Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Gay Businessman Coping with Losses From Ellicott City Flood

Sam Coyne helping other shop owners in the aftermath of the flood.
Photo: Sally Fox Tennant
Sam Coyne and his husband Josh Haupt were heading to their nearby home just as record-breaking amounts of rain began to deluge Ellicott City’s historic Main Street on July 30. 
Coyne, the owner of Craig Coyne Jewelers, was notified by his alarm company that his store had been flooded.  The business, which he started nearly 17 years ago in Ellicott City, was moved to a new location in 2014 at 8133 Main St. in a renovated historic stone building with Wedgwood blue doors, trimming, and flower pots on the exterior.
The couple, who were married last fall in Ellicott City, immediately turned back and ran down to help people.  “There was screaming and sparks, the smell of gas and refuse,” Coyne said.  “We were able to help three women, three dogs and a cat, which we feel really good about.”

Only recently was Coyne permitted to return to the store and assess the damage.  Before that, his access was limited.  #hococommunity
“Our building is one of the original stone structures in town and while tiny, it is made finely of granite mined in the hills of the town we call home,” he says.  “A small wooden addition and a small deck on the backside we think cannot be salvaged.  All showcases, glass, windows, doors, flooring and ceiling are in need of extensive repair or replacement.”
Customer jewelry had been secured in a 3,000 pound vault that is now standing upright on a layer of mud.  The jewelry contained in showcases is a different matter. 

Recently, Coyne was able to retrieve security footage from his store that dramatically reveals the onset of the flooding and the interior damage that resulted. The video was shown on WBAL-TV. 
Last Tuesday, Coyne and Haupt, who is also his business partner, met with the insurance inspector and structural engineer.  “The building's foundation is not damaged,” Coyne says.  “The entire first level will be gutted including the floor rafters, flooring, walls and ceiling.”

Sam Coyne
Howard County government is not allowing any private companies to do work until about September 16.  Public Utilities are shoring up everything first. Work at individual properties cannot begin until after the street is opened, according to Coyne.
They are taking a direct financial hit from this flood. “Our secondary insurance coverage is not paying, saying, ‘The first occurrence must be an insurable event before secondary coverage begins.’  So all the jewelry that washed away, the display, glass, lighting, showcases, gem equipment, computers, security system, vault, jeweler’s tools, etc. come with a direct cost to us.  We are approaching $500,000 in loss.  Our big question, raise the money to rebuild or raise the money to move on.”

To help pay for Coyne’s losses, Lori Gadola of Kelim Jewelry, launched a GoFundMe page.
“We are now questioning the economic viability of Historic Ellicott City,” Coyne muses.  “Without any answers we are unable to move forward so we continue to pay all our expenses hoping to survive until the town can be rebuilt.”

Monday, August 22, 2016

Lively 'Man of La Mancha' at Beth Tfiloh Community Theatre


Photo: Rina Goloskov
If my memory serves me correctly, and it’s been quite awhile, the Spanish Inquisition was not a pleasant period. There was an abundance of greed, cynicism, hostility, violence and yes, torture.  That era during the 16th century serves as the backdrop for the five-time Tony Award winning musical Man of La Mancha that was first produced in 1965.  The quest to better the world against all odds is the central theme.  #hocoarts
Man of La Mancha, a favorite production among professional and community theatres alike, is making an all too brief appearance at Beth Tfiloh Community Theatre.  Through the years, Beth Tfiloh has been consistent in mounting well-performed musicals drawing on a wide swath of mainly young talent from the Baltimore area.  Under the direction of Diane M. Smith, the current production is no exception.

Noted for its popular standards, “The Impossible Dream” and “Dulcinea,” Man of La Mancha with music by Mitch Leigh, lyrics by Joe Darion and a book by Dale Wasserman, is a play within a play. 

