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Four Decades Along the Rainbow Road

Friday, January 27, 2006

Don't Let Them Fool You

The pro-amendment rhetoric is not about protecting marriage

By Steve Charing

Senior Political Analyst

Now that a Baltimore Circuit Court judge ruled against the constitutionality of Maryland’s marriage law that limited marriage to heterosexual couples only, the rhetoric supporting a constitutional amendment has begun in full force.

Immediately following the ruling the anti-gay forces have been marshalling their resources and allies to strike fear in the minds of the citizens of Maryland and press for a constitutional amendment that will define marriage as the province solely of heterosexuals. In fact, "The Marriage Protection Act" (House Bill 48), introduced by homophobe Donald H. Dwyer, Jr. (R-Anne Arundel) and co-sponsored by over 30 legislators, is designed to do just that—and more.

In a sweeping bill targeting gays and lesbians, all same-sex relationships including domestic partnerships and civil unions would also not be recognized by the state. The Senate version, Senate Bill 262, has been introduced by Sen. Janet Greenip, also of Anne Arundel County, to cross-file the house version.

"Now more than ever, we need to pass the Constitutional Amendment to protect marriage," the clarion call from Dwyer’s website said. But don’t be fooled. The demagoguery isn’t about protecting marriage.

For if protecting the institution of marriage was so near and dear to their hearts other actions would have been taken long ago that would have helped stave off the erosion of marriage. For example, a ban of divorce would have been the most logical first step since it accounts for the dissolution of about half of all marriages.

If these politicians were so keen on protecting marriage there would be some effort—perhaps criminalization—that targets those responsible for children born out of wedlock. Don’t the religious right keep reminding us that the goal of marriage is procreation? Well, if couples procreate without the official union, they are circumventing marriage and thus, undermining it.

Of course, there are married couples who cannot have children or who do not wish to have them. Those marriages, if we follow the logic of the "protect marriage" crowd, should be deemed null and void.

And how would two men getting married keep others from having children? Some even blame gays for abortion! It’s pure nonsense.

Moreover, there are other gnawing factors that chip away at the foundation of marriage: poverty, domestic violence, single-parent households, a lack of healthcare, and adultery top the list. But you won’t see demonstrations against those maladies too often, not to mention constitutional amendments.

And don’t pay any attention to the "biblical scholars" who maintain that traditional marriage has always been between one man and one woman. Just check out the Book of Genesis where men, including Abraham, typically had five wives.

Then there is the popular "homosexuals are sinners" argument. Please. So are murderers, but they can marry. So can men who shave or women who wear blended fabrics. They’re sinners, too, but they can marry. These are lame, selective and bogus excuses to discriminate. The Bible thumpers also tried to use cherry-picked passages from Scripture to prevent interracial marriages.

With all this fire and brimstone rhetoric going on, is protecting marriage the true aim? No, because marriage can take place in a civil or secular environment, such as a courthouse and religious institutions are not forced to marry same-gender couples.

It’s homophobia, pure and simple.

The last thing the conservatives want is to grant gays equal footing with straight people. The notion that gays and lesbians can be married similarly to heterosexual couples is icky to them. They can hold their noses and swallow some anti-discrimination measures, but marriage is off the table.

To many of our opponents, the "homosexual lifestyle" is anathema. Whether we are born gay or not, the sexual activities are considered abhorrent and behavior-oriented. They still see the lgbt community through the lens of the outrageous images that pride parades produce. It’s always the shocking fetishes and attire they point to and use for fundraising as well as to scare mainstream politicians and voters whom otherwise might be supportive of equality.

The rallies, the sound bites, the pronouncements from the opposition are politically motivated and bigotry-driven To many of these adversaries, the lgbt community is comprised of sub-humans not worthy of marriage—religious or civil.

What is being ignored by those who feel the need to "protect marriage" is the fact that other countries have moved forward in their social thinking. Canada, Spain and South Africa have joined several European countries in legalizing same-sex marriage. Has the institution gone by the wayside since? Not hardly.

Closer to home, Massachusetts, the only state where same-sex marriage is legal, is again in the crosshairs of extreme conservatives who are attempting to overturn the court’s decision. Where they are lacking is the fact that the institution of marriage has not been adversely affected since gays and lesbians tied the knot in 2003. In fact, Massachusetts has the lowest divorce rate in the country. Therefore, heterosexual couples in the Bay State did not rush to seek divorce attorneys once gays and lesbians got hitched.

