Monday, October 29, 2012

Revealing Their True Colors

I’ve been fighting for LGBT rights for over 30 years.  Over this timeframe, I have listened to an ever-shrinking pool of arguments against us—none of them convincing.  Most of these have been used in the struggle to obtain full marriage equality under the law.  While I do not doubt the sincerity of some of those who truly base their opposition on strong religious convictions, even their arguments have become weak.  For others, I suspect homophobia, plain and simple, as the reason for denying gays and lesbians the rights and protections afforded to heterosexual married couples. 
Many people are repulsed by gay folks: we’re dirty, sinful, promiscuous, predatory, child-molesting, and according to Reverend Robert Anderson of Colonial Baptist Church in Randallstown, “deserving of death.”   I wish there was a way to prove it, but I’m willing to bet that the vast majority of people who have voted throughout the U.S. over the years and will do so in Maryland and three other states this election vote against same-sex marriage because of homophobia.

Few will admit it, of course.  Yet even their biblical references from which they hide their true beliefs are suspect.  “Marriage has always been a union between one man and one woman.”  Not true.  King David had what, several hundred wives?  And concubines were common.  When it comes to traditional marriage, which tradition are you talking about?
Leviticus’ oft-quoted verse whereby man lying with another man is an abomination is a point that should be expanded.  Here is where people cherry-pick Scripture to justify their bigotry.  If homosexuality is a sin, so is eating pork and shellfish.  Right near where I live there are posters advertising a local church’s ham and oyster dinner.

The way I like to respond to those who love to talk about “sin” is that murder is a sin.  But murderers can get married.  I’ve never heard a legitimate response to that rhetorical jab.
Then there is the notion that marriage is intended to produce babies.  The problem is, other people have babies who aren’t married, and there are numerous couples who no longer have the ability to procreate or want to.  There is no push, however, to have their marriage licenses revoked.

We hear all the time that “same-sex marriage will destroy the institution.”  News flash: heterosexual couples are doing a fine job of that already with their 50 percent failure rate.  And in Massachusetts where same-sex marriage has existed longer than anywhere in the U.S., that state maintains the lowest divorce rate in the country. 
Furthermore, no one could come up with a single instance whereby a heterosexual couple split up because a gay or lesbian couple had their nuptials.  Thus, when they say that same-sex marriage threatens the institution or in the case of Ravens’ player Matt Birk’s weird assertion that same-sex marriage would “dilute” it, ask how?  I’m sure you won’t get a good answer, if at all.

“Marriage has never been redefined before,” we’re told.  Many cultures had defined marriage in alternative ways.  Until rather recently, marriage had been a business and property arrangement between the wife’s father and the husband.  And even more recently, Loving v. Virginia redefined marriage to allow people of different races to marry.
“Children need both a mother and a father.”  That has received more play now that the other arguments appear unpersuasive.  Most studies from reputable sources point out that children do better with two parents as opposed to one.  The findings do not reflect the gender of the parents. 

“Gays and lesbians can’t procreate so they try to recruit children.”  That B.S. isn’t worth the space to dignify such nonsense, but it was advanced recently and may have an effect.
The money shot: “If same-sex marriage is approved, children will be taught about it in schools.”  This is a favorite of the National Organization for Marriage, and the ad is already running here.  It is the opposition’s ace-in-the-hole when polls show growing support for marriage equality.  It worked in California the last weeks of the campaign over Prop 8 as well as in other states.  The message is designed to scare otherwise non-religious parents who have children in school.

Though I don’t personally object that children learn there is a diverse world out there, changing school curricula cannot be accomplished without input from parents and local school boards.  It is not done by laws that are enacted.
There are so many more but this is a sample of the rationale used against us past and present. 

The “love the sinner, hate the sin” mantra has been exposed.  Though the marriage debate has been framed by Derek McCoy and his Maryland Marriage Alliance as one in which gay people would be respected but should not be allowed to “redefine” marriage, he showed his true colors.
During a recent town hall at the Manna Bible Baptist Church in Baltimore, the aforementioned Rev. Anderson talked of how the Bible states that gays and their supporters are deserving of death. “If we don’t vote against it, than we are approving these things that are worthy of death,” said Anderson.  Seated next to the reverend was none other than Derek McCoy, nodding and muttering in agreement. 

