Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Race and Question 6


The high-fives, toasts, hugs, kisses, and dancing have abated somewhat since the historic election on November 6 when Maryland voters supported Question 6 and thus, marriage equality, by over 127,000 votes.  As we turn the calendar to 2013, many of the state’s estimated 17,000 same-sex couples will tie the knot.  Cheers to them all!
This was a surprising outcome because  never had marriage equality been favored by statewide votes until last month’s election.  (We know, of course, that Maine and Washington also made history on that glorious night as did Minnesota in turning back a constitutional amendment that would have banned same-sex marriage.) 

One of the issues that dominated the conversation following the signing of the Civil Marriage Protection Act and the inevitable referendum attempt in Maryland is race.  We were told from the Proposition 8 experience in 2008 that African-Americans’ opposition to same-sex marriage was a huge factor in upholding the measure that denied gay and lesbian couples the right to marry in California. 
Later analyses from exit polling and other data pointed to a different conclusion.  While more African-American voters in California supported Prop 8 than were opposed, the differential would not have impacted the ultimate result given the percentage of African-American voters in California is smaller than many other other states, especially Maryland.  Regardless, post-Prop 8 assessments indicated there was inadequate outreach to the African-American community—a lesson learned.  The chief contributor to the Prop 8 debacle besides outside money, we found out, was not the black vote but seniors.

Nonetheless, marriage equality advocates in Maryland largely marketed their campaign towards black voters who were expected to comprise around a quarter of the total voters.  Though polls showed greater support among African-Americans, advocates did not rest on those numbers.  The plan was to win over as many persuadable African-American voters as possible to mitigate the number of opponents who have strong religious beliefs against homosexuality and follow the preaching of influential church leaders.
Presenting the testimonials favoring marriage equality and its connection to fairness from two leading black pastors in TV commercials and web videos was a smart tactical decision.  This followed the public endorsements from President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Biden and former President Clinton.  Also joining in was a key endorsement by Benjamin Jealous of the national NAACP, civil rights icon Julian Bond, Rev. Al Sharpton and several local celebrities—an cache of big-name supporters the Prop 8 advocates lacked. 

In addition, there was a solid grass roots effort, helped out by supportive clergy, in the predominantly African-American areas to reinforce these endorsements and help repel the exposed wedge attempts on the part of the Maryland Marriage Alliance and their sponsor the National Organization for Marriage.
When the happy numbers rolled in on Election Night, it was very obvious the strategy of strong outreach to African-Americans paid off.  In predominantly African-American Baltimore City, the pro-Question 6 folks outnumbered the opponents by 57% to 43% margin.  In Prince George’s County where so many advocates feared that blacks would vote overwhelmingly against Question 6, opponents outnumbered supporters by a scant 3,000 votes out of nearly 370,000 cast.

Marriage equality supporters also held a majority in Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Frederick, Howard and Montgomery counties.  The remaining jurisdictions in the state, which are largely white, opposed the measure.  It is apparent that age and political leanings were more of a factor than race.  One could argue that we won not in spite of the black vote but because of it.

On this point, Delegate Mary Washington, the first out lesbian African-American legislator in the state’s history and a powerful leader in achieving marriage equality in Maryland, told me: “The truth here that should never be forgotten by our national and local LGBT advocates is that on Question 6, the African-American voters carried the day well above conventional wisdom and without which we could not have won this historic victory.  It is my hope that what we have done in Maryland is to begin to put to rest one of the longstanding quivers in the arsenal of the anti-marriage crowd and end race-based discrimination and avoidance in our own equality movement.”

I always thought that blacks were given a bum rap on this issue.  Although there is clear resistance to marriage equality among churchgoing African-Americans, other ethnic groups are generally non-supportive as well.  They include Hispanics, Asians, Muslims and Orthodox Jews. Those white Catholics who adhere to their hierarchy’s dogma have consistently opposed same-sex marriage. 
Those who are so-called socially conservative have done the same.  That explains the lack of support for Question 6 in the rural, traditionally conservative jurisdictions in the state.

Ethnicity aside, I believe the real opposition is in the older members of population.  Surely the younger voters under 30 support marriage equality and LGBT rights in general in a big way, and in due course, they will constitute the overwhelming majority.

