Tuesday, May 18, 2010

It's Never Too Late to Speak Out for our Rights

Former First Lady Laura Bush's recent revelation about her support for same-sex marriage on Larry King caused a bit of a stir. It wasn't a full-throated endorsement of marriage equality wrapped in a rainbow flag, but she was supportive, and she thinks same-sex marriage is inevitable. On the CNN broadcast she said:

"I think that we ought to definitely look at it and debate it. I think there are a lot of people who have trouble coming to terms with that because they see marriage as traditionally between a man and a woman, but I also know that when couples are committed to each other and love each other that they ought to have the same sort of rights that everyone has."

The blogosphere kicked into gear. Was this a change of heart for her? Or, did she always believed in marriage equality but was told to zip it for 8 years? Where was she when we needed her during the 2004 campaign when gays were trashed by her husband and his puppet master, Karl Rove?

These are all legitimate questions, to be sure. But when you are in a civil rights struggle, one cannot dictate timing. I agree with the response from Michael Cole, spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign: "When the right wing was using same-sex couples as election year pawns and the president calling for a cynical constitutional amendment to deny people rights, we would have welcomed support from the first lady. Nevertheless, her speaking out for marriage equality shows that more and more Americans realize all families need the same rights and protections."

And that's the point: the battle for LGBT rights is an evolution. When people eventually come around to a more progressive mindset and understand the meaning of equality, we should embrace their supportive positions and welcome them aboard the equality train. Because the reserved and likeable Mrs. Bush had a far more positive appeal around the country than her husband, her statements, even if late, will go a long way towards achieving our goal. It could influence other people to examine their own views on the subject. And if it pisses off right wing groups like Focus on the Family, even better.

Laura Bush's comments were the latest of a series of slow-moving but positive pronouncements by high profile individuals. When former Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Colin Powell did an about face on allowing openly gay people to serve in the military, the shift in his views was seismic.

Attitudes and circumstances have changed," said Powell. "Society is reflected in the military. It’s where we get our soldiers from.” Other generals and admirals, active and retired, now had the cover to "come out" in support. This momentum, plus President Obama's pledge to end "don't ask, don't tell" will finally lead to its repeal.

Yes, General Powell could have been more useful to our cause had he expressed the same sentiments in 1993 that could have prevented the needless discharges of 13,000 qualified members of our armed forces. But his voice is still potent and influential, and his reversal is most welcome, no matter how late.

This also applies to the world of sports—a hot bed of homophobia. Several gay professional athletes have come out after their playing days were over. Esera Tuaolo, a burly lineman for five NFL teams, revealed his sexual orientation and explained how fearful he was should his being gay had been known to his teammates.

Basketball player John Amaechi, who played in the NBA for four teams, also came out after his retirement and expressed similar thoughts. While Tuaolo's revelation in 2002 didn't generate much public reaction from his former teammates and opponents, Amaechi's disclosure in 2007 did. It brought to the surface such homophobes as former Orlando Magic player Tim Hardaway. In an anti-gay rant, Hardaway said, "You know, I hate gay people, so I let it be known. I don't like gay people and I don't like to be around gay people. I am homophobic. I don't like it. It shouldn't be in the world or in the United States."

But Amaechi's admission brought to light key supporters, such as Grant Hill. "The fact that John has done this, maybe it will give others the comfort or confidence to come out as well, whether they are playing or retiring," Hill said.

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban added, "When you do something that the whole world thinks is difficult and you stand up and just be who you are and take on that difficulty factor, you're an American hero no matter what," Cuban said. "That's what the American spirit's all about, going against the grain and standing up for who you are, even if it's not a popular position."

These words can affect, perhaps alter, the thinking of the public. A simple spark can often ignite a fire. Who knew, for example, that Grant Hill or Mark Cuban would be supportive of a gay former pro athlete? Who knows what impact Laura Bush's comments will have on society?

That is why it is critical in an evolving movement where education on the issues and increasing comfort levels are paramount for success. And that if high profile individuals make their pro-lgbt stances known, that is a big step forward—even if it's later than sooner.


