Wednesday, August 05, 2015

The Summer Winds of Change are Blowing

No one can say this has been hum-drum summer in LGBT Baltimore.  Huge victories, such as the Supreme Court’s ruling that legalized same-sex marriages throughout the nation and the Boy Scouts of America officials voting to allow gay leaders grabbed the headlines.  This progress, unthinkable just a few years ago, were reasons to celebrate.
Taking it to the streets  Photo: Brian Gaither

Locally, other developments have taken place or occurring during the summer that are changing the LGBT landscape. This began prior to the summer when the iconic Hippo stunned the community by announcing its closing later this year after more than four decades of being a major LGBT institution in the city.

Another institution, Equality Maryland—a 25 year-old statewide civil rights advocacy organization that started out as Free State Justice—disclosed in June that financial difficulties stemming from declining revenues following the  passage of same-sex marriage among other factors led to the laying off of its executive director Carrie Evans. 

They recently vacated their Sharp Street offices to reduce overhead and gave away office furniture, old lawn signs from the marriage battles, and other such memorabilia.  On August 2, a new transitional board was established and decided the organization will remain open for the time being but with a scaled down operation.

The Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center of Baltimore and Central Maryland (GLCCB) is constantly in a state of flux so that any changes this summer are almost to be expected.  The GLCCB is experiencing a staggering amount of turnover in their Board of Directors and at the executive director position.  Since December four individuals have served as the Board’s president, and in less than a year and a half, four have held the executive director or interim executive director’s post.

To be fair, other local organizations have also experienced changes in leadership or in key personnel this summer.  Examples include Hearts & Ears, Moveable Feast and Iron Crow Theatre.  In the spring FreeState Legal hired its new executive director Patrick Paschall.

A major departure from the norm, however, was the recent GLCCB-led Pride celebration that took place in July rather than its customary June spot during Father’s Day weekend.  Schedule conflicts with the city forced the dates to July 25-26, and it worked out well overall.  The separation from other area Pride festivities allowed the Center to increase its sponsorships and more importantly, it provided greater opportunities for potential Pride-goers from out of town to visit Baltimore instead of having to make choices during June’s congested Pride calendar.   

The two-day event in Baltimore drew sizable crowds and in theory should have provided critical revenue to the financially wobbly GLCCB.  For these reasons, if the GLCCB continues to operate Pride in the future, keeping it in July should be seriously considered.

An additional change during the summer has been a renewed brand of activism that is by-passing conventional models and is instead taking it to the streets.  This is significant in that it is not a seasonal event but potentially the beginning of a larger movement. 
#BaltimoreTRANSUPrising marching at Pride  Photo: Bob Ford
Inspired by the protests under the banner #BlackLivesMatter that followed a spate of police-involved killings of unarmed African-American men including Freddie Gray in Baltimore, transgender advocates banded together and formed a #BaltimoreTRANSUPrising movement to air a list of grievances. 

Much of their disquiet centers on police relations with transgender individuals and unsolved murders of transgender victims.  Other issues include homelessness among transgender people, better access to health care in general as well as trans-specific health care, and other forms of discrimination, particularly towards transgender people of color. Many trans folks believe that they have been ignored during the fight for marriage equality and their concerns have been brushed aside.  Now it’s time, they feel, to raise their voices and be heard.

One day before Pride, around a hundred vocal demonstrators marched through the streets of Old Goucher—an area where many transgender women have been harassed or harmed.  They ended up at Washington Monument Plaza for a rally whereby a series of demands were announced.
"...potentially the beginning of a larger movement"

The amount of individuals participating in the movement and the support it is receiving from the broader community could signal a new dynamic in the quest for overall equality.  Perhaps as a way to recognize this cause, Pride officials agreed that a contingent from the #BaltimoreTRANSUPrising group lead off all marchers in the Pride parade.  This is a rare phenomenon in recent Baltimore Pride events in that increased focus was given to a political initiative, and it’s welcome.

As older, established organizations are becoming less relevant today to a younger group of impatient activists, a new wave of leaders are emerging to try to create visibility and support to help reach the goal of equality for all. 
This may be the most significant result of a summer whose winds of change are blowing through the streets of Baltimore.

1 comment:

Michael Teare said...

Excellent article. Thanks Steve!!