The Massachusetts case brought out a new entry into the lexicon: activist judges. To conservatives, activist judges are those who decide cases in a way that are unfavorable to the right. They had no trouble with activist judges when they anointed Bush president in 2000, and they sure will not rail against them when the new Supreme Court overthrows Roe v. Wade.

Expect the anti-gay rhetoric cloaked in defense-of-marriage smokescreens to play out in the weeks ahead, as these folks would like nothing more than to get the issue on the ballot in November. Republicans are solidly behind the amendment because they want the election to be about "gay marriage"—a convenient distraction from the record of GOP candidates and to put Democrats on the spot. They want very much to create a wedge issue to divide Democrats and their supporters.

By doing so, more conservative voters will flock to the polls a la Ohio and help the GOP in the election. They’re trying to fool everyone into believing that it’s all about protecting marriage. It’s not. It’s about the politics of homophobia.

One way to combat that is to make an impression on wavering legislators. Please contact yours. Lobby Day in Annapolis on February 13 is a crucial event that is aimed at presenting our side. Your participation is greatly needed. Please check out the Equality Maryland website at www.equalitymaryland.org for more information.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Calendar Boy in Motion

By Steve Charing ©2006

If you celebrated New Year’s Eve at the Hippo, you couldn’t help but notice the gyrating, shirtless, blond dancer atop the northeast speaker of the club’s famous dance floor. As a matter of fact, if you were there at around 11 p.m. and decided to step out for whatever reason and re-entered the Hippo at 1 a.m., you would have still seen this dude dancing at the same fast-paced, high energy level as when he started two hours earlier.

Even when the track slowed at times to a near standstill, which can suck the energy right out of the floor, he continued to squat, bend, twist and spin with arms flailing and flexing at a frenetic tempo.

His New Year’s performance spanned the years 2005 and 2006 without once stepping down, or stopping period. I mean for two hours straight, pardon the term! My Goodness, I get tired after driving for two hours, and I like to think I’m in good shape.

Just below the eardrum-splitting, vibrating speaker as well as the area of the Hippo’s promenade immediately adjacent to it where this guy was in perpetual motion, stood a cluster of ogling fans, friends and admirers—male and female. At various times they smiled at him, shook hands, hugged, toasted the New Year and hopped on the speaker box to join this marathon dancer. And he was friendly to all, whether he knew them or not.

He had the strength and endurance to continue dancing beyond the two hours except for that pesky, ill-timed nature break. He finally stepped down from his small stage, revealing his glistening, cut torso amidst the remnants of the colorful balloons, confetti and glitter that the
Hippo unleashed upon the revelers from the ceiling at midnight.

This guy with the Energizer bunny-type stamina is Paul Hummel, a familiar figure among Mt. Vernon’s clubs, particularly the Hippo. There he occasionally works as a dancer on the club’s catwalk at special events, such as Pride or at the Jeanie Tracy Show, or simply as a patron mixing it up on the crowded dance floor. Or you may catch him singing at Karaoke. And all the while he shows skin.

Paul is known almost as much for taking his shirt off as the Washington Wizzards' guard Gilbert Arenas. Because once that shirt comes off, you can expect this diminutive, boyish bundle of animation to let it rip.

And that’s not a stretch, because Paul is ripped, but in the good meaning of the word. He displays chiseled pecs and the all-too-elusive (for us mortals) stone-solid 6-pack. And when his hands are held behind his head, arms stretched out, as he frequently does as part of his dance routine, his peaked biceps pop up like two hard tennis balls.

Paul’s well-defined and proportioned physique that fuels his obvious aerobic skills coupled with his youthful surfer looks and his friendly, outgoing personality made him a slam-dunk selection to be included in the 2006 edition of The Men of Mt. Vernon calendar. He was voted in by a combination of the contest judges’ tallies and the applause of the Grand Central patrons.

The calendar is an artistically crafted black and white work by photographer Scott Henrichsen, whose proceeds benefit Baltimore Pride. The models were photographed bare-chested from the waist up.

"Last year many people suggested I enter the contest, but I was busy dating," said Paul, who is single. "This year more people encouraged me, so I decided to try."

And if you want to get past winter, as most people do, head right to March (no offense to Mr. January or Mr. February or any other of the months’ fine representatives). You will see Paul in a series of provocative, but tasteful, photos that highlight the defined, linear contours of his gymnast-type torso.

"I really enjoyed being in the contest," Paul says beaming. "It was a lot of fun, I’m meeting new people as a result of it, and it’s for a worthy cause. I really want people to buy the calendar." Indeed, The Men of Mt. Vernon Calendar is available for $10 at Lambda Rising bookstore, or you can order it online at www.menofmtvernon.com.

