Saturday, September 22, 2012

Through His Eyes We See Progress

Yunel Escobar sending the wrong message
It was a costly little joke that Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Yunel Escobar played in September when he etched on his eye-black (the black stickers that ballplayers place under their eyes to cut down on glare) in small white letters in Spanish, “Tu ere maracon.”  The English translation is “You’re a faggot.”  However, the glare that resulted was the glare of the media and outrage from a public who believe athletes should be moving beyond homophobic slurs in this day in age.

 Escobar, 29 and a native of Havana, Cuba, apologized for what he said was meant to be “just a joke.”  He explained through a translator, “It was not something I intended to be offensive. It was not anything intended to be directed at anyone in particular.”  He added, “I don't have anything against homosexuals. I have friends who are gay.”  It’s the kind of word that is frequently bandied about in a joking way among Latinos, he explained.

OK.  Contrition displayed, apology accepted.  Sending a strong signal that such “jokes” are not acceptable in Major League Baseball, punishment was meted out.  MLB prohibits derogatory words or symbols on uniforms.  The eye-black falls into that category.

With input from Commissioner Bud Selig and the players union, the Toronto Blue Jays suspended the enigmatic Escobar for three days without pay, and the $92,000 or so in lost salary is to be directed to two LGBT advocacy organizations, GLAAD and You Can Play.  Escobar will also participate in an outreach initiative to help educate society about insensitivity and tolerance to others.

“I consistently say that Baseball is a social institution with important social responsibilities and that I expect those who represent Major League Baseball to act with the kind of respect and sensitivity that the game’s diverse fan base deserves,” Commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement.  “Mr. Escobar has admitted that his actions were a mistake and I am hopeful he can use this unfortunate situation as an opportunity to educate himself and others that intolerance has no place in our game or society.”

So what is the significance of a wealthy guy making over $5 million a year to play a boy’s game, acting stupid and forfeiting money he would never miss?  Considerable.  

Whether you like sports or not, whether you feel contemptuous towards overpaid privileged athletes, whether you revile mega-rich greedy owners, one thing is for certain: sports are deeply stitched into the fabric of our culture.  The rapid reaction by the baseball industry to deal with this unfortunate spectacle can be influential in helping to move society’s attitudes towards a more accepting place.  If Escobar’s messaging went unpunished, it would send the signal that it is OK to call people “faggot.”

The swiftness of the punishment in this case was very uplifting and is becoming a common occurrence.  Pro teams and leagues in all sports are finding out that homophobia in a more accepting society is bad for business.  We have seen teams and leagues take disciplinary actions in the wake of homophobic comments by the likes of John Rocker, Jeremy Shockey, Tim Hardaway, Terrell Owens, John Smoltz, Joey Porter and Ozzie Guillen.  These actions varied with the circumstances but there was clarity to them.  With few exceptions, the fans generally supported the team or league.

NBA Commissioner David Stern was particularly strong.  The NBA adopted a non-discrimination policy based on sexual orientation as part of their collective-bargaining agreement with the players’ union.  A message like that is extremely powerful in the macho-centric culture of the locker room.

In Maryland, the recent flap between the Ravens’ Brendon Ayanbadejo’s support for marriage equality and anti-gay state delegate Emmett Burns brought more reason to cheer.  Not only did team officials back the linebacker’s right to express his beliefs but other players in the NFL supported him as well, particularly Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe, another marriage equality advocate.  Dissenting teammates or opponents did not surface at least publicly.

Sports stars are often heroes, especially to children.  They have super-sized influence as a result of their celebrity. That is why corporations dole out big bucks to have athletes extol their products.  As such, homophobic or racial slurs and statements carry weight.  They can shape the attitudes of adults as well as children.  Blue Jays manager John Farrell, referring to the Escobar incident, said, “There is a definite role-model responsibility that some guys might not realize or might not want to take on, but it’s part of being a Major League player.”

In the National Hockey League, the aforementioned You Can Play project promotes safety in the locker rooms and that sports venues should be free from homophobia.  By way of videos, a growing number of players are stating that “if you can play, you can play.”  Athletes should be judged on talent, heart and work ethic, not sexual orientation. Although no gay male professional athlete has come out while active, there is a belief among those studying this issue that such a decision will occur within 10 years. 

