Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Halloween or the Nov. 2 Elections—Which is Scarier?

Sharron Angle, one of the darlings of the tea party movement and who is running as the Republican challenger against Democratic Senator Harry Reid in Nevada, has professed some interesting ideas. And as we approach Halloween and the general election a couple of days afterwards, these are scary ideas.

Angle, according to the AP, deemed "a BP fund of oil spill victims a 'slush fund;' suggesting tea party followers will resort to 'Second Amendment remedies' if Washington is not reformed; concluding that unemployment benefits have 'spoiled our citizenry;' and blasting Democrats for pushing public benefits to 'make government our God.'”

She has advocated the end of Social Security although her views have "moderated" to simply "transitioning out" Social Security, because her campaign has been subject to greater scrutiny.

Angle opposes abortion in all circumstances, including rape and incest. She is virulently anti-immigration, and clearly opposes most of the key LGBT issues, such as repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell (though she doesn't understand the process in the Congress) and same-sex marriage.

Even possessing what one would ordinarily characterize as an extreme right-wing ideology, Angle is actually ahead in the polls against the Senate Majority leader. She has a good chance of winning.

And so do other like-minded tea party-backed candidates for Congress—all Republicans. In some places they will surely lose. In others they will certainly win. The New York Times argued that regardless of the outcome of the November 2 elections, the tea party movement will enjoy broad influence in the Republican Party that will pull it further to the right as a result of the inevitable battle of ideology wages on.

This is profoundly scarier than any Halloween—especially if you are part of the LGBT community or an ally.

The GOP, for reasons that continue to escape me, is poised to regain control of the House of Representatives and even worse but less likely, the U.S. Senate. They want to make this election about President Obama; after all he stopped a sure depression, saved a million jobs that would have been lost had he not pushed for a bailout of major automobile manufacturing companies, and restructured health care that has been pronounced by independent economists as deficit neutral.

Until his refusal to use his authority to finally crush the nefarious Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy when a California judge opened that door, I had been a big supporter of the President. But his presidency—at least his first term—was doomed from the start when radio blowhard Rush Limbaugh emerged from his addiction problems to pray that the President and his policies should fail. This lends new meaning to the word patriotism from a man who had prides himself as a patriot.

When the Republican opposition had been relatively quiet at the outset of Obama's term, Rush gave them voice. They lined up behind this jackass and found their footing. The "birthers" re-emerged. You know, they are the ones who still feel Hawaii is a foreign country and the President is not a U.S. citizen. Then he has been accused of being a Muslim, forgetting their own demagoguery during the 2008 campaign against Obama's association with the Christian preacher, Reverend Jeremiah Wright.

This is what we are facing if the predictions of November 2 come true. A country that will be led in part by the likes of Queen of the Tea Party, Sarah Palin (at least through her own brand of demagoguery), Michelle Bachman, and perhaps Sharron Angle, Rand Paul and others of their ilk.

Say good-bye to the repeal of DADT. Despite Sen. Mitch McConnell's supposed willingness to allow the vote to once again take place following the elections, don't bet on a favorable outcome. Not if the sore-loser-in-chief Sen. John McCain has his way. The continued reckless discrimination against gay and lesbian service members will continue unabated despite 70 percent of the country and all of the top military brass favoring repeal.

Say good-bye to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act or ENDA, which had its best chance in the first term of President Obama, but that window shut in a hurry. The 30-year attempt to end discrimination in the workplace will continue to languish.

And for sure, say good-bye to any opportunity for repealing the Federal Defense of Marriage Act or DOMA. It really didn't have much of a chance to begin with but at least a dialogue and perhaps hearings may have started during Obama's second term (if there is to be one) and Democrats somehow remain in the majority.

Locally, we have squandered the past four years with a liberal Democratic governor and a huge majority of Democrats in the legislature. No same-sex marriage bill ever saw the light of day outside a committee. No transgender or gender identity protection bill was allowed to head to the floor for a debate and vote.

The upcoming election will unlikely result in any significant shift in the legislature, but the fight for governor is still up in the air with turnout in a two-to-one Democratic advantage in the state to be the key factor. Should Mr. Ehrlich prevail, the next four years will go as the previous eight—no tangible progress, no matter how many legislators sign their name to a pro-LGBT bill.

Yes, Halloween, especially for children could be scary yet fun. Whatever frightening costumes, pranks and tricks that are a part of the tradition will only last a day or night.

But with the upcoming election, the results could prove even scarier, the pranks are on us, and they will last for years to come.


