterling but non-controversial performance of Whataya Want From Me.

On a night at the AMA that included a flesh-colored bodysuit worn by Lady Gaga, a total of 29 crotch-grabs from Janet Jackson and a duet from Eminem and 50 Cent that had virtually every other lyric bleeped, the gay man was the villain. Adam Lambert raised the ire of the public and caused the only backlash.

That tells you all you need to know about where we stand in America. But having this controversy and its attendant buzz right before the release of his album will serve Adam well as far as sales are concerned. And as he demonstrated on Letterman, he knows how to tone it down when he needs to. Adam Lambert is a star.

Photo: Courtesy of Kevork Djaansezian/Getty images

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Happy Birthday, Guerilla Gay Bar Baltimore





After only one year, GGBB is making a difference.


By Steve Charing



On the night Guerilla Gay Bar Baltimore celebrated its 1st anniversary at Mother’s Federal Hill Grille, three young women approached Byron Macfarlane (r.), one of the two co-founders and leaders of the GGBB phenomenon who was standing at the front end of the bar. They asked him for the now familiar purplish stickers that adorn those who participate in the monthly ritual of "invading" a straight bar or club in Baltimore City.

But in this case, the three women weren’t lesbians. They were straight, and it’s notable that even they wanted to be part of this growing movement.

Guerilla Gay Bar Baltimore was launched last November as an means to offer LGBT folks in the Baltimore area an alternative to the local gay bar scene and perhaps make new friends and allies outside the LGBT community.

"The primary goal of GGBB has been to better integrate the LGBT and straight communities in Baltimore," says Byron Macfarlane, an attorney and who is running as an openly gay candidate for Register of Wills in Howard County. "Along with that, we wanted to provide members of our community with opportunities to travel outside the ‘gayborhood’ and see parts of the city they may not be familiar with or may not feel comfortable in if they are by themselves or in a small group."

The popularity of GGBB took the founders by surprise. "I believe it has been a good year and we certainly have exceeded my expectations of the group," explains Mark Yost, Jr. (l.), a lobbyist and law student who is the other co-founder and leader of GGBB. "A year ago, Byron and I had hoped to have a good time doing this and expected slow steady growth. I think if you had told us that we would be having crowds of 300 on average, we would have been shocked."

In fact, the crowds have often exceeded that amount each month. Both Yost and Macfarlane seek out Baltimore venues that cater to a predominantly straight clientele and are not only willing to accept a large contingent of LGBT people but also have the capacity to accommodate the "invasion."

The announcement of the location is made two days before the scheduled event, which is the first Friday of the month. Using social networking, principally Facebook and word-of-mouth, the group has expanded by leaps and bounds.

The unforeseen growth over the year has been a major development. "Having over 1,500 ‘members’ is phenomenal and we truly enjoy our monthly gatherings," says Yost. "It’s been a place to meet old friends, make new ones and have a good time."

Macfarlane points out that bar owners and patrons around the city now know about the group and are welcoming and accepting. "Bar owners have been clamoring for our group to patronize their establishments. And now, a huge number of lesbians, gays, and allies have the first Friday of every month already booked on their calendars for GGBB and are upset when something comes up and they can't make it."

While most of these invasions have gone off smoothly, there was one hiccup at the Mad River bar in Federal Hill on the Friday of the July 4 weekend. There had been a lapse in communication between the GGBB organizers and management of the bar. That led to the Mad River’s staff not being informed of the invasion, and some ugliness ensued that resulted in the termination of two bar employees for their alleged homophobic actions. The manager profusely apologized for the miscommunication and for the employees’ conduct.

"Along the way, the people of Baltimore have shown that deep down, they are good and decent people, but we know we still have a lot of work to do," says Macfarlane.

But that mishap was just a blip during the past year. "The response has been overwhelmingly positive both from within the gay community and in the larger Baltimore community," Yost points out. "I think we are using our gatherings, which are to be fun, to also softly promote our goals of equal rights. The more ‘out’ our community is, the better served we are going to be in being accepted in society."

GGBB has not restricted itself to once-a-month straight bar invasions. "We're especially proud that we have partnered with establishments in the city to give back to those in our community who really need help. We've raised money for organizations like Brother Help Thyself and AIDS Action Baltimore," notes Macfarlane.

Yost explains, "In order to support GGBB, other LGBT causes and our own community, GGBB has returned home to ‘our base.’ It helps us recharge, regroup and to bring some new exciting events our own community." To that end, GGBB has held special theme events at Grand Central, such as Bootcamp Night, White Party and Octoberfest Sausage Party.

After one year, like any organization the co-leaders are taking stock of what was accomplished and where they want to go. "We dispelled any notion that the concept had started to get a little old when we had over 600 members attend this month's invasion," says Macfarlane.

"There clearly is still the desire in the lgbt community to have these interactions on an ongoing basis, and as long as that desire is there, GGBB will provide the outlet and the experience.

"GGBB is part of the slow, quiet, non-aggressive activism that can and will change attitudes toward members of our communities and, ultimately, lgbt rights. When people who are on the fence about our issues or are ardent opponents see us as people just like them rather than the caricatures they see on television and in the movies, we're making a big impact."
Mark Yost adds, "Baltimore is a great city, and we are trying to make it just a little more fabulous once a month."

For more information visit ggb-baltimore.com.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Maine Effect





We are not ready for marriage equality to be won at the ballot box.


By Steve Charing


When Proposition 8 succeeded in California a year ago there was legitimate outrage throughout gay nation. How can justice and equality fail in a blue state that went overwhelmingly for the first ever African-American president? With all the time to prepare for the battle, how did LGBT leaders manage to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory?

Blame was quickly affixed to African-American voters, the Mormon Church, senior citizens, and a failure by LGBT Prop 8 to effectively reach out to non-traditional supporters. With varying degrees, all of these factors led to a dismal outcome.

Then came Maine’s Question 1 on November 3. Maine is a state with strong independent tendencies, a blue state with the only two moderate Republicans remaining in the Senate, and marriage equality already in place throughout New England except Rhode Island.

There weren’t enough black voters in Maine to scapegoat this time. The Mormon influence was not as dominating. And our side raised far more money than the opposition. We still managed to lose by six percent.