It’s all recorded, and as much as McCoy dismisses it, the video doesn’t lie.  To no one’s surprise, Manna took it down.  McCoy, in defending Anderson’s comments said, “Supporting traditional marriage does not make anyone anti-gay.”
Yup, we’ve heard that line before.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Morbid 'Poe ' Comes to Life at Centerstage

The very instant the pre-show announcements are completed at the Head Theatre at Centerstage, a startling bang rings out, the lights black out simultaneously, and the audience is taken on a time machine to Washington College Hospital in Baltimore in 1849.  Here, an apparently cold disheveled Edgar Allan Poe mysteriously shows up in a state of delirium.  Medical staff cannot determine what he is suffering from, but the prognosis is not good.  Despite his protestations, his demise seems certain, and it is.

Stephen Thorne’s play, The Completely Fictional-Utterly True-Final Strange Tale of Edgar Allan Poe, focuses on the famous author, critic and poet’s death.  He employs a combination of facts, fiction and conjecture to tell a story that is intense in its subject matter and presentation but also sprinkles just enough comedic lines throughout to keep the audience off-balance.

Caroline Kaplan, Bruce Randolph Nelson and Charlie Thurston
Photo: Richard Anderson

But in true Poe fashion, there is ample use of blood and gore.  The gory scene may be a little bit much for the audience’s tastes, however.  I had never attended a play before when there was a collective “eww” in disgust from the audience.  But…this IS Poe!
As Thorne himself wrote in the program notes, “Poe’s ability to mix fact and fiction, imagination and science gives his work a kind of documentary feel at times and a disorienting sensation of truth.”  Mirroring Poe’s fascination with the macabre in many of his works, this morbid, gothic probe into the character’s psyche explores Poe’s “disorienting sensation of truth” while on his deathbed with denial of his death, how it could be stopped and how it came to be.  

Through events and people that come to light (and life) during his hallucinating state, Poe (performed brilliantly by Bruce Randolph Nelson) recalls his association with a mesmerist (played by Libya Pugh) in an attempt to forestall the inevitable but he finds himself on his deathbed at the hospital nonetheless.
Other characters appear during his delirium.  Poe interacts with his mother, Eliza (Naomi Jacobson), a British-born actress who died of consumption (tuberculosis) two years after Poe’s birth.  He meets up with his foster father, John Allan (Jimmy Kieffer) who, along with his wife, had taken him in shortly after.  Allan provided him with material support, but Poe racked up excessive gambling debts which caused an estrangement with the family.

His wife Virginia (Caroline Kaplan) appears.  She was Poe’s cousin and he married her when she was 13.  Sweet and innocent, Virginia felt the pain of Poe’s marriage and she, too, died of consumption 12 years later.
Poe also engages with his contemporary Charles Dickens (also played by Jimmy Kieffer), a figment of his imagination.  Dickens is critical of Poe on several levels, and the exchanges are thought-provoking.  Kieffer’s performances throughout the play are stellar.

But Poe’s most dramatic encounter and the one which works best is with his younger self (Charlie Thurston).  In heated and passionate exchanges, the older Poe blames the younger on his failures.  The younger blames the older on his choices.  Virginia and Eliza also confront both Poe’s.  This is great theatre performed by gifted actors.
In fact, the entire cast is outstanding under the solid direction of Curt Columbus, who like Thorne, debuted this play at the Trinity Repertory Company in Providence, RI. 

Rounding out the cast is the kind doctor administering to Poe in the Hospital played wryly by Kenneth Lee and Dr. Moran, the blunt truth teller, played by Erick Pinnick.  They, along with the rest of the cast except for Nelson, are called on to play multiple roles.  They portray those various characters superbly.
At play’s end, the kindly doctor is filling out a form on a 19th century typewriter that Poe would have loved to have used.  The doctor asks Poe what he should include as the cause of death.  We won’t reveal that here, but it could have been any number of possible options though it had to be able to fit in the prescribed place on the form.