Monday, October 18, 2010

Trying to Unseat Foes of Equality

by Steve Charing

Maryland's legislative District 9A covers northern Howard County with numerous leafy neighborhoods and small businesses. Over 63,000 registered voters live in the district that includes Ellicott City. These voters are just about evenly split between the two parties with a fifth identifying themselves as Independents.

This used to be a Republican stronghold, but there have been changes in political leanings as new housing developments and jobs in the region have attracted younger professionals from the urban areas of Baltimore and Washington, D.C. who may hold a more progressive mindset.

As a result of this shift in demographics, there is a better chance now to unseat the two Republicans, Gail Bates and Warren Miller, than would have been thought possible only a few years ago.

As first-time candidates, business owner Jon Weinstein and Maryann Maher (pictured), a consultant with expertise in computer science, are challenging the two delegates in what has been described by most political pundits as an anti-incumbent election cycle. Still, it's always an uphill climb when trying to unseat incumbents, largely because of the name recognition that incumbency brings. In local elections, most voters don't focus on the issues as much as the identities and party affiliations of the candidates.

Bates has been in the legislature since 2002, and Miller has served since 2003. Both were appointed by then Governor Robert Ehrlich. They share conservative economic and social beliefs and are in lock-step in trying to thwart Governor Martin O'Malley's agenda.

They are also opponents of full LGBT equality.

Both Bates and Miller have joined forces with other far right wing legislative colleagues, such as Delegate Donald H. Dwyer, Jr., in attempting to pass, so far unsuccessfully, a constitutional amendment that would define marriage in Maryland as a union between a man and a woman.

Demonstrating that they do not possess even a semblance of open-mindedness concerning LGBT issues, neither Bates nor Miller allowed themselves to be available during "Lobby Day"—an annual effort to educate and perhaps influence legislators to embrace a more pro-LGBT point of view or to firm up existing support. LGBT folks and allies who are their constituents in 9A have tried to no avail to meet with Bates and Miller on these occasions. It was a basic snub of their constituents.

Moreover, several years ago, there was a hearing that took place at a Howard County Government building whereby constituents were permitted to testify for or against any proposed bill that may appear before the General Assembly. A sizable contingent from the Howard County chapter of PFLAG spoke on behalf of marriage equality for same-sex couples before the Howard County legislative delegation, which included Gail Bates.

One after another testified—perhaps a dozen or more—and not once did Gail Bates even extend the courtesy of providing eye contact with the speaker. Instead, her head was bowed as if she was praying, and her body language suggested that sitting in a burning car would have been a better place to be at the time.

Their legislative record confirms their repulsion towards LGBT people. In the 2009 General Assembly, Miller received a score of 0 out of 100 from Equality Maryland. Bates' score was a mere 5 out of 100.

In stark contrast, both Weinstein and Maher met with a variety of LGBT groups and attended their events. Both have been endorsed by Equality Maryland in the 2010 elections.

"Marriage equality to me is simply a matter of fairness, justice, and liberty," Maryann Maher told Baltimore OUTloud. "I know it will come one day and I would like to do my part, as a mother, citizen, and legislator, to make that happen sooner rather than later."

Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler, who has been a strong advocate for marriage equality and became more visible following his issuance of an opinion in February that stated that Maryland should recognize the valid marriages of same-sex couples performed in other locales, endorsed Jon Weinstein at a fundraiser several weeks ago.

Following the event in Columbia, the Baltimore Sun reported, "Gansler praised Weinstein as a 'former Republican' who has seen the light and become a 'pro-business, moderate, centrist Democrat who believes gay people should be able to get married.'"

Weinstein has been painting both Bates and Miller as Tea Partiers, and, as such, out of mainstream with the district's voters. He pounced on a published photograph that showed Miller at a Tea Party event last year wearing a t-shirt that read, "I'll keep my guns, freedom, and money. You can keep the change." Miller was also seen in the photo holding a sign that read, "Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire," presumably a swipe at President Obama.

This was brought up at a recent candidates' forum in Ellicott City. He responded by suggesting it was nothing more than "political hyperbole," which many voters think there should be less of and instead, more solutions to problems.

Weinstein feels his stance on equal rights is more suitable for the constituents of District 9A. "I believe that equality for the LGBT community is a matter of human rights," he stated. "Unlike my opponents who regularly seek to deny people their rights, I will work with people from the LGBT community in my district and around the state to find a path to full equality."

