Saturday, August 18, 2012

Unity Will Always Trump Division

The vigil for the shooting victims.  Photo: Regina Minniss
Over a hundred people from all races, genders and sexual orientations gathered on August 14 at West Square of Mount Vernon Place to honor the memory of Alex Ulrich and to pray for the complete recovery of Larry Peterson.  The men were the victims of a senseless shooting attack in the early morning of August 10.

The high-profile incident called into action these men’s families, friends and neighbors to protest the wanton violence that grips Baltimore and that is seeping into the once tranquil Mount Vernon-Belvedere neighborhood. 
Ulrich, who was killed in the attack at the age of 40, had not been living in Baltimore long, but while he did, he amassed many new friends.  Peterson already has tons of friends including city councilman William Cole who respect his leadership in the neighborhood and love him as a human being.  As of this writing, he remains in critical condition following several surgeries.

The show of unity in the shadow of the Washington Monument was not only to grieve the loss of one of the community’s members and to pull for the other’s recovery.  It was also intended to stop the epidemic of violence.  The motive for the shooting has not been identified, nor have the two suspects been apprehended.  Some speculate it was a hate crime because the victims may have been perceived as gay.  Others theorized it was a robbery gone wrong.  Still others maintain it was random or a response to an earlier incident that evening.  When Mr. Peterson recovers, perhaps he can shed light on the case.
Unfortunately, demonstrations of unity are frequently born out of violence.  We have seen people coming together following homicides committed against transgender people.  We have witnessed the large vigil outside a Rosedale McDonald’s in the wake of the famous Chrissy Lee Polis beating.  We have observed a huge crowd marching then assembling outside City Hall following the Trayvon Martin killing.  This was yet another example.

We can be unified without being single-minded.  The LGBT community is a disparate one—a tiny sliver of the general population, a microcosm of society.  We are comprised of all ages, races, political and religious beliefs, economic components, etc.  Clearly, we all don’t think alike and have different goals in life, and that’s a good thing.  As such, there are few issues that could unite us besides violence, like equality and HIV. 
Sadly, others aren’t on board with those issues.  If you don’t mind being treated unequally or unfairly and relegated to second-class citizenship, don’t jump in.  If you feel that your same-sex relationship doesn’t deserve the same rights and protections as heterosexual couples, sit on the sidelines.  If you believe that marriage is not for you but don’t care whether or not you or your friends have that option, fine.   If you believe that people should lose their jobs or not get promoted simply because they are LGBT, that’s your call.

Most of us, fortunately, do see a cause as a unifying catalyst and are willing to do something to advance it.  For others, their cause is division.
A noisy but small fringe of the LGBT community takes pleasure in pitting one against another—whether it is by race or gender or gender identity.  They go out of their way to drive wedges within the community not because it would do some good, prevent the scourge of violence, or improve society but merely to satisfy themselves.  They use blogs and social media as their platform to register their disdain for certain demographic groups within the LGBT community and fill it up with irrational negativity.  For what purpose?

The best advice is not to engage them in a public discussion; they are not sufficiently open-minded to listen to alternative viewpoints.  Instead, they resort to forms of cyber bullying to inflate their egos.  Ignoring their shrill repetitive rants, no matter how tempting it is to argue, starves them from the attention they insatiably crave and minimizes their influence.
As T.H. White wrote in The Once and Future King: “The Destiny of Man is to unite, not to divide. If you keep on dividing you end up as a collection of monkeys throwing nuts at each other out of separate trees.”

We have plenty of external enemies trying to block progress and we don’t need to fight among ourselves.  Get behind and fight for a positive cause and ignore the divisive noise.  Perhaps, some good will come of it.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Little Shop of Horrors Will Grow on You

Photo: Heather Litiri

Should you purchase a house plant that resembles something between a Venus flytrap and an avocado, be wary.  And if it asks to be fed, that should definitely send up a red flag.  Because this isn’t your garden variety plant; it could be an alien from another planet sent here to take over the world by feasting on human blood and possessing incredible powers over earthlings.
That is the premise behind Little Shop of Horrors—a comedy horror rock musical by composer Alan Menken and writer Howard Ashman based on the low-budget 1960 B-movie horror of the same title.   Not to be too hyperbolic, but the Olney Theatre Center’s production of this gem, under the superb direction of Mark Waldrop, is as close to perfection as it can be.

For full review, visit MD Theatre Guide.

Shining Light on Equality

Photo by Mike Bernard
Mark Patro is leaving no stone unturned in the effort to defend the Civil Marriage Protection Act that is being challenged in November by a referendum.  As president of the Baltimore County chapter of PFLAG he is working hard to gain the support of allies and clergy.  Using his own initiative, Patro sought training and then trained others on how to register voters.  He has tirelessly worked farmers’ markets and festivals to gather pledges to line up volunteers and voters for marriage equality.
And recently Patro launched a new project called Light Brigade Maryland.  Inspired by a similar effort (Overpass Light Brigade) in Wisconsin to recall Scott Walker this spring, volunteers hold lighted panels at dusk on highway overpasses and bridges that contain messages promoting marriage equality. The messages will vary but the goal is to bring attention to the need to vote in favor of the Civil Marriage Protection Act.

“My first exposure to the Overpass Light Brigade  was a short segment on one of MSNBC's evening shows at the end of May or early June, just before Scott Walker's recall election,” Patro told me. “I was excited about the visual aspect of their presentation.”
His education is in visual arts, so the visual aspect appealed to him. “I did an Internet search and contacted them to ask about how to make the panels,” Patro explained.  “I did some research and found a few local suppliers for corrugated plastic panels. These are usually used for disposable signs. I found some battery operated LED lights on eBay, and picked up some gorilla glue at the home improvement center.”