Tax collector Miguel de Cervantes and his manservant are tossed into a dungeon “common room” awaiting trial by the Inquisition. They were charged with foreclosing on a church for not paying taxes.  Lugging all their belongings down the stairs into the room, the other prisoners ferociously seized them but Cervantes pleaded with them not to destroy a carefully wrapped package containing a manuscript. 
A mock trial is to take place where his guilt is presumed and all the possessions would be turned over.  As a defense, Cervantes proposes that he enacts a play with the help of the other prisoners.  One of them, The Governor, agrees, and that sets in motion the primary storyline.

For this play, Cervantes creates the character Alonso Quijana, an elderly man so filled with idealism he becomes a bit “mad”.  He sees himself as a knight-errant and renames himself Don Quixote. Along with his loyal sidekick Sancho Panza, Don Quixote obsessively sets out to find the good in a world filled with darkness and pessimism. 
During this journey, the delusional but well-intentioned Don Quixote mistakes a windmill for a giant and a roadside inn as a castle. There he meets a broken and bitter harlot named Aldonza whom he calls Dulcinea.  He woos her with kindness and chivalry but she is too jaded to appreciate the gestures. 

The obstacles Quixote has to navigate from cynical individuals to abusive muleteers form the core of the story with a beautiful array of songs and a dose of comedy to carry the plot to its sad ending.
As the lead, Jim Knost performs lustily and with feeling. Don Quixote is an underdog, and Mr. Knost elicits empathy for the character with his acting skills. His big number “The Impossible Dream” where he lays out to Dulcinea his dream, his mission in life, is delivered with a tuneful richness using his strong baritone voice.

Perhaps symbolic of his character’s challenges throughout the plot, Mr. Knost’s “unbeatable foe” was the flawed operation of his mic during the first half of the show and then again in the final 10 minutes.  This was an unfortunate development especially for the lead, but undoubtedly it will be remedied in the subsequent productions.

Jim Knost as Don Quixote Photo: Rina Goloskov
An outstanding performance is given by Kerry Jungwirth as Aldonza/Dulcinea, a prostitute who is abused by the local muleteers.  Her self-esteem barely exists until she meets Don Quixote.
Musically she is top rate showcasing her lovely soprano voice in “It’s All The Same,” “What Does He Want of Me,” and “Aldonza” among others.  Ms. Jungwirth’s acting prowess is quite evident as her character runs the gamut of emotions in her encounters with Quixote.  Clearly a polished performer, Ms. Jungwirth adds quality to the production.

As Sancho Panza, Carl Oppenheim plays the loyal squire effectively. He performs several solos including the cute number “I Really Like Him,” where he tries to explain to Aldonza why he doggedly follows Quixote.
A fine performance is turned in by Allie McLoughlin as Antonia, Don Quixote’s niece.  She shines in “I’m Only Thinking of Him” using her bright soprano voice.

The entire company help make this an enjoyable production with some playing multiple roles.  Among them are Anthony Case, Hillel Strutman, Dylan Margolis, Patrick Chaney, Noah Broth, Ethan Cuttler, Ian Smith, Dorian Smith, Josh Schoff, Hannah Elliott, Yehudit Varon, and Sharon Byrd.  
All are fitted in splendid, imaginative period costumes (including horses) deftly designed by Nicole Smith. The mirror shield costumes worn later in the show stand out.

The seven-piece orchestra led by Chris Rose is excellent in executing the rich score and not overwhelming the vocalists.
Evan Margolis designed the set consisting mainly of stone walls to denote the dungeon’s stark common room.  Yet, with the movement of a few props and furniture pieces and Elan Hamburger’s well designed lighting, the multiple scene changes are seamless and efficient.

The presentation of Man of La Mancha by Beth Tfiloh Community Theatre is expertly directed, well staged and performed competently by an energetic cast with some standout vocal performances. Using beautiful melodies, the story exemplifies the human spirit with one man’s quest against all odds to right the wrongs of which there were many.  It is worth a visit, but hurry, and follow that star.
Running time. One hour and 45 minutes with no intermission.