Both Jon Weinstein and Maryann Maher are seeking support from the LGBT community to help unseat Bates and Miller. Both can use donations as well as volunteer time. To help out, you may visit www.Vote4Jon.com and www.maryannmaher.com.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Partisan Vitriol, Entitlement Show Need for Political Changes

Letter published in the October 14, 2010edition of the Howard County Times

Quotes in two different political-related articles (Oct. 7) deserve comment. In the first article, Del. Warren Miller, after legitimately being called out for holding a sign at a Tea Party event last year that said, "Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire," responded, "I guess he's [challenger Jon Weinstein] never heard of political hyperbole."

The problem with the extreme partisan divide in this country is an over-abundance of political hyperbole. What we need is more political civility and a whole lot less hyperbole. Our nation must unite once again to face the myriad challenges before us and not remain split apart as a result of bitter, partisan and yes, childish name-calling.

To that end, I strongly support the candidacies of Jon Weinstein and Maryann Maher to replace delegates Warren Miller and Gail Bates. They are eminently qualified individuals who understand the values of their district and would, if elected become effective, mature lawmakers. A change is definitely needed in District 9A.

The other article, on the courthouse races, contained another curious quote. The clerk of the Circuit Court, incumbent Republican Margaret Rappaport said, "This has kept me sane, doing this work. Does he [challenger Jason Reddish] want to take it away from me? Is that what he wants to do?"

With all due respect, Ms. Rappaport, any job funded by the taxpayers is intended to serve the public. It is not meant to cling to it for many years simply to preserve one's sanity. Occupying the office is not an entitlement; it is won or lost through elections.

As is the case in District 9A, I believe a fresh approach is needed for the offices of both the register of wills office and the clerk of the court. I wholeheartedly support the candidacies of Byron Macfarlane for register of wills and Jason Reddish for clerk of the court. They would bring their intellect, technical skills and energy to these offices and serve the public for the right reasons.

Steve Charing


Friday, October 08, 2010

Lesbian Couple Ejected at Ravens Game

With the Baltimore Ravens clinging to a 14-10 halftime lead against the Cleveland Browns on September 26, Mary Kate Morris and Nicole Marchetto decided to hit the concession stand behind Section 538 of M&T Bank Stadium. Little did they know at that point that they would not get to see the second half of the game.

The couple, who reside in Hampden, saw a long line at the restroom and decided to buy some beer and fries until the line diminished. They spotted a plastic cup on the counter and used it to pour ketchup for the fries.

While waiting for their orders, the couple engaged in what Marchetto characterized as "casual kissing." Almost immediately a security guard and a supervisor told the women to "stop making a scene." They were warned on three occasions but they continued because, according to Marchetto, "the kissing was heartfelt and decent in the real sense and was not any different from what numerous law-abiding straight couples were doing all around us."

Soon afterwards, the security guard demanded to see their driver licenses, and then the women were told they need to leave the stadium immediately. Asking why they had to leave the guard accused them of first stealing the cup from the concession stand and then accused them of stealing the beer. A Baltimore City policeman intervened and told the guards they did not steal any beer. "Dude, that's not what they did," Morris recollected the officer's remarks to the guard. The couple still has the receipts from all the purchases.

Nonetheless, they were forced out of the stadium escorted by three police officers. As they left, Marchetto "looked the cop in the eye and told him that I am not only a paying customer and a law-abiding citizen." It was to no avail.

Mary Kate Morris and Nicole Marchetto strongly believe that their ejection resulted from the kissing and nothing else. "Straight couples were kissing all around us," concurred Morris who pointed out that no one complained about their own displays of affection. As a matter of fact, some fans were not only approving but cheered us."

Baltimore OUTloud contacted the Maryland Stadium Authority, the organization who employs security at M&T Bank Stadium and Oriole Park at Camden Yards to comment on the incident. After checking with security personnel, Jan Hardesty, a media spokesperson for the Maryland Stadium Authority, stated the ejection was a result of "unauthorized removal of inventory" (the cup). According to Hardesty, an employee of Aramark (company that runs the concessions) witnessed the removal of the cup to pour ketchup. Each item must be accounted for, according to Hardesty.

When asked does the use of a cup, for which the women offered to pay the full price of a fountain drink, justify removal from the game given the price of tickets, Hardesty had no comment.

The same question was posed to Patrick Gleason, Public Relations Manager for the Baltimore Ravens. He, too, did not respond. However, he did investigate the incident with the Ravens' senior vice president of public and community relations Kevin Byrne and vice president of stadium operations Roy Sommerhof.