When we put two and two together, this time the answer is zero. Two blue states, two ballot measures, results the same: failure.

In some ways the results in California and Maine could have been reversed had we been able to offset the scare tactics. Opponents of marriage equality used their money to effectively instill fear by lying with scary messages about same-sex marriage and its influence on children. They succeeded in convincing the electorate that "defining" marriage should not be left up to "activist" judges. And, of course, the convenience of cherry-picked Scripture always comes in handy during these battles.

But we haven’t found that shield against such smear jobs, and until we do, we cannot win by referendum.

A well-known political axiom that had its roots in Plato’s Republic states you should not put a minority’s rights in the hands of the tyranny of the majority. People vote by emotion, and if submitted to a vote, we would still have segregation, racial discrimination and a ban of interracial marriage in the U.S. While in some cases gay rights succeeded by referendum as in the case of Washington State, same-sex marriage, as has been demonstrated now in 31 states, is a non-starter among the voters.

On this issue we must avoid such ballot measures lest we continue to fail. There are far more motivated straight people voting against us than lgbt folks and allies can turn out. It’s a numbers game, and we don’t yet have the numbers. And we haven’t found an effective answer to the lies.

In Maryland, we have successfully fought off such ballot initiatives ever since same-sex marriage has been thrust onto the agenda by way of the Massachusetts ruling in 2003. It’s easier to stonewall here because same-sex marriage is not on the books. In fact, our Constitution defines marriage to be a union between a man and a woman. Therefore, elected officials do not see the imperative for a constitutional amendment, which would then be up for the voters to decide.

Instead, we try to win over legislators with the hope our governor signs marriage equality into law. That has not happened yet, and it will be years away from such an eventuality. But if it did, a more powerful effort will be made to undo the actions of the legislature and the governor by pushing the issue to the voters.

For proponents of same-sex marriage, that should be our greatest fear. Maryland is a blue state, as is California and Maine. And put to a vote, we’d fail, too, unless our stories are told rather than the lies promulgated by our opponents.

That’s where we all have a role. We need to get OUR message out to the voters because our arguments are legitimate and truthful.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Homophobia Mars Alderman Election in Annapolis




By Steve Charing


Scott Bowling (picured in foreground) knew the odds were stacked against him when he announced his candidacy for Alderman in Annapolis' 3rd Ward last January. He is a white man running in a heavily-populated African-American ward that covers the southwest corner of Annapolis and includes the neighborhoods of Parole, Homewood, Southwoods, Greenbriar, Annapolis Gardens, Bowman Court and Fairfax.

He is a Republican in a ward that has an 8 to 1 Democratic edge.

And he is openly gay.

Despite these daunting challenges, things were looking bright for Bowling heading towards the election. He waged an issues-oriented campaign as much against the status quo as he did against incumbent Democrat Classie Gillis Hoyle.

"Annapolis is headed in the wrong direction and I have decided to run for Alderman of the 3rd Ward to help bring an end the apparent paralysis at City Hall," said Bowling when he announced his candidacy. "While our nation and its citizens are trapped in a fiscal crisis, our leaders at City Hall are focused on frivolous laws, resolutions and analysis that do little to improve the quality of life for their residents. The people of Annapolis deserve better."

Bowling, a Mortgage Banker with Wells Fargo, didn’t run on gay rights issues nor did he draw special attention to his sexuality; he was a hundred percent focused on such local matters as taxes, fiscal restraint and planning. But at the same time he never shied away publicly from his sexual orientation. His life partner, Dave Miller (rear in photo), is the campaign’s treasurer.

Recent polls predicted a razor-thin contest with Hoyle. Bowling’s sexual orientation didn’t surface much until he picked up key endorsements, notably former candidate for mayor Democrat Trudy McFall, the local Firefighters Union and the Annapolis Capital. Then there were more frequent attempts to raise the issue of his being gay, Bowling told OUTloud, in an effort to instill fear in the Ward’s voters. "They tried to associate me with the Sam Shropshire incident implying that all gay men are pedophiles."

Shropshire, an Alderman in Ward 7, is accused of fondling a male Navy midshipman last spring, and a trial date is set for February. He has repeatedly denied that he’s gay. "The scandal has stained the city," said Bowling "and they tried to link me to it."

In the days leading up to Election Night, the Hoyle campaign accused the Scott Bowling team of removing Hoyle’s campaign signs. This was immediately denied by Miller, and in a message to supporters said, "There is no room for childish issues such as sign removal in an adult campaign on important matters."

Then the ugliness deteriorated more just 48 hours prior to the election. The following statement was issued by the Bowling camp:

"An anonymous and illegal flier is being distributed in Ward 3. The flier is filled with hatred and bigotry intended to motivate the historically African-American communities within Parole to vote for Democrats Josh Cohen and Classie Hoyle. Scott Bowling, a candidate for Alderman in Ward 3 has called on the U.S. Attorney General's Office as well as a Maryland Attorney's General's office to investigate this as a hate crime and as a violation of the Voting Rights Act."

"I am disappointed that in 2009 there are factions within Annapolis that insist on engaging and bringing this type of racist and hate filled activity into our City Elections, said Bowling.

"Such hateful language can very quickly lead to violence. We, as a community, must seek out the originators of these hateful statements and turn them over to authorities. There is no place in any City, State or society for such hateful and abusive language. I denounce such activities and hope that my opponent as well as the leadership of both political parties would do so as well; there is no room for hatred, bigotry or this type of politics in Annapolis." He added, "I am hopeful that the citizens of Annapolis and Ward 3 will rise above such a blatant attempt to prey on people's ethnic, racial, and religious fears."

Bowling told OUTloud that the flier contained specific references to his being "homosexual." It reminded voters of the Schropshire scandal and warned that electing such a person would be dangerous to children.

He said that Hoyle did not condemn the flier and refused to when confronted by other members of the media. Ms. Hoyle did not return a phone call to OUTloud requesting a comment on the flier.

Scott Bowling lost by 130 votes pending the absentee ballot count, which will not affect the ultimate outcome. He said the flier was definitely responsible for his defeat as some voters told him it changed their minds.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Off to a Good Start









Federal action on hate crimes is wonderful news and long overdo, but the harder legislation is down the road.