The growing acceptance of LGBT folks around the country, the number of “night OUT at the ballpark” events, and the swift reactions to homophobia by sports teams’ management, players and fans demonstrate how progress is trending in the right direction. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Inspiration Abounds in 'The Color Purple'

Melissa Victor, Kelli Blackwell, Tierra Stickland, Samantha McEwen, Crystal Freeman, Olivia Ashley Reed  Photo: Chris Christianson
The Color Purple, the heralded Broadway musical adapted from Alice Walker’s 1982 Pulitizer Prize-winning novel and the tear-inducing film by Steven Spielberg of the same title that starred Oprah Winfrey and Whoopi Goldberg, plays out handsomely at Toby’s the Dinner Theatre of Columbia.  The music and lyrics, penned by Brenda Russel, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray, and the book by Marsha Norman provided the incredibly talented cast with toe-tapping and moving gospel, blues, jazz and pop songs to showcase their amazing vocal, dancing and acting skills.
Billed as a “musical about love,” The Color Purple is really about power: the power men held over women in early 20th century, impoverished rural Georgia; the power of faith; the power of family; the power of friendship; the power of positive role models; the power of self-discovery; the power of self-esteem; and yes, the power of love. 

To read full review, visit MD Theatre Guide.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Response to Letter on Same-Sex Marriage and Children

Not published in the Howard County Times:

Barbara Currano’s letter (“Same-sex marriage amounts to experimenting on children,” September 6) reflects bias and ignorance used by individuals and institutions in an effort to deny civil benefits, rights and responsibilities for same-sex couples.  She states “Same-sex couples cannot naturally produce a child.  If they have a child, there is a surrogate mother or sperm donor father deliberately disconnected from the child for the benefit of adults, not the child, as in adoption.” 

It appears that Ms. Currano is unaware that there are literally thousands of same-sex couples are raising children that are not born through those means. Many couples are raising children from previous relationships.  Even  those couples who produce children from surrogacy because they want to have a family, so what?   Every child should be treated by society with respect and love, not disdain. 

Secondly, to suggest that adoptions of children by same-sex couples are for the benefit of the adults, not the child is a tremendously harsh and ill-informed generalization. If Ms. Currano feels that children are better off in a foster care system, she should say so.   I am personally in touch with a number of same-sex couples who have adopted unwanted children.  I can attest unequivocally that those kids are as happy and well-adjusted and loved as any children raised by heterosexual parents. 

The only difference between children of same-sex couples, no matter the origin, and those from heterosexual married couples is the fact that children with gay and lesbian parents lack the legal and financial protections of their counterparts.  Civil marriage would correct that deficiency.

Ms. Currano cites a study by University of Texas sociologist Mark Regnerus as evidence that children of same-sex couples have poorer outcomes when they become adults than those of in-tact heterosexual couples.   Regnerus was paid nearly $800,000 by the anti-gay Witherspoon Institute and Bradley Foundation to conduct the study calling into question any objectivity.  The Regnerus study has been widely debunked based on its faulty methodology and findings. “It  doesn’t document the failure of same-sex marriage,” writes William Saletan.  “It documents the failure of the closeted, broken and unstable households that preceded same-sex marriage.”

The fact is, children regardless of whether they have heterosexual or same-sex parents will always do better if they live in a committed, stable and loving environment.  Civil marriage for same-sex couples with its accompanying legal and financial protections will only contribute to that stability.

Steve Charing

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Rep. Cummings Could Make the Difference

Rep. Elijah Cummings
We are fast approaching the November 6 election and all that goes with it.  
Included among several ballot initiatives is the referendum on marriage equality.  The actual language for Question 6 reads as follows: Establishes that Maryland’s civil marriage laws allow gay and lesbian couples to obtain a civil marriage license, provided they are not otherwise prohibited from marrying; protects clergy from having to perform any particular marriage ceremony in violation of their religious beliefs; affirms that each religious faith has exclusive control over its own theological doctrine regarding who may marry within that faith; and provides that religious organizations and certain related entities are not required to provide goods, services, or benefits to an individual related to the celebration or promotion of marriage in violation of their religious beliefs.”

Both sides are amping up the message war that will befall us up to Election Day.  They will have to scratch out limited air time to compete with the gambling question, political candidate ads and the ubiquitous Luna commercials.

Polls have indicated positive support for defending the Civil Marriage Protection Act that was signed into law in March.  One would be wise, however, to view the poll numbers with caution, if not skepticism, as people tend to respond in “politically correct” ways when social issues are put before them.
One thing is very clear: the African-American vote in Maryland is likely to be crucial on Question 6.  When California voters in 2008 upheld Proposition 8, which defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman, the conventional wisdom at the time incorrectly blamed black voters for the disappointing outcome.  It should be noted that African-Americans in California comprise less than 10 percent of the population; they did not have a significant impact on the result.  It was more generational.