The official response by Byrne: “We’re aware of the incident, and we’re satisfied with the action taken by the concessionaire, security and police.”

Gleason added, "Many of our game day concession stands are run by volunteer groups to raise money for their charities. Accounting for drinks sold is computed by the number of cups used. If cups are taken or missing once the game ends, then the respective volunteer group is responsible for reimbursement."

However, Mary Kate Morris and Nicole Marchetto believe the eviction was out of proportion compared to removal of a plastic cup and that the displays of affection were the true motive. The false accusation regarding stealing beer lends credence to their assertion.

At press time, the couple is considering legal options.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

The Religious Right and the Suicides

The LGBT community is feeling the collective grief brought on by the recent tragic suicides of several gay or perceived to be gay teens. Each young person had a bright future taken away from him because of the antics of bullies—kids with low self-esteem who felt the need to inflict shame on the victims in a pathetic attempt to upgrade their own status. This didn't just occur last month; it happens all the time.

While the causes of bullying are complex, certainly the culprits include bad parenting, psychological problems in general, ineffective enforcement of anti-bullying laws if they even exist, or the tormenters just needed to have the power. Hate is a factor, too.

But it is the message put forth by homophobic politicians and religious groups, including clergy of all races, which contributes to the anti-gay culture that allows bullying to proceed unabated.

LGBT kids are told they can be "cured" through religion, even though there is no evidence of such a transformation. Impressionable kids pick up on the message that homosexuality is sinful and shameful. They act on it when they encounter a vulnerable teen. There is little, if any, intervention by others when it occurs. Today, cyber bullying is a dangerous weapon because it can be carried out anonymously or without anyone noticing it.

Most of these suicides following bullying occur in remote or exurban or suburban areas where there are few LGBT support groups available or other LGBT teens with which they can bond. The isolation plus the anti-gay propaganda from the religious right as well as other conservatives create a toxic and dangerous situation.

According to the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (www.GLSEN.org) from a 2009 study:

. 84.6% of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed, 40.1% reported being physically harassed and 18.8% reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation.

. 63.7% of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed, 27.2% reported being physically harassed and 12.5% reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their gender expression.

. 72.4% heard homophobic remarks, such as "faggot" or "dyke," frequently or often at school.

. Nearly two-thirds (61.1%) of students reported that they felt unsafe in school because of their sexual orientation, and more than a third (39.9%) felt unsafe because of their gender expression.

You can also add that studies indicate that LGBT students are much more likely to commit suicide than their straight counterparts.

Society has taken notice of this problem, and some locales have acted on it with laws that prohibit bullying based on certain characteristics—sexual orientation being among them.

About 45 states have some form of anti-bullying laws on the books. One would think that it's a no-brainer to allow all children in school to learn with the same advantages. Yet there are the religious right groups and like-minded bigots who must think bullying is acceptable—a right of passage for young boys.

In an effort to advocate for anti-bullying legislation and school programs, roadblocks are put up by Christian activists who characterize the initiatives as an attempt to "promote homosexuality to kids." Focus on the Family, as an example, has falsely accused gay-rights groups of using tolerance and anti-bullying programs to foster political goals in the schools such as same-sex marriage.

"What parents need to be aware of is there are activist groups who want to promote homosexuality to kids because they realize if they can capture hearts and minds of our children at the earliest ages they will have for all practical purposes won the clash of values that we are currently experiencing," Candi Cushman, education analyst for Focus on the Family, said on TrueTolerance.org. "They've started introducing homosexuality lessons, sometimes even sexually graphic information under the cover of tolerance or so-called safe school initiatives or even anti-bullying programs," she said.

These barriers to anti-bullying programs coupled with the messages young people receive from homophobes create a volatile situation.

When you have the then President of the United States, George W. Bush, publicly advocating discrimination against gays and lesbians by opposing marriage equality, it sends a message.

When you have politicians in TV ads implying that an opponent is gay as if it's the worst thing in the world, it sends a message.

When you have a minister standing at the pulpit waving the Bible in one hand and raising his fist with the other saying homosexuality is wrong and sinful and that those who are gay will go to hell, it sends a message.

And when you have religious right wing groups like Focus on the Family and the American Family Association—who raise millions of dollars in their fundraising communications using scare tactics against homosexuality—ignoring the tragedies of the suicides but instead blame the gay lobby for exploiting them, it sends a message.

Sadly, these messages are heard by misguided adolescents who tragically act on them and influence our vulnerable gay kids to take their own lives.