By Steve Charing


It took over 10 years since the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard and the dragging-to-death killing of James Byrd, Jr. for substantive action to be taken. But when President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law last week it represented the first time the federal government provided protections to LGBT Americans.

What a difference it is in having Barack Obama as president instead of George W. Bush. The inclusive Hate Crimes bill that added sexual orientation to the list of categories protected by the legislation was never going anywhere when Congress had last considered it two years ago. President Bush announced in advance that he would veto it.

Conversely, President Obama stated throughout the presidential campaign he would support such a measure. He reiterated that during a number of speeches to lgbt activists since taking office. He quickly signed it into law and spoke eloquently in front of Judy and Dennis Shepard among others at a White House reception following the signing.

"You understood that we must stand against crimes that are meant not only to break bones, but to break spirits — not only to inflict harm, but to instill fear," the president said to the gathering. "You understand that the rights afforded every citizen under our Constitution mean nothing if we do not protect those rights — both from unjust laws and violent acts. And you understand how necessary this law continues to be."

Indeed, lgbt Americans are victimized by bias-related crimes at a disproportionate rate than the general population. President Obama cited FBI statistics in which there were 12,000 reported hate crimes based on sexual orientation over the past 10 years. Imagine the number of incidents that went unreported.

Critics, who for reasons that are incomprehensible other than being pure libertarian at best or homophobic at worst, opposed the legislation. They call it "thought police." We hear that "some people are more equal than others," according to one unidentified dim-bulb blogger in the Baltimore Sun. Others scoff at the fact that the hate crimes provisions were tacked on to a Defense appropriations bill and would not have succeeded on its own merits.

Perhaps.

But the outcome is all we had wanted, and we will take any victory we can get. It finally put gay and lesbian Americans on an equal footing as other citizens when it comes to federal protections. One never knows if he or she will be a victim of a hate crime based on sexual orientation even in a more improving environment for LGBT folks.

The late Senator Ted Kennedy was a champion of this cause, as were the tireless efforts of the Shepards. And, of course, there were many others. It still was a tough go to get it done. We needed a change of administrations to accomplish this feat, and we should all be grateful for its support.

As difficult as this was to finally pass a comprehensive hate crimes bill, the other boilerplate initiatives advanced by lgbt activists and others are going to be much tougher. The Employment Non-discrimination Act, popularly dubbed ENDA, is next on the horizon. Employers in over half the states can legally fire an individual simply for being gay. In nearly 40 states the same can be done to a transgendered person.

Languishing in Congress for over three decades, the measure would make it illegal for employers to discriminate against individuals based on sexual orientation or gender identity. This includes firing, refusal to hire or refusal to promote lgbt employees. The House Education and Labor Committee recently convened a hearing on the transgender-inclusive ENDA [H.R. 3017], so ENDA is in motion once again.

Opponents attack the bill for the "vagueness" in the language that would spark much litigation. And religious groups, who already have enormous sway in government, oppose it lest religious organizations be forced to compromise their beliefs. Memo to religious groups: the bill contains very strong protections, so don’t sweat it.

The repeal of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" is also in the hopper, and President Obama pledged publicly and repeatedly that he is sympathetic to the repeal and will make it happen. The challenge of getting this done is not rooted in public opinion. That is because the country is overwhelmingly supporting such a change. To be sure, recent polling data suggest that as many as 80 percent of Americans support repeal.

Resistance is embedded throughout the military, whose officers and NCOs are still comprised of largely conservative Southerners and rural folks who aren’t welcoming of gays and lesbians in the ranks. The top brass knows this and fear an insurrection of some kind, which is not a good thing when we are fighting two wars and have assumed the role of world policeman. That’s their mindset.

Why President Obama is hesitant to establish a timeline to the repeal effort is understandable. He needs to fight two wars himself: one is with members of Congress who have a large military representation in their districts and the other with the military itself to convince them that discrimination has no place in the Armed Forces and that previous social changes to the military structure were opposed but then adopted with no lasting ill-effects.

This is the educational process that needs to take place. And that’s why it cannot be pinpointed as to when it will happen. As I and many others have suggested before, the President could issue a "stop loss" order to prevent further discharges based on the policy. That sets the right tone. It demonstrates his commitment. And it prepares the legislators and the military that the end of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" is near.

When these other legislative initiatives succeed, and they will, we could then try to wipe out DOMA—the Defense of Marriage Act. That’s going to be the hardest to accomplish, especially if the Administration keeps defending it in court. Let’s get these other measures passed first, for that will push the momentum further for the repeal of DOMA. The Hate Crimes bill was a good beginning.
Photo credit: Judy Rolfe and courtesy of Human Rights Campaign

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Running the Bases







“Democrats never agree on anything, that's why they're Democrats. If they agreed with each other, they would be Republicans.”—Will Rogers

The Republican Party has a much easier time with their base than the Democrats. Essentially, the GOP base consists of three groups: Social/Religious Conservatives, Fiscal Conservatives and Military Hawks.

Republican leaders do little to risk offending a particular segment of the party. Many, if not most, share common Republican “principles,” you know, like anti-immigration, anti-environment (social conservatives tend to be more moderate on this issue, however), anti-tax, anti-regulation, anti-HIV funding, and, of course, anti-gay. But they won’t “teabag” when one segment of the party falters in their view. They save that asinine activity for the Democrats.

The 2008 election run-up was illustrative. The Republican base eroded during the two years prior to the election. But that was fueled mainly by anger by fiscal conservatives as President Bush allowed the federal deficit to swell to historic levels.

Social conservatives never abandoned Bush; he maintained that marriage was solely between a man and a woman, so they were content. Never mind that the country was mired in two wars, the economy sunk into near oblivion, and our standing in the world was somewhere between pariah and outcast. Bush was resolute against marriage equality. That’s what mattered most to them.

The same thing goes for the military hawks. They got what they always wanted: war. Two of them, in fact. Better to fight them over there than to fight them here.

So, when all was said and done, the Bushies garnered 25 to 28 percent support nationally for doing a heckuva job. These folks resided in the social conservative and military hawk legs of the 3-legged stool called the GOP base. Only the fiscal tightwads lost their devotion.