In Maryland, it is expected that blacks will account for at least 25 percent of the voters, especially with an African-American president who is seeking reelection on the ballot.  Turnout will be high, so gaining support among African-Americans for marriage equality will be crucial here.

There are several reasons to be optimistic in the Maryland vote that were not evident in California four years ago.  There has been a discernible upward trending by the public over the past few years favoring same-sex marriage.  Perhaps significant here is President Obama’s public support for marriage equality.  Religious African-Americans may still not share the president’s views on this matter and will likely vote “No,” but non-religious blacks may be convinced on the merits of the fairness argument the president offered.
Moreover, the national NAACP led by its president Benjamin Jealous, also came out in favor of marriage equality that could have a reinforcing effect.

But as esteemed as these individuals and organizations are, especially in the African-American community, a more local official with a high level of respect and standing could be a difference-maker.  And that individual is Democratic Representative Elijah Cummings.
We need Rep. Cummings to step forward and support marriage equality.  Until now, he has stated he would not oppose the Maryland congressional delegation’s backing of marriage equality, but he has not joined the team.  He decided to leave the matter to the voters.

Rep. Cummings, who has represented Maryland’s 7th Congressional District since 1996 covering Baltimore City and parts of Howard County, left an opening, though.  In a statement dated June 27, he said, “Like many of my friends and colleagues, I have been on a journey when it comes to supporting same-sex marriage. When you come from a religious background where you’ve been taught all your life that marriage is between a man and a woman, and then you find yourself looking at how a society is changing and how many in your own community are seeing the issue in terms of fairness and equality, it makes you re-think your position.”

If anyone ever attended an event where Rep. Cummings is a speaker, you will know how this man is filled with passion, displays great oratory gifts, and could coax a mountain lion off a mountain.   He also has strong ties to his church, which could be influential among religious voters. 
It would be a difficult decision for him, especially in light of his solid relationships with African-American pastors.   But Rep. Cummings also has plenty of political cover.  For one thing, he has a safe seat whereby he has garnered no less than three quarters of the vote in any election. 

The President of the United States, who had supported civil unions as does Rep. Cummings, backs same-sex marriage completing his evolution on the issue.  The national Democratic Party included marriage equality as part of the 2012 platform.  Maryland’s governor Martin O’Malley has emerged as a strong advocate.  So have both Senators and most of Maryland’s congressional caucus.  Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has been supportive even before she held the position.  And the list goes on.
Leading civil rights icons have lent their support as well.  Among the most noteworthy was the late Coretta Scott King.  “Homophobia is like racism and anti-Semitism,” she said... “in that it seeks to dehumanize a large group of people, to deny their humanity, their dignity and personhood.”

Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), a long-time soldier in the battle for civil rights, is another staunch supporter of marriage equality as are the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rev. Al Sharpton—admired leaders in the African-American community.
And former NAACP head Julian Bond recently penned an op-ed in the Afro-American where he argued that marriage equality in Maryland is good for black gay and lesbian couples.  “There are thousands of African Americans - our brothers and sisters, cousins, neighbors, and co-workers – who are gay, in committed relationships, and want to marry,” Mr. Bond points out.

Rep. Cummings would be the perfect person to join in support.  An individual of his stature persuading people that marriage equality is right would go a long way towards defending the bill in November’s referendum.
To contact Rep. Elijah Cummings, visit here

Monday, September 03, 2012

'The Temperamentals': Not Just a Gay History Lesson

Cast members of 'The Temperamentals.'  Photo by Stan Barough
To many of the younger generation, the quest for equality for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender population has only centered on same-sex marriage.   Others perhaps are aware of the Stonewall uprisings in New York’s West Village in June 1969 that most concur launched the modern gay rights movement.  In actuality, the movement began quietly and covertly in the early part of the 20th century and started to find its legs in the 1950’s. 
The first gay activist (homophile) organization in the U.S. was called the Mattachine Society, which was founded by Harry Hay in Los Angeles. 

The Temperamentals by Jon Marans opens the 20th anniversary season of Rep Stage—the professional Equity theatre in residence at Howard Community College.  In a compelling and humorous way the play chronicles the Mattachine Society’s founding and early stages as well as the developing romance between Hay (played by Nigel Reed) and well-known fashion designer Rudi Gernreich (Alexander Strain). 

For full review, visit MD Theatre Guide.