Other states are poised to attempt to legalize same-sex marriage via the ballot box.  But as Mary Washington points out and the post-election numbers support, the results in Maryland should finally dispel the myth that African-Americans universally oppose marriage equality. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

MAME Delivers Big at Spotlighters



Photo by Ken Stanek Photography
When you think of a big-time, splashy, iconic musical such as Mame, you imagine (or recall) it unfolding on a grand stage of a Broadway theater.  You also picture colorful scenery, period costumes, a huge orchestra in the pit and a terrific storyline with a memorable musical score.  Mame ran on Broadway from 1966-1970 for over 1,500 performances and garnering three Tony Awards (Angela Lansbury, Bea Arthur and Frankie Michaels) and was nominated for five other categories.
So when Fuzz Roark, artistic director for the Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre, booked the show for the friendly confines of that venue during its 51st season, one can appreciate the challenges that awaited him and his staff.  But the courageous Roark and company pulled it off.  The production of Mame at the Spotlighters plays big in the little theater that could.

For full review, visit MD Theatre Guide.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

A Musical Christmas Carol Visits Toby's


The spirit of Christmas in more ways than one is alive and well at Toby’s, the Dinner Theatre of Columbia.  Charles Dickens’ beloved classic 1843 novella, A Christmas Carol, with its familiar characters featuring Ebenezer Scrooge, Bob Cratchit, Tiny Tim, Jacob Marley and various ghosts of Christmases—past, present and future—is presented onstage in a fanciful and entertaining musical production.
A Christmas Carol with music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, and book by Mike Ockrent and Lynn Ahrens was a fixture each holiday season at the Paramount Theatre in New York’s Madison Square Garden from 1994 to 2003.  Menken is an eight-time Oscar-winning composer of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid.
David James (who also plays Crachit) directed A Christmas Carol at Toby’s with a skillful touch.  The Helen Hayes winner staged a magnificent, well-paced production managing a large cast through the musical numbers, special effects and costume changes on Toby’s in-the-round venue.  
Many of the characters’ good attributes as well as shortcomings in A Christmas Carol related in some manner to Dickens’ own life’s experiences that included struggling to make ends meet and witnessing his father hauled off to debtor’s prison while he was a young lad in London.  The imaginative story centers on the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge (played superbly by David Bosley-Reynolds) and his Christmas Eve to Christmas Day evolution from when he began as a mean, arrogant and friendless soul to one that ended up as a caring, generous human being embodying the true meaning of the Christmas holiday spirit.
This extraordinary transformation in Scrooge’s personality was accomplished through the eerie nocturnal visits from three ghosts: one representing Christmas Past (Heather Beck), one from Christmas Present (Ray Hatch) and one from Christmas Future (Julie Lancione).  Through song and dialogue, these ghosts pointed out Scrooge’s failures, the effects of his actions, and the consequences that could occur in the future.
While the music isn’t stellar overall, a few songs stand out (“A Place Called Home,” “Fezzwig’s Annual Christmas Ball” and the Finale).  The lyrics worked well, along with the dialogue and actions on stage to spin the tale.  
Splendid vocals added to the joy.  As Marley, Andrew Horn’s tenor voice excelled in the wonderful production number “Link By Link.”  Elena Crall who played Emily, Scrooge’s one-time love, displayed a beautiful soprano in “A Place Called Home.”  And Bosley-Reynolds as Scrooge had some strong moments, particularly in “Yesterday, Tomorrow and Today” late in the second act. 
Pamela Witt conducted the five-piece orchestra and did a great job backing up the singers and dancers.  The sound quality overall in the show was perfect.  Drew Dedrick made sure the right balance took place so that the singers were not drowned out by the orchestra, and dialogue was clearly audible.  Coleen M. Foley handled the lighting expertly conveying the right effects for the appearances of the ghosts.
Many clever props and furnishings are used onstage and are a strong asset to the show.  Street vendor carts, bank teller windows and a dancing skeleton add to the joy.  A clock on a fa├žade, though not visible to some in the audience, provides a terrific effect of the ghost’s faces projected on it when the ghost of Marley warns Scrooge of the three visitors he should expect overnight.
But of all the acclaim this show deserves, there is none better than the extraordinary costuming designed by Lawrence B. Munsey.  A veritable fixture at Toby’s who has performed every function through the years except perhaps preparing the beef stroganoff as part of Toby’s superb buffet, Munsey meticulously designed 1840-era early Victorian costumes for the large cast.  And with many playing multiple roles, Munsey had to have created over a hundred such glorious costumes. 
Toby’s tight, well-staged production of A Christmas Carol is great theatre, and it spins the right message as to how the spirit of Christmas and the holiday season in general ought to be.
Running Time: Two hours with a 20 minute intermission.
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A Christmas Carol plays through December 30 at Toby’s, the Dinner Theatre of Columbia, 5900 Symphony Woods Road, Columbia, MD 21044.  Tickets can be purchased by calling the Box Office at 410-7390-8311 or 1-800-88TOBYS or online.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Winning Question 6


I must confess I didn’t believe what occurred on the night of November 6, 2012 would ever happen.  Marriage equality failed all 32 times it had been decided through state ballots, and I didn’t get that warm and fuzzy feeling that this time it would be any different. 