Paul’s appearance belies his age. At 32, which does not exactly make him a Centrum Silver candidate, one can easily reverse the numbers and assume he’s 23. The Baltimore County native is the perfect antidote to the adage "size matters." Although he is 5’7" and weighs only 125 pounds, he is well sculpted.

And no wonder. Paul has been working out continually since he was 13. He currently spends 12-14 hours a week at Gold’s Gym. His body is reflective of a guy that clearly pays attention to the regimen in the weight room with a body fat percentage in the low single digits.

In addition to intensive weightlifting to build muscle mass, there is also a focus on working to "cut up." Paul is a big proponent of the elliptical equipment, which is used for cardio as well as to build strong leg muscles that burn calories. This helps keeps the body fat percentage low and increases definition. His prolonged dance sets don’t hurt either.

Some folks fail to recognize that his physical achievements are a derivative of his work ethic and commitment. He occasionally gets perturbed when people assume his physique is a result of genetics and high metabolism. "No, I work my butt off in the gym," he asserts.

Between his regular job, working out, and his social life, Paul manages to find time helping the lgbt community. The Towson University graduate with a degree in mass communications is a member of the Human Rights Campaign and has recently joined Equality Maryland as a volunteer. "Equality Maryland focuses on local issues, and that’s how our rights will be won—state-by-state," he explains. He believes that lgbt organizations must try to counter the apathy that exists within the community. "Gays need to get involved more. They have to."

Frequently this calendar boy is asked to take off his shirt at his Karaoke performances, which, of course, is by no means a problem for Paul. "I’m flattered that they ask," he says. "It’s fun for me." He loves all kinds of music with his clear faves being Madonna and Van Halen, but he likes to perform Queen and other rock music at Karaoke.

Paul enjoys meeting a variety people when dancing and singing and during his occasional stints of selling shooters at the Hippo—often shirtless, sometimes clad only in briefs that showcases his slim but muscular legs.

Although he would prefer the Baltimore scene to be bigger, its smallness has an appeal. He explains, "It’s easier to know a different variety of people. It’s more personal."

"Mr. March" is not concerned that some may perceive him as a show-off or conceited, as Paul is quick to dismiss such characterizations. "If people talk to me, they will see I’m far from that." In fact, he appears quite modest regarding his appeal.

Showing off the many years of hard work that he put into his body doesn’t make him conceited. It simply makes him proud. And as they say, if you got it, flaunt it!

Monday, January 16, 2006

Time to Play Some 'D'

Lobby Day set to rally against anti-lgbt legislation

By Steve Charing

The sports metaphors abound: "The best offense is a good defense." At basketball games, fans chant, "D-fense, D-fense." At football games, fans are seen hoisting up a combination of the big letter ‘D’ and a section of a picket fence to denote "Defense." The eloquence of legendary Case Stengel offered, "Good pitching will always stop good hitting, and vice-versa."

Even outside of sports, an emphasis on defense exists. Our government has a Defense Department—not an Offense Department—though there are more than a few who would disagree.

Defense is a key component of any strategy. Protecting your turf. Guarding your home. Learning martial arts. Buying insurance to protect your assets. You get the point?

For Maryland’s lgbt civil rights activists, a strong defense will play a significant role during the state’s 2006 General Assembly, now in full swing. The vanguard for this activity will take place on Monday, February 13 in Annapolis, where for the third consecutive year, Equality Maryland, the state’s largest lgbt advocacy organization, will hold Lobby Day.

Two years ago about 500 attended the event. Last year the crowd doubled to about a thousand. The results of the efforts of Equality Maryland and allied organizations were extremely positive as all four pro-lgbt bills were passed by the General Assembly. Unfortunately, Governor Ehrlich, in tossing a bone to his extreme right-wing supporters, vetoed two of them, including the centerpiece of the lgbt agenda, the Medical Decision-Making Act. The veto of this important piece of legislation will not be overridden. But the Governor is considering alternative provisions, though will not be as desirable as the original bill.

Organizers are looking towards another doubling of the masses on February 13, but this time the strategy will be more defensive. A potential favorable ruling in the Deane and Polyak v. Conaway lawsuit, which alleges the state’s law that marriage can be only between a man and a woman is unconstitutional, will set events in motion.

A backlash is expected from the anti-gay religious right and other extremists who are opposed to any advances by the lgbt community.

