Thursday, July 28, 2011

Adding Gray to the Rainbow

By Steve Charing
While I was celebrating a landmark birthday of sorts at the “Gay Mecca by the Sea”—Provincetown (P-Town), Massachusetts, I couldn’t help but notice a difference in the demographics of those visiting this iconic LGBT resort. Over the three-plus decades of vacationing at P-Town, the crowd has changed from a predominantly younger group to a more mature one.
This is not to say that Provincetown resembles Miami Beach; far from it. But if there was a pie chart depicting the various age groups through the years, the slice showing, let’s say, over 45 is getting thicker while the slice showing under 35 is narrowing.
One of the main reasons is that the cost of lodging, food and entertainment have been increasing steadily and have probably priced out the less affluent younger generation, both male and female, from partaking in this wonderful vacation spot. Why spend that much money on a scenic, historic, vibrant venue when the newest iPhone is about to go on sale?
Another factor is that the number of seniors in the LGBT population—a microcosm of the general population—is increasing faster than just about any other age group. This has been enhanced by the Baby Boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964. Currently, there are an estimated 3 million LGBT elders in the United States. By 2030, that number will nearly double.
It’s not that obvious in P-Town, but it is safe to say that in general older gay men and lesbians have been the subject of scorn and ridicule by many in the younger generation especially in this youth-obsessed culture. The pattern has existed for decades. Although it is true that many younger LGBT folks have marginalized the older generation, it’s not always the case. Plenty of young gays and lesbians find attraction to their elders and establish friendships.
In the excellent book Reeling in the Years: Gay Men’s Perspectives on Age and Ageism (Harrington Park Press), author Tim Bergling presents anecdotal nuggets from hundreds of gay men over and under 40 and their experiences with the opposite generation. Some of these stories cover the swath of emotions from fear and loathing to love and happiness.
The book also points out that while younger gays have cast the elders aside, many older ones show a decided lack of respect for the younger generation. It cuts both ways.
But the concerns of the older LGBT generation go beyond their acceptance by the younger one. The recent San Diego LGBT Senior Needs Assessment Survey polled some 500 LGBT seniors, ages 50 and up, on topics most important to them as they grow older. Social matters, support, and concerns of social isolation were the top issues among those surveyed. That was followed by health and quality of life issues, financial concerns, LGBT-affirmative housing and housing affordability, and health insurance/access to quality health care.
As identified in the San Diego survey, an important issue facing LGBT seniors is living alone. That's true for 50 percent of LGBT elders versus 33 percent of the general population, according to Dr. Judy Bradford of The Fenway Institute, a Boston-based researcher of LGBT health issues. She notes that LGBT seniors are more likely to be estranged from their families.
In addition, there is a paucity of LGBT retirement communities in the U.S. While the number is increasing each year, there are still too few to house the burgeoning older LGBT population.
Moreover, nursing homes are a problem for LGBT seniors. Few states recognize the marriages of same-sex couples, and the existing cultural discrimination results in couples being split up in such facilities.
Yet with all these clouds forming above the heads of LGBT seniors, there are solid support networks to help allow the sunshine to peer in. As we spotlighted last issue, the Prime Timers of Baltimore offers an outstanding array of social activities and interaction to help their members address some of these concerns, especially the major issue of social isolation.
For lesbians, there is the social group Older and Wiser Lesbians (OWLs) of the Greater Capitol area) whom we would like to similarly profile in the near future.
The mega-organization AARP is also recognizing the needs of the increased aging LGBT population. Last month, in conjunction with Pride, AARP launched a new online web portal to serve us older LGBT folks. The site features articles on news, personal finance, relationships, travel and other topics of concern to older LGBT Americans, and their family and friends, as well as a community forum.
In addition, it presents targeted news, trivia quizzes and information on healthcare, retirement planning, care giving, taxation, employment discrimination and more. Visitors can access AARP’s coverage of relevant topics, including an article from the latest issue of AARP The Magazine examining—three decades after the emergence of HIV/AIDS—–the new face of AIDS: people over 50. (Included was a profile of Lee Fischer, the President of the Prime Timers of Baltimore.)
The portal also features AARP’s 20-part multimedia package, The Stonewall Riots: 40 Years Later, A Milestone Anniversary.
The quirky new film Beginners, now playing at the Charles Theatre in Baltimore, is centered in part on a character played superbly by Christopher Plummer, who came out as gay at the age of 75 following the death of his wife. He had the support of his son (Ewan McGregor), his much younger boyfriend, and a host of gay friends and lived a full and happy life until his ultimate passing.
Most of those mature folks who enjoyed Provincetown this summer also had friends and partners to share the magical moments with. Many more, however, need that support system. Hopefully, they will reach out to those organizations that can help them secure the friendships and resources that are needed to allow them to live fulfilling lives. And it wouldn’t hurt to reach out to them as well.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Pulling Maryland Into the Gutter?!?

