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Four Decades Along the Rainbow Road

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Dinner embodied the love at the heart of the holidays

Letter to Howard County Times--Published 12/22/05

Amidst the silly furor over how retailers should be marketing their products during their November-December sales, the Dec. 13 holiday potluck dinner by the Columbia/Howard County chapter of PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) captured the true joy of the season. The embracing of diversity and humankind is what most people come to expect and love about the December's holidays, whether you are Christian or not.

The event at the Owen Brown Interfaith Center, which attracted over 150 people, mostly from the local community, including several elected officials, was a celebration of great food, camaraderie and warmth with all of the customary Christmas colors, poinsettias and decor serving as the backdrop.

The two facilitators of the chapter's Rainbow Youth Alliance - a support and social group for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender teens and young adults - were justly honored for their efforts in helping these young people who are coming out and acknowledging their sexual orientation to cope with a sometimes hostile environment.

Chapter chair Colette Roberts received recognition for her leadership and tenacity in guiding the chapter to the success it has achieved in its 11 years in strengthening so many families.

Moreover, this dinner and celebration was enjoyed by actual families. People of all ages who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered were on hand. Parents who have GLBT children shared in the joy. Same-sex couples who are raising beautiful and happy children were there as well, proud as can be.

The Baltimore Men's Chorus provided the musical entertainment by performing traditional Christmas and other holiday songs of the season and a few that were, let's say, not as traditional. With their talents and spirit the chorus led everyone with a rousing sing-along to conclude the festivities.

The event was the true embodiment of the Christmas and holiday season where love, support and diversity triumphed over hate, division and discrimination.

Steve Charing
Steve Charing is media coordinator for PFLAG- Howard County.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Going for Brokeback

Why ‘Brokeback Mountain’ is an important film to the lgbt community

By Steve Charing

While the Hollywood film industry has been suffering at the gate for the past few years, it seems that controversial films—especially those with a significant advanced buzz to stoke interest—manage to succeed. Last year Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ and Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 911 did just that.

This year’s entry in the controversial genre, as you are probably well aware, is Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain (R rating), which has been widely dubbed as the "gay cowboy movie" or "gay Western." How it will do at the box office is anybody’s guess. Even some gay columnists have scribed opposite viewpoints defining their predictions.

But if the huge crowds that turned out in the opening cities of New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco are an indication, this could be a blockbuster.

To be sure, these three cities have massive lgbt populations; therefore, a movie depicting the love between two hunky men who happen to be cowboys (played by Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal) would likely be an attraction. That type of plot is seldom seen from mainstream movie studios. They are mindful of well-funded and well-organized groups who are always at the ready to pounce and threaten boycotts and demonstrations so that only films that conform to their standards may be seen by the general public.

Some folks have suspected that this fear by movie houses to ward off religious conservative activism prevented an all-out distribution in December. Brokeback Mountain was distributed to limited markets in December to qualify for potential awards. The major distribution will take place next month with the Baltimore premiere scheduled for January 6 at the Charles Theater.

I had asked the general manager of the Charles, Buzz Cusack, if his theater had exclusive rights to the film in this area. "I wish we did have the exclusive rights," he said chuckling. "But the film’s distributors, not the movie houses, decide where the film is shown. Undoubtedly it will be released more broadly later on."

Apparently that is the strategy, which is most likely aimed at reaping maximum profits. According to Mike Lavers of GLAAD—Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, a media watchdog organization—the distributors of Brokeback Mountain were planning an incremental release all along.

How this film will play out in other markets and in red state territory remains to be seen. Neither the backlash, if it comes, nor even the lack of backlash will diminish the glow emanating out of Brokeback Mountain. Indeed, capturing awards form the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and the New York Film Critics Circle, the reception it received at the Venice Film Festival and a gaggle of Golden Globe nominations already in hand surely will not hurt. Neither will the near-universal acclaim it is receiving by film critics.

The run-up to the general release of the movie has some extremist conservative groups like Focus on the Family and the American Family Association gritting their teeth as they try to develop a strategy to badmouth the movie that is destined to win several Oscars. Currently, the sickening Focus on the Family hate group has adopted a low profile scheme in the hope that their lack of involvement would make the movie disappear quietly into the sunset. They feel the more opposition they put forward, the more attention the film it will receive. They want it to go away and fail.

Keep dreaming.

Since the cost of production was around $12 million—a low budget by Hollywood standards—it will not need to fill up every seat in every house in every city to turn a profit.

Having seen the film at a media screening last month, I predict it will contend for key awards. Surely Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Ledger)and Best Supporting Actress (Michelle Williams) nominations are within grasp.

It is not the best movie I have ever seen; it had some flaws like a slow beginning, slowness in the middle and a lack of clarity in spots. But it has an interesting plot adapted from the short story written by E. Annie Proulx and a surprising twist at the end. The strength of the film was the acting and the setting—you can almost smell and taste the gritty Wyoming in the 1960’s.

But I also believe the movie will be historic. It set aside established gay stereotypes in that two "macho" guys get entangled over a 20-year period—not over sex, but love. One can see how society’s pressures and a lack of options available to these two men forged their unorthodox relationship and the determined secrecy of their forbidden love. It is a heartbreaking and groundbreaking story.

Brokeback Mountain will produce enormous profits and capture a string of well-deserved awards, not to mention kudos to the studio and the theaters for the courage to defy the conservative bullies. And it will give wives reason to pause when their husbands alert them to an upcoming fishing trip.

Monday, December 12, 2005

They're trying to take over

At some point our country needs to stand up to such extreme Christian conservative groups like the American Family Association and Focus on the Family, who successfully impose their narrow will on our daily lives .

Such organizations dictate how private retailers should market their products during the holidays. They seek to impose their own definition of science on the school's curriculum. They rant about the sanctity of marriage but discredit basic spousal rights as exhibited during the turmoil surrounding theTerri Schiavo fiasco. They're pro-life but also pro-death penalty. They decide for us which toothpaste to use when they organized a successful boycott of Procter and Gamble.

Now they've succeeded in determining which cars the public should buy because they are unhappy about where Ford Motor Co. places their ads. It is disgraceful how these oganizations have been allowed to corrupt our free enterprise system and our basic freedoms.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Here's My New Year's Revolution

By Steve Charing

Our nation was born out of the American Revolution. We did just fine plowing through the Industrial Revolution. We partied through the Sexual Revolution. Heck, we even survived (barely) the Reagan Revolution. But as the fortunes of this country sink lower than the approval ratings of an incompetent president and his corrupt cabal, what we need is a new revolution.

Let’s call it the Freedom Revolution of 2006—because we want our government to be free from the corporate influence, especially Big Oil and Halliburton, powerful lobbyists, and religious extremists (think Supreme Court nominations) who have corrupted and own many of our Republican officials including the President. And we want to restore our Freedom of Speech from those who prefer to silence critics and call them traitors, or in the case of the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame, compromise our national security for the sake of revenge.

This is the year we can make headway in ridding ourselves of the baneful politicians that have contaminated our nation. All members of the House of Representatives, one-third of the Senate and the Governors of Maryland and other states are up for re-election, not to mention all members of Maryland’s House of Delegates and Senate.

To succeed, like any revolution, we need to be bold, take no prisoners and set out a course which will lead us from this horror of a government that is being controlled by religious extremists, powerful corporations and freedom-hating, self-described patriots.

President Bush and his record will be the fulcrum of this revolution because it is his policies and presidency that has pulled our nation down into the economic, environmental, international and social swamp that it is in.

He has provoked the revolution. We need to fight it. Bush cannot be up for re-election, but most of his GOP cronies who are complicit in his dastardly performance are.

It’s pointless to rehash the endless list of vile policies, decisions and indecisions that this presidency has wrought upon us with the help of his rubber-stamping power-at-all cost Party. This revolution that I’m proposing, through the electoral process, hopefully will extricate this nation from the incompetents that have caused our pain here and abroad.

The key is making sure every Republican candidate at all levels who stood by Bush in the wake of the catastrophic war in Iraq, the raping of the environment, the ill-advised tax cuts for the wealthy, the cavalier response to Katrina, the coziness with Big Oil (recall that oil company executives were suspiciously not required to testify under oath to a Congressional committee), the CIA leak, etc., etc., etc, pay for those misdeeds.

We should also oppose those candidates who, with Bush as the main draw, have raised money for their own campaigns. That would include such senators as Jon Kyle (R-AZ) and the reprehensible Rick Santorum (R-PA). You can throw in virulently anti-gay Congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave (R-CO). Then there is Senate wannabe Lt. Gov. Michael Steele and Maryland’s own Governor Robert Ehrlich as well.

For Michael Steele, a recent (disappointing) fundraising visit from Bush ought to prove devastating. Steele can try to distance himself from the failed policies of this administration, but by using the appearance of the president to raise money (which he gladly accepted), he is in bed with him, figuratively speaking.