Bruce Randolph Nelson plays the title role to the hilt.  Every line and gesture, every movement was delivered with gusto and Shakespearean verve.  Nelson, who is among Baltimore’s most accomplished and acclaimed actors, had won Helen Hayes awards for his work at Rep Stage (The Violet Hour and The Dazzle) and received Helen Hayes nominations for Irma Vep and Faith Healer.  He was also named Best Actor by the City Paper for his work at Everyman Theatre’s Shipwrecked! and The Pavilion.
Poe is presented in the round in the Head Theatre. Scenic Designer Eugene Lee crafted a set that is mostly on a raised platform that is three steps up from the floor in front of the orchestra level.  In the center lies the hospital bed which sinks below and disappears when the scene shifts.  There is also a runway that connects to the floor below the stage.  The outer perimeter of the theater is draped in sheet-like material whereby the shadows of the actors behind them offer a ghoulish feel.   The actors use all available space, even a couple of feet in front of the first row.

Veteran Costume Designer David Burdick deserves a standing ovation for his incredibly authentic period attire for all the characters.  Fastidious in detail, the wardrobe was museum quality and is a major asset to this production.

Lighting Designer Josh Epstein and Sound Designer Zachary Williamson are also effective in conveying the Poe-like atmosphere.
The 50th anniversary season at Centerstage is well underway, and Artistic Director Kwame Kwei-Armah was wise to choose this exceptional play that was timed to begin a week before Halloween.  
The Completely Fictional-Utterly True-Final Strange Tale of Edgar Allan Poe plays at Centerstage through November 25. Tickets start at $10, and can be ordered online at, or by calling 410-332-0033.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Is There Light at the End of the Tunnel?

All the hard work over the past decade, all the sacrifices, all the persuasions, all the deal-making, all the dollars raised and spent, all the legislative and judicial defeats, and then the eventual signing into law the Civil Marriage Protection Act have brought the Maryland LGBT community to this critical moment in history.  On Election Day, voters will decide if same-sex couples can legally marry in the Free State.
Unfortunately, the majority will have the opportunity to vote on the rights of a minority. Maryland law allows for citizens to petition laws to referendum under specific circumstances including this measure.  As Thomas Jefferson said in his 1st Inaugural, “Bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will, to be rightful, must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal laws must protect, and to violate would be oppression.” 

At the ballot box, marriage equality has not fared well.  In 32 states prior to this year when brought up before the voters, there has been no victory.  Maryland, as well as Washington, Maine and Minnesota, will have an opportunity to end that skein on November 6.  But will it?
Polls give reason to be upbeat with improving numbers in the African-American community as the key factor.  Most political observers view that demographic as a key to victory (or defeat) based on its comprising a quarter of the likely voters. 

But polls are typically not reliable on matters concerning social justice.  Many respondents are loathe to coming off as bigoted during such surveys but will vote a different way in the privacy of the voting booth.  Many of us in the LGBT community were horrified and deeply saddened to learn that long-time friends, co-workers, neighbors and even family members who seemed outwardly supportive on marriage equality had actually signed the petition to bring the issue to a vote.
Marylanders for Marriage Equality is the organization who, along with its coalition partners, is leading the campaign to uphold the law that was signed by Governor O’Malley on March 1.  They are responsible for the nuts and bolts of the campaign: attracting volunteers, phone banking, canvassing, messaging, fundraising, enlisting support from the faith community and developing advertising to compete with such opponents as the Maryland Marriage Alliance.  Gov. O’Malley has been a vanguard in raising funds for the campaign.

However, other individuals in the community have taken the initiative to advance marriage equality as well.  For example, Mark Patro has worked with PFLAG chapters and others to form a group called Light Brigade Maryland.  The volunteers go to highway overpasses or other venues and hold up lit letters forming phrases in support of marriage equality.  They have shed light on nearly two dozen locations within the state.
Will this overall effort pan out?  National trends are pointing to more acceptance of same-sex marriage.  Endorsements received from President Obama, the NAACP, leading clergy in the state and celebrities should be helpful.  But any optimism is matched with caution.  A strong turnout by the LGBT community and supporters may be the difference, and victory could finally be at hand.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

All Hands on Deck

We are closing in on decision day whereby the voters of Maryland will decide on a bunch of ballot initiatives as well as President of the U.S.  The Dream Act, the gambling measure and marriage equality will be among the hotly contested questions.
For marriage equality proponents, Question 6 will afford us the opportunity to break the 32-state losing streak whereby voters get to decide on the rights of the minority.  Those are not good odds, but there is increasing optimism that the tide will change this year. However, much work is still needed.

