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Four Decades Along the Rainbow Road

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Hillary for VP? Fughetaboutit!

Sen. Clinton has undermined Obama’s chances and doesn’t deserve the honor

By Steve Charing

If Senator John McCain manages to overcome an electorate where 4 out of 5 believe the country is on the wrong track, who overwhelmingly reject a continuation of the war in Iraq, and his own admitted ignorance of the economy to win the presidential election in November, then Senator Barack Obama can rightfully blame, at least in part, the workings of Bill and Hillary Clinton.

When it became evident that Senator Hillary Clinton did not receive her expected coronation as the Democratic Party’s nominee and that Barack Obama ably filled the anti-Hillary void by having the audacity to challenge her, she employed her "kitchen sink" campaign in an attempt to undo him and to scare off the party’s superdelegates. In the process, Hillary Clinton stoked fears about Obama, raised dubious issues, and otherwise painted him as a political neophyte who is unsuited to be commander-in-chief, much less president.

But as the sun rapidly sets on the Clintons’ dream of a Clinton II presidency, conversations and news reports are increasingly surfacing regarding a possible inclusion of Hillary as a vice-presidential candidate on Obama’s ticket.

In a recent New York Times article, an unnamed friend of the Clintons was quoted as saying, "If she’s not going to be the nominee, then he (Bill Clinton) wants her in the second spot. In the long run, it’s the best way for her to run again in 2016." Well, so much for satisfying the hunger for change, serving the country and providing the best level of governance possible. Apparently, it’s all about Hillary’s path to the White House (again).

The problem with her being on the ticket is that Clinton does not want Obama to succeed, and he has to know that. The thought that she would stoop so low to become second banana to this novice is laughable. She damaged him with her scorched earth strategy, and her diatribes provide fresh footage for the McCain camp to air. McCain’s reputation for being "clean" would not be sullied; it is Hillary doing the hatchet job for him.

Even worse, Hillary’s stubborn continuation of a doomed and financially bankrupt campaign cut into Obama’s timeframe to soften John McCain—a necessary tactic for him to have any chance of winning. Because Obama has to spend time and money fending off Clinton while persuading the remaining reticent superdelegates, he is allowing McCain the opportunity to portray him as na├»ve on foreign policy among other criticisms. The Obama camp, if it weren’t distracted, may have been better positioned to begin taking the attack to McCain in earnest.

Hillary Clinton would not be helpful to the Democratic Party as some project. She is a polarizing figure with an unseemly amount of negatives and airports full of baggage. She would be the anti-change candidate on a ticket whose fundamental rationale is change. It would appear ridiculous for her to stump for a man she denounced as not ready to be president.

The GOP, who is not completely sold on McCain, would, itself, be unified and emboldened to work against Obama-Clinton. Moreover, people vote according to the top of the ticket, not for the running mate. If anything, an unpopular vice-president candidate could damage the chances of success.

Should she not be on the ticket, the Clintons would not campaign all-out for Obama to unify the party. They’d expect him to lose in the Fall and that would allow Hillary to present her "I told you so" candidacy in 2012. But if she were on the ticket, that could come sooner.

Her nefarious invoking of Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination as a rationale to remain in the race most likely doomed her chances to be selected. Without being cynically morbid, I have no doubt that part of the political calculus by the Clintons is that an intelligent, educated African-American who is so detested by "hard working," undereducated, gun-toting racists in Appalachia and other areas may not take too kindly to his occupying the White House.

This isn’t so far-fetched. A number of pundits wryly quipped that if Hillary was Obama’s running mate, he needs to find a food tester. The metaphor is eerily accurate: Hillary on the ticket would be poisonous.

The Democratic Party will come together in time. Obama cannot afford to have Hillary as a running mate and risk losing the election. And with several potential Supreme Court appointments looming and the certain continuation of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell," our community cannot risk having McCain win in November.