Democrats have a more complex conundrum. There aren’t groups of voters who fit into few and tidy categories. Democratic constituents really don’t form a base in a pure sense but a variety of bases that sometimes are pitted against each other. That’s where they differ markedly from the Republican base.

The Democratic base consists of large chunk of the minorities in the country, especially African-Americans and Hispanics. You also have conservative Democrats, labor unions, teachers, environmentalists, intellectuals, young people, lgbt folks, “Hollywood personalities,” pro-immigration, pro-choice, anti-death penalty, anti-gun, anti-war, the beat goes on.

Not all of these elements work against each other for sure. But not all work together either. The result: the Democratic Party. Gnawing at each other, yes, but also slapping the others’ backs following the uplifting election of November 2008, when the “base” was energized.

There was no back slapping, however, in the aftermath of the Proposition 8 debacle in California. The knee-jerk reaction of many gay activists was to blame not only the Mormons who disproportionately financed the pro-Prop 8 campaign, but African-Americans.

While it is true that socially conservative but Democratic African-Americans are largely opposed to same-sex marriage, statistical analysis post-Prop 8 revealed that as a group, they were not responsible for the passage of this hideous ballot initiative. Instead, it was older voters that tipped the scale on that one. Of course, that group did include socially conservative African-Americans.

Nevertheless, these two key components of the Democratic base continue to square off against each other. African-Americans who oppose marriage equality base it for the most part on religious grounds. Many also resent the comparison between the quest for LGBT rights and that of the civil rights movement, despite the pronouncements from Julian Bond, the late Coretta Scott King and other prominent black civil rights leaders.

“No people of good will should oppose marriage equality,” said Bond at the October 11 National March for Equality rally. “We have some real and serious problems in this country; same-sex marriage is not one of them.”

President Obama is feeling the pressure from leading a party with such a diverse and ornery base. His silence during the Prop 8 debate was irritating to gay activists. He ostensibly made a calculation that while his heart may be on the side of LGBT rights, his political brain told him not to alienate the African-American base within the party.

His problems with his LGBT base were heightened following his now controversial speech before the Human Rights Campaign annual dinner. He didn’t specify a timetable for passage of key legislative initiatives, and many gay activists huffed and puffed. The anger among these folks is palpable, and the effect it will have on a unified Democratic Party going into the 2010 mid-term elections remains to be seen.

That’s where we are now—a struggle, a tug-of-war. Democrats share common ideals and principles but fight among themselves.

This doesn’t happen with the Republican Party. At least not yet.

www.SteveCharing.blogspot.com.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Making the Big Play





Baltimore Raven Brendon Ayanbadejo’s support for marriage equality is no small matter.

By Steve Charing

As linebackers in the National Football League go, Brendon Ayanbadejo of the Baltimore Ravens is relatively small. At 6-1, 228 lbs. he is often outsized by his peers. But his heart is big. and he knows how to compete.
Besides being a solid and speedy linebacker, # 51 is also a fixture on the Ravens’ special teams, covering and blocking during kickoffs. His overall defensive prowess in Week 3 of the current NFL season earned the 33 year-old UCLA alum AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors. Unfortunately, in Week 4 he sustained a season-ending injury.

While he may be considered small by NFL standards, Brendon Ayanbadejo has left a large footprint on lgbt equality. Back in April, Ayanbadejo wrote a 364-word blog on the widely read Huffington Post titled, "Same Sex Marriages: What’s the Big Deal?"

He starts right off by debunking the argument that the opposition to same-sex marriage should be based on religion. "Church and state are supposed to be completely separated when it comes to the rule of law in the United States," he wrote. "So the religious argument that God meant for only man and woman to be together has no bearing here!" As a punctuation mark to this thought, Ayanbadejo added, "We are a secular capitalistic democracy. That's it."

He justified Barack Obama’s lack of support for same-sex marriage by stating, "It seems that Obama felt the need to embrace Christianity more to fit in."

Ayanbadejo chided the stunt pulled off by Britney Spears as an indication of how many heterosexual couples have hurt the institution of marriage. "If Britney Spears can party it up in Vegas with one of her boys and go get married on a whim and annul her marriage the next day, why can't a loving same sex couple tie the knot? How could our society grant more rights to a heterosexual one night stand wedding in Vegas than a gay couple that has been together for 3, 5, 10 years of true love? The divorce rate in America is currently 50%. I am willing to bet that same sex marriages have a higher success rate than heterosexual marriages."

He concluded his blog post with a reflection on the civil rights movement. "Maybe I am a man ahead of my time. However, looking at the former restrictions on human rights in our country starting with slavery, women not being able to vote, blacks being counted as two thirds of a human, segregation, no gays in the military (to list a few) all have gone by the wayside. But now here in 2009 same sex marriages are prohibited. I think we will look back in 10, 20, 30 years and be amazed that gays and lesbians did not have the same rights as everyone else. How did this ever happen in the land of the free and the home of the brave? Are we really free?"

And this much-appreciated support for lgbt equality by Brendon Ayanbadejo did not stop at the Huffington Post. Last month, he appeared with his girlfriend at the new offices of Equality Maryland—right across the street from M&T Bank Stadium—to offer more encouragement during the organization’s welcome reception.

How important is it for a professional football player to stand behind marriage equality? Very. And perhaps it can help open closet doors for some athletes down the road.

Esera Tuaolo was one of three gay NFLers to come out of the closet—after hanging up their pads. All felt they would have been hated by teammates had they chose to disclose their sexual orientation during their playing days. No active professional male athlete has yet to come out.

The main concern for gay athletes appears to be the locker room culture and the potential risks stemming from that culture. There have certainly been a number of anti-gay slurs spewed by athletes of several sports to create an environment where the closet remains shut.

But Brendon Ayanbadejo’s public stance on marriage equality may have opened the door—however slightly—for a gay male athlete to one day feel comfortable enough to extricate himself from the tight closet and be who he really is.

I was hoping to interview Ayanbadejo to see if the climate has improved enough for a gay athlete—football player or not—to come out. If such a player existed on the Ravens, would Ayanbadejo be an enthusiastic supporter of his teammate? Would he stand alone or would his teammates rally behind the player? Or is it best that the player remain in the closet?

But the Ravens PR manager would not allow me to contact Brendon so these questions remain unanswered.