With recent polls showing Bush’s approval rating in Maryland at an all-time low 32 percent, Steele is banking on a short memory of this event and the attendant photos. As part of the strategy for this 2006 revolution, the Democrats must use the photos to link Steele and Bush in their commercials. Governor Ehrlich is also aligned tightly with Bush, and his opponents should remind the voters of that fact.

With a spate of ethical scandals that are expected to make GOP congressmen drop like leaves in 2006 and the possible expanding fallout from the CIA leak, this is indeed the time to cash in. Echoing Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean’s line, all political advertisements must always rail against the "culture of corruption."

Moreover, the candidates running against Republican Bush hacks should, if nothing else, show the footage of Bush’s door malfunction in China with the caption, "No matter where he is, President Bush has no exit strategy." This is also part of the Freedom Revolution of 2006. Time to get nasty—just like Republicans.

The renewed onslaught on same-sex marriage will emerge in 2006. Several states (possibly Maryland) will try to change their constitutions to ban such marriages. We will constantly be bombarded with loose rhetoric about how the sanctity of marriage must be preserved, how we must protect traditional marriage, that the gay agenda is an assault on marriage and God and everything else. Incredibly, on this issue our country is to the right of South Africa, of all places.

Remember, this is a revolution and instead of letting our opponents dictate the terms, we must finally fight back with a vengeance. Not only should we defend our turf on the basis of equality—a principal inherent to the founding of our country—but also we should vehemently argue that heterosexuals—not lgbt people or "activist judges"— undermine marriage.

Are gays responsible for the high divorce rates? Are they to blame for babies born out of wedlock? Do gays encourage straights to have sex outside of marriage? Do they foster domestic abuse among heterosexual married couples? Do gays create poverty so that heterosexuals find marriage an economic burden? These are the questions we and our allies must raise.

They falsely and maliciously argue the quest for same-sex marriage is a threat to the so-called sanctity of the institution. And it doesn’t stop there. These idiots go so far as blaming gays for abortions, not to mention hurricanes and terrorist attacks. Really. Time to fight back, folks!

The Freedom Revolution of 2006 must not depend solely on the self-destruction of the corrupt GOP office holders who will be dealing with indictments in 2006 and those who have close ties to President Bush. The revolution also requires us to articulate a vision and a plan to enact it.
The late John Lennon wrote: "You say you want a revolution/Well you know/We all want to change the world…"

The Freedom Revolution of 2006 is not aimed at changing the world—just America. And with honest, competent people in office to lead the state and nation, we may never need another revolution.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

A Model for Advocacy

How a local PFLAG chapter is working behind the scenes for YOU

By Steve Charing

While most members of the lgbt community are going about their normal business, a small but dedicated group of people is working to enrich the lives of all of us.

The Columbia/Howard County chapter of PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) is well known for its marching in the Baltimore and D.C. Pride parades. And you may be familiar with its two support roles: to parents who have children that came out as lgbt or the kids themselves who may be experiencing alienation from family members, friends and/or classmates. Both of these components within this organization—the Parents Support Group and the youth group (Rainbow Youth Alliance)—have been extremely successful and have garnered many plaudits from those in and out of PFLAG.

However, a third arm of the chapter, the Advocacy Committee, is constantly striving to ensure equality for the entire lgbt community, in addition to supporting the parents and the children. The accomplishments of this group have been amazing during the relatively short time it has been in existence.

"We are determined to achieve equal rights for the lgbt community," said Dan McCarthy, a father of a gay son and co-chairman of the Advocacy Committee. "And marriage equality is one of our top priorities." He acknowledged that there are lgbt individuals who may not foresee marriage in their immediate future or may not want to marry, but "I want them to at least have the option. When marriage equality is achieved, all other rights for lgbt individuals will fall in place," he said.

The other co-chairman, Kevin Jordan, is a gay man with a partner of over 10 years. He is responsible for much of the grass roots effort and strategy needed to change the hearts and minds of "the movable middle," as he puts it—those who are not at the extremes of the political spectrum—and in arranging meetings with local officials in Howard and Carroll counties.

Jody Huckaby, the Executive Director of the 500 chapter national PFLAG organization, recognized the significance of the committee’s work and accomplishments. Following a visit to the Howard County chapter’s November meeting, he noted on the national PFLAG’s website that the Advocacy Committee’s members "in partnership with their local and statewide allies, participate in advocacy work to help protect the rights of their lgbt loved ones. Their education and advocacy activities keep them engaged and unified."

Using quiet diplomacy as a tactic, the chapter’s Advocacy Committee was instrumental in securing domestic partner benefits for Howard County government employees, Howard Community College, the county’s Board of Education and the Columbia Association. The significance of these victories cannot be understated given the anti-gay rhetoric that permeated during the 2004 presidential elections and in some quarters of the State House.

PFLAG-Howard County and its Advocacy Committee worked hard to help Equality Maryland, the state’s largest lgbt civil rights organization, achieve success during the last General Assembly. The Hate Crimes Bill and the Medical Decision-making Bill were the two major victories.

Alas, Governor Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr., in pandering to extremists on the religious right, vetoed the Medical Decision-making legislation that had been passed with bi-partisan support saying, "…the creation a new term of life partner will open the door to undermine the sanctity of traditional marriage."

At this past year’s Lobby Day, an event on Valentine’s Day in Annapolis organized by Equality Maryland to rally the community and discuss lgbt issues with legislators, PFLAG-Howard County mustered over 90 people to attend on a chilly, soggy day. That represented the highest total of any group participating.

"[The Advocacy Committee] members involve themselves with every level of politics in Howard County and have created a level of dialogue between legislators and constituents that is unprecedented," said Equality Maryland’s Executive Director Dan Furmansky. "If only every county in Maryland had a grassroots group with the strength of Howard County-PFLAG - we'd have all of our rights and protections and then some."

As we await the Baltimore Circuit Court’s ruling on the lawsuit, Deane and Polyak v. Conaway that is challenging the constitutionality of the state marriage law which restricts marriage to one man and one woman, the Advocacy Committee is attempting to thwart any anti-gay legislation that may arise from a backlash following the ruling. Although the judgment will be appealed regardless of the outcome, the committee is leaving nothing to chance.

Members of the committee have already met with County Councilman Christopher Merdon, a Republican candidate for County Executive, to discuss local issues. In addition, meetings were held with state Delegates Neil Quinter and Frank Turner, two Democrats from Howard County, as well as Republican state Senator Allen Kittleman. A meeting with Republican Senator Sandy Schrader is scheduled for December 6.

The primary objective of the meetings is to explain the lawsuit and to secure support in the event of a backlash instigated by extremists on the right. These efforts are critical, as already there is a movement underway by anti-gay Delegate Don Dwyer from Anne Arundel County to introduce an amendment to the state’s constitution that would ban same-sex couples from marrying. A similar effort failed during this past session.

Members of the advocacy group also made presentations to the Carroll County Democratic Central Committee and the Howard County Republican Central Committee to tell individual stories to add a personal touch concerning the issues facing the lgbt community. This approach has been instrumental in trying to educate skeptical politicians.

"Advocating even with our enemies is worth it," said Dan McCarthy. "We share the stories of our families and put our ordinary human faces on the debate. It gets very tough for them to be so virulent when they can see themselves in us. We always change their hearts first, then their minds follow."
The Advocacy Committee and the PFLAG chapter organized a debate in October between both sides of the marriage issue that received broad coverage in the media. Dan McCarthy and Anthony McCarthy impressed the 150 in attendance with their persuasive, well-reasoned arguments against opponents who had nothing to offer that was credible.

The Howard County chapter co-founder and chair Colette Roberts, who was honored at the Equality Maryland Jazz Brunch on November 20 for her efforts, is very proud of the work of the committee. "With the formation of this committee we have made great strides," she said. "Once parents and members of the lgbt community actually lobby and see a bill get passed they not only gain confidence for themselves but encourage others to also participate in the process."

And that’s how you get it done.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

IRS attacks churches critical of president

Letter to Baltimore Sun--Published 11/15/05

I was in total disbelief the first time I read the small news item "Anti-war sermon elicits IRS threat" (Nov. 8).

The article notes that the IRS has warned a liberal church in Los Angeles that it might lose its tax-exempt status because a reverend had articulated his opposition to the war in Iraq (and tax cuts) on the eve of the 2004 presidential election.

He did not, however, advocate the election of either candidate.

In this country, apparently, a church or any religious institution can run afoul of the government if it had the audacity to espouse peace instead of war. God forbid.

The hypocrisy of such a standard is blatant.

While the tax-exempt status of the church in question is in jeopardy for supposedly "intervening in political campaigns and elections," one must call into question the numerous churches that publicly endorsed President Bush and actively supported such divisive issues in the 2004 campaign as a ban on gay marriage to garner more turnout and votes.