This article eventually was published in the June 20 issue of the Washington Blade.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Calif. Ruling Validates Equality Maryland's Strategy

By Steve Charing

Like so many gays and lesbians who read or heard the landmark ruling by the California Supreme Court that overthrew that state’s ban on same-sex marriage, I was ecstatic. Three questions immediately came to my mind: 1) why couldn’t the Maryland’s Court of Appeals be as wise and fair-minded as the California court? 2) how will this ruling impact our struggle for marriage equality in Maryland? and 3) how would this affect the presidential campaign? I will discuss the latter in a future column.

The California’s court decision, in which 6 of the 7 justices were Republican appointees, sent shock waves throughout the country: "These core substantive rights include, most fundamentally, the opportunity of an individual to establish—with the person with whom the individual has chosen to share his or her life—an officially recognized and protected family possessing mutual rights and responsibilities and entitled to the same respect and dignity accorded a union traditionally designated as marriage," Justice Ronald M. George wrote for the Court’s 4-3 majority.

After reading these words, I concluded unequivocally that the controversial strategy employed by Equality Maryland, the state’s principal LGBT civil rights advocacy group, was correct all along.

The organization had been criticized by some in the gay press and letter writers for their so-called "all or nothing" strategy that failed to produce a civil unions bill during the 2008 General Assembly, much less one that legalized same-sex marriage. (Two important but smaller domestic partner bills passed and at press time were awaiting the Governor’s signature.)

I, along with others, had originally believed we should try to achieve some lesser victory in the short term as opposed to waiting for a limitless number of years to see marriage equality become a reality, if it actually would at all. I knew that civil unions was a "separate but unequal" concept, but wouldn’t securing some rights now be better than none at all? Perhaps it would lead to full marriage equality.

Although I hadn’t fully bought in on Equality Maryland’s strategy, I did not join the critics. It has been a meandering journey for me as it has been for many gays and lesbians—negotiating sharp turns, sidestepping potholes, skirting around detours, and making some U-turns before I settled on the position that full marriage equality must be unquestionably the ultimate goal. This was helped not only by the events in California but was also shaped by Dan Furmansky, Equality Maryland’s executive director.

Last October, following the Maryland high court’s dismal ruling, I had interviewed Furmansky for Baltimore OUTloud to ascertain the strategy going forward. In response to my question as to why not go for civil unions if that would be more attainable, he replied:

"We must remember that these alternative legal mechanisms (civil unions, domestic partnerships for same-sex couples) have deliberately been created both to approximate and withhold marriage itself. Real-life application of these mechanisms has shown that such separate alternatives do not provide equal access to the tangible and intangible protections, security, clarity, and respect that only comes with marriage."

And Furmansky was on point when he said, "Starting out the legislative process to win marriage by asking for an alternative legal mechanism that is intended to deliberately withhold marriage from same-sex couples does not make sense, either politically or philosophically."

These thoughts and other arguments coincide with the judgement rendered by the California Supreme Court’s majority opinion with respect to that state’s constitution. They validate Equality Maryland’s stance on the issue and consequently its strategy. Simply put, why should we settle for something less and not strive for full equality? Why should we forever be relegated to second-class status?

There is no question marriage equality in Maryland will take years—certainly beyond the 2010 election. We do not have a judicial remedy at this point. The timing of the lawsuit reaching the Court of Appeals was sickeningly unfortunate in that it occurred just prior to two conservative justices’ retirement. Accordingly, our efforts must be trained on the legislature and at the same time, we must aggressively educate the voters on the issue to win their support.

And we need more of the lgbt community to participate, especially young people. Even those who do not view marriage as a realistic or even desirable goal in their lives now may want to have that option available down the road when their own circumstances change.

This is not a battle that should be undertaken by a single organization, however strong it may be. The fight must be joined by the entire LGBT community to contribute its voices, resources and talents to the education component of the overall strategy.

While Equality Maryland presses our case to lawmakers and voters, it needs to be bolstered by individuals lobbying their own district legislators. The combined efforts will be effective. Grass roots organizations in local districts would provide a boon. Equality Maryland is extremely willing to lend a hand in such initiatives.

