Thursday, May 09, 2013

An Eyewitness to 10 Years of History


The debut article in Baltimore OUTloud
One of the blessings of writing a regular column for Baltimore OUTloud over the past ten years has been the opportunity to witness and report on the myriad events—good and bad—that shaped the continuing progress of LGBT rights.  It has been an eye-opening ride, and I am happy to have chronicled the movement over the years, having missed only three issues during that time.
Of course, I had been writing for Gay Life and before that, the Baltimore Gay Paper, for two decades prior to OUTloud’s debut.  So providing commentary about political and social issues was not new to me. 

Ironically, my first column in the May 16, 2003 issue of Baltimore OUTloud did not discuss an LGBT-specific topic.   Instead, the column titled “Tale of Two Cities” pointed out the economic dysfunction that was taking place in Annapolis and the war-torn morass that was just beginning in Baghdad.  Here, I was surprisingly prophetic; I correctly predicted just two months into the initial attack on Iraq that the conflict would eventually devolve into a quagmire with enormous casualties.
The next installment changed gears dramatically as I opined that the defeat of Clay Aiken in the finale of Season 2 of American Idol was caused in part by his mannerisms and appearance that may have been perceived by the public as his being gay.  That stereotyping probably turned off numerous people who voted instead for the less vocally gifted Ruben Studdard.  For his part, Aiken denied being gay and remained in the closet until just a few years ago.

The “OUTspoken” moniker didn’t occur until the April 1, 2005 issue.  That article, “Come Out and Play Ball,” presented reasons why it would be advantageous for a gay baseball player to come out amidst the steroid scandal that was besetting the sport.  I was proud that piece found its way onto Outsports.com—a site that relates LGBT issues to the world of sports at all levels.
Through the years, covering several hundred editions of the paper, I focused on political matters pertaining to our community both nationally and locally.  The presidential elections of 2004, 2008 and 2012 were illustrative of the challenges we faced and how, as time passed, attitudes towards LGBT folks have shifted. 

We saw the advent of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts and the predictable backlash that was a key component of the 2004 election.  We also witnessed the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” arguably the greatest achievement thus far for LGBT equality at the federal level.
The climate for gays in Maryland was dim but improving.  The gubernatorial elections of 2006 and 2010 saw Governor Martin O’Malley defeat the not-so-gay-friendly Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr.  In 2012 O’Malley was able to come to terms with his religious beliefs and enthusiastically backed marriage for same-sex couples.  Following previous failures in the legislature this development, along with other factors, led to the historic victory of marriage equality in the General Assembly and at the ballot box, which was unprecedented.

While political roads were traveled frequently in my column during this 10-year period, numerous other issues were explored.  Among them were the plight of LGBT homelessness, the impact of our youth on future achievements, hate crimes, homophobia and race, the meaning of Pride (an annual staple), the dangers of political apathy, strategizing to win over the persuadable political center, transgender discrimination and violence, how the legalization of same-sex marriage would benefit all LGBT folks regardless of their relationship status, the challenges of gays in sports, trashing opponents of LGBT rights, and a number of columns devoted to the influence of our culture, especially television, on our community.
My greatest thrill in writing over this period was being stationed just a few feet from Governor O’Malley’s historic signing of the bill that legalized same-sex marriage for Marylanders and the ensuing raucous celebration.  With his stroke of the pen (and the eventual victory on Election Day) the lives of gay and lesbian families in Maryland were profoundly changed and there existed the sense that all of us—married or not—are no longer considered second class citizens in the eyes of the law.  Following that was the joy of covering the first same-sex marriages that took place in Baltimore’s City Hall on New Year’s Eve.

While I can pat myself on the back for making some predictions that were ultimately correct and being afforded the opportunity to cover significant milestones in the LGBT rights movement, I must also slap myself on the wrist for failing to bring to light other matters involving our community.
In an effort to be positive, I overlooked information I received pertaining to several local LGBT organizations that included mismanagement and the lack of transparency.  Despite the column header “OUTspoken,” in these matters, I confess I had been anything but.  When one is in journalism, there is a responsibility to enlighten readers as to any defects that may exist within those institutions to which community members provide donations.

Journalists who offer their opinions are duty bound to demand accountability from these organizations and not be concerned that their officials will lash out and blame the messenger for their own failures. 
Again, in trying to be positive, I fell into the trap of letting things slide, looking the other way, or not doing due diligence in investigating specific charges in order to avoid being accused of trying to destroy these organizations.  That was never a goal; rather it would simply be to expose these weaknesses and allow the community to demand better results.  Who could argue with that?

During the next 10 years, I hope to improve upon that record and truly be “OUTspoken.”

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