Letter Published in July 29, 2011 Baltimore Sun

Al Eisner’s cynical letter should be labeled under the heading “Be careful what you wish for” ( “Md. Needs a referendum on same-sex marriage,” July 26). In chiding Gov. Martin O’Malley for making same-sex marriage a part of his 2012 legislative agenda and therefore, will, according to Eisner, “pull Maryland into the gutter,” he urges the state to do what many people consider to be is the un-American effort of putting minority’s rights up for a popular vote.

Marriage for same-sex couples has existed in Massachusetts for over seven years now. And with all fear mongering, doomsday scenarios, scare tactics and exaggerated hype, Massachusetts maintains the lowest divorce rate in the U.S.

People recognize that the sky did not fall since 2004, and the legalization of same-sex marriage has strengthened the institution, not dragging it into the gutter.

The trend continues to be favorable for marriage equality, thanks in part, to a realization that nobody’s marriage is threatened by the participation of others in the institution and to many of the enlightened and fair-minded younger generation who are still scratching their collective heads over this brand of discrimination.

Should a referendum take place next year, proponents of marriage equality will be ready to battle the anti-equality forces from inside and outside the state. And Al Eisner and his ilk will be surprised to discover that a majority of Maryland’s voters do not share his bigoted views, and the state will be poised to be the first to defeat a marriage equality referendum that would overturn the will of duly elected officials.

Steve Charing

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Boo-Hoo Red Sox

For those who heard about the one-sided penalties meted out by Joe Garagiola, Jr. of Major League Baseball in the recent game involving the Baltimore Orioles and the Boston Red Sox, I feel your pain. It’s another example of the haves (winning seasons forever) against the have-nots (losing seasons seemingly forever).

I shrugged my shoulders and thought, “so what else is new.” The Orioles received the brunt of the punishment and the Red Sox players and manager almost got off completely unscathed. It’s a joke, and a bad one at that.

But when I encountered a Sox fan at the gym today, I couldn’t help being “outspoken” about the absurdity of the situation. That absurdity, however, was surpassed by his ridiculous defense of the penalties.

It all boils down to the fact, according to this guy, that Orioles pitcher Kevin Gregg was in the wrong by telling “Big Papi” David Ortiz to run out a pop-up. Wow! The guy said this with a straight face!

I said Ortiz should have simply ignored the comment and head back to the dugout. But no—the guy said Gregg had no right to tell him to run out a pop fly.

Are we talking about a 5 year-old? Ortiz is a multi-million dollar professional athlete, and a good one, not some school kid. But apparently Ortiz was uber-sensitive to the pitcher’s comments.

Walk away, turn the other cheek, don’t dignify Gregg’s taunt by reacting to it. Not Big Papi. He had to make a show in front of the home crowd and charge the mound swinging wildly but missing Gregg with any blows. What an example to kids!

Back in the day, baseball players were subject to ruthless bench jockeying throughout a game. It was no big deal. A player would charge the mound only if he was beaned and was conscious enough to react. Today’s modern agent-represented prima donnas charge the mound on the basis of a verbal taunt or an inside pitch. It’s incredible how the sport has evolved.

It makes one appreciate the courage, temperament and class of Jackie Robinson. All the times he received a lot worse taunts than Ortiz did—including the N-word on a consistent basis—Robinson had the ability to hold back the fire and take his anger out competitively on the field.

Not Ortiz—he cannot stand being called out for being a lazy runner and instead, charges the mound like a bull in the arena. He is an embarrassment to the game and baseball added to the embarrassment in the way they dealt with the incident.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Why Obama Should Come Out for Marriage Equality

Here is the change you can believe in: President Barack Obama will most likely publicly support marriage for same-sex couples, and this declaration should take place prior to the 2012 election.

As you are undoubtedly aware, the President has wrestled with this issue for some time. His answers to specific questions have been tortured and calculated and to many marriage equality activists, unsatisfying. In fact, he has characterized his position even to this day as “evolving.”

