Thursday, December 29, 2011

The 2011 OUTspoken OUTIES

The Best, Worst, Biggest and Smallest of 2011

Happy New Year! It’s time to look back at the events and personalities of this past year in the areas of politics and culture and present an unapologetic, subjective, slanted list of winners (and losers) who are deserving of the OUTIES trophy. In no particular order, I welcome you to the OUTspoken OUTIES of 2011.

Most Understated Hero: Gay staffer Daniel Hernandez for aiding Rep. Gabrielle Giffords immediately following her being shot. His brave action was a significant reason the congresswoman is on the road to recovery today. And he still doesn’t see himself as a hero.

Best Step Towards Equality: New York State legalizing marriage for same-sex couples.

Sorry to See You Go: Frank Kameny for his tireless work to achieve LGBT rights over five decades. RIP Frank—we will someday be treated equally.

Honorable Mention: The announced 2012 retirement of Rep. Barney Frank. Flaws and all, he championed a federal Hate Crimes Bill, the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, was a lead sponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and a reliable outspoken ally in Congress. Barney’s departure will hurt GOP fundraising.

Good-Bye and Good Riddance: The end of the discriminatory, homophobic Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. Two women sailors’ public kiss caps off the year in style.

Biggest Near Death Experience: Equality Maryland. Following the failure to achieve its goals in the 2011 General Assembly, the organization ran out of money, fired its executive director along with most of the staff, and overhauled the board. But the one-time leading statewide LGBT civil rights group is poised to make a comeback in 2012. It needs to.

Most Premature Victory Dance: Also goes to Equality Maryland for staging “celebration” events following the successful state Senate vote on marriage equality but prior to the travesty in the House of Delegates. Timing is everything. So is perception.

Most Unexpected Ally: State Sen. Allan H. Kittleman for bucking his Republican Party dogma and supporting marriage equality in Maryland. If you know him, this is not really a surprise. Thanks Senator.

Most Mercurial Delegate: Tiffany Alston of PG County angered marriage equality advocates with her antics last session. She was a co-sponsor of the bill and then changed her mind. Now, with an indictment hanging over her head and her anger concerning the governor’s redistricting plan, it will be interesting in 2012.

Biggest Topic of News: The transgender community—the failure to pass a gender identity non-discrimination bill in the 2011 General Assembly, the intense and often angry divisions among the community members, the McDonald’s beating video, the formation of a new organization and the success in securing a gender identity bill in Howard County—provided much to write and talk about.

Best New Organization: Gender Rights Maryland—it’s motivated, mobilized and already has a victory to tout.

Biggest Game Changer: Viral video of beating of trans-woman Chrissy Lee Polis at a Rosedale McDonald’s. It graphically pointed out how trans-folks are in need of protections, and hopefully the incident will open some minds.

Smallest Minds for Prez: Anti-gay Republican candidates Bachmann, Santorum, Gingrich, Perry and Romney.

Best at Carrying a Lucky Horseshoe: President Barack Obama. Low approval ratings, failure so far to motivate his base, economy in the dumper, no influence in Congress despite recent tax success—certain precursors to defeat, right? But look at the field of potential opponents!

A Movement Needing Motion: Occupiers with their noble cause must do more than camp out. Using the political system to realize their goals, if they are ever clarified, would be far more effective. The window may be closing.

Worst Muddling of an Issue: Homophobic extremists trying to equate pedophilia to homosexuality during the Penn State sex scandal.

Most Altruistic Organization: Brother Help Thyself raises much needed money for non-profit LGBT orgs in a slow economy. Great work and they do it every year!

Best Sports Progress: NFL, NBA and MLB for including LGBT non-discrimination provisions in their new labor agreements. C’mon NHL. Get the puck with the program!

Best Celebrity Allies (tie): Lady Gaga has been magnificent and once again, Neil Patrick Harris.

Honorable Mention: All those who have participated in the “It Gets Better” campaign and have appeared in videos supporting same-sex marriage in New York and in Maryland. Thank you all.

Top Mindless Movie: Friends with Benefits—not exactly a blockbuster—but when you have a chiseled (and nude) Justin Timberlake and a likable gay character in the same movie, that’s all I need. If only one of the Twilight guys was gay.

Best Opening Number: Neil Patrick Harris’ “It’s Not Just For Gays Anymore” at the Tony’s was one for the ages. Sample lyric: “If you feel like someone that this world excludes, it's no longer only for dudes who like dudes. Attention every breeder, you're invited to the theatre.”

Worst Audience: Those attending GOP debates who find it in their hearts to boo an American gay soldier and urging a hypothetical uninsured coma patient to simply just go die.

Best TV Show for LGBT (tie): Glee and Modern Family

Most Disappointing TV Show: Desperate Housewives in its final run. Dark plot all season about a murder and cover-up while reducing the gay couple to a pair of buffoons. Where was Andrew?

Best Song: Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way”—Great message, good beat, easy to dance to.

Best Gay Bar: All of them for providing a space for LGBT folks to congregate, network and socialize among ourselves without having to depend on social media for interaction. Nothing tops gay happy meetings.

