Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Looking Beyond Marriage Equality


Having just viewed the poignant and heartrending film Bridegroom on the OWN network, I’d be hard pressed to find a better case for marriage equality.  The documentary, produced by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, known best for her creating the TV series Designing Women and her close association with the Clintons, tells the real story of two young small-town men Shane Bitney Crone and Tom Bridegroom who fall deeply in love and remained together for six years until Tom’s fatal accident at the age of 29 in 2011.  
Using interviews and footage from Shane’s video diary, the film presents the intense love between the two men and the reactions from family members as their relationship blooms.  Sadly, Tom’s parents were not accepting. 

Following the accident, the hospital staff initially would not permit Shane to visit him as he was not “family” under hospital rules.  After he died, Tom’s parents cut Shane off from making funeral arrangements and being a part of the services.  His life and relationship with Tom was completely eradicated as if it never occurred.  Of course, if marriage equality was legal (they were living in Prop 8 California at the time), the couple would have been married according to their stated plans, and Shane would have had the right to make the funeral arrangements. 
This story is among countless others that illustrate why it is so important to keep up the momentum in forging the legalization of same-sex marriage throughout the country.

It’s a sexy and appealing issue in that many gay and lesbians’ dreams include settling down with the person they love and being committed to that person in a lasting relationship with all the legal rights, benefits and responsibilities conferred upon heterosexual couples. LGBT organizations have capitalized on the significance of marriage equality; many have flourished by raising funds to fight the good fight.
But as same-sex marriages become the law in state after state through the courts, legislatures and the ballot box (keep in mind that in 36 of the 50 states it is still not legal), what’s next for the LGBT movement, and in particular, those statewide LGBT organizations who have been in the forefront of the struggle?

Perhaps not as sunny as the thought of colorful weddings and a lifetime of bliss is the reality that there is a ton of work to do to achieve full equality for LGBT folks.  Senator Ben Cardin at Equality Maryland’s 25th anniversary celebration said, “We will not be satisfied until we pass the Employment Non-discrimination Act,” popularly known as ENDA.
How important is this?  In no less than 29 states, a person can be fired from his/her job just for being gay.  The bill, which has been languishing in Congress for three decades, has been gaining steam over the years but can’t find its way to passage.  While the Senate is expected to consider a comprehensive ENDA by Thanksgiving, the tea party-controlled House of Representatives will create more obstacles despite overwhelming public support to end job discrimination based on sexual orientation.  That’s what they do.

At the same gala, Equality Maryland executive director Carrie Evans—and later echoed by Sen. Rich Madaleno—promised to work hard for passage of a statewide bill that would extend protections based on gender identity and expression.  Such laws exit in Baltimore City as well as Montgomery, Howard and Baltimore counties but no state measure has been enacted yet.  Many expect it can be accomplished if not this upcoming General Assembly (an election year) then 2015.  It’s way overdo.
Another area that local LGBT organizations can help considerably is the plight of homelessness among LGBT youth, a condition which Sen. Madaleno said cannot be tolerated.  Despite general gains in acceptance, young people are being tossed out of their homes by parents or family members for being gay or transgender or that the home environment is so rough that these kids have no choice but to leave.

Homelessness is a catastrophe to begin with; it’s even more acute for youth.  They are vulnerable to: poor health leading to disease, crime both as a victim or perpetrator, prostitution, drug and alcohol abuse—all tragedies considering their whole lives are ahead of them if they live that long.
In my interview with Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, she acknowledged the tragedy of homelessness.  “It is even more heartbreaking when it involves our LGBT youth. They face extra challenges, such as being rejected by their own families,” she said.  “My administration is aware of the many barriers that they face and we are working to create a safe place where youth can receive services, as there are several non-profit agencies willing to collaborate with the City to help address the concerns of our LGBT homeless youth.”

The Frederick Center, rapidly becoming a template for LGBT community centers, is also making a concerted effort to provide services to LGBT youth and mitigate the risk of homelessness.  A strong effort is needed in Baltimore by such organizations as the GLCCB and Equality Maryland to raise funds for the cause and work with the city on this mission.  It’s vital.
And you don’t have to be an organization to do your part.  Local drag performer Shawnna Alexander is putting together an event to feed homeless LGBT youth on Thanksgiving Day.  It will take place from 1 pm. to 5 p.m. at the Metropolitan Community Church, 401 W. Monument St. in Baltimore.  Shawwna is raising money for this project by asking local establishments to hold 50-50 raffles, and from what I’m hearing, there has been great success. 

Therefore, worthwhile causes can attract interest and money if cases made for these initiatives are well-articulated.  There are many other needs to be addressed, such as improving police relations, dealing with domestic violence, the aging population and on and on.
Marriage equality, extremely important as it is and a magnet for donors is one thing.  The less glamorous issues are another, and they must be dealt with and soon.

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