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Four Decades Along the Rainbow Road

A look back at my work with the LGBTQ community. I first became active in the gay rights movement in 1980 when I launched my LGBTQ jo...

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Four Decades Along the Rainbow Road


A look back at my work with the LGBTQ community.

I first became active in the gay rights movement in 1980 when I launched my LGBTQ journalism career. It was very clear to me that religion-inspired discrimination was not the only problem facing our community. That and the prevalence of hatred, violence and marginalization that exist even today got my attention.

While considerable progress was achieved over these four decades, much work still needs to be done regarding such areas as LGBTQ-related suicides, bullying of LGBTQ youth, foster care injustices, LGBTQ youth homelessness, violence directed at transgender individuals and other members of our community, discrimination against and harassment of the aging LGBTQ population, combating HIV/AIDS, among other issues.

Then there are problems stemming from inside the community. Racism is a significant concern. Divisions within the LGBTQ components are also palpable. I’ve always maintained and still do that we can never advance unless we are united. That is our number one challenge as we face a hostile president, a hostile vice president, a hostile attorney general, virtually all Republican members of Congress and potentially a hostile U.S. Supreme Court. 

Another challenge impeding progress has been a prevailing degree of apathy within our own community. My mission has been to educate those who are apathetic so that they understand the issues that affect them and help motivate these folks to be more engaged. Those who were and are currently active in these efforts still need to be informed so that they can be more effective in their activism.

Moreover, I have endeavored to shed light on those topics that have been relegated to the background, not covered in the mainstream media and not apparent to the average LGBTQ individual. 

I took on this journey for little or no monetary compensation to engage our community as well as our straight counterparts through Journalism, Activism and Education.  These areas are discussed below.

JOURNALISM
Over these four decades I had written well over 2,000 articles covering a wide swath of subjects
Fromer Equality Maryland Executive Director
Dan Furmansky addressing media outside Maryland Court
of Appeals following arguments on marriage equality
including hard news, commentary, the gut-wrenching struggle for marriage equality and transgender rights, politics all levels, a host of rallies and demonstrations, the all-too-sad vigils for fallen members of our community, culture, books, theatre, art, television, sports, travel, antiques and other areas as they pertain to or of special interest to members of our community.

I was an editor of the Baltimore Gay Paper, a subsidiary of the then Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Baltimore (now called The Pride Center of Maryland), and co-chair of the Newspaper Committee. Later, I became the Senior Political Analyst, Managing Editor and Local News Editor for Baltimore OUTloud. For a decade I was an opinion writer and ultimately wrote a weekly summary of LGBTQ news involving Baltimore and its surrounding suburbs for the Washington Blade—the oldest LGBTQ newspaper in the country and considered by many as “the paper of record.” I also provided a local news summary to Gay Life prior to its cessation.

Through this period I was an eyewitness to many of the significant developments with respect to LGBTQ matters—good and bad—on the national and local scenes. I spotlighted individuals and LGBTQ organizations that were instrumental in the growth of our community and who did good deeds. 

I have written about the unique issues facing bisexual individuals who rightly feel left behind. Accordingly,  I tried to publicize support groups that service the bisexual community. 

I also attempted to hold individuals and organizations accountable through my opinion-oriented OUTspoken column that was initiated while at Baltimore OUTloud and continues on this blog  today. My belief is that if organizations seek donations from our community, its leaders and governing bodies must be held accountable as to the manner in which resources are spent and safeguarded. At the same time, I made every effort to publicize and promote these organizations’ fundraisers, events and programs believing that the success of LGBTQ organizations only strengthens our community.

Sen President Mike Miller, Governor Martin O'Malley
and House of Delegates Speaker Michel Busch
at historic signing of marriage equality into law
While I covered the standard LGBTQ news, such as crime, gay bar openings and closings, many local Pride celebrations, key legislation at the national, state and local levels, dozens of published interviews of LGBTQ leaders and personalities as well as other newsworthy developments, I also reported on and written stories that I believe produced tangible, consequential results.

Examples:

♦ There was a story on three members of the Maryland House of Delegates who backed an amendment to the state constitution that would bar same-sex marriage. That by itself is not shocking. However, these three represented a district that includes Charles Village and surrounding neighborhoods that comprise the highest density of LGBTQ persons in the state, and their opposition was largely unknown to their LGBTQ constituents. 

One of these delegates, through an on-the-record interview with me, cited religious beliefs. Another claimed “gays were never helpful to me.” When the story was published on the front page of Baltimore OUTloud, I was told that their offices received a high volume of calls complaining about their stances. While one passed away prior to the legislature taking up marriage equality, the other two reversed their positions.