Patro recognized that many people want to do something to help with the referendum battle, and this project appears to meet that desire.  “They don't all feel like they fit into prescribed jobs set up by the larger bureaucratic organizations. Most of them are worker-bee/assignment style organizations and some folks just respond better to more free-lance-like or gorilla-activist roles. We hope using this method will motivate an additional group of people who will bring currently untapped energy to the effort of protecting the Civil Marriage Protection Act and keep it law.”

Patro believes this project will help stir up excitement to at least match the passion by the opposition.  The vote will be close and we could lose if we sit back and do nothing. The opposition will be running to the voting booth. We need to out-work them.”  

Light Brigade Maryland will provide an opportunity for volunteers to do something small which will have a huge impact.  To find out more, visit the Light Brigade Maryland Facebook page and click “Like.”

Friday, August 03, 2012

Midsummer Reflections

The quiet dog days of summer that usually characterize Baltimore have been anything but.  With record-breaking heat to this point, politically the temperature will be rising to a fever pitch up to November and potentially beyond that.  With that in mind, this is an opportune time to reflect on recent events.

Chicken S**t: We start with a brief look at the flap over Chick-fil-A’s Dan Cathy’s comments that prompted a bitter reaction from the LGBT community and an ensuing backlash from, well, others.  Cathy said that the restaurant chain supported “the biblical definition of the family unit.”  He has the right to say that.  But his company donated roughly $5 million to what are considered “hate groups” and that fact stuck in the throat like an errant chicken bone.

The masses that lined up on “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day,” orchestrated by homophobe Mike Huckabee, to consume artery-clogging garbage did so not as a protest against stifling free speech but it was a show of support for the anti-gay messaging emanating from Cathy’s mouth.  They played the victim card.  Had Cathy come out for marriage equality and was chastised by the likes of Limbaugh, would those same people line up to support his free speech?
This issue may have motivated our opponents but it got our side fired up as well.

The List: Over 13,000 names and addresses of folks who signed the petition to send the Civil Marriage Protection Act to a November referendum were made public.  There was a degree of shock, sadness and anger on the part of marriage equality advocates when people whom they assumed would be supportive appeared on the list.  Some noticed friends (as I did), co-workers, neighbors and even relatives who signed on to put marriage equality to a popular vote.
This is disheartening because people who we banked on for support went the other way, probably unaware that the names would be made public.  There were petition signers in neighborhoods with a strong LGBT presence on the list and many from normally progressive Howard and Montgomery counties.  Conversely, anti-gay Delegate Emmett Burns was not on the list, but you know how he will vote.

Howard County Register of Wills Byron Macfarlane—the first openly gay office holder in the county—was also stunned by the list.  “As any of us looks through this list I think we’ll receive a wake-up call to just how much work we have to do to win at the polls this November,” he told me.  “It really is disappointing to see so many people we know on this list. Personally, finding that aunts and uncles and my own father had signed was very upsetting. My hope is that over the next few months we're able to tell our stories and talk to them about love and commitment and win their votes.”

New Poll, Same Caution: A more optimistic development occurred when a new independent poll by Hart Research Associates that indicated supporters of marriage equality in Maryland lead the opposition by a 14-point margin—54 to 40 percent. 
While this appears promising, there is a cautionary note: the margin of error is plus/minus 4.5 percent, a rather high number for a survey.  This means that the margin could be much tighter based on the sample.  Also, people tend to portray themselves in phone interviews as non-bigoted on social issues thereby artificially raising the support total.

“We're winning over undecideds and the intensity is clearly on our side,” said Marylanders for Marriage Equality Campaign Chair Josh Levin in a statement.

Levin was correct in acknowledging that “polls looked good in Maine, North Carolina, California, and almost every other state fighting to defend equality. But in the end, every time this issue went to ballot, marriage equality failed.” He promised in a fundraising pitch that the campaign will “redouble our efforts” and urged advocates to keep fighting.  We should act as if we are behind.  You know the opposition will. 

Farewell Lisa: As you are probably aware, Lisa Polyak stepped down as Chair of the Equality Maryland Board of Directors.  This was a planned transition,” Lisa told me. “Truthfully I am so happy and grateful for the new board members, and I am exhausted from the last few years, so this is a healthy transition for both me and the organization.”

Lisa had been a key leader of Equality Maryland, helping to guide the organization through some rough times with her steady hand and wisdom. She has always been tough, passionate and smart as well as accessible to the press and will be missed.

She and her partner Gita Deane, who have now been together for 30 years, were the lead plaintiffs in the marriage equality lawsuit (Deane and Polyak v Conaway) filed in 2004 by Equality Maryland and the ACLU of Maryland.  A lower court ruled for the plaintiffs but the ruling was stayed pending appeal. In 2007, the Maryland Court of Appeals by a margin of 4-3 ruled that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage did not violate the Maryland Constitution.

The couple married in D.C last year and lives in Baltimore raising their two daughters.

If Only: It was sad to read about the passing of Sally Ride, the first woman astronaut at NASA.  Her obituary mentioned she had a female partner of 27 years—a fact that had remained secret during her lifetime.  Ride had been an inspiration to women for decades.  Imagine what a role model she could have been to lesbians. 

Coming out is a personal matter that should be respected.  We clamor for celebrities suspected of being gay or lesbian to come out and give encouragement to young gay, lesbian or questioning people but we never know the internalized battles that such an individual must wage before making that decision if one is reached.  But unquestionably, Ride’s disclosure would have had a major, positive impact on others.