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

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.


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