♦ Another story titled “Bodies for Bucks” focused on the police crackdown on male prostitutes and their “johns” in the Patterson Park area of Baltimore. With the help of a local attorney, I emphasized the legal jeopardy and physical dangers posed by this activity. Eventually, the hustling scene abated in this area and relationships between gays and the principal local community association improved significantly.

♦ In an investigative report, I had written about the homelessness crisis in Baltimore involving LGBTQ individuals. This group constituted a disproportionate share of the overall homeless and runaway population in the city with transgender individuals comprising an even more disproportionate share. 

The physical safety and health of these individuals are at risk as is the need to engage in criminal activity just to survive while the exposure to being victims of crime increased. This story may have had an indirect impact on the eventual establishment by AIRS/HOME of an apartment facility called Restoration Gardens in northwest Baltimore that houses homeless LGBTQ individuals.

Byron Macfarlane, first out LGBT to be elected in
Howard County, being sworn in as Register of Wills
♦ Then there were stories concerning open LGBT individuals who were running for office. Principal among these were Mary Washington who is now a State Senator and is a candidate for Mayor of Baltimore and was the first openly LGBT African-American elected official in Maryland and only the second such state legislator in the country; Luke Clippinger who is a State Delegate; and Byron Macfarlane who, when elected as Howard County Register of Wills, became the first openly LGBTQ person to be elected in Howard County.

Each of these was profiled in front page coverage of their nascent candidacies in Baltimore OUTloud and have acknowledged that the stories helped galvanize support, monetary contributions and volunteers from our community for their ultimately successful campaigns. 

♦ Another was the revelation that the Harford County public school system in 2010 blocked LGBT websites from the schools’ computers. Public outrage resulting from this article led to the school board backing down.

♦ A report for the Washington Blade indicated that two individuals were attacked and robbed by a person using Grindr to lure them to a particular location in Baltimore. The article served notice to users of Grindr to be extra cautious in arranging liaisons.

♦ More recently and over a two year period, I wrote a half dozen articles on the emergence and progress of the first Pride celebration to take place in Howard County (HoCo Pride) as well as a media advisory and press release while being a member of the Pride Planning Committee. Clearly, the surprisingly large attendance at the first such event in 2019 was boosted by the publicity gained by these articles.

Other Highlights:

♦ Covering the historic signing ceremony in Annapolis after the bill legalizing same-sex marriage was passed the Maryland State General Assembly.

♦ Covering the first ever legal same-sex marriages in the state that took place in Baltimore City Hall.

♦ There was my story, also published in Outsports.com, about former Duke University basketball star JJ Reddick who was erroneously perceived as gay by some fans and how he, a devout Christian, handled that pressure.

The first legal same-sex marriages officiated at City Hall
on New Year's Day 2013
♦ Covering the announcement of the closing of Baltimore’s iconic gay bar, the Club Hippo, as well as reporting on the establishment’s final events.

♦ Conducting an exclusive interview of a bartender who was on duty the night the Stonewall Inn was raided and whose account comports with more recent historical research.

♦ Breaking a story of an incident that took place in M&T Banks Stadium at a Ravens game in 2010 where two lesbians were ejected from the stadium because of what they believe was a result of kissing. The official explanation from security hired by the Ravens’ organization was that one of the members of the couple was accused of pilfering an empty paper cup at a concession stand. This explanation defied credulity, and the story received wide local and even national media attention.

♦ Writing about the emergence of a new LGBTQ community center in Frederick, Md. called The Frederick Center and highlighting its mission and how well the group is organized. While TFC does not have a dedicated physical space for their operations, they have managed to provide key programs for the LGBTQ community in and around Frederick and have demonstrated exceptional partnering with business leaders and government officials on many projects and goals.

♦ Exclusive coverage of several BMore Proud Leadership conferences whereby LGBTQ college students and allies from the Baltimore area convene to participate in workshops, listen to addresses by leaders and discuss common issues.

ACTIVISM
A prevailing rule is that either you are a journalist or an activist but you can’t be both. I ignored this rule as the times and issues dictated that direct action must be taken. There is no substitute for being on the front lines to fight for a cause.

Most of my activism occurred along with my partner who eventually became my spouse as member
Participating in demonstration against homophobic
Westboro Baptist Church who was protesting near
Towson University
s of the PFLAG-Howard County chapter. While I was the chapter’s media coordinator and a member of the Steering Committee for several years, we were also members of the organization’s Advocacy Committee. My efforts focused largely on the quest to achieve marriage equality and codifying protections based on gender identity in Maryland.