“I think what you’re seeing is a profound recognition on the part of the American people that gays and lesbians and transgender persons are our brothers, our sisters, our children, our cousins, our friends, our co-workers, and that they’ve got to be treated like every other American,” Mr. Obama said at a recent news conference. “And I think that principle will win out.”

The President went on: “I think we’re moving in a direction of greater equality and — and I think that’s a good thing.”

This is surely a good sign that he’s moving in the right direction. Of course, he wasn’t as explicit during his election run in 2008 whereby political calculations were paramount. Then he declared his support for civil unions but told big-time pastor Rick Warren that marriage is between a man and a woman. Ugh!

But this coming election cycle, things will be different. Not only do I believe the President will declare his support, but such a decision will also benefit him in 2012. Here’s why:

Pro-gay record. It is no secret that President Obama has already compiled the most pro-gay record in the history of the U.S. He has appointed more LGBT people to his administration than all of the previous 43 presidents combined.

Obama spearheaded the final push to end the policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which was one of the top two on the LGBT activists’ wish list. He ensured the passage of a comprehensive hate crimes bill. And he ordered the Justice Department to cease defending the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as it is being litigated.

Therefore, supporting marriage equality would be the next logical step. He already congratulated New York on passing the marriage equality bill. You don’t applaud that kind of action unless you support it. Making a public pronouncement (a televised speech would be ideal) would not shock anyone. But it would make many Americans ecstatic.

Firm up the base. Backing marriage equality will help galvanize an already suspicious progressive wing of the Democratic Party. The overall enthusiasm level is likely to be less than it was in 2008 because after four years Obama is no longer the novelty he was when he launched his 2008 run.

Therefore, igniting a fire under the butts of the left wing will help to raise needed cash and attract enthusiastic volunteers. It doesn’t matter who the Republicans send out to challenge Obama; you must have a stoked, passionate army of supporters. He needs to do this so that the LGBT community returns to the Obama bandwagon in force.

Obama raised $750,000 from gay supporters at a recent fundraiser without a revelation of his evolved position. Imagine how the community will react when he does come out for marriage equality.

The center is the real target. While it is absolutely necessary to have the base in tow, to succeed again in such swing states as Ohio, Virginia, Florida, North Carolina, Indiana, Colorado and New Mexico, President Obama must attract the center—the independents and moderates who aren’t exactly liberal but are kind of scared of conservatives and particularly the influence of the tea party denizens.

Many of these folks aren’t social conservatives or homophobes; they have a libertarian streak, and stating his support for same-sex marriage should not deter them to a significant extent. Keep in mind that socially conservative white people aren’t planning to vote for Obama anyway. So why appease that group?

Recent polls have shown that a small majority of Americans support marriage equality. It should be safe now to take that dip into the pool. Says Evan Wolfson, founder and president of the organization Freedom to Marry: “The President has very little to lose but a lot to gain politically. The center of political gravity in this country has shifted, and the President is lagging behind. He needs to be with us.”

2012 is not 2004. When it was Bush vs. Kerry in 2004, the Democrats allowed the GOP to hijack the narrative of the campaign and effectively exploit the Massachusetts ruling that legalized same-sex marriage. It did so by driving a wedge within the Democratic Party and bolstering turnout among evangelical voters by placing “gay marriage” on the ballots of 11 states.

It’s an entirely different environment now. The scare tactics used by the Republicans that predicted society’s collapse and the destruction of the institution of marriage won’t wash this time around. Massachusetts has allowed same-sex couples to marry since 2004, and with all that hype and fear mongering, it still has the lowest divorce rate of any state.

Moreover, the younger generation had been more motivated to vote in 2008, and this important demographic is replacing the more conservative elders who have passed on.

Setting a trap. Regardless of whom Obama’s opponent is it is clear that if he supports same-sex marriage, it will be used against him. And that’s the bait. Since the economy and jobs are projected to be the highest priorities on the voters’ minds, any attempt by the GOP to bring discrimination against gay people into the discussion will be seen as a needless and tired distraction and a dodge from the issues that matter most.

President Obama was for same-sex marriage before he was against it. In 1996, as a candidate for the State Senate in Illinois, Obama responded to a questionnaire from a gay newspaper. "I favor legalizing same-sex marriages," Obama wrote.

The time is right for Obama to return to his 1996 position, and it will help him win in 2012.