I did not have confidence early on in Marylanders for Marriage Equality—the organization with a diverse array of coalition partners who assumed the lead to defend the Civil Marriage Protection Act against a referendum by opponents who rapidly amassed three times the number of signatures needed to place a minority’s rights up for a popular vote. 

The planning for a likely referendum fight began late, in my view.  A former staffer told me that the campaign was fritting away too much time and money on getting “pledges” signed.
HRC brought in their people to get the effort started and ultimately hired Josh Levin as the Campaign Manager. 

Early polls looked too good to be true and were shrugged off by many.  Yet, a national trend towards public acceptance of marriage equality was unmistakable.
Things started to break, however.  President Obama went public with his support following Vice President Biden.  Former President Bill Clinton did likewise.  Democrats installed marriage equality as part of the party’s platform.  

Governor O’Malley championed the cause following years of uncertainty as to how equality should be achieved.  He was a true leader during this fight, persuading wavering legislators to help pass the bill and then traveling around the country to raise needed funds for the battle ahead.
But according to a report in the Baltimore Sun, the campaign was having trouble as late as August in raising the necessary funding.  Delegate Maggie McIntosh stepped in to handle the Campaign’s strategic decision-making and asked former Gov. Ehrlich’s chief-of-staff Chip DiPaula to persuade Evan Wolfson of the national organization Freedom to Marry to jump in with monetary support.  He did. 

Marylanders for Marriage Equality ultimately raised nearly three times the amount of money than the opponents—a total of $6 million.  There was speculation that the Church of the Latter Day Saints who donated tons of money against marriage equality during California’s Prop 8 battle decided to sit these four marriage contests out lest they hurt Romney politically.  
The Campaign developed a sophisticated infrastructure for executing a potent ground game using nuts and bolts grass roots efforts.  The “Vote For 6” signage had a great design—eye-catching and recognizable in their blue and white scheme.

They oversaw a superb ad campaign that mostly featured religious leaders and straight individuals to validate the cause.  The Campaign developed direct mail and TV advertisements featuring Julian Bond, Revs. Donte Hickman and Delman Coates, Todd Schuler, and Presidents Obama and Clinton.  They enlisted the public support from celebrities, such as the Ravens’ Brendon Ayanbadejo and actor Josh Charles to win the hearts and minds of voters regardless of sexual orientation, political party, race, age, gender, religion or ethnic background.    

Their efforts were bolstered by all the thousands of volunteers in and out of the campaign’s organization who knocked on doors, engaged strangers, family members, neighbors and co-workers, participated in phone banks, raised and contributed funds and developed innovative methods for getting the message out.
I began to feel more confident on Election Day as I worked the polls at Clarksville Middle School.  Not only were voters pronouncing their support for Question 6 but did so with intensity and enthusiasm.  Sure, there were opponents—some of them even rude.  But the overwhelming majority (63 percent in actuality) appeared to be on our side, and it gave me hope that perhaps later that night there would be cause for celebration.

That momentous night, when the voters re-elected President Barack Obama, the most pro-LGBT president ever, we were creating another headline.  For the first time in U.S, history, Maryland, Maine and Washington succeeded via the ballot to legalize same-sex marriage.  Minnesota beat back an anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment.  Moreover, six LGBT candidates were elected to Congress, including for the first time, an openly lesbian person, Tammy Baldwin, who was elected to the U.S. Senate.
In Maryland proponents of marriage equality defeated the forces who would deny the legal, economic and social benefits that marriage equality would confer by a 52-48 margin or more than 90,000 votes. 

A review of the election results should lay to rest the myth that African-American voters are the key to marriage equality defeats.  Both sides were clearly courting African-American voters, but the pro-equality side’s messages of fairness broke through. 

The president’s support as well as the National NAACP’s endorsement had to be huge.  And the testimonies offered by African-American pastors Donte Hickman and Delman Coates on TV ads were received very positively.  This helped reassure voters that religious institutions would not be affected by the law and fairness for all was underscored.
We don’t know yet how the black vote went, but the fact is that Baltimore City with Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake as a key advocate had a sizable plurality for Question 6, and Prince George’s deficit was much smaller than anticipated.  Consequently, the recent hateful comment by a pastor stating gays and supporters “are deserving of death” most likely did not sit well with fair-minded voters regardless of race.

Governor O’Malley, the gay and lesbian members of the legislature and their colleagues who voted for the bill and defended it during the referendum battle deserve much praise and gratitude.

Josh Levin and his team should be applauded for ultimately getting the job done. The 200 coalition partners, such as HRC, NAACP, SEIU, ACLU, Equality Maryland and PFLAG as well as leading clergy were instrumental in this battle.