It seems that the IRS selectively applies its regulations to those who oppose White House policies as a form of retribution.

Sound familiar?

Steve Charing

Friday, November 11, 2005

Give ’em Hell Harry!

Sen. Harry Reid paves the way for Dems to finally stand up to Bush
By Steve Charing

I was wondering along with many other Democrats when and if somebody from the Party, some elected Democrat, would finally show a bit of spine and do to Republicans what the GOP has done to Dems for the past 25 years: trash them.

The frustration felt by Democratic partisans has almost been suffocating. The GOP has been relentless in criticizing Democrats for so long it’s impossible to enumerate examples here unless this paper expands to 120 pages. But Democrats have long taken it on the chin without a counter-punch. So it’s no wonder we all had a feel-good moment when Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) pulled a fast one on the cocky, arrogant GOP-controlled Senate.

MoveOn.org summed it up well:

"Since 2004, Republicans have stonewalled on a promise to investigate the Bush administration deceptions that led to the Iraq war. So Republicans thought it was business as usual Tuesday afternoon (November 1) when Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid took to the floor of the Senate to comment on Iraq. Then a modern day Boston Tea Party began.

"Reid stopped all other Senate business and forced the Senate into a special closed session (Rule 21) to discuss Iraq and demand accountability in the White House CIA Leak scandal. It was a bold move, but after more than an hour, Democrats emerged victorious having won a renewed investigation into the misuse of intelligence leading to the war in Iraq--including the White House CIA leak."

Reid had said that I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby's grand jury indictment "asserts this administration engaged in actions that both harmed our national security and are morally repugnant."

Finally the Dems speak out!

The reactions from the stunned and chagrined Republican Senate leadership were pathetic, if not outright funny. Comedian Bill Maher termed Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) as a "girlie-man"—a take off on California’s Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s characterization of some Democratic legislators within the state—because as a result of Reid’s action, Frist felt he was "slapped in the face with such an affront." Others also feigned outrage, such as the ever-popular former Senate leader Trent Lott (R-MS).

The Democrats need to demonstrate the same feistiness as exhibited by Reid in dealing with the GOP that is known for more for its smear and fear campaigns than for competence in governing.
I am still angry over the Democrats’ reticence with respect to the poorly termed but politically effective "gay marriage" issue. Since it landed on the national stage, Democrats have cowered in their corners and refused to participate in the debate on the merits of marriage for same-sex couples in the same manner in which the GOP used to avoid discussing Social Security until President Bush made it a second term priority. To Democrats, "Gay marriage" was a lightening rod to avoid at all costs. They did. And they will continue to do so.

The silence on the part of the Dems has been deafening, especially during Bush’s presidency. Even though they managed to lose both houses in Congress, the Democrats have the responsibility of performing the "loyal opposition" role—something they seem unwilling or incapable of executing.

The aftermath of 9/11 and the incessant charge that anyone opposing the war (and Bush for that matter) is unpatriotic contributed greatly to this muted criticism. Democrats fell into that trap (as did the media), buttoned their collective lips, and most of Congress wound up supporting the Iraq invasion against their instincts and personal misgivings.

Despite Bush’s poll numbers tanking, the Democrats have failed to benefit politically thus far from the incompetence of the Administration. And certainly there were opportunities: the never-ending war in Iraq and the lies that got us there; the proliferation of the use of torture; the indictment of Scooter Libby and the connection to Karl Rove and Vice President Cheney in the outing of a CIA operative; the pathetic and apathetic response to Katrina ("You’re doin’ a heckuva job, Brownie"); the escalating record-breaking deficits; the rising costs of energy mixed in with obscene profits and tax cuts for the large oil companies; the likely corruption investigations at the top of the Republican House and Senate leadership; the bungled Harriet Miers Supreme Court nomination and its attendant cronyism; and, of course, our diminishing standing in the international community.

But the GOP hadn’t been worried to a large extent that such a sterling record would cause a change in congressional control. They had counted on the Dems to stay quiet. At least until now. Unfortunately for the Republicans, the Libby trial, if one indeed takes place, will put the run-up to the war in Iraq on the front pages, where it should have been back in 2002. Moreover, the push for right wing Judge Samuel Alito for Supreme Court justice may finally scare moderate Republicans into believing the unspoken truth: George W. Bush is owned by the religious right.
Much of politics is rhetoric, sound bites and demagoguery, but all these components appear to be the province of the GOP spin machine.

Yes, one can catch the senatorial but bland Charles Schumer (D-NY) appear in front of TV cameras and offer his commentary on a variety of issues. And Sen. Reid is not exactly a spark either.

But what Sen. Reid did was show Democrats that it is time to hold this administration accountable for their infinite miscues and provide a platform from which they can wrest control of one or both houses in 2006 and perhaps the White House in 2008. One can hope his unorthodox action in the Senate would boost the Dems and give the spine they sorely need. Now we must hear their voices—loud and clear.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

The troubling homophobia in the black community

by Steve Charing
The recent protests at Pikesville High School over "Coming Out Day" brought to light the prevailing homophobia within large segments of the African-American community. To be fair, there were white protestors—parents and students—who believe gay and lesbian children should not be coming out at school. And supporters of the Gay-Straight Alliance-run event counted African-Americans among them.

However, the youth minister of the Greater Bethlehem Church of Randallstown, a mainly African-American church from outside the school’s zone, organized the protests, while the Morgan State University radio station. WEAA, was used to bring out the protesters, approximately 20 in all. In fact, Duane Johnson, the station’s Gospel Director, led the protests and the taunts.

Why all the fuss? The GSA was promoting a gay film festival and selling rainbow wristbands. Can you spell h-o-m-o-p-h-o-b-i-a?

"The homophobia in the black community largely comes from a religious perspective," said Meredith Moise, an African-American who is a Deacon herself and field coordinator for Equality Maryland, the state’s principal lgbt advocacy group. "Unfortunately, many of these churchgoers have no idea of the biblical context of the anti-gay verses they like to throw at us. These folks use the Bible and religion as a shield for their fear of lgbt people."

And the irony is that white southern preachers had waved around the very same Bible as a weapon to be used against blacks in opposing integration, interracial marriage and civil rights. One would think, then, that African-Americans would appreciate the devastation wrought by biotry.

While a large number of church going African-Americans sincerely believe that homosexuality is a sin (as do white fundamentalist Christians, Catholics, Orthodox Jews and Muslims), there is more to it than that. The almighty dollar plays a significant role, as well.

Many sermons in black churches do, to some extent, speak of challenges within their own communities such as crime, poverty, education, HIV/AIDS, teen pregnancies, single parenting, drugs, etc. But being preached to on these issues isn’t very sexy to parishioners, as these are internal problems facing the black community. So attendance is held down to a degree.
But to beat up on other groups? That’s a different matter. It’s so much more fun to condemn the "sins" of others than to address their own. And who better to kick around than homosexuals?

"Homophobia is the last acceptable prejudice in America," wrote Cynthia Tucker, editorial page editor for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and an African-American. "Its perpetrators comfort themselves with the thought that they are simply castigating a group of sinful sexual bohemians…mocking and vilifying the lives of people who happen to love someone of the same sex."

Fiery sermons ignite the crowds; they attack the "gay lifestyle" and its attendant sins. They condemn homosexual acts as an abomination in the eyes of God. And they recoil at the idea of "gay marriage." Hatred is often spewed from these very pulpits that once railed against hate. The folks file in, the adrenaline flows, and the collection baskets fill up.

Besides the extra cash raised in these churches stemming from the anti-gay rhetoric, African-American preachers found another source of dollars. To tow the line for the homophobic Republican Bush Administration, African-American clergy are in a classic battle of the pulpits to increase attendance and gain funding from the government. Faith-based money is a powerful lure, and the wedge issue of same-sex marriage is huge.

So how is this homophobia by blacks hurting lgbt causes? On the national stage, the anti- gay marriage faction has been motivated to vote in states that had constitutional amendments on the ballot. And although many Democrats are privately sympathetic to marriage equality, they are now too hamstrung to support marriage for same-sex couples lest they incur the wrath of influential black preachers among others who find the concept a bitter pill to swallow. They know that public pronouncements would be used against them by Republican smear operatives to divide the voters.

This homophobia among blacks is manifested at the state level, too. As I reported in this paper in March, three African-American delegates—two from districts with large lgbt populations—bucked the Democratic Party and co-sponsored a proposed state constitutional amendment that would prevent lgbt individuals from marrying in Maryland. (The effort had failed in committee during this past year’s General Assembly.) They were clearly more interested in placating the black ministers in their districts than adhere to Democratic principles of equality.
Moreover, one of the staunchest opponents of same-sex marriage at the state level is Delegate Emmett Burns, an African-American clergyman, who is repulsed by the idea of gays "sashaying up to the altar."