Man of La Mancha runs through August 24 at the Mintzes Theatre/Rosen Arts Center located at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School, 3300 Old Court Rd., Pikeville, MD 21208.  Tickets can be reserved by visiting online Tickets will also be available at the door.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Chase Brexton CEO, Firings Assailed at Protest



Photo: Bob Ford
Ten days after the fifth manager at Chase Brexton Health Care was abruptly fired, a spirited protest and rally was held in front of the headquarters building on Charles and Chase Streets.  The crowd that numbered well over a hundred crammed that corner on a sun-baked late August 19 afternoon, waving signs and chanting slogans, such as “Patient Lives Matter.”
Prior to the rally, Chase Brexton had closed its doors to patients without advance notice.  “I was here to pick up medication and have lab work done, but when I showed up, the center was closed because of the protest,” said Dave Spellman.

The grievances leveled at Chase Brexton’s CEO Richard Larison and the organization’s management team centered on the firings of five long-standing professional managers because, according to the protesters, it was an attempt to intimidate other employees leading up to a union vote, which management opposes.  In addition, these individuals who were terminated had provided quality health care services to a multitude of patients, many of whom are low income transgender individuals who have no other access to health care.
The crowd consisted largely of Chase Brexton patients and clients, employees, representatives from the Service Employees International Union 1199 (SEIU), activists and supporters.  Speaker after speaker from various connections to the care provided at the 38-year-old institution—originally  founded as a health clinic for gay men—and perspectives on the situation were consistent in aiming their remarks at the removal of Larison, the rehiring of the five managers and deploring the potential poor quality of health care and services stemming from these terminations.

Organizer Kate Sumiko Bruce  Photo: Bob Ford

The speakers, which included such elected officials as State Senator Rich Madaleno and Delegate Mary Washington, were mostly clients or patients at Chase Brexton and told personal, often moving stories of how Chase Brexton’s providers gave them hope.

Some were particularly effective in firing up the crowd.  Monica Yorkman, a transgender activist, warned that the direction Chase Brexton’s management was taking would turn the institution into a “generic-ass hospital.”
Kate Sumiko Bruce, who is a patient at Chase Brexton, started organizing the protest, and the SEIU and Baltimore Transgender Alliance contributed to the organizing. Kate’s spouse, Reece Bruce, a transgender man, is also a patient.  
 

“I organized the protest after discovering that my provider had been one of the employees fired for attempting to organize a union at Chase Brexton,” Kate, who emceed the rally, said. “I am hoping to get the attention of not only the community and media, but also of the board. I want those with power within Chase Brexton to know that the current CEO must be replaced, that those fired need to be rehired, and that bullying and union busting will not be tolerated in Baltimore. We patients love our providers and the staff at Chase Brexton and want to support them. They have been there for us so it's our turn to be there for them!”

Two of the fired five: Jill Crank (L.) and Catherine Fowler
Photo: Bob Ford
SEIU organizer Brian Owens agreed. “We’re bringing the community and patients together to bring pressure on the Board of Directors to stop their intimidation against the workers and rehire the fired workers.”
The previous day, Becky Frank, Chase Brexton’s Vice President of Development and Marketing, issued a statement “acknowledging the period of rapid change in order to ensure our long-term viability” and does not believe that “the SEIU is the right long-term solution for Chase Brexton.”  No mention was made of the five fired workers in the statement.  

Jill Crank, Assistant Medical Director and Nurse Practitioner, was one of the fired five and the provider for many in the crowd.  They  gave her as well as Catherine Fowler, another fired manager, a rousing ovation at the end of the rally.

“The act of firing five compassionate and dedicated employees singlehandedly destroyed the trust between Chase Brexton and the community it serves,” she said. “It sent a signal that employees are disposable and replaceable, as well as the relationships they built with their patients and community organizations.”
She added, “Dedication to the LGBT community and Chase Brexton’s mission means recognizing the talent and energy of the people who work on the ground level, and respecting their voices at the workplace negotiating table. After all, it is these individuals who have earned the trust of our patients, one by one.”