Best Drag Act: Shawnna Alexander owns this category.

Best LGBT-Friendly Restaurant: Brewer’s Art (again).

Best LGBT-Friendly Theatre in Baltimore: The Spotlighters. Dependably good productions that are well-acted and directed in the tight confines of the in-the-round stage.

Best Gay-Themed Musical: La Cage aux Folles at the Hippodrome was a winner in every aspect. It was the best of times.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Baseless fears stand in way of justice for transgendered

Letter published in Dec. 22, 2011 edition of the Howard County Times:

Kudos to Lindsey McPherson for her excellent article on the passage of the gender-identity bill by the Howard County Council and what it may portend for a statewide measure.

One thing that should be added, however, is that the bill before the 2011 General Assembly did not include language relating to "public accommodations." This was a decision made by the bill's sponsor, Del. Joseline Pena-Melnyk, and other proponents who believed the elimination of "public accommodations" from the bill would help pass it. The strategy did not work. accommodations has been a sticking point among legislators who oppose such legislation. They fear — irrationally, I believe — that a transgender woman with "male parts" entering a women's restroom would put other women at risk for being attacked.

In Montgomery County, where a comprehensive gender-identity bill that included "public accommodations" has been in effect for three years, no incidents have been reported. This was stated during a public hearing before the Howard County Council on Nov. 21. Jonathan Shurberg, a Silver Spring attorney involved in the passage of the law, testified that there has not been a single reported case of such an attack.

Moreover, in a Dec. 6 decision by the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Georgia — a rather conservative court — regarding a discrimination case brought to the court by a transgender woman, the court decried bathroom fears "hypothesized or invented post hoc in response to litigation" are not genuine justifications.

It's time to put away those fears and stereotypes and end discrimination for all of Maryland's citizens.

Steve Charing


Monday, December 12, 2011

Why We Cannot Leave the Game

In contemplating the future of the LGBT movement, Editor Dana LaRocca commented last issue: “I do not know what my New Year’s resolutions will be for Baltimore OUTloud. It will not be ‘all marriage, all the time.’ We will get that, and we will achieve gender identity rights. However, if newspapers like ours and organizations like Equality Maryland and the HRC are to have any legitimacy after those goals are achieved we will have to look at a larger picture or choose to leave the game.”

Yes, marriage equality and gender identity protections will come our way at some point. It is possible they can be accomplished as soon as 2012 or it can take a generation to achieve these worthy objectives. Who knows? But even if these goals are realized, there is plenty of unfinished business to justify the existence of LGBT organizations and periodicals.

For one thing, passing marriage equality in Maryland (and that’s assuming there’s a successful effort to thwart a voter referendum) is merely one step in a process. Unless DOMA is repealed or struck down by the Supreme Court, same-sex marriage will not reap the full benefits or portability of heterosexual marriage.

Gender identity anti-discrimination laws are a good thing, of course. Still, with such protections codified in Baltimore City, trans-folk are being harassed, physically attacked or murdered. Baltimore County does not have such protections on the books. But even if it did, do you think that would have prevented the impromptu rage-beating of Chrissy Lee Polis at a Rosedale McDonald’s? But laws are needed nonetheless.

There is plenty of hate still around. All you need to do is read the message boards on any news item that is related to our community. The anti-gay vitriol is intense and widespread coming from all over the U.S. and it is even seeping into the presidential race.

A candidate for the presidency of the U.S. from a major political party, Rick Perry, appears in a campaign video decrying the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ “There’s something wrong with this country when gays can serve openly in the military,” Perry says as he ambles through the rural woods. This is a popular sentiment among the candidates within the Republican Party and among the party faithful as well—at least with the “social conservatives” (read: bigots).

A gay soldier who put his ass on the line in Iraq is booed by audience members when he discloses his sexual orientation in a question at a Republican debate. The candidates, yappy otherwise, were mute. No one on the stage or even the moderators called out the booing (and disrespect).

As Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton so poignantly expressed during her recent U.N. speech in Geneva, “Many LGBT Americans have endured violence and harassment in their own lives, and for some, including many young people, bullying and exclusion are daily experiences. So we, like all nations, have more work to do to protect human rights at home.”

Indeed, if hatred, homophobia and transphobia were non-factors, it would be much easier to implement zero-tolerance anti-bullying measures in our nation’s schools. There is still considerable resistance, and it stems from this bigotry.

The anti-gay messages spewed by government leaders and other sources foster the hate and intolerance that is still pervasive in our country. It legitimizes discrimination, if not outright violence, when jerks hear these epithets.

And that doesn’t include all the religious zealotry that dominates the conversations. Cherry-picked verses in Scripture have always been used to justify discrimination and intolerance since the Bible was ever “published.” But similar verses are ignored when they become inconvenient. How about parents stoning their children to death when they are disrespectful? That doesn’t count, I suppose, but it’s in there.