Wednesday, May 05, 2010

When Silence is Not Golden

The "Silence No More" candlelight vigil (April 30) was a call to arms against hate crimes in Baltimore. We are fed up with being attacked by ignorant thugs who have nothing better to do with their lives than to seek out vulnerable members of our community—particularly, but not exclusively, transgender people—and try to hurt us. Silence in response to these attacks is definitely part of the problem, and it occurs on several levels.

One way to end the silence is for community leaders, such as Trans-United, which opened up a dialogue with the Baltimore City Police Department, the State's Attorney's Office and the U.S. Attorney General's Office to demand that these institutions not only work harder to apprehend the culprits engaged in these attacks but also to aggressively prosecute the criminals to the fullest extent of the law, applying existing hate crimes statutes when appropriate.

The mainstream media, which all but ignored the suicides of two young boys last year who were bullied in school for being perceived as gay but kicked into first gear when a straight teen committed suicide after being bullied, are guilty of being silent. The media must report attacks on our community members, which would encourage the broader population to be watchful and more involved. There was no ostensible news coverage of the vigil by the mainstream press.

Silence from our local LGBT community organizations is not a good thing either; they must be part of the solution. At the Vigil, several women were asking why the Center—Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center of Baltimore and Central Maryland (GLCCB) was not a sponsor of the Vigil or had a representative address the crowd. This is a community event of great significance, and the women's frustration was understandable. I confirmed with Sandy Rawls, the Vigil's principal organizer, that the GLCCB had been invited to be a sponsor and to provide a speaker, but no one from the GLCCB returned her phone call.

It is also incumbent upon our own community members to speak out against these crimes. One gay man was recently attacked after leaving a Mt. Vernon bar but never reported it to the police. Every attack or verbal insult about being gay or transgender must be reported. While the perpetrator(s) may never be caught, the statistical evidence could support added police surveillance to the area when they see a problem increasing.

Moreover, this man didn't even want his story told in this paper, despite a pledge of anonymity, even if such a story would benefit other members of the community by heightening awareness. Again, that's where silence hurts us all.

On the other hand, I applaud Adrian and his partner for reporting to police an incident whereby an egg was thrown at the couple by a passenger in a moving vehicle while walking hand-in-hand up St. Paul Street. Fortunately, nobody was hurt. Clearly, someone like that who had an egg in the vehicle had no other goal but to seek out member of our community to cause trouble. It was an egg that night, but it could evolve into something worse later on. The police officer who showed up to take the report was "nice, cordial and efficient," according to Adrian.

To be sure, not all responding officers dutifully take reports or show much of an interest. Some make the victims feel like they're the criminals. We have to overcome that fear and still make the attempt to file a report. We are fortunate to have a liaison with the lgbt community, Sgt. Jeffrey Chaney.

Should anyone in the community be a victim of a crime or even a recipient of anti-gay epithets in Baltimore, he or she should call 911 and report it. If one is called "faggot" or "dyke" by someone, while that is not a crime, it is considered a reportable hate bias incident. If you don't report these, the police will assume there is no reason to expend resources patrolling the area.

If dissatisfied with the police response, the victim should request to speak to a police supervisor. If the issue is still not resolved, then the victim should ask for the LGBT liaison or Sgt. Chaney.

We can easily fall into the trap that we are in a comfort zone in Mt. Vernon because of the number of gay clubs and bars and the large number of LGBT folks bustling about. However, Mt. Vernon is not a gay bubble like San Francisco's Castro District or New York's Greenwich Village. Even in such lgbt conclaves as Dupont Circle in D.C., there are crimes committed against our community.

People from all over the city and beyond come to Mt. Vernon to patronize other nightclubs or restaurants, seek sex partners, or just show up to make mischief against our community. The area attracts all sorts of people.

We've made progress through the years, but homophobia remains problematic and dangerous. We have to be vigilant and careful. We must not make ourselves vulnerable by walking the streets impaired or alone.

And we definitely must not be silent.