The Baltimore Transgender Alliance, led by executive director Ava Pipitone, summed up the sentiments of the protesters in a statement.

“On August 19th, the Baltimore Transgender Alliance and our allies are joining forces to rally in support of the Chase Brexton workers’ right to unionize. The rally’s purpose is twofold: both to lift the voices of Chase Brexton employees and the communities that Chase Brexton serves, and to stand united as transgender residents of Baltimore and demand the services we deserve.

“Chase Brexton is one of the only places where low-income transgender and non-binary people in Maryland can access care. However, for two years, CEO Richard Larison’s policies have undermined worker’s efforts. As we face systemic injustice based on intersections of race, class, gender, and sexuality, we need and deserve quality care.

“In response, Chase Brexton workers are unionizing. After Larison became aware of these efforts to organize, he and his administration laid off five employees. Some of these workers have decades of experience working with clients; they are integral to HIV care and essential to transgender care. Many people lost providers that they had been with for years, and that trust is not easily re-earned.

Photo: Bob Ford
“This is an attack on the workers of Chase Brexton, and that is an attack on our community. Firings and policy changes in care for marginalized communities replicates the very systems of oppression Chase Brexton was founded to address. This rally follows the Department of Justice’s damning report on the Baltimore Police Department’s systemic dehumanization and harassment of transgender persons, especially transgender women of color. We have to fight for what seems a given to non-marginalized communities. We are fighting and standing strong with those who support us.

“We demand that Larison be removed as CEO. We demand that the “fired five” are rehired. We demand that Chase Brexton workers are given their right to unionize. We demand that Chase Brexton’s policies prioritize the quality of care that we deserve.”

Throughout the rally, dozens of cars and trucks driving up Charles Street honked their horns in support of the protesters.  In addition, a letter signed by ten Maryland legislators denouncing the firings was delivered to Larison and his management team just prior to the rally.
A vote for those eligible employees to join the union will take place August 25.

The next day, Kate Sumiko Bruce told supporters on Facebook, “Yesterday was not the end. We're gonna keep fighting until the protest demands are met.”

UPDATE:

By a vote of 87 to 9 on Aug.25, employees of Chase Brexton Health Care voted to join the 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East labor union. 

An attempt to postpone the vote by Chase Brexton management was unsuccessful as the National Labor Relations Board did not act on a request to investigate charges by the health care nonprofit that management and supervisors along with the union had interfered with the election process.

I am overwhelmed, crying tears of joy,” said Kate Sumiko Bruce, who is a patient at Chase Brexton and who helped organize the protest against Chase Brexton last Friday.
 
I look forward to positive changes for staff and patients and hope for rehiring of those fired.”
 

Monday, August 15, 2016

Why Trump’s Purple Heart Comment is the Most Disqualifying


During Donald Trump’s quest to become the next President of the U.S., he has said a cornucopia of things and acted in such ways that would have disqualified any normal candidate for the highest position in the land.  By now we are aware of his misogynist and anti-Hispanic comments that darkened the sky at the outset of his campaign that should have disqualified him. We witnessed his boorish, self-centered behavior during the primary debates that exhibited a profound lack of even basic knowledge of government and policy that should have derailed his bid.  #hocopolitics
Yet, during and since the conventions—a period that should have been used to remedy his gaffes and his obvious flaws and to make himself viable—Trump has succeeded to be breathtakingly unfit for the office.  His convention was an ego-driven bunch of nonsense capped off by a searing, anger-laden speech that depicted an America that is on par with North Korea.

Since then Trump was even worse.  His ill-advised scrap with the sympathetic Khan family was, in my view, the turning point of the campaign.  This is when leaders of his own party as well as conservative operatives and opinion writers began an exodus from his camp.
Then there was more.  His supposed sarcastic suggestion that Russia, an adversary, hack into Hillary Clinton’s emails.  If a Democrat would have encouraged such action, Trump would have been sure to charge treason. 