Regardless, Brendon Ayanbadejo plays big on the gridiron, as he has been selected to the Pro Bowl three years in a row. And he plays big off the field. This is an ally we need if we, as a community, are to reach the equality goal line.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Rainbow Glass is Half Full







What a vein-popping summer! Such anger, such hatred. This vitriol is mainly centered on the tug-of-war battle concerning health-care reform. Other interest groups are still angry and frustrated because their priorities haven’t been acted upon in the first 8 months of this administration. LGBT activists, immigration reform folks and environmentalists all have gripes with this administration and Congress.

It’s not a happy time with a slow economy and joblessness serving as the backdrop. And health-care proposals—fact and fiction—are keeping the dialogue hot.

We hear the contradictory epithets of "Nazi!" "Fascist!" "Radical!" "Socialist!" "Communist!" and "Terrorist!" Many nasty signs have been hoisted and yes, some messages were racist—all being ascribed to President Obama. Some have even taken to calling Obama "homophobe." It makes me long for the days when "Liberal" was considered to be a dirty slur, the former ultimate insult aside from "faggot."

Everyone is in a sour mood it seems, including me because of the idiots dominating the debate. But I was uplifted when I recently saw the images of Ellen DeGeneres interviewing her guest Neil Patrick Harris on her show.

It was a needed burst of fresh air for sure and a calming influence. Two out gay people on national television, comfortable in their own skin and wildly successful both in their personal lives and professionally. They have reached the heights in their respective careers and have broad appeal across most demographic groups.

And add the fact that Ellen has been named as a judge on American Idol—the highest rated show on TV—and Harris was handed the high-profile hosting job at the Emmys, following his splendid performance emceeing the Tony Award extravaganza this spring. Wow!

I reflected upon the progress that we are making when you see these two gay stars on the set together during a popular TV show. This would not have been possible 40, 30 or even 20 years ago. Is this symbolic of our finally turning the corner and on the path towards equality? We’ll find out, won’t we?

Gay activists, impatient with the workings of government and the political sludge that gums up the gears of progress, will be taking to the streets at the National Equality March on Washington October 10-11. Using Obama’s campaign pledges and the current lack of substantive results as the fuel, the marchers and demonstrators will be calling for several main initiatives that are at the top of the must-have list.

Among them is the Matthew Sheppard Hate Crimes bill. Introduced once again, the bill has passed both houses in Congress and is awaiting a conference committee to iron out the details. This should pass this year and the President will sign it.

The Employee Non-Discrimination Act or ENDA was also introduced in the 111th Congress by Representatives Barney Frank (D-MA) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) in the House with 117 original co-sponsors. The bill was introduced in the Senate by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Susan Collins (R-ME). Again, the President will sign the bill if it reaches his desk.

A bill to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act or DOMA was just introduced in the House of Representatives by Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Jared Polis (D-CO). Again, despite the administration’s all-too-vigorous defense of DOMA during litigation, Obama had campaigned to repeal the entire law.

This measure will have to navigate through tricky terrain, however, as legislators can and will be politically attacked for supporting the weakening of the institution of marriage as well as the other canards to be expected during the debate.

Frankly, I am surprised this bill was introduced this soon. It could very well be as a result of the anger that LGBT activists have levied towards the Obama administration and the Democrat-controlled Congress for scant progress.

As reported in the Washington Blade, Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-PA) expects that House hearings on the "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy will begin early next year. On the Senate side, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), announced plans this summer for a fall hearing, according to the Blade. Rep. Barney Frank predicts that Congress will repeal the law in 2010.

These are all promising signs. Nonetheless, we must be cautious about our optimism because ENDA, for example, has been languishing in Congress for three decades. We need all of us to keep the pressure on Congress and the President to act swiftly on these measures. We must not let up.

But the prospects are certainly brighter today. Public opinion is on our side on all of these initiatives and that helps our elected officials who are not dominated by right-wing dogma to make the right decisions.

We have a President, who despite the misplaced anger by some of our lgbt friends, will do right by us. We have openly gay celebrities not just taking up our cause but maintaining high visibility without threatened boycotts and other anti-gay backlash.

At this point in time, I say our rainbow glass is half full, and filling up more day by day, albeit slowly.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Can Ellen Save American Idol?




When it was confirmed that Ellen DeGeneres, arguably America’s favorite lesbian, replaced Paula Abdul as the fourth judge on American Idol’s fabled panel, media observers were wondering if this was a smart move for the show or not.

Can someone who is not a music expert adequately judge singing contestants (in the early rounds) and critique (in the final 13)? Will Ellen overplay her incredible personality and dominate the panel? Will she blend in well with the other panelists? Will the audience miss Paula by the sixth week?

In my view and having been an Idol fan since Season 2, I think the choice was a coup for the show. Ellen DeGeneres has a sparkling wit and smooth charm matched by few others. While not a music expert despite her frequent dancing on her daytime show, Ellen, what she brings to the table is the perspective of the average audience member, if there is indeed such a category.

Randy "Dawg" Jackson is a loveable, colorful record producer and musician whose musical props are well established. Last season’s new (but unnecessary) judge, Kara DioGuardi, is attractive and spunky and also has a strong musical background.

Caustic Simon Cowell—the true draw on the show with his brutal honesty—has been a TV producer for years and has a keen ability to recognize talent—good or bad.

These are all exemplary qualifications for the panel. Ellen will be able to critique, however, from a fan’s point of view—something that hasn’t been tried before.

In replacing loopy Paula Abdul, Ellen offers sharp, droll unpredictability contrasted to Paula’s sappy predictability. Rarely did the oft-verbose Paula choose to zero in on the obvious flaws of a contestant. Rather, she usurped her time by praising the wardrobe or hairstyle of a contestant whose performance may have left a lot to be desired.

Paula sought to be liked. And that irked her acid-tongue foil on the panel, Simon, for his mission was to be disliked.

Being an out lesbian on the panel may mitigate the all-too-frequent homophobic jibes that Simon launches at Ryan. While not mean in its content, it once again reinforces those pesky stereotypes that are still out there.

Although American Idol has topped the ratings charts each season, there is a sense among the producers that the show is in decline. To be sure, the actual viewership is eroding if you look at the raw numbers.