Members of this committee engaged in discussions with local elected officials from both political parties. We told our stories and explained why marriage equality will not undermine the institution of marriage; in fact, it would strengthen it. Many of these politicians were sympathetic to the cause in that their hearts were with us, but some were hesitant because of the potential political risk it may cause. This was explicitly apparent during a one-on-one meeting I had with a U.S. Representative.

Over time, and as we continued to share our stories and make strong arguments, most came around, and some emerged as strong vocal advocates. We were most appreciative of their evolution.
To bolster this effort, I participated in and covered just about all of the Lobby Day rallies and discussions with lawmakers in Annapolis that were organized by Equality Maryland.

Appearing on the late Dennis Lane's (l.) podcast
I had testified on marriage equality before the Howard County delegation during a hearing on pending bills in the General Assembly and testified at a House of Delegates committee hearing on the same subject. I also appeared on a local podcast in 2011 hosted by the late Dennis Lane extolling the virtues of marriage equality just prior to a new General Assembly that was about to begin.

During the period the law that legalized same-sex marriage was challenged by a referendum, I participated in numerous rallies, fundraisers and events, most notably in an effort called the “Light Brigade.” This is where a bunch of us—mostly PFLAG members and supporters—held up lit panels with each representing a letter to spell out messages like “Vote Yes on (Question) 6” at overpasses and intersections in various areas of Maryland.

Still believing that the pen is mightier than the sword, I have written numerous letters to the editor on a variety of subjects related to the LGBTQ community. They were published in the Howard County Times/Columbia Flier, the City Paper, the Baltimore Sun, the Washington Post, USA Today, and TIME.  In addition, I wrote articles for The Business Monthly that highlighted the work of PFLAG.

Presenting at BMore Proud Conference at JHU
I served on the previous County Executive’s LGBTQ Round Table and represented the LGBTQ community in the #OneHoward committee. In the latter capacity, I analyzed the county’s Master Aging Plan noting the absence of LGBTQ-specific issues regarding the aging population and, accordingly, no remedies to deal with those concerns.

EDUCATION
My involvement with PFLAG has enabled me to help educate the community through coordinating a variety of programs for the chapter’s general monthly meetings. Among those I coordinated or led included a panel discussion on the intersection of Black and Gay; talks by the editors of the Washington Blade;  a panel on “Expanding Rainbow Families; a discussion on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’; Authors Night whereby LGBT authors discussed their latest works; and a panel on LGBT Homelessness.

As a member of PFLAG’s Speakers Bureau, I made presentations at Howard County government Diversity Day events, spoke at the Kennedy Krieger Institute, and spoke to employees at the Carroll County Times.  

I represented PFLAG at the GLSEN Youth Summit in Towson and the Howard County Leadership U, the Youth Development Coalition, Employment Day at Oakland Mills H.S. and Breaking the Silence Youth Summit.

Other speaking events:

♦ Addressed National Honor Society  students at a River Hill H.S. and students at Centennial H.S. on Diversity Day.

♦ Spoke at Baltimore City Community College, which was hosting a conference of statewide human resources managers.

Presenting at the GLSEN Youth Summit
♦ Made a presentation to Baltimore City 9th grade history teachers at a diversity conference at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute.

♦ Participated with Equality Maryland staff to educate WMAR personnel on acceptable terminology in covering LGBT news.

♦ Appeared on a BlogTalkRadio program,

♦ On multiple occasions spoke before the Prime Timers of Baltimore.

♦ Presented at several collegiate BMore Proud conferences at Johns Hopkins University, U.M.B.C. and Stevenson University principally on the topic of how best to utilize the media to advocate on issues of interest and the role of and need for the LGBTQ press.

♦ Participated on numerous panels on LGBTQ issues. 

_______________________

My journey down the rainbow road has been, like most roads, smooth at times but also fraught with obstacles, potholes and detours. It has been worth it, however, and the main constant has been that my husband Bob Ford has been by my side with unrelenting support and attempted, with varying degrees of success, to keep me out of trouble. The journey continues.

________________________

As a postscript, I want to point out that I have written non-LGBTQ articles for other publications and sites.  They include:

♦ Writing about antiques in The Jeffersonian.

♦ Writing on a variety of subjects in The Business Monthly, such as eco-friendly and "green" building construction in Howard County,  the advent of women entrepreneurs, the emerging attention to financial literacy and others.

♦ Political commentary in JMore Magazine.  

♦ Theatre reviews for MD Theatre Guide, DC Theatre Scene and this blog.

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