His 2nd amendment cure to stop Clinton’s appointing judges he does not favor was beyond irresponsible as well as dangerous given the hatred embodied by his dwindling number of supporters.  
Trump’s ridiculously stupid assertion (again he claims he was sarcastic or maybe not) that President Obama was the founder and Hillary Clinton the co-founder of ISIS was another gem.

All of these and so much more (and I haven’t even mentioned his temperament, pathologically narcissistic personality and dubious business history plus his unwillingness to make his tax returns available and his notion that nukes are mere playground toys) are disqualifying enough to be Commander-in-Chief and President of our nation.  However, the one single faux pas that should have immediately disqualified him was his comment about his always wanting the Purple Heart.
The other examples indicate he is a bigoted jerk.  The Purple Heart comment proves he is a stupid one as well because he clearly doesn’t know what the Purple Heart means.
The honor, which actually had its roots during the American Revolution under Continental Army Commander-in-Chief Washington, has been awarded to nearly 2 million Americans since April 5, 1917 who had been wounded or killed in combat against our enemies. It is the oldest military award still given to U.S. service members.

On August 1, Trump said in Virginia after a vet gave him his Purple Heart, “Man that’s like big stuff. I've always wanted to get the real Purple Heart. This was much easier,”  
Trump, who successfully avoided to military draft on five occasions, according to a report in the New York Times, never had the opportunity “to get the real Purple Heart.” 

But wanting one? You have to be wounded or killed in combat!  Who wants to be shot or injured by explosives? That’s akin to “I always wanted to be in a car accident” or “I’d like to experience how it feels to be water boarded (a tactic he strongly endorses).
As someone who fought for our country in Iraq, was injured, and was awarded a Purple Heart, I can tell you, no one should ever wantto get a Purple Heart,Sean Barney, who was shot in the neck in Fallujah in 2006, posted on Facebook.

With so many other Americans receiving the medal for their sacrifice, Trump’s flippant remark displays his arrogance and stupidity all at once. 
He doesn't know what the Purple Heart is for. That alone should disqualify him.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Firings at Chase Brexton Anger Community


From Baltimore to San Francisco, the aftershocks of the firing of five long-term professionals by Chase Brexton Health Care are being felt. The terminations that began August 8 were alleged to be retaliation for their desire to help unionize doctors, social workers and other medical staff within the company or to intimidate workers.  The push to organize is ostensibly related to poor working conditions and increased workloads that hamper patient care.
These actions have set off a wave of anger within the LGBTQ communities with at least one online petition drive underway.

“Chase Brexton fired five employees in an effort to intimidate workers leading up to a union vote,” says the introduction to the petition started by Sam Williamson and has over 1,500 supporters. “The workers are organizing against poor working conditions and policies that threaten patient care. As those patients, we are outraged that the people we depend upon to keep us healthy are being treated in such detrimental ways.”
The statement continues, “Right now, CEO Richard Larison and the executive team of Chase Brexton are failing our communities.”

An official comment from Chase Brexton’s management has not been released, but Becky Frank, vice president of development and marketing, told the Baltimore Sun, “We are fully aware of what is going on here with the union trying to come in. We are fully focused on continuing to provide quality patient care.” 

The workers were seeking to join 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East.  The union filed a complaint with the National labor Relations Board accusing Chase Brexton of firing the workers to intimidate other workers.
Quality patient care is the core issue which concerns the community as many low-income transgender individuals would be impacted. 

“The firings in the case management area makes up the majority of what makes Chase LGBT- focused patient care.  It very much what provides the vital parts of trans care,” says a former case manager who asked not to be identified. “Trans people have few options as it is. Getting rid of those people is a direct threat to LGBT care.  The organization would focus on addiction care and heterosexuals only without them.  LGBT care isn't profitable.”
FreeState Justice issued a statement on August 12 that was signed by a dozen local LGBT organizations in response to the firings.