There is a palpable concern that the audience is experiencing American Idol "fatigue" and that the show has a limited life span. Indeed, the panelists’ contracts are always a source of drama, and if a mainstay like Simon Cowell should depart, which has been a real threat for the past two or three years, it could sink like a stone.

For these reasons, the producers have tinkered with the original winning formula and added the fourth judge among other tweaks. What they have not remedied is the flawed and seemingly unfair voting process whereby "tweens" and others can text in their votes by the hundreds because of their passion towards a particular contestant.

There have been unconfirmed reports that Clay Aiken’s home state of North Carolina was virtually blocked out of the voting during the finals due to "technological" reasons. Similar horror stories surfaced concerning the voting in this past season’s final between the charismatic and talented (and yes, gay) Adam Lambert and the boy-next-door crooner Kris Allen. Some have even suspected the outcome is rigged.

Nonetheless, notice how all the buzz on the recent Idol tour was about Lambert as opposed to Allen. Look at the commercial success of Aiken compared to Ruben Studdard—his competitor and winner of Idol’s second season. Does winning the title actually matter? Or is talent and popularity the real winning formula?

As we embark on Season 9, Ellen DeGeneres is expected to create buzz of her own. In show business, buzz, especially if positive, often equals success.

Ellen should save American Idol, at least for now.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Farewell, Good Friend





We knew the end was near when Senator Edward M. "Ted" Kennedy could not make it to the funeral of his beloved sister Eunice Shriver. His 15-month battle with brain cancer ended inevitably, and the beacon of hope for millions that defined Ted Kennedy’s career had been extinguished by this treacherous disease.

Ted Kennedy didn’t suffer a tragic death in a manner that took the lives of his three brothers, but his death at the age of 77 on August 26 was still a tearful tragedy and a loss that burrows deep into the soul of the nation.
Senator Kennedy was a steadfast advocate for the powerless during his nearly half-century of service to the country. His was a voice that rose above the others, and he was unequivocal in his passion and authenticity.

Regardless of how one viewed Sen. Kennedy’s positions on issues, he garnered reverence and affection from all sides of the political spectrum. As a senator, he made use of his innate leadership ability to venture into the tricky terrain of bipartisanship and craft significant legislation that earned him the reputation for being among the most prolific, influential lawmakers in our nation’s history. The moniker "Lion" was appropriately applied, as it reflected the power this iconic senator amassed and the respect he had accrued.

For the LGBT community, we would be hard pressed to find a superior, more consistent champion for equal rights, fairness and justice. Sen. Kennedy’s support for equality for the lgbt community was immutable. He spearheaded key legislation, such as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act and publicly opposed discriminatory measures including the Defense of Marriage Act and the Federal Marriage Amendment. He also fought against the codification of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" in 1993 and has vigorously opposed it since.

From the early days of AIDS to the current struggle for marriage equality, Sen. Ted Kennedy has been our hero, our protector. A fierce civil rights advocate for all Americans, he saw the fight for LGBT rights as part of the overall battle.

On the most basic anti-discrimination legislation currently in play—ENDA—Senator Kennedy said two years ago, "America stands for justice for all. Congress must make clear that when we say ‘all’ we mean all. America will never be America until we do."

Was Ted Kennedy a perfect man? Of course, not. Who is? But the goodness of his heart, his conscience, his relentless push for social justice, and his countless contributions to society against the backdrop of the tragedies that were wrought upon his family clearly outweigh his flaws.

I salute Ted Kennedy as a great American and champion for the underdog, and mourn his loss, not just for our community but for humanity in general. Rest in peace, good friend; the Lion sleeps tonight.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Anger Management: We Could All Use It




By Steve Charing


The summer of discontent is about to fade away soon. At least the summer part will. This has been one of the stormiest, hottest, turbulent summers in memory, and I’m not referring to the weather. Everybody is pissed off at well, seemingly everybody.

Vitriolic town hall meetings around the country concerning health-care reform have dominated the news. Politicians are angry with each other. LGBT folks, environmentalists and immigration advocates are enraged at President Obama for not acting on issues of importance to these groups at a faster pace.

LGBT activists are incensed at former President Bill Clinton for his role in the nefarious "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" and the Defense of Marriage Act or DOMA. Clinton, in turn, is angry at gays for not helping him gain support in Congress to ward off DADT.

There also remains an unyielding rage towards the slow economy and bailouts used to revive it. Arguments are breaking out at the office water cooler. The terms "Socialist" and "Hitler" are being thrown around indiscriminately. Heck, Philadelphia Eagles fans are outraged over the signing of dog-abusing, ex-felon Michael Vick. But then again, those fans are perennially grumpy.

What’s going on here?

Clearly, health-care reform and its concomitant protests have taken over the spotlight in recent weeks. But it appears that these scenes of rage are not so much about the specifics contained in the proposed legislation in which several components have been fabricated for political purposes. (I wonder how many protesters truly understand the details.)

A lot of the wrath is fueled and organized by a small noisy minority who are cranky because they are out of power and that the country is run by an African-American who is decidedly smarter than them. They’re opposed to Obama at every turn, regardless of what he tries to achieve.

These are the same groups who idolize the numbskull Sarah Palin and believes her rubbish about "death panels." Some have even taken to carrying weapons to the aforementioned town halls.

Speaking of madness and Palin, recall on the campaign trail when she whipped her minions up in a frenzy to the point when some shouted out "terrorist" and "kill him" referring to Obama. And to her utter disgrace, Palin said absolutely nothing to tamp down the hateful rhetoric.

And then you add to the stew the nutcases of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Lou Dobbs and it’s easy to see why there is so much stewing.

Even ex-presidents aren’t immune from the surly atmosphere. During a Netroots Nation gathering in Pittsburgh last month, an angry LGBT activist identified as Lane Hudson interrupted the principal speaker Bill Clinton with a condemnation of his role in DADT and DOMA.

Wagging that famous finger, Clinton replied with a shaky voice, ''You want to talk about Don't Ask, Don't Tell? I'll tell you exactly what happened. You couldn't delivery me any support in the Congress! And they voted by a veto-proof majority in both houses against my attempt to let gays serve in the military…And all -- most of you did was to attack me instead of getting me some support in the Congress. Now, that's the truth!''