All the volunteers and contributors including the 2,000 poll workers on Election Day and those who began this fight and laid the groundwork for success should be thanked.
And most of all, thanks to all of you for coming out to vote and making November 6, 2012 a historic milestone in the history of LGBT rights.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Oh, What a Night!


I must confess I didn’t believe what occurred on the night of November 6, 2012 would ever happen.  Marriage equality failed all 32 times it had been decided through state ballots, and I didn’t get that warm and fuzzy feeling that this time it would break that skein. 
I did not have confidence early on in Marylanders for Marriage Equality—the organization with a diverse array of coalition partners who assumed the lead to defend the Civil Marriage Protection Act against a referendum by opponents who amassed three times the number of signatures needed to place a minority’s rights up for a popular vote.  This organization appeared too guarded, too evasive and too elusive for my taste as I am a “severe” proponent of transparency.  More on them later.
With this effort affording gays and lesbians perhaps the one last shot at marriage equality in Maryland in a generation, I believed that nothing should be left on the field.  I was particularly disappointed by the squeamishness of some elected officials who had built-in persuadable constituencies and multiple platforms and tools available to vociferously laud the virtues of equality and fairness.

These politicians—especially Democrats—had all the cover they needed.  President Obama went public with his support following Vice President Biden.  Former President Bill Clinton did likewise.  The Democratic Party installed marriage equality as part of the Party’s platform.

The President, in particular, had much more to lose as he took on this political risk.  A pronouncement in support of same-sex marriage could have hurt him with conservative Democrats in swing states.  But he had the guts to do it, proving once again what a true leader he is and offered a blueprint as to how to become one.  He was astutely aware that  this issue was trending positively across the nation.
Governor O’Malley championed the cause following years of uncertainty as to how equality should be achieved.  He, too, was a true leader during this fight, persuading wavering legislators to help pass the bill and then traveling around the country to raise needed funds for the battle ahead.

Instead, these other elected officials were quiet supporters but supporters nonetheless.  To use a baseball analogy, it’s akin to a batter needing to hit a two-run homer to win the game but wound up with a double, putting runners on second and third, and leaving the potential heroics to the next guy.
Well, that “next guy” came through.

First, Marylanders for Marriage Equality raised nearly three times the amount of money than the opponents.  They developed a sophisticated strategy for executing a potent ground game using nuts and bolts grass roots efforts as well as solid use of social media.  They oversaw a superb ad campaign that mostly featured religious leaders and straight individuals to validate the cause.  They enlisted the public support from celebrities as well to win the hearts and minds of voters regardless of sexual orientation, political party, race, age, gender, religion or ethnic background.    
Their efforts were bolstered by all the volunteers in and out of the campaign’s organization who knocked on doors, engaged strangers, family members, neighbors and co-workers, participated in phone banks, contributed funds and developed innovative methods for getting the message out.

I began to feel more confident on Election Day as I worked the polls at Clarksville Middle School.  Not only were voters pronouncing their support for Question 6 but did so with intensity and enthusiasm.  Sure, there were opponents—some of them even rude.  But the overwhelming majority appeared to be on our side, and it gave me hope that perhaps later that night there would be cause for celebration.

That momentous night, when the voters re-elected President Barack Obama, the most pro-LGBT president ever, we were creating another headline.  For the first time in U.S, history, Maryland, Maine and Washington succeeded via the ballot to legalize same-sex marriage.  Minnesota beat back an anti-gay constitutional amendment.  Moreover, seven LGBT candidates were elected to Congress, including for the first time, an openly lesbian person, Tammy Baldwin, who was elected to the U.S. Senate.
In Maryland proponents of marriage equality defeated the forces who would deny the legal, economic and social benefits that marriage equality would confer by a 52-48 margin. 

I thank everybody who helped make this historic struggle in Maryland a reality.  I especially thank Governor Martin O’Malley for his leadership in the battle along with all the legislators who supported and voted for the Civil Marriage Protection Act.  The gay and lesbian members of the legislature were particularly effective in their efforts.  And a special thank-you goes to Sen. Allan Kittleman, a Republican, for his vociferous and unyielding support for marriage equality.
I thank Josh Levin, campaign manager for Marylanders for Marriage Equality and his team, for ultimately getting the job done. I thank the coalition partners, such as, HRC, NAACP, SEIU, ACLU, Equality Maryland and PFLAG as well as leading clergy for their superb work and commitment. 

I thank all the volunteers and contributors who walked that extra mile.

I thank all those who began this fight and laid the groundwork for success.
And most of all, I thank you, the voters, for coming out to vote and making November 6, 2012 a historic milestone in the history of LGBT rights.