Already the virulently anti-gay delegate Donald H. Dwyer (R-Anne Arundel County) has
introduced "Maryland's Marriage Protection Act" (House Bill 48). According to an e-mail update from Equality Maryland, "This bitterly anti-gay piece of legislation is a constitutional amendment than bans more than just marriage between same-sex couples. It also states that: ‘a civil union or relationship between parties of the same sex, by whatever name or title, that confers the benefit of marriage is not valid in this state and is against the public policy of this state.’"

Clearly this bill is not about defending marriage but is also intended to deprive gays and lesbians of rights we already have achieved and pushing us backwards. It is overreaching, and that can be expected from such a bigot and his supporters. The number one goal, therefore, of this legislative session will be to ensure this attempt to strip away the protections in the law "never sees the light of day."

"We will rally to stop the constitutional amendment to ban protections for gay and lesbian families and support legislation that will legally protect our families," the Equality Maryland website proclaims.

Indeed, other legislation will be advanced, such as Medical Expense Deduction that is designed to allow an individual to take a deduction on his or her taxes for medical expenses incurred on behalf of another adult in the household. Since this legislation is not lgbt-specific, and would not benefit merely same-sex couples, there is reason to believe the bill will attract broad support.
But stopping the constitutional amendment is the principal rallying point.

Following a favorable ruling from the Baltimore Circuit Court, it is a foregone conclusion that inflammatory and sanctimonious rhetoric will likely fill the airwaves and newsprint. Says Dan Furmansky, the Executive Director of Equality Maryland, "The lgbt and allied community in Maryland has grown in strength and political clout over the past few years, which is tremendously threatening to the ‘religious right’ in our state."

It is vital that the lgbt community turns out in huge numbers at Lobby Day. Last year, for example, the Howard County chapter of PFLAG accounted for nearly 100 in the crowd. We need large organizations like the GLCCB and others to make a push to similarly get folks out there. With huge numbers of bodies present, we can make a strong impression on legislators and the media, and better make our case for equality.

"The legal and social advances we seek won't simply happen without people standing up and being counted, said Furmansky. We can change our country, one state at a time, but everyone makes a difference."

The crowd should begin assembling for Lobby Day at 4:00 p.m. at Lawyers Mall. Then a large rally will start at 5:00 p.m. when speakers will energize the crowd and show how real families are hurt by anti-gay legislation. Later, groups of rally-goers will be visiting with their respective district senators and delegates to explain their stories and make the case against such discriminatory use of the constitution.

Since the day precedes Valentine’s Day, rally-goers are asked to wear red as a sign of unity. Many plan to enjoy dinner in Annapolis’ wide array of restaurants following the rally and meetings. Everyone is urged to bring a driver’s license or other photo ID to allow entrance into the office buildings.

All the logistical information concerning the day’s activities, including transportation coordination, is posted on Equality Maryland’s website at http://www.equalitymaryland.org/ and click on "Lobby Day 2006." You can sign up at a link on the website.

This is a pivotal event. The legislative session could be bumpy and partisan especially because this is an election year. For lgbt individuals, our strength and success will be determined not only by the large number of people that participate in Lobby Day but also how well we play defense and the pressure we put on our legislators.

As Dan Furmansky put it, "The more gains we make, the more we'll have to defend them."

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Bashing Back

Letter to (Baltimore) City Paper-- Published 1/18/06

The letter written by Leo Williams in the City Paper was nothing more that a diatribe consisting of blatant homophobia, hatred and ignorance ("No, but there is this thing called 'bashing,'" January 6). The venom spewed by Mr. Williams included the outlandish charge that "homosexuals are largely responsible for the deadliest epidemics in history." Assuming he is referring to HIV/AIDS, no researcher of any distinction has successfully identified the origin of the disease. Moreover, hundreds of thousands of people are dying in Africa and throughout the world each year, and to attribute the scourge to "homosexuals" is as ludicrous as it is patently false.

Mr. Williams went on to whine that gays "want to compare themselves to the black civil rights struggle." The best way to respond to his complaint is to quote a couple of noteworthy people who actually knew what the civil rights struggle was all about.

Julian Bond, a former associate of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and current chariman of the NAACP said recently in Baltimore, "Sexual disposition parallels race - I was born black and had no choice. I couldn't change and wouldn't change if I could," explained Mr. Bond. "Like race, our sexuality isn't a preference - it is immutable, unchangeable, and the Constitution protects us all against prejudices and discrimination based on immutable differences."

Another individual who knew something about the civil rights movement is Dr. King's widow, Coretta Scott King. "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 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."