To those in the LGBT community who are single, coupled but not desiring to marry, don’t see yourselves as ever being coupled, or just plain don’t care,  I have a message for you: get on board anyway.  If the Civil Marriage Protection Act that was signed into law by Gov. O’Malley this past March is upheld on November 6, it will be the culmination of a long and tedious battle that has been waged by so many of your LGBT brothers and sisters, allies, and elected officials. 
A large number have made great sacrifices for this cause, and it was not simply to celebrate with a lavish wedding.  They struggled hard for nearly a decade to obtain the rights, benefits and responsibilities that civil marriage confers.  They have fought to gain the financial and legal protections needed for themselves and for the children they are raising.  And they fought to arrive at a level of standing that is finally equal to the heterosexual population.  No longer would we and our families be regarded as second-class citizens.

Even if marriage is not for you, the latter reason alone should be persuasive.  Plus, it gives you an option should you change your mind eventually.  Our community needs to band together and take this fight to the end.

Marylanders for Marriage Equality (MFME) and its coalition partners have taken up the battle to win the hearts and minds of the voters.  They seem to have the wind at their backs as we enter the final weeks of the campaign.  Polls show positive data, but they must be discounted for myriad reasons. 

Yet, we can feel a change brewing as more people are being educated on how marriage equality will not negatively impact the existing marriages of others, how school children will not be inundated with pro-gay lessons in class, and how religious institutions will not ever be forced to officiate a marriage of a same-sex couple if that is their choice.
We received the important endorsement from President Obama and the state’s leadership.  We also received public support from the NAACP, leading clergy and several celebrities. There have been some good TV ads so far and hopefully more on the way.

MFME is responsible for the nuts and bolts of the campaign: fundraising, attracting volunteers, phone banking, canvassing, messaging, paying staff, enlisting support from the faith community and developing advertising to compete with such opponents as the Maryland Marriage Alliance. 
Governor Martin O’Malley has been a leader in raising money for the campaign to finance these expenses. MFME has raised $3.2 million (including a donation of $250,000 from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg) according to papers filed at the State Board of Elections and have $1.2 million in the bank and counting. 

Optimistically, the campaign will spend those dollars wisely to offset an advertising campaign from the well-funded Maryland Marriage Alliance that will certainly become more characterized by scare tactics and lies as we approach Election Day.  They normally save their nastiest stuff for the end when they cannot be fact-checked in time. Why won’t they?  It’s worked before—every time.

“We are certain our ads will help Marylanders understand the importance of preserving marriage in our state,” Derek McCoy, chairman of the Maryland Marriage Alliance, said in a press release announcing their latest ad. “Our ad highlights for voters the very fact that marriage is about more than just two adults doing what they want. Marriage is about the next generation and ensuring that all children are given the opportunity to be raised by their mother and father.”  This is relatively gentle; it will get worse—guaranteed.
While MFME is doing its thing, we have seen innovative work from individuals outside the campaign who are working towards the goal of marriage equality.  Mark Patro, Gerry Fisher, David Kimble, Mike Bernard, Rev. Meredith Moises and June Horner are just of some those who are already making an impact.  They should be saluted for their initiatives—win or lose.

The effort is there by many, but our community could put us over the top if we all become involved in full force and work together.  The campaign can still very much use donations even though other LGBT organizations are seeking funds as well, so there is competition for dollars. 
But if contributions are not for you there are other ways you can help.  The campaign needs canvassers and volunteers for phone banking.  They also seek volunteers to show up at the election precincts to hand out literature or hold signs.  Visit Marylanders for Marriage Equality to see how you can help.

Most importantly of all, we need the LGBT community, its allies, friends, neighbors, co-workers and family members to vote FOR Question 6 on November 6.  Another opportunity is not in the cards.  This is it.  All hands on deck.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Iron Crow's 'Bad Panda' is Good Fun

Katie O. Solomon (Marion), Adam Cooley (Chester)
and David Brasington (Gwo Gwo)
A panda wants to be a crocodile.  A crocodile wants to be a panda.  And there is cross-species lovemaking.  Wow!  This is an example of the type of the comical chaos in the hilarious Iron Crow Theatre Company’s 2012-2013 season kick-off, Bad Panda. 
Written by playwright, monologist and songwriter Megan Gogerty, Bad Panda is making its world premiere on the Baltimore Theatre Project stage.  You knew this play promised to be some kind of quirky given Ms. Gogerty’s 2009 solo show had the title, Hillary Clinton Got Me Pregnant.