This process is slow, methodical, but it should be unwavering. The Supreme Court of the largest state in the nation saw the fairness in full marriage equality under the law. We should fully acknowledge that not only the Court’s majority was correct, but so is Equality Maryland.

Cutting it up at Neal's

By Steve Charing

The late Hope Quackenbush, who had brought Broadway theater back to Baltimore, gave long-time actress and stage personality Elaine Stritch some good advice. When Stritch’s friend actress Colleen Dewhurst died in 1991 and she needed to have her hair styled for the funeral, Ms. Quackebush told her not to trust anybody but Neal to do her hair.

Heeding that advice, Stritch entered Neal’s Mount Vernon hair studio, and as she stepped through the door, she proclaimed, "I’m in no mood for goddamn bullshit." Proprietor Neal Foore instantly fired back, "You might as well leave. All I do is bullshit." She stayed for four hours.

And that’s Neal for you. He’s part no-nonsense business owner and part campy cut-up. Along with Joe, his life partner of 27 years, Neal (pictured L.) is the co-owner of the venerable Neal’s Hair Studio and Day Spa located at 856 Park Avenue. Because it is housed in two small buildings that are jointly connected by a courtyard, there is an entrance on Read Street as well.

A native of Baltimore and a resident of Mount Vernon, Neal began his business by renting a small space in the Sutton Place Apartments in 1984. "The focus then was on hair services," says Neal on his website. "But the goal was always to operate a full-service salon and day spa catering to the diverse needs of all people."

To realize that dream, Neal and Joe clearly needed larger space for their business. After keeping a watchful eye out for acceptable real estate opportunities, they moved to their current location in 1990. Today, Neal’s establishment has a diverse staff of 10 employees who are highly trained and creative hair stylists, estheticians, massage therapists, makeup artists, and nail technicians.

The several rooms within the building are used for their expanded services. "We do more than just hair," says Ed Armstrong (pictured R.), an experienced stylist who once ran a hair salon in Charles Village and has been with Neal’s for 13 years.

Indeed, Neal’s boasts a breathtaking menu of services and products. Besides a wide array of hair treatments, stylings and cuts, Neal’s offers comprehensive nail treatments, manicures and pedicures; a variety of facials; and several types of massages, including Swedish, Therapeutic and Stone therapy massages. They also provide body treatments and waxing services.

Neal’s gift packages sound just as enticing. "Day of Pure Indulgence," "Men’s Retreat," "Pamper to Perfection," "Stolen Moments," "Mini Day of Delight" and "A Day Dream" are some of the intriguingly titled packages.

You can be pampered for up to 6 hours with some of these specials, and the cost ranges from $100 for the "Pretty Hands and Feet" package to $280 for the "Men’s Retreat," which includes a stress relief facial and back treatment. And you know you’re in for a relaxing time when one of the quaint spa rooms is called the "Tranquility Room."

Neal’s clientele is just as eclectic as the Mount Vernon neighborhood, although many clients come from outside the area. "We cater to suburban people who don’t want suburban looks," Neal points out. When asked what exactly does he mean by that, Neal explains, "Anyone can get paint, but not everyone can paint a Rembrandt." Can’t argue with that!

Celebrities, such as Tony Randall, Leslie Uggams and Anna Russell, have been customers at Neal’s. But Neal isn’t star-struck. He actually chided iconic Grammy-award winning musician Carlos Santana over the telephone for bad manners when the star canceled a two-hour appointment without giving notice.

Over the years, Neal’s had some other interesting folks walk through the doors. Neal recalls five masculine straight men who happen to be cross dressers patronizing the salon where they were helped with their wigs, wardrobe and make-up. "They come in as lumberjacks but leave as women," says Neal. "The funny thing is, none of them know each other."

Neal’s even provided services for a transvestite wedding. Neal explained, "Just because the Government doesn’t give you a piece of paper (marriage certificate), it doesn’t mean you can’t have a wedding!"

Neal and Joe have proven over 27 years you can successfully be partnered both at home and in business. Neal’s advice for relationships: "Find someone who makes you laugh. You can always give yourself an orgasm, but you can’t tickle yourself."