Something could be said for the fact that gays did not mobilize support in Congress back in 1993, though it would have probably been futile then. But the President did not have any standing with the military based on the perception that he dodged the draft during the Vietnam War. That alone would have iced his executive order.

He was also a new president who eked out a victory during a three-man race and won with a minority of votes cast, so his legitimacy in the minds of many was never fully established.

With no cache of political capital to spend on this issue, the military brass led by Colin Powell, forced Clinton to retreat. And Senator Sam Nunn led the congressional opposition, so the best Clinton could do was the so-called compromise of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell." Sixteen years after that debacle, the anger remains and is still palpable—in both directions.

The problem with all this finger pointing and irascibility is that thoughtful, reasoned ideas get drowned out by the noise. We saw the boisterous hubbub in Towson where Rep. Ben Cardin held a town hall. The country, already divided by the policies of the Bush presidency, is rupturing again after a brief feel-good respite between November’s election and the inauguration.

The anger by LGBT activists over the president’s perceived slowness in taking on our issues, I believe, is unreasonable given his right as president to establish his own set of priorities and schedule for his administration. Plus his term still has well over three years remaining, which allows time for action on his part. But at least the exasperation got his attention and demonstrates that we are not asleep at the switch like we were back in 1993.

Sometimes expressing disdain concerning policy or even towards policy-makers is healthy and in a democracy it is part of our fabric. But the heated furor as exhibited during this searing summer can be a bit much, and we should all take a deep breath and cool off some.

Friday, August 14, 2009

"Follow the Dodgers"


It took some work but I was finally able to locate the recording of the Dodgers' theme song, "Follow the Dodgers," when they played in Brooklyn. It was made famous by the incomparable Ebbets Field organist, Gladys Gooding. This song was played every time the Dogers took the field. For my money, it is the best team theme song ever. How they couldn't keep up this tradition in Los Angeles is beyond me.


Same-Sex Marriage and Incest: Another Stupid Argument


Letter Sent to the Baltimore Sun:


George Deller's letter, "Why stop at gay marriage?" (August 13), was a mocking response to the heartfelt commentary ("We're just like you") by a local lesbian couple involved in a long-term committed relationship who were married in Canada and have hopes that Maryland will soon recognize their marriage. In his bewildering diatribe, Mr. Deller intends to use his letter-writing gifts and implore his state representative to not only end discrimination against gay couples but to extend that goal to incestuous adults as well.

The vapid logic of equating same-sex marriage to incest is breathtaking in its absurdity. I'm not sure from which source Mr. Deller obtains his news, but I am not aware of any broad movement afoot where mothers are anxious to marry their sons and brothers are frustrated because the law will not permit marriage to their sisters.

In making this bizarre analogy, Mr. Deller demeans the relationships of tens of thousands of gay and lesbian couples in Maryland and at the same time he perpetuates the nonsense that the legalization or recognition of same-sex marriages will lead to incest and other unrelated consequences. For him to draw such a connection, Mr. Deller must believe there has been an outbreak of incest in the several states plus several countries that have seen the light and have legalized same-sex marriage. Of course, that is not been the case.

If that is the best argument Mr. Deller and others can offer to prevent marriage equality, we should be seeing same-sex couples who had been married out-of-state celebrating soon, which hopefully will open the door for complete marriage equality here.

Mr. Deller would be better served in seeking a reduction of divorces, adultery, poverty, drug and alcohol abuse--the real threats to marriage--not some imaginary threat based on fear and bigotry.

Steve Charing

Friday, July 31, 2009

GGBB Invasion Met with Anti-gay Bias





Two Mad River Bar & Grille employees fired for their actions

By Steve Charing


The Guerilla Gay Bar Baltimore monthly invasion of straight bars and clubs claimed its first "casualties" since the phenomenon began last November. Two doormen were discharged by the general manager of Mad River—a bar and grille in the midst of the bustling Federal Hill neighborhood—following complaints of anti-gay slurs and other allegations of homophobic bias on the part of the staff.

"This is the first time a bar has acted negatively towards our group," wrote GGBB co-founder Mark Yost, Jr. in a message immediately following the event to its ever-expanding list of members on Facebook. "I do want you to know as a group, we will not tolerate such behavior."

The examples of the rude treatment by employees and straight patrons were abundant. "I had a bouncer tell me to get off the landing because it's not a place to hang out, yet [he] allowed a group of straight guys and girls to congregate there all night, immediately after telling me to move," a source, who requested anonymity, told OUTloud.

He added, "Other tables were being waited on by staff because they were ordering food. When we wanted to order food, we had to go to the bar to order." The source also criticized how one of the female bartenders ignored the gay customers and how weak the drinks were.

Not only had some of the employees and staff been homophobic in their words and deeds, a few of the straight customers were as well. "In one instance a patron walked by and said, ‘goddamn faggots,’ igniting laughter from one of the bouncers checking ID’s," the source said.

The pleasant evening of July 3 that kicked off the holiday weekend started off calmly enough. But as the GGBB folks started to pour in—a total of over 350 attended the event—pushing the crowd to near capacity, that’s when the wheels began to fall off the cart.

To identify themselves as part of the "invasion" GGBB participants normally display stickers containing the group’s logo. It appeared that only when the crowd swelled with sticker-clad customers did some of the staff finally get the gist of what was going on.

In fact, the general manager of Mad River, Eric Leatherman told OUTloud that neither himself nor his events coordinator knew in advance about the "invasion." "We had planned on a smaller crowd for the start of the 4th of July weekend," Leatherman explained. "Had I known about the fact hundreds of people were going to come that night we would have added more employees and accommodated the crowd better."

Yost indicated in response to OUTloud that he notified Mad River via e-mail on June 29 and followed up with two phone calls the next day. He had left a message with a female daytime bartender (who, as it turned out, had been planning to quit by week’s end), but no one from the bar called him back. He assumed they received the message and had no problem with the group’s visit later in the week.

This lack of communication and preparedness among Mad River staff set the stage for the insulting events of that night. "I had several friends tell me homophobic comments they (or friends of theirs) heard from the staff, to include a comment by one bouncer to a person on the street that the person wouldn’t want to enter as it was ‘a bunch of fags in here tonight," said Adam Schadt, who is part of the GGBB group. "While leaving the event early on the way to a friend's birthday party, I heard one of the bouncers up front talking with several others in a mocking tone about the event. Still others told me that people were denied entry as they ‘didn’t have enough girls’ in their party."