Allies such as civil rights leaders Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), Rev. Al Sharpton, Coretta Scott King and Julian Bond and organizations like Equality Maryland and the National Black Justice Coalition have been trying to bridge the gap, which is a daunting task. The principal challenge is to have blacks accept the notion that the lgbt struggle for equality is another form of civil rights advocacy. Many African-Americans resent the comparison because lgbt individuals can better hide their identity than blacks can. Perhaps. But why should we have to?

Furthermore, it should be noted that more than a few gays and lesbians joined blacks arm-in-arm during the civil rights marches of the 1960’s. Said Coretta Scott King, "Gays and lesbians stood up for civil rights in Montgomery, Selma…and many other campaigns in the Civil Rights Movement. Many of these courageous men and women were fighting for my freedom at a time when they could find few voices of their own, and I salute their contributions."
Gay African-Americans themselves are particularly victimized.

The controversy surrounding the lack of inclusion of gay blacks in the Millions More Movement gathering, as reported in the last issue of OUTloud, is a prime example. "Homophobia in the black community is an obstacle to black unity and progress," said Meredith Moise, who received an ICON award from Baltimore Black Pride.

And this lack of acceptance of African-American gays by African-Americans has far more dangerous effects. Wrote Cynthia Tucker, "Black Americans harbor a profound homophobia that assists the spread of HIV by driving men to have sex with other men ‘on the down low.’"
Perhaps the best strategy for addressing the homophobia is for more blacks to come out and face it head on. "Black lgbt people are everywhere in the black community," said Moise. "We will continue to come out and tell our stories. Black lgbt people are no longer willing to parcel out their identities to make others comfortable. We have a vested interest in the liberation of our people and will work toward those ends as long as we have breath," she said.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Telling it Straight to Straights

Dispelling gay myths is key to getting straight people to understand our issues

By Steve Charing

History has taught us that opponents of gay rights have combined two elements to try to thwart lgbt progress: selective inflammatory religious rhetoric and promulgating myths about the lgbt population. I’ll set aside the religious angle for another day.

But the myths advanced by our straight opponents have been every bit as dangerous, and they should be dispelled. If you get the chance to speak to straight folks about these myths, consider using the arguments contained in the following:

Myth #1—Gay people choose to be gay. In discussing this issue, I would raise these questions: Why would I choose a sexual orientation that would alienate myself from my peers at school and risk the violence and isolation that bullying produce? Why would I choose to misrepresent myself in front of my family, friends, co-workers and neighbors? Why would I choose a life where would be discriminated against? And why would I choose a sexual orientation that would not allow me to biologically have children and raise a family?

To put it simply, I did not have any more of a thought process in deciding the direction of my sexual orientation as straight people do.

Myth #2—There is a gay lifestyle. There is no more likely to be a gay lifestyle than a straight one. TV footage from gay pride parades depicting the lgbt community as drag queens and leather types is an over exaggeration and totally misleading. There are far more heterosexual cross dressers and straight people engaged in leather and S&M fetishes than you would ever find in the gay community. Except you never see them on the news.

Gay people work, pay taxes—much of it going to educate straight people’s kids, eat in or dine out, watch movies, listen to music, work out, enjoy their hobbies and pets, attend social functions, watch some TV and do virtually everything that straight people do. What is so gay about that lifestyle?

Myth #3—Gays in the military would hurt morale. Gays have been in the military since Alexander the Great, and wars have been won and lost irrespective of their presence. The idea that a gay person would overtly come on to a straight soldier or sailor is not beyond possibility, but it is unlikely that such risky behavior would be undertaken by most gay and lesbian troops.
Straight people react differently around gay people depending on their experiences. But the same warnings were heard about blacks integrating in the military and our armed services survived very nicely, thank you. While a number of western nations permit gay personnel in their military, the U.S. continues to lag primarily because of its southern-based culture, for which the top commanders are afraid to change the mindsets of their subordinates. And with M-F sexual harassment proliferating in the military academies and throughout the services, the military can’t claim that gays are hurting morale. Plus there’s also that other little morale problem called Iraq.

Myth #4—Gays can be "cured." Most legitimate mental health organizations discredit that theory and maintain that more harm than good comes from the dubious—sometimes tortuous—procedures used. Questionable organizations such as PFOX, a conservative propaganda tool set up by the religious right, argues that gays can be changed to heterosexuals. They can’t.

Myth #5—Same-sex marriage would ruin the institution. All we have to do is point to Massachusetts where marriages involving gays and lesbians have occurred since May 2004. The state continues to have the lowest divorce rate in the country. So when Lois and Susan got married, straight couples didn’t file for divorce. The institution is only threatened by heterosexuals—not gays.

Myth #6—Same-sex marriages require religious blessings. What lgbt people are seeking are civil marriages—not religious marriages. Clergy do not have to perform these services. In fact, as many couples in Maryland get civil marriages as those in a house of worship. They are validated by the state and confer the same rights as if religious marriage ceremonies took place.

Myth #7—The religious right hates the sin but loves the sinner. Not true. They hate the "sinner." They uniformly oppose marriage for same-sex couples on the basis that according to the Bible, homosexuality is a sin. But unless I am unaware that the Bible has been recently amended, murder is also a sin. But I never heard the fundamentalist Christians oppose the civil rights or marriages of murderers, or for that matter, armed robbers, child molesters, carjackers, rapists, etc. No, when we’re the sinners they hate US!

Myth #8—Children raised by same-sex parents are being hurt. Once again, multiple studies confirm that such children are no more likely to be psychologically hurt by having two moms or two dads than if there had been a mom and a dad in the household. It’s better to have two than one parent, but gender is not a factor.

Myth #9—Gays are asking for "special" rights. What lgbt folks want are the same rights as anyone else. We aren’t looking for any kind of special rights—just protections that we are treated equally and fairly under the principle "all men are created equal." It’s all about fairness. Members of gay couples should have the same rights as married couples when visiting a hospitalized partner or having the ability to make key medical decisions with respect to his or her care.

Many other unfair misrepresentations exist. I believe this covers the main ones. Dispelling these myths and telling our stories to straights will go a long way towards setting the record straight.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

25 Years in the Gay Press

There have been dramatic changes but certain things remain the same

By Steve Charing

The previous issue of OUTloud recognized my 25 years as a writer in the Baltimore gay press, for which I am grateful. As I look back over these years, I find that the press has seen a radical transformation, especially in the technology needed to produce a publication. Exacto knives and hot wax has been replaced by sophisticated computer software and imaging devices. But there are several constants that time appears to have had very little effect.

Reporters and writers now, as well as then, depend on the basic tools of the trade: notepads, tape recorders and telephones. Plus we still need to possess personal traits to be successful as a journalist, such as curiosity, honesty, objectivity, ability to research, interviewing skills, persistence, and an instinct for a good story.

The subjects for stories covered over the past 25 years have varied, of course, but we still are dealing with HIV/AIDS, harassment towards lgbt, police and government relations, health, entertainment, violence, hatred, and the ongoing struggle for equal rights and acceptance. Unfortunately, some of these battles never seem to terminate.

What has changed the most is how people obtain their news. Newspapers all over the country not only have to compete with TV and radio, but also have to lock horns with arguably the most amazing modern-day revolution in the media: the Internet. In our fast-paced, ever-busy world, the Internet has been like an extra room in our home or office. Many of us are so transfixed to this boundless source of information and depend on it to such a degree, it has become a way of life. And there are as many reasons for using the Internet as there are websites. Not the least of which is obtaining news—in a hurry.

Twenty-five years ago, The Gay Paper was a monthly publication, so news was essentially stale by the end of a month. Today, Baltimore OUTloud is published by-weekly, as is Gay Life, which makes the news more current, but still as not up-to-date as one would like. Production and editorial costs for these free newspapers render a weekly publication impractical at this time.
Back then, everyone who worked on The Gay Paper, later the Baltimore Gay Paper, were volunteers. Virtually all had full-time jobs of their own and gave up their free time to write, edit, typeset (remember that word?) and compose the paper as volunteers so that the community can be served. No more. What was once an all-volunteer operation evolved into a pay-for-service enterprise with hardly any volunteers. This isn’t wrong necessarily as the culture has changed over time. But it is different.

There was a degree of apathy among the lgbt community early on which remains today, perhaps more so. And this apathy will not help our cause since there is a great need for grass-roots advocacy especially when our state and federal leaders have been taking on a hostile tone.
People will casually pick up the gay newspapers at gay bars, bookstores and other distribution points, as they did 25 years ago. But gone are the days when gay activist and GLCCB founder Harvey Schwartz would stand outside bars at closing and personally hand out copies of The Gay Paper to those exiting.