This anti-gay, anti-trans rhetoric makes it possible for all kinds of discrimination. For example, Americans can be fired in 29 states on the basis of their sexual orientation and in 34 states on the basis of their gender identity.

“Progress comes from changes in laws,” Secretary Clinton continued in her speech. “In many places, including my own country, legal protections have preceded, not followed, broader recognition of rights. Laws have a teaching effect. Laws that discriminate validate other kinds of discrimination. Laws that require equal protections reinforce the moral imperative of equality. And practically speaking, it is often the case that laws must change before fears about change dissipate.”

But for laws to change there must be progress in educating the uneducated on these matters, especially lawmakers. It’s a long road but one we must continue to travel.

There will be a lot of work ahead of us beyond the attainment of marriage equality and gender identity protections in Maryland. Other key legislation, such as the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) must be enacted. The same goes for immigration equality. Firm anti-bullying measures in the nation’s schools must also be put in place.

To repeat Secretary Clinton’s call for action, “we…have more work to do to protect human rights at home.” As such, LGBT organizations and newspapers will continue to be rather busy at least until the needed laws are enacted and the rants on message boards and political ads are reduced to the irrelevancy they deserve.

To do so, we cannot leave the game.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Howard County Passes Gender Identity Bill

On December 5, Howard County, by a 4-1 vote in the county council, joined Baltimore City and Montgomery County as the only jurisdictions in Maryland to provide anti-discrimination protections based on gender identity and expression. The bill prohibits discrimination in the areas of housing, law enforcement, public accommodations, financing, employment, and health and social services.

County Executive Ken Ulman is expected to sign the measure, and it will take effect 60 days from then. That stroke of a pen will mean that a third of the state’s population will be covered by these protections.

The four council members who voted for the bill were Democrats Mary Kay Sigaty, Jen Terrasa, Calvin Ball (Council Chair) and Courtney Watson. Greg Fox, a Republican from Western Howard County, voted against the measure saying that the federal and state governments should pass a single law that clarifies the definition of public accommodations. The county law, as written, is vague on the definition.

Nonetheless, the council members believed that non-discrimination based on gender identity needed to be codified. “The Council felt strongly that this legislation was important not only to making discrimination based on gender identity illegal in Howard County but also to raise awareness and help bring about protections in other jurisdictions as well,” Councilwoman Courtney Watson told Baltimore OUTloud. “The experiences of a transgender student in our local high school helped reinforce the need to protect the rights of transgender citizens.”

This past summer, representatives from the Columbia/Howard County chapter of PFLAG and Gender Rights Maryland (GRMD) suggested that the council amend the current law to add gender identity and expression to the 15 other protected classes in Howard County. After consultations with GRMD and others, a bill was crafted.

On November 21, nearly 70 people attended a public hearing on the bill that included the testimony of 20 supporters and only 4 opponents. A wide range of LGBT and other progressive organizations as well as parents, relatives and transgender individuals testified on behalf of the bill.

Delegate Liz Bobo, a Democrat from Columbia, provided written testimony to back the measure. “In the 1970’s, Howard County was one of the first in the country to included gays and lesbians in our Human Rights Law. Now it is appropriate for our county to again be in the forefront on this human rights issue,” she included in her statement.

The four opponents apparently did not make a significant impact. Following the hearing, the Democratic council members who had sponsored the bill told Baltimore OUTloud that nothing was offered by the opponents that would change their minds. In fact, the testimony given in support of the bill solidified their positions. “The data demonstrated that ending the discrimination is the right thing to do,” noted Council Chairman Calvin Ball.

It was clear following the hearing that the favorable vote taken on December 5 was a virtual certainty.

Del. Bobo has been an ardent supporter of rights for the LGBT community for four decades. “This bill is needed because when any group of human beings are at risk of discrimination, we are all at risk of discrimination,” she told OUTloud. “This bill regarding gender identity is in keeping with Howard County's distinction of being one of the first counties in our entire nation to include gays and lesbians in our human rights law back in the 70's. I am so grateful to my husband, Lloyd Knowles, for having the courage to sponsor that bill so many years ago.”

She added, “I will be a co-sponsor of the statewide bill regarding gender identity again in the upcoming legislative session and am optimistic that it will pass and become law in the State of Maryland.”

Satisfied with the results in Howard County and anticipating momentum for a statewide bill, Sharon Brackett, Board Chair for Gender Rights Maryland, said in a statement: “Now, after much hard work, we have expanded protections in Howard and done so with a broad coalition of support. As a resident of Howard County I could not be prouder of my Council for taking this issue on. This event will yield great momentum in expanding these same rights throughout the state in 2012.” Gender Rights Maryland is an organization dedicated to end discrimination based on gender identity statewide.

Maryland is expected to take up a similar measure during the 2012 General Assembly. A bill that excluded “public accommodations” fell short in the Senate at the end of the 2011 session but with its passage in the House, it advanced further than ever before. Governor O’Malley pledged support during the upcoming session.

Photo: Council members from left: Mary Kay Sigaty, Greg Fox, Jen Terrasa, Calvin Ball and Courtney Watson