For full review, visit MD Theatre Guide.


Saturday, October 13, 2012

Young Ally Dylan Goldberg Fighting for Marriage Rights

Dylan  with Gov. O'Malley following marriage bill signing
New Jersey-born and now Columbia resident Dylan Goldberg is a political junkie.  He aspires to hold elected office and has his sights on being governor of Maryland some day.  The straight, 21 year-old senior at the University of Maryland, College Park is also an outspoken advocate of marriage equality and is doing his best to see that the Civil Marriage Protection Act is upheld in next month’s referendum.

“Marylanders have the ability to make history in this country; we have the opportunity to come together as the first state in the union to give same-sex couples the same rights as their heterosexual counterparts,” Goldberg said.  “I tell my family, friends and neighbors that I look forward to checking the box in favor of Question 6 on my ballot.” 

He is often asked why he is supporting marriage equality.  “It wasn't until the first time I was asked that question that I thought deeply about how my decision could impact others.  It wasn't until the spring of 2012 when I was faced with fighting for equal rights for others, the same rights I am granted as a straight male,” he explained.

Late last year Dylan Goldberg was hired as an assistant in the Maryland General Assembly for the 2012 legislative session. “I had a front row seat to history. I met so many people, loving fathers, loving mothers and those who wanted to be able to love equally one day and heard their stories. I heard their pain and heard their hope for a better day. I stood with them at Lawyers Mall during the rallies, had their backs in the committee rooms during public hearings and sat with them in the balconies of the legislative chambers when HB 438 passed in the House then in the Senate a few days later.”  

It was when the bill was passed, signed into law by Governor O'Malley and petitioned to referendum that Goldberg began to talk to friends and family to encourage them to stand with him and others to achieve marriage rights for same-sex couples.

Goldberg believes that his generation is in the majority on this issue and that this majority will grow.  He had heard stories from his gay friends about their coming out, the discrimination, bullying, and family rejection they sometimes face. 

“While compelling, it’s not those stories that have helped me to ‘arrive at this decision’ like so many people are doing at this moment in history,” Goldberg points out. “I've never had to arrive; I've always been here. I’ve been raised in a household where my brother and I were loved by two parents who instilled in us respect for others no matter who they are, who they love, what they believe in, or how they live their lives. It’s those stories, however, that only fuel my motivation to make sure that my friends and those who are total strangers to me are afforded the same rights my parents have and that I will have with my girlfriend if we ever decide to get married one day.”

He sees the significance of the work of allies throughout history and the effort to achieve marriage equality as yet another step along the road to social justice.  “For a young nation, we have come a long way.  There was a time when women and male allies fought for women's suffrage, a time when African-Americans and white allies fought for civil rights, and equal rights were won.  Once more, we must come together as straight allies and stand alongside our friends to ensure that equal rights are given to all.”

Dylan Goldberg is taking this fight right up to Election Day.  He will continue to phone bank and canvas and talk to his friends and neighbors.  On November 6 we will learn if his efforts on behalf of marriage equality in Maryland were successful.  Either way, Dylan will have given it his all.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Growing Up on 'Avenue Q'

The songs, fun, imagination, themes, naughtiness and uniqueness that characterize Avenue Q  have been the source of the show’s popularity for years.  The three-time Tony Award winner, including Best Musical, ran for 2,534 performances on Broadway from 2003-2009 plus the spawning of other national and international tours and productions.   It has rightfully earned its place in musical theatre lore. 
Originally conceived as a television series by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx who wrote the music and lyrics before the show’s debut on Broadway (book by Jeff Whitty), Avenue Q is a coming-of-age parable that combines puppet theatre with real-life problems facing young adults.  Those issues and anxieties that young people must grapple with include finding an apartment, looking for a job, falling in love, avoiding commitment and most central to the show’s plot, seeking a purpose in life.  

For full review, visit MD Theatre Guide.