Neal’s genial personality is certainly an asset for a business that deals with the public. But he and Joe also own several apartment buildings in Mount Vernon to provide a nest egg for retirement. "The business alone isn’t enough," he says.

So why did he choose the hair styling profession? Neal Foore smiles and says, "My mother was a hairdresser. So, it chose me. I didn’t choose it."

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

With Involvement We Gain Influence

By Steve Charing

Following the completion of the 2008 Maryland General Assembly there were activists and members of the gay press who were critical of the results. While two domestic partnership measures passed both chambers, two other initiatives that formed the cornerstone of Equality Maryland’s legislative agenda failed.

A bill that would legalize civil marriage for lgbt couples and one that would extend legal protections to transgendered individuals both died in committee without a vote. There is no question that few realistically expected the marriage bill to succeed given the clear opposition from the leaders of the Senate and House. The failure to pass a transgender bill, however, was a travesty.

There was a good deal of finger-pointing and second-guessing, and many were miffed that even a civil unions measure—a controversial concept in its own right—did not make it to the floor. Some railed against our state leaders; some blamed Democratic lawmakers; some took umbrage with Equality Maryland’s strategy; and others pointed to the lgbt community’s insufficient level of involvement during the session.

"There are about 15,600 same-sex couples living in Maryland, yet only about 500 people showed up for Equality Maryland’s lobby day in February," wrote Washington Blade editor Kevin Naff in an editorial that presented several factors for the session’s failures. "Gays have grown complacent and apathetic, always assuming that someone else is doing the heavy lifting. As the results of this session prove, lawmakers won’t do the right thing until enough voters demand it…Maryland’s gay residents must look in the mirror to see the real face of blame."

Naff is right on target, and I said so in a Maryland lgbt political newsgroup discussion board that sparked comments from some who deny the existence of widespread apathy or don’t view apathy and complacency as seriously damaging to our cause.

But it is. For a variety of reasons, not all members of the lgbt community consider marriage equality, or transgender rights for that matter, critical. But lawmakers need to see a united community and in big numbers for them to take politically risky positions.

Let’s face it, you cannot eliminate apathy and complacency. And you cannot preach to folks to be more politically inclined. Nonetheless, there are ways to increase political involvement, and it begins in the neighborhood.

When Delegate Talmadge Branch of the 45th District in Northeast Baltimore denied the existence of gays and lesbians in his district, it triggered a call to action. Inspired by that snub, lgbt citizens came together and with the help from Equality Maryland, formed a group called Equality 45.

They appeared at the last Pride festival, complete with a map of the district and colored stars, which pride-goers used to indicate their residence on the map. It caught on fast. It became cool to fight back, and others who may not have been previously active politically joined the movement to establish visibility within the district.

It has paid off. The members of Equality 45 participated in the past two Lobby Days in Annapolis, conducted ongoing dialogues with their legislators and held a successful town hall meeting in October whereby several of the elected officials appeared.

"We're now discussing our next goals," said Susan Francis, Development Director for Equality Maryland who helped form the group. "We're talking about doing another town hall, as well as doing a financial planning workshop for our lgbt neighbors. We're also looking for opportunities to volunteer in our neighborhood and to make sure we're active participants in our local community, and we'll be tabling at Baltimore Pride again."

Susan added that there is now a fledgling group in District 43 in North Baltimore, with whom they are planning to share a table at next month’s Pride.

Having a strong local advocacy group taking up our causes is a proven path to success as demonstrated by the experience in Howard County’s District 13 (Columbia-Clarksville). The Columbia/Howard County chapter of PFLAG has been the focal point for lgbt advocacy in the district as well as neighboring districts. Just a couple of years ago, District 13’s delegates and senator were squeamish concerning marriage equality. All were Democrats and generally supportive of other lgbt issues, but saw "marriage" as problematic.

With continuing dialogues, sharing our personal stories, delivering a substantial turnout for Lobby Day, and earning