“All too often, LGBTQ folks are left without service providers they can trust. As LGBTQ focused organizations across Maryland, we are deeply concerned that the termination of key Chase Brexton staff members may result in deteriorated trust from the communities we serve. 
It continues, “We also believe that workers’ rights is an LGBTQ issue, and we support the rights of all workers to form a union.  Fostering a healthy work environment is essential to recruiting and retaining the best team possible, which we believe is a key component of countering structural marginalization against the communities we serve.”

The Pride Foundation of Maryland removed Chase Brexton from their safe spaces map until the company “resolves this matter in a way that does not threaten the livelihood of LGBT employees pursuing their legal right to unionize.”
Gilles Lee Stromberg had been a patient at Chase Brexton since 2012, and it remains as the primary care provider.  Then Gilles moved to San Francisco for graduate school. 

My doctor was the last one to give me a hug and well wishes and said if I needed ANYTHING, if I was stranded over here in SF, that they’d hook me up.  At my lowest point, being able to see her I feel really saved my life.”  That person is Jill Crank, who was the fifth person to be fired this week.

A protest has been organized on social media against "Union Busting at Chase Brexton" and will take place in front of the Mount Vernon Center, 1111 N. Charles St. on August 19 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

The employees will be voting to join the union on August 25.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

New Protections for LGBTQ Youth in Foster Care Announced


FreeState Justice announced on August 4 that the Maryland Department of Human Resources (DHR) released a policy directive outlining key protections for LGBTQ foster youth. DHR developed the new directive in consultation with the Youth Equality Alliance (YEA), a policy coalition of service providers, nonprofits, government agencies, and individuals advocating for LGBTQ youth in Maryland, coordinated by FreeState Justice.

This action is expected to impact the lives of countless Maryland youth in foster care, according to Saida Agostini, Director of Community Engagement and Youth Policy for FreeState Justice, and YEA coordinator.
The directive establishes clear protections for LGBTQ youth in out-of-home care. Most notably, the directive mandates that a transgender and gender non-conforming youth’s sex assigned at birth cannot be the basis for the placement of the young person in a sex-segregated housing assignment. Rather, placement in congregate care must take into consideration the individual health and safety needs of the young person.
In addition, local departments of social services must vet all placements for all openly LGBTQ-identified youth in care to ensure that placements are LGBTQ-affirming, and may not coerce LGBTQ youth into so-called “conversion therapy” to “change” their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Among other highlights, the policy directive outlines procedures for caseworkers to assess the safety of placements as well as other resource providers, makes explicit that youth are permitted to dress and groom themselves consistent with their gender identity and expression, and provides that youth should be called by their preferred name and pronouns.

“This is an incredible moment that realizes one of our key goals as a coalition to protect LGBTQ youth,” said Agostini. “Studies have found that LGBTQ youth in care, especially LGBTQ youth of color, routinely face verbal and physical harassment in placement. This is unacceptable—our children must know that home is a safe place to go. DHR’s LGBTQ policy directive creates clear procedures and standards that will safeguard some of our most vulnerable youth.” 
DHR has coupled the release of this policy directive with a comprehensive statewide training of all county level social service employees that will begin this fall. Indeed, the directive mandates regular LGBTQ cultural competency trainings for both new and current staff members.

The new policy directive, which is titled “Policy SSA-CW #17-08: Working with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning (LGBTQ) Youth and Families,” is available from DHR’s website.
Formed in May 2013, YEA members include FreeState Justice, Advocates for Children and Youth, PFLAG Columbia-Howard County, The Frederick Center, Homeless Persons Representation Project, STAR TRACK Adolescent Health Program at University of Maryland School of Medicine, and the Baltimore Child Abuse Center.

For more information about the Youth Equality Alliance, and its advocacy work, visit here.