Mr. Williams further asked if "homosexuals ever been lynched or had their homes and churches burned to the ground by hate groups?" If Mr. Williams believes that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people have not been victims of hate crimes, he is apparently living on another planet.

The main question here is whether Mr. Williams' hatred in steeped in ignorance, or is his ignorance steeped in hatred?

Steve Charing

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

I Can Dream, Too

By Steve Charing

As we flip the calendar to a new year, we will be observing Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on January 16. I think of Dr. King a lot. I think of how his voice, if he had been given the chance to live out a full life, would have helped mute the voices of prejudice and bigotry throughout mankind that would also include those who are determined to thwart full equality for the lgbt community.

After seeing and hearing first hand the eloquence, class and style of his one-time associate, civil rights activist and NAACP chairman Julian Bond at the Equality Maryland Jazz Brunch this past November, I am reminded that Dr. King would have taken up our cause.

"Sexual disposition parallels race – I was born black and had no choice," said Mr. Bond during his keynote address at the Jazz Brunch. "I couldn’t change and wouldn’t change if I could. Like race, our sexuality isn’t a preference – it is immutable, unchangeable, and the Constitution protects us all against prejudices and discrimination based on immutable differences." Dr. King would agree.

A person who knew the mindset of Dr. King even better is his widow, Coretta Scott King. She also draws a nexus between the struggle for civil rights for African-Americans and the fight for lgbt equality. In 1998 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of her husband’s death Mrs. King reminded one and all that the civil rights leader’s memory demanded a strong stand for gay and lesbian rights. She said her husband's struggle parallels that of the gay rights movement.

"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 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."

No one speech, no one event characterized and symbolized the ideals of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. more than his "I Have a Dream" speech presented at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington in August 1963. This resounding speech in front of tens of thousands of marchers was credited with mobilizing supporters of desegregation and prompted the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The next year, Dr. King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

"And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream," he said. As he then successively trumpeted each of his dreams, he envisioned a world where race and the color of one’s skin doesn’t matter at all and there would be freedom and justice for all.

Obviously I am not to be construed in any way with the vision of this great leader and his innate ability to bring to life America’s collective conscience. But in reflecting on the works of Dr. King and his followers, I would like to share (in no particular order) my dreams—my ideals—concerning the struggle for lgbt equality:

I have a dream that politicians will no longer use gays as a wedge to divide the nation and its people to serve their own ends.

I have a dream that religious institutions and individuals will stop cherry-picking Scripture to justify their prejudice and hatred towards lgbt people. Christians will cease being hypocritical and instead adopt the teachings of Jesus that foster love, acceptance and understanding.

I have a dream that when a lgbt child comes out to their friends, classmates and family, the reaction would be, "That is way cool." There will no longer be a need for Gay-Straight Alliances at schools throughout the land because there will be no further hostility and no bullying of lgbt students.

I have a dream that one day that the 500-chapter PFLAG—Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays—would close up shop and say "Our work is done." This would mean parents who have lgbt children would no longer need any emotional support since this occurrence would be considered as acceptable as having straight children. Parents will unequivocally remind their gay children that their love is eternal.

I have a dream that the scourge of HIV/AIDS will be eliminated worldwide and that people draw from the lessons of history and take better care of themselves and not take on needless risks.

I have a dream that rappers will tell stories of something positive in their lyrics instead of habitually condoning violence towards gays and women.

I have a dream that lgbt youth will not see all older gays and lesbians as predatory perverts and that the older ones do not look down on the youth as a result of the wisdom they accrued during their lives. There will be more intergenerational trust and respect.

I have a dream that organizations such as the Human Rights Campaign and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force would go out of business because they have outlived their usefulness. All discrimination against lgbt people will have been forever wiped out. We should then thank them for their good works over many years.

I have a dream that the National Servicemembers’ Legal Defense Network would similarly shut their offices when all forms of discrimination based on sexual orientation in our military are eradicated. No more ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ no more witchhunts, no more discharges. Any American citizen who is qualified should be allowed to serve his/her country in the Armed Forces.

And I have a dream that the terms "same-sex marriage" or "gay marriage" are everlastingly stricken from the lexicon. All couples who are committed to a loving relationship should have the right to marry regardless of sexual orientation and that lgbt couples fully receive the rights, benefits and responsibilities that are accorded heterosexuals. Marriage will be marriage in the eyes of our government, and the institution will be strengthened by the addition of lgbt couples.

As was the case of Martin Luther King, Jr., sometimes dreams will lead to reality, although it’s a long, evolving process. These are just some of my dreams. I believe Dr. King would have agreed.