Despite the findings from a recent study conducted by National Gay & Lesbian Newspaper Guild that stated that more gay men read the gay press than lesbians, I believe in Baltimore the opposite is true. I find lesbians more interested in what is going on politically, more engaged, more active in lgbt causes and more likely to read gay newspapers. I observed more apathy among gay men, but I didn’t conduct a survey; these are simply my observations and experiences.

I am concerned that young lgbt individuals, who have been raised on the Internet, see no value in gay newspapers. Indeed, I notice very few picking them up. If, in fact they do have some interest in lgbt news, they probably get it from Planet Out, blogs, or some other web-based news service.

For centuries, newspapers have provided an invaluable opportunity to read what one is interested in and skip those articles and ads that do not appeal. But to be able to have news; advertisements of events, products and services; commentary; humor; features; reviews; etc. all in one location where individuals can peruse at their own pace, there is nothing better than enjoying the paper in a comfortable setting without having to move a mouse. Hopefully, it won’t take another 25 years for people to find that out.

What has remained constant over these 25 years is the fact everything I write is reviewed by my partner Bob prior to submitting to my editor. This is done not only to identify the inevitable typos, but also to "keep me out of trouble," as he puts it. Bob’s being part of the process is the one thing I do not ever want to change, even if everything else in this business is transforming.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The Folly of God's Retribution

Why do religious fanatics seem to blame gays for disasters?

By Steve Charing

Like most sensible people, I have always been dismayed and appalled at some extremist members of the religious right for blaming gays (as well as other groups anathema to them) for a range of disasters from AIDS to terrorism to hurricanes and do so under the auspices of "God’s retribution." These folks are not basing their assessments on any religious grounding; they simply hate gay people despite their hollow denials. And they hide behind God to spew their venom by cherry picking parts of Scripture to suit their needs.

Of course, the Bible has been used as a weapon against gays and lesbians forever, and punishment "in the name of God" is as convenient as it is unprovable. In modern times, however, the religious fanatics have stepped it up, as the pushing of the so-called "gay agenda" is increasingly becoming odious to them.

During the 1980s AIDS was proclaimed as God’s retribution for the homosexual lifestyle according to many fundamentalist religious zealots. While that stance has quieted down some, it hasn’t disappeared altogether from the mindset of the fringe. Nevermind that lesbians are among the least likely to encounter HIV or that tens of millions of heterosexuals around the world are inflicted. Still, to some, gays are the ones being punished by God, not to mention they were the cause of the disease.

Then there was 9/11. Rev. Jerry Falwell, in concurrence with the other member of the dubious duo, Pat (let’s "take out" a nation’s president) Robertson, included gays and lesbians among those responsible for the attacks. "I really believe that the pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way - all of them who have tried to secularize America - I point the finger in their face and say, ‘You helped this happen,’" said Falwell, who later clumsily apologized.

Robertson, who still maintains a large audience despite his blather, has taken credit for steering hurricane Isabel away from his headquarters in Virginia Beach, VA by the power of his prayer. He made similar claims on a number of other occasions. But his obsession with hurricanes took on a new twist: they are God’s retribution.

In 1998 Robertson said on his TV show, The 700 Club in reaction to Disney’s Gay Days, "I would warn Orlando that you're right in the way of some serious hurricanes, and I don't think I'd be waving those flags in God's face if I were you." The predicted hurricane sidestepped Orlando without comments from Robertson or a religious-based explanation. The TV preacher also said the widespread practice of homosexuality "will bring about terrorist bombs, it'll bring earthquakes, tornadoes and possibly a meteor."
To think this whacko ran for President of the United States!

Hurricane Katrina, which is arguably the most destructive natural U.S. disaster on record—bringing misery to millions of people and killing perhaps thousands—has been seen as a different form of retribution. Wrote one blogger, "Since Pat Robertson likes to use Hurricanes as punishment for sins - like Florida and the homosexuals at Disney World - I'm going to ‘spin’ it too. God is punishing ALL RED states surrounding the coastlines for voting for that stupid moron in the White House!" Agree or not, it is truly an extension of Robertson’s logic that God punishes the wicked amongst us.

And right on cue, a fundamentalist Christian group called Repent America blamed Katrina on New Orleans’ planned but cancelled gay extravaganza, Southern Decadence that had been scheduled for Labor Day weekend. "From 'Girls Gone Wild’ to ‘Southern Decadence,’ New Orleans was a city that had its doors wide open to the public celebration of sin. May it never be the same," said the group’s director Michael Marcavage. "May this act of God cause us all to think about what we tolerate in our city limits, and bring us trembling before the throne of Almighty God," he said. I suppose the ravaged Biloxi, MS must have had a gay event planned; we just didn’t know about it.

By the grace of God, when will this nonsense end?

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Some OUTrages to Ponder

By Steve Charing

THE CINDY SHEEHAN DEMONSTRATION was successful in finally getting the anti-war movement off its haunches. But the Bush supporters who also showed up in Crawford, TX remembered how to use the GOP playbook by demonizing gays at every opportunity. This time a counter-protester commented about Sheehan’s demonstration by pointing out on national TV that Crawford isn’t San Francisco.

This was a not-so-subtle slam at San Francisco (read: gays). Mention lightening rod words like "San Francisco," "Hillary," "gay marriage," etc. and the Bush people know how to stoke the base. Recall how Senator Mikulski and others had been labeled "San Francisco-style Democrats" (implying that they’re gay or very sympathetic to gay causes) during previous GOP presidential conventions. Therefore, the linking of Sheehan’s movement with "aging hippies"—another target—and "San Francisco" is aimed at marginalizing the anti-Iraq war protestors and dismissing them as far leftist gays. Way to unite us, Mr. Wartime President and his brainwashed supporters!

Now they’re also trotting out the tired and worn, "if you oppose the war you’re giving comfort to the enemy" line. No room for dissent in this administration. If you do, you’re a traitor or a faggot or both. I still scratch my head wondering why gays and lesbians would ever want to serve in the military on behalf of this corrupt, deceitful administration. Which leads me to…

THE U.S. MILITARY IS WHINING THAT THEY cannot meet recruitment objectives to help fight the war in Iraq. Gee, I can’t understand why. It seems like such a nice, tidy war. And as they complain about the shortages as well as the double rotations required to staff the war and with casualties continuing to mount, gays and lesbians are still being discharged under "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell."

Yet according to data released by the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), based on 2000 census figures, a total of 41,000 new recruits would come into the armed forces if the policy would be dropped. The study concluded, "the armed forces could significantly close its recruiting gap – or even eliminate it – by welcoming openly gay troops to the services."
"The ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ law hangs like a ‘Gays Not Welcome’ sign outside the Pentagon’s front door," said Sharra E. Greer, director of law and policy for SLDN. "Thousands of lesbian and gay Americans are ready to answer our nation’s call to service, but are turned away because of federally sanctioned discrimination. Now, more than ever, our country needs the talent of these patriotic Americans. We can make our homeland more secure by repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ once and for all."

Don’t hold your breath. Based on our military and government leaders’ positions, our national security is not as important as keeping gays out of the military or safely tucked away in the closet.

I WAS SAD THAT CORETTA SCOTT KING, widow of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had recently suffered a stroke. She is among a small number of African-American leaders in this country who have spoken out for lgbt rights. If there ever is to be a Hall of Fame for the lgbt community, Coretta Scott King definitely needs to be enshrined. "I still hear people say that I should not be talking about the rights of lesbian and gay people and I should stick to the issue of racial justice," Mrs. King once said. "But I hasten to remind them that Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’" "I appeal to everyone who believes in Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream to make room at the table of brother- and sisterhood for lesbian and gay people," she said.

Mrs. King is also an outspoken supporter for marriage for same-sex couples, calling it a civil right. "Gay and lesbian people have families, and their families should have legal protection, whether by marriage or civil union," she said. "A constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages is a form of gay bashing and it would do nothing at all to protect traditional marriages."

Her son Martin Luther King III and daughter Yolanda are supportive of lgbt rights and said their father would have been, too. Unfortunately, the youngest daughter, Rev. Bernice King, didn’t inherit her parents’ gene that contains compassion: she participated in a demonstration that included opposing same-sex marriage as part of the agenda.

JOHN ROBERTS’ NOMINATION TO THE SUPREME COURT will likely pass the Senate and be confirmed. Too bad. Even though he doesn’t have a track record on gay rights cases as a judge, and as an attorney he supported a gay rights case in litigation, there is reason for suspicion. His work as an attorney on that case is irrelevant. Attorneys typically hold their noses and defend clients whom they don’t like. That’s the nature of the profession. It’s his view of the role of the court and his views towards privacy sends chills. He would likely support repealing Lawrence vs. Texas—the suit that struck down sodomy laws.

Major lgbt organizations like the HRC, PFLAG, NCLR and the NGLTF have mobilized to oppose the nomination. "For his entire adult life, John Roberts has been a disciple of and promoted a political and legal ideology that is antithetical to an America that embraces all, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people," said Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "He has denigrated the nature and scope of the constitutional rights to privacy, equal protection and due process as well as federal government's role in confronting injustice. I have no doubt he's an accomplished lawyer and an affable dinner companion, but that doesn't make him any less a mortal danger to equal rights for gay people, reproductive freedom and affirmation action."

For my money, if Bush wants him then I’m automatically opposed. We all know that the religious right has hijacked the Republican Party and this president. The election cycles of 2000 and 2004 were all about the filling of Supreme Court vacancies. That’s why these anti-gay, self-righteous folks came out and voted for Bush and they are well aware that they own him. That Bush nominated Roberts, look out.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Marriage vs. Civil Unions

The fight for marriage equality is more than just words.

By Steve Charing

During a recent conversation I had with a straight Republican, I had asked him how he would feel if two gay people on his block would get married. "I don’t care what these people do," he replied. "Just don’t call it marriage."

That appears to be the sentiment found across straight America. Indeed, poll after poll confirms that a much larger percentage of the population would approve a civil union-type arrangement for lesbians and gays than they would marriage. Many within the LGBT community also believe that there would be far greater support from heterosexuals for "gay rights" if we advocated civil unions rather than marriage.

The term "gay marriage" or "same-sex marriage" ignites a fire under the anti-gay, anti-choice, anti-separation of church and state forces that, with unlimited resources and venom, have been influencing a growing number of elected officials. Governor Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr., for example, caught in the web of these religious extremists, vetoed the recent Medical Decision-Making Act and justified his action by falsely declaring, "…the creation a new term of life partner will open the door to undermine the sanctity of traditional marriage."

Delegate Marshall T. Goodwin, who represents the 40th legislative district from Baltimore, was one of three Democrats who had co-sponsored the failed attempt to pass a constitutional amendment during the 2005 General Assembly session that would restrict marriage as a union between a man and a woman. In an interview with Baltimore OUTloud in February, he explained his stance by saying "I’m against [same-sex marriage] from a moral and religious perspective." Del. Goodwin pointed out that the word "marriage" is what riles African-American ministers with whom he has ties and that he would "consider" another form of gay union.
Based on these examples, many would argue that a more pragmatic, politically acceptable approach would be to advocate civil unions and not push for marriage equality. A partial victory is better than no victory. A half a loaf is better than nothing.

I disagree.

Like many other LGBT activists, I believe that the fight for marriage equality is a civil rights issue. Religious bigots also opposed marriage rights for African-Americans and until fairly recently, marriage for interracial couples. It required court decisions to remedy this blatant form of discrimination.

Our opponents have used the religious angle to scare the population into believing the "sanctity" of marriage would be destroyed if same-sex couples were permitted to marry. The fact is, marriage is a civil contract between two parties—not necessarily a religious pact. Nearly half the marriages that take place in the U.S. and a larger percentage in Maryland eschew a religious ceremony. And nobody could force a religious institution to marry individuals counter to their beliefs.

Civil unions, while a good first step, affords separate but unequal standing. Although such arrangements allow same-sex couples limited benefits within the border of a particular state (only Vermont and Connecticut have such arrangements on the books), these benefits do not extend to other states.

Marriages, on the other hand, are recognized in all the states, and bring with it sweeping legal protections, medical decision-making rights, federal benefits and yes, divorce. There are a total of 1,138 rights and benefits, including those protections contained in IRS, Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid and Immigration laws, that are accorded to married couples.
Separate but unequal experimentation had failed in America as evidenced in the Jim Crow South, which mandated that blacks use separate drinking fountains, rest rooms, hotels, etc. Relegating LGBT couples to civil unions rather than marriage would similarly assign us to second-class citizenship. Only integration and equality helped overcome the prejudice and hatred that existed. The same should apply to gays and lesbians.

Dan McCarthy, a father of a gay son and is the co-chairman of the PFLAG-Howard County’s Advocacy Committee, reminds us that "gays and lesbians, as citizens of the United States of America are full and equal participants in this great country. Their right to equal treatment is guaranteed by the 14th Amendment's ‘equal protection’ clause."

He adds, "Since the 2003 Supreme Court decision Lawrence v. Texas established that the expression of their relationships could not be criminalized, no reasonable argument remains for withholding of this stabilizing and vital societal institution. As it stands currently, heterosexual couples are getting a ‘special benefit’ that is being denied gay and lesbian couples. This is situation is fundamentally un-American."

Obviously the struggle to win marriage equality will be long, hard and painful. A favorable ruling in the ACLU-Equality Maryland-filed lawsuit Deane and Polyak v. Conaway, which charges that excluding same-sex couples from marriage violates the state constitution’s guarantees of equality, will set off a major backlash against the LGBT community. Oral arguments are now set for August 30 at the Baltimore District Court, so in the fall expect a decision to be handed down.

Brace yourself for a homophobic tsunami. We must endure the hits that will continue to be levied against us by the religious right and the politicians who are beholden to them. No fight is worth it unless there are legitimate outcomes. Marriage equality is a legitimate outcome—not some form of civil union, which is merely window dressing and restrictive at that. Even the terminology is clumsy: what does someone say, "we just got civil unionized"?

Words definitely have significance. In his excellent book, Why Marriage Matters: America, Equality and Gay People’s Right to Marry, Evan Wolfson dislikes the terms "gay marriage" or "same-sex marriage" because they implies that same-sex couples are seeking rights and privileges that married couples don’t have. "We don’t want ‘gay marriage,’" writes Wolfson. "We want marriage—the same freedom to marry, with the same duties, dignity, security, and expression of love and equality as our non-gay bothers and sisters have."

We’re not asking for anything more, and we shouldn’t settle for anything less.

Friday, June 17, 2005

The Dangers of Apathy

Scores of Pride-goers bragged about being non-political. That’s not a virtue, and here’s why.

By Steve Charing

On a given night, hundreds would cram the city’s streets, some carrying a gay periodical, and patronize the dozens of gay bars, cafes, nightclubs, pornography shops, cabarets and bathhouses. Adding to the crowd was an ample supply of hustlers that was visible along the dim, nighttime corridors.

Inside the buildings, female impersonators, clad in lavish brightly colored garb, performed amidst a foggy, smoky cloud that enveloped the jammed rooms. Toe-tapping songs were played to the resounding joy of the gay and straight audiences of the packed nightclubs and cabarets with the music drifting outside into the streets.

In other establishments, men freely danced with men; women danced with women. They openly embraced. An anti-gay law on the books was seldom enforced. Gay life was colorful, free and vibrant. Gay neighborhoods were established throughout the city. It had the most active gay culture on the entire continent, and it was a sexual Mecca.

Does this scene describe New York? San Francisco? Washington, D.C.? Or even Baltimore? Not hardly.

It happens to be Berlin, Germany, just prior to the Nazis’ rise to power. Indeed, it was estimated that there were more gay establishments and periodicals in 1920 Berlin than in 1980 New York. Not only was homosexuality tolerated, it flourished.

But as the music played inside Berlin’s gay clubs, sweeping political and social change was about to unfold that would rock the world. The patrons (and owners) of these establishments were oblivious to the new political reality; they continued to dance, seek out sex partners and lived in their own secluded, care-free world, unsuspecting of the emerging satanic forces and the horror of what was about to befall them. It sneaked up on them, and when they realized what was happening, it was too late.

As fast as a snap of a whip, there was the accession of Nazism and Hitler and the enforcement of the infamous Paragraph 175 that severely criminalized homosexual behavior. All gay clubs, hotels and other similar establishments were closed down. Known homosexuals were ordered to appear at police stations and were pressured to identify other homosexuals. School children were asked to inform on teachers who were suspected of being homosexual, employers on employees, and vice-versa.

Their tragic journey had begun. Gay men in Germany were sought out and rounded up with most being shipped to concentration camps for imprisonment and extermination. They were forced to wear a pink triangle for easy identification and lived in separate blocks apart from the other prisoners. The prisoners wearing the pink triangles were brutally treated by the guards and by inmates from other categories.

Homosexuals and those supporting abortion were seen by the new government as a threat to the Nazis’ dream of world dominance. It was as much about the lack of procreation as the lack of morality. For gay men it was also about their lack of masculinity—it did not fit the Aryan paradigm. They joined Jews, gypsies, criminals, political enemies, Communists, the disabled, epileptic and other outcasts that did not conform to the Third Reich’s master plan.

Approximately 100,000 gay men were arrested, 50,000 sent to prison camps, and hundreds were castrated. All told, an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 homosexuals, mainly those who were deemed "incurable," were exterminated in the death camps. Their death rate was said to have been three to four times higher than other non-Jewish categories during the Holocaust.
As you can see, apathy can be a perilous thing, and unfortunately, it is not confined to history.
Although there were numerous political groups represented at the recent Baltimore Pride celebration, there were an astonishing and disturbing number of folks who are oblivious to politics and seemed proud of that. Randee Wilding and his partner Josh Sullivan had volunteered to steer people to the Equality Maryland table to dispense information about the organization and sign up new members. Equality Maryland is the state’s leading gay civil rights advocacy organization.

But what Wilding and Sullivan noticed was stunning. "We encountered several people, including vendors and volunteers for other organizations who said they weren't political and were reluctant to even speak to us. I was in disbelief," said Wilding. "What do people think being political means? What is it going to take to get people motivated and involved?"
Even more shocking was Wilding’s observation that "there were also a staggering amount of folks at Baltimore Pride who didn't know what the Human Rights Campaign was, or for that matter, the [name of the] Governor of Maryland."

The people who attend Baltimore Pride represent a pretty good slice of the LGBT community. There are all sorts of reasons for folks to share in the celebration, but if that lack of political interest was typical of the crowd, then the drive towards equal rights or fending off anti-gay initiatives will be problematic. And there is certainly no reason to be proud of it.
"Apathy is one of our greatest enemies," said Jay Smith Brown, spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights organization. "Political issues are always personal. You need to find out the area that make individuals most passionate and reach out to them," he told Baltimore OUTloud. "Last year's battle over the Federal Marriage Amendment got more people involved than ever before."

Clearly the horrors of Nazi Germany are not likely to be repeated here. I am not suggesting we have a government that is sympathetic to such thinking. Nor am I correlating our government to the atrocities of the Nazis or diminishing the human tragedy of the Holocaust.

But it is worth taking a look at some frightening similarities: We basically have an anti-gay government at the federal and state levels that is at risk of being hijacked by religious, homophobic extremists. Gays and pro-choice people are also vilified by extreme right wing elements. There are hate groups all over the country that would like nothing else but to see gays remanded to concentration camps or exterminated. Many, in fact, have thanked God for the onset and scourge of AIDS. Hate crimes directed towards LGBT individuals are on the rise.
Who is to say for certain that some day these modern-day extremists will not come to power at a given point in time? A good barometer will be the upcoming Supreme Court battle. The gays in Berlin surely didn’t expect such terror to envelop their nation. The anti-gay, pro-life forces in this country are well funded, well motivated and well represented. That is why the LGBT community cannot afford to sit back in their own comfort zones while progress towards equality is slammed shut or worse, our rights are being beaten back.

Political apathy allowed the Nazis to rise to power, but I’m not implying that gays’ indifference alone was responsible. I’m pointing out that apathy by all segments of the population can allow for a country to be blindsided by tyranny. Gays and lesbians have a lot to lose if we’re not vigilant and active politically. Apathy is nothing to be proud of, and as history has taught us it can be dangerous.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

The Essence of Pride

By Steve Charing

As we approach the annual Pride festivities and all the color and hoopla that goes along, one can easily to lose sight of the meaning of Pride. The younger generation may not fully appreciate the significance of Pride celebrations. Lucky for them, they didn’t have to endure the threats of bar raids, arrests and other oppressive tactics that permeated the gay scene prior to Stonewall in 1969. But they should try to understand the tough journey that brought us here today.

On a sultry June weekend that year, a coterie of gays, lesbians and drag queens revolted against police harassment stemming from yet another raid at the Stonewall Inn in New York’s Greenwich Village. For once, gays fought back. To many, that historic event triggered the launch of the modern gay-rights movement and planted the seeds for Pride parades and celebrations all over the world each year during the month of June.

Many see Pride as a big party, and that’s fine. Older lgbt citizens, I believe, have a keener awareness of the history and symbolism and can better assess the progress the lgbt community has made in the 36 years since the Stonewall uprising.

The parade up Charles Street sets the tone with the wide variety of lgbt and allied organizations and businesses marching and riding amidst shouts, cheers and waves from the festive crowd on the sidelines. The block party, as always, is a social carnival and a reunion of old friends and a chance to, um, bump into new ones. Entertainment on the sound stage plus the dancing in the street provides a fitting backdrop. The aroma that blends smoke, food, cologne, sweat and alcohol makes for a distinctive odoriferous cocktail. At certain points in time, moving around does not appear to be an option.

The Sunday-in-the-park event affords the opportunity for folks to trot out their dogs and for couples to stroll about the tree-shaded paths hand-in-hand. Music fans are entertained by the eclectic performers; the colorful crowd will indulge the numerous food vendors and get acquainted with the myriad lgbt organizations that are trying to make life better for all of us.
Some question the purpose of "Gay Pride." What’s to be proud about? Being gay isn’t an accomplishment like performing a heroic act or succeeding at your job. True enough. It isn’t about accomplishment so much as a self-recognition that this is who I am and that I refuse to pretend I’m somebody else. Nonetheless, there are as many ways to interpret the meaning of Pride as there are people doing it.

While the lgbt community has had to endure political setbacks and destructive divisions within the community itself during the post-Stonewall era, there were many victories, too. Through the years, our goals have evolved from tolerance to acceptance, and now our fight is for full equality in society. Pride should be about pointing to the positives. I, for one, use this occasion to reflect upon our history and the reasons to be proud:

I am proud that the climate is such that so many more people are coming out of the closet, especially at an earlier age. This helps them discover their true selves and allows the heterosexual population to get to know lgbt individuals as human beings—not some abstract stereotype.

I am proud that more and more lgbt politicians are out as well, thus giving us a voice, albeit a small one, in government at all levels. And it is heartening to see a growing number of government officials not shying away from taking a pro-gay stance on issues. However, there is much work to be done in the political arena.

I am proud of such organizations as PFLAG, Equality Maryland, GLSEN, the ALCU and other effective groups for fighting the fight for all of us. They are on the front lines and in the trenches in an effort to gain equality for the lgbt community. We should salute these groups and support them mightily in every way possible.

I am proud of the way the lesbian community rallied to help gay men in need during the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. This was inspirational in light of the fact that many gay men and lesbians had experienced an uneasy relationship up to that point.

I am proud of all those organizations who have given comfort to HIV/AIDS patients, those who keep trying to educate the public about the disease and those individuals conducting research to find a cure.

I am proud that lgbt businesses, newspapers, websites, resorts and other establishments have proliferated over time, which helps to weave us into the fabric of society. And it brings us an enormous amount of economic clout, as lgbt individuals typically have a higher percentage of disposable income.

I am proud that so many schools have a Gay-Straight Alliance, which presents a safe haven for lgbt youth to meet and discuss their lives without fear of intimidation. Moreover, many PFLAG chapters and community centers offer lgbt youth support groups at a time in their lives when it is critical to realize that they are not alone and it is OK to be gay.

I am proud that even the subject of same-sex marriage had entered into the dialogue, which would have been inconceivable just 5 years ago. I am also proud of the over 6,100 gay and lesbian couples who have married in Massachusetts so far—also a remarkable feat.
I am proud of our diverse community and hope that some day we will realize that we are all stronger for it.

Finally, I am proud that we have come such a long way that I’m able to openly dance with my partner at a straight wedding.

We all view Pride through the prism of one’s experiences. I see Pride as a celebration of life, of what we accomplished as a community, and how we will succeed in the coming years. Here’s to rainbows, balloons and triangles. Here’s to us all.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Ehrlich's Sharp Right Turn

The Governor’s cowardly veto of pro-gay bills solidifies his alignment with religious right

By Steve Charing

Remember over 20 years ago how the Baltimore Colts slithered their way out of Baltimore in the dead of night? In a similarly craven move, Governor Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr. chose the late Friday afternoon of Preakness weekend, where the publicity would be the most minimal, to veto two pro-gay bills as well as a series of other progressive measures.

This cowardly act establishes once and for all that Mr. Ehrlich’s self-portrayal as a moderate in a moderate state is indeed a fraud. As in the case of President Bush, Ehrlich is in bed with the extreme right wing elements of a Party that has been hijacked by self-righteous intrusive but exclusionary moralists, religious fanatics, bigots and homophobes. If the Republicans continue on this course, we should dub them the Christian Taliban.

I’m not the only one who is drawing this conclusion. Dan Furmansky, Executive Director of Equality Maryland—the largest lgbt civil rights organization in the state who worked feverishly to get the bills passed—told Baltimore OUTloud, "What makes Governor Ehrlich's vetoes truly pathetic is that he probably would have signed the bills if he had his druthers, but this man lacks integrity. He is a pawn of the far right elements of the Maryland Republican Party, who have as many moderates in the General Assembly as I can count on two hands," said Furmansky. "Unfortunately, he is a coward that is afraid to stand up to the anti-gay zealots who have officially taken over the Republican Party in this state."

One of the bills vetoed by the Governor was the hard-fought Medical Decision-Making Act that had been ultimately passed with a significant margin in both houses of the General Assembly. The other —the Transfer & Recordation Tax Exemption Bill—would have allowed same-sex couples to transfer real estate to each other without paying recordation and transfer taxes, a privilege afforded to married couples. Veto overrides next January are uncertain at this juncture, but prospects appear dim.

The Medical Decision-Making Act was designed to establish a statewide domestic partner registry so that members of all unmarried couples, both gay and straight, would be allowed to make key decisions regarding the health care of the affected partner. There were also other provisions not contained in advance directives that would have allowed benefits that are conferred upon married couples, such as hospital visitation rights, sharing an ambulance and the right to partners’ living in the same nursing home room.

However, Governor Ehrlich collapsed under the pressures from the likes of Republican extremists Delegate Donald H. Dwyer, Jr., Senator Nancy Jacobs and Senator Alex X. Mooney as well as other homophobes who, in the name of religion and morality, have captured the Governor’s ear (and soul). He vetoed the bill saying, "…the creation a new term of life partner will open the door to undermine the sanctity of traditional marriage." How visiting your sick partner in a hospital room would impact the marriage of the Governor and Kendal Ehrlich is a mystery that defies both logic and common decency.

"[The] vetoes are confirmation that the moderate wing of the Republican Party in Maryland, which the Governor is supposed to represent, has dwindled into obscurity," said openly gay Delegate Richard S. Madaleno (D-Kensington). "Truly moderate Republican Governors around the nation, like Connecticut Governor Jodi Rell and California Governor Arnold Schwarzeneggar, have lent support for far more comprehensive measures than those the Governor killed."
The vetoes surprised many who believed the Governor needed to burnish his credentials as a moderate to appeal to that large segment of the voting population that helped him get elected in the first place and are critical to his re-election chances.

But these anti-gay actions are consistent with Ehrlich’s attitudes throughout his political career towards the lgbt community. In his current term, Mr. Ehrlich declared on his favorite medium, talk radio, that he would not permit same-sex marriages "on his watch." As a member of the House of Representatives, Mr. Ehrlich was given a lowly pro-gay score of 25 out of 100 by the Human Rights Campaign—the nation’s largest lgbt advocacy organization—that was slightly better than that of the reactionary Rep. Roscoe Bartlett’s score of zero. When he was a member of Maryland’s House of Delegates, Mr. Ehrlich railed against gays and lesbians receiving "special rights."

Not only did these vetoes slap the face of the lgbt community at large, it was a strike against Mr. Ehrlich’s own chief of staff, Steven L. Kreseski—who is said to be openly gay—as well as other gay members of the Governor’s staff. On John Aravosis’ AmericaBlog.org, "John in DC" offered the following: "How interesting that Governor Ehrlich, a Republican, is worried that gays threaten the sanctity of marriage when his own chief of staff, Steve Kreseski, is openly gay and has been for the 15 years I've known him."

He continued, "It's hard to believe that Ehrlich doesn't know Steve is gay, he's been out and about in town since the early 1990s at least, and Steve even once told me years ago, when he was working for Ehrlich on the Hill, that Ehrlich knew he was gay. So the question is begged: Why does Ehrlich have an open gay chief of staff if Ehrlich claims to support the family values agenda? If gays threaten that agenda then how can he have a gay as chief of staff?"
Baltimore OUTloud attempted to reach Mr. Kreseski for comments on how the vetoes would impact the gay members of the Governor’s staff. He referred the question to the Governor’s Press Office, which did not return calls to OUTloud.

It is inconceivable how the Governor can object to a person visiting a loved one in the hospital. Just as the decision to allow same-sex marriage in Massachusetts served to mobilize the "base" for Republicans, the vetoes may produce the same outcome but in reverse. This should galvanize Maryland’s pissed off lgbt community to take action to make him a one-term governor. He posed as a moderate, but his actions show that he’s clearly a fake.

Monday, May 23, 2005

The Glass is Half Full

The latest poll on gay marriage attitudes offers rays of hope

By Steve Charing

Upon the one-year anniversary of the historic beginning of same-sex marriages in Massachusetts, we note that over 6,100 gay and lesbian couples have wed in the Bay State. The latest poll, published by the Boston Globe and conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center of 760 randomly selected adults during May 4-9, showed half of Americans object to same-sex marriages and do not want their states to recognize gay marriages from Massachusetts. Thirty-seven percent approved such marriages while eleven percent were neutral. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 percent.

While the poll found that half of Americans oppose same-sex marriage, 46 percent of those surveyed indicated support for civil unions that would provide lgbt couples with "some, but not all of the legal rights of married couples." Forty-one percent were against civil unions.

Since the landmark ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in November 2003, 18 states have amended their constitutions to define marriage as between a man and a woman (with more on the way), thus slamming the doors on same-sex marriage in these states pending possible court challenges. To make matters worse, President Bush on a number of occasions called for a federal constitutional amendment—the Defense of Marriage Act—that would, in effect, ban same-sex marriage. Although the proposed amendment failed to get by either chamber of Congress last year, nowhere is there a consensus among Americans that believes allowing same-sex marriage is the fair and right thing to do.

Sounds bad huh? Not really.

Poll results are always seen through the prism of one’s convictions; they can be viewed as either the glass is half full or half empty, and the numbers are always subject to interpretation and discussion. On the controversial issue of same-sex marriage, the glass is half full, but there is an enormous way to go to fill the glass to the brim.

Many lgbt equality advocates point to the experience in Massachusetts as reason for hope. "While the outside world debates how to treat its gay couples, Massachusetts sees that fire-and-brimstone predictions didn't come true," wrote Deb Price in USA Today on May 17—the one-year anniversary of the first same-sex weddings in Massachusetts. "Religious institutions haven't been forced to bless the civil marriage of any gay couple, though many have done so voluntarily." And the Globe, in an editorial, observed, "the world, unsurprisingly, has not fallen off its axis."

"The story of the last year is not just about these couples, it is also about how the radical right’s outlandish claims proved to be totally unfounded," said Patrick Guerriero, president of the Log Cabin Republicans. "Massachusetts has one of the lowest divorce rates in the country, and for most people, very little has changed over the last year."

Accordingly, the citizens of Massachusetts have done a hundred and eighty-degree turn and are overwhelmingly supportive of same-sex marriage. Another poll by the Globe taken in March shows that Bay Staters support these marriages by a 56 to 37 percent majority. In February 2004, the results indicated that more people had opposed same-sex marriage by a 53 to 35 percent margin. "People find out that when Adam and Steve marry next door, it doesn't hurt them, but it does help Adam and Steve," says pollster Bob Meadow of Decision Research.

And to some, the tide appears to be turning nationwide. "We have withstood a huge gay bashing assault and still 4 out of 10 people think [same-sex] marriage is OK, 11 percent could care less, and only 50 percent of the country is against gay marriage," said Kevin Jordan, co-chair of the PFLAG-Howard County Advocacy Committee, referring to the latest poll results. "Half the country is not on the side of [the opponents of marriage equality]. This is huge."

Jordan is correct. During the entire presidential election campaign, the question of same-sex marriage was mixed in along with terrorism, the economy and the war in Iraq as issues that mattered most to voters. Despite Senator John Kerry’s public opposition to same-sex marriage, the Republicans saw fit to bludgeon him over the head with the issue and may have contributed to higher GOP Evangelical-Christian voter turnout in the pivotal state of Ohio, thereby tipping the election towards Mr. Bush. And with constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage on the ballots of 11 states during the election cycle, the anti-gay marriage rhetoric filled the air like a poisonous dense fog.

The scare tactics that were designed by Karl Rove and his fear and smear machine and employed by the anti-gay Republicans were manifested in inflammatory sermons at churches (including African-American churches), divisive and often false radio messages and other under-the-radar negative advertising. Adding to the woes was the fact there were no major leaders in either Party advocating same-sex marriage. If they didn’t oppose it outright, they chose to run away from the issue; therefore, no pro-gay voices were heard to offset the vitriol.

Moreover, opposition to the federal constitutional amendment question was framed more around the appropriateness or lack thereof, of using the Constitution to encroach upon states’ rights regarding marriage policy. The fairness argument was mute.

Having withstood the barrage of anti-gay marriage messages with virtually no clear voice to counter them, the public’s attitudes appear to be moving ever so slowly towards the more positive side. "Public acceptance is growing, and polling data and trends show we’re gaining ground," Jay Smith, spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign told Baltimore OUTloud. "People more and more see same-sex marriage as a matter of fairness."

This is especially true in Massachusetts, where the citizens have witnessed these marriages without the threatened Armageddon. What we need now are more states like Massachusetts to help top off that half-full glass.