Added Schadt, "Having been to all but one of the GGBB events, we have had nothing but positive experiences at every other location, even from the first few bars when our numbers were much smaller and we came unannounced. On several occasions I’ve had bartenders and staff mention how much they loved us and ask when we’d be coming back. This was anything but the reaction we got from Mad River."

Of course, not everybody had a bad experience that night. Sarah Billmaier and her fiancée, Jen, were apprehensive about going because they have not enjoyed straight bars recently. But as they settled down and had a drink they relaxed.

"Towards the middle of the evening I noticed this cute gay couple dancing and kissing - nothing too outrageous," said Billmaier. "I happened to glance the other way and saw a straight couple doing the very same thing. This not only made me smile but it also warmed my heart. When I first came out, I always wondered if there would ever come a day when every bar was for everyone."

After hearing the negative reports, however, Mark Yost had planned to contact Eric Leatherman to protest the treatment and harassment inflicted upon the GGBB members. Yet it was Leatherman who contacted Yost first after an employee noticed a number of postings to the GGBB’s Facebook page that lodged complaints.

Yost wrote the GGBB followers in a Facebook message, "[Leatherman] was extremely apologetic and indicated that the staff members who had acted inappropriately were discharged. He was concerned about the image of his bar and of his personal image and wanted us to be sure that we knew that he would not accept, promote or permit this type of behavior from his staff.

Indeed, Leatherman stated to OUTloud, "I hate that something like this would allow people to think that we feel this way about the gay community. It does not reflect how I feel nor does it reflect the position of Mad River."

"I believe his apology and his actions speak loudly and I truly believe they were well-intentioned and thoughtful," wrote Yost. "The behavior of this staff should be rightfully read as representing the individuals not the establishment. They are no longer there and that sends a pretty clear message."

Yost told OUTloud, "While the bar's apology was great and I truly believe that the employees involved do not represent the ownership, this incident is a sad reminder that not all people in Baltimore are enlightened about the gay community. As we continue to fight for our civil rights, it remains important that we go out, show our faces and build our community."

GGBB launches an "invasion" of a straight establishment in Baltimore with the bar management’s prior knowledge on the first Friday of every month. For more information about Guerilla Gay Bar Baltimore you may visit their website at www.ggb-baltimore.com or join the group on Facebook. The location of the next "invasion" is disclosed on Facebook the Wednesday before the event.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

From Bally's to Ballyhoo




Why straight, religious model Demonta Walker embraces the LGBT community

By Steve Charing

A couple of years ago this fairly tall, well-built, exceptionally handsome man had been a manager at Bally’s Fitness on Route 40 in Ellicott City. His physique, like it was carved out of stone, was impressive enough. His personality was friendly, warm and most genuine. He was soft-spoken but engaging. And oh, those eyes!

One day, when I still was a member of that club, I summoned up the courage to suggest to Demonta (pronounced De-MON-tay) Walker that he should consider modeling. I mean this guy had everything going for him in the looks department plus he was as sweet as he could be.

It took some more prodding on my part, coupled with the encouragement from other friends and family who also saw the potential of Demonta’s posing in front of a camera lens, when he decided to give it a shot.

"At one point being in the fitness industry as a manager for Bally's Corporation, I found myself in a field that I really enjoyed along with meeting many people from every race and walk of life," he explained. "However I have always had a desire to become a bigger part of life and share a hidden talent that I was not able to do as a child growing up due to a lack of financial support."

He studied accounting at Baltimore County Community College before realizing that accounting wasn’t really his passion, although weight training, basketball and running were. Acting was a passion, too, and a dream.

The Ellicott City resident realized at the age of 35 that he would seek to capitalize on that not-so-hidden "talent" and try to enter the uber-competitive fields of hosting, modeling and acting. A devoutly religious man, Demonta calls his "talent" a gift from "the man in the heavens." Others would refer to his "talent" as strikingly good looks, but he’s too humble to say that.

Demonta has been on a fast track since he began his new career. Following some photo shoots in Florida, he has attracted sufficient attention to appear in other media. Demonta was an extra in the heralded film, Milk He has also been in a couple of TV shows, such as BET’s "Rap It Up" and VH1’s "Nick and Friends." He dreams of working alongside Will Smith one day.

Demonta has also shown up on a national advertising campaign for AT&T's Blue Room online experience. He had completed various photography shoots for Dolce and Gabbana, Kenneth Cole, Nike and Armani.

Beginning August 1, Demonta will be attending the well-known Tarsha's Acting School, located in Hollywood. He will use this opportunity to pursue one of the passions of his life—acting. "So look out Hollywood, a new actor’s coming to the silver screen," he warns.

One would think that his trek through the highways and byways of the modeling and entertainment worlds would provide Demonta with some exposure to elements of the LGBT community. It did.

"In my field and line of work, the fashion industry alone is run and coordinated by some of the world’s best designers. I have had the opportunity of going to Johnny Versace's mansion on South Beach every year for Model Week and even just for the pool parties from time to time. I have met many talented gay, lesbian and transgendered people that play a major part in the fashion world," Demonta points out.

"I must say I have a lot of respect for their talent and wisdom. In the film industry I have also met some of the most talented actors and actresses whom just happen to be gay, lesbian as well as bisexual who I will not mention. Wouldn't you just love the inside scoop?" he chuckles.

"My acceptance of the gay and lesbian community did not start because of my journey in this career," Demonta explains. "It has been instilled in me from the days of my youth." He adds, "As a straight religious man, I was raised by my loving and supportive family to believe not only in faith or a higher power, but also in ‘live and let live.’"

Demonta feels that the support he receives from the gay community plus his own understanding of how minorities should be treated will help make the world a better place. "We are all good-looking brothers and sisters in God’s eyes and in our own way, and this earth would not be our house without all of us coming together and making this a home."

Demonta’s sums up his career change this way: "Life is a journey true, but when you hit hard times in your journey it does not mean unpack. It means it’s time to change luggage and continue traveling to achieve your dreams and accomplish your goals."

That’s a good philosophy to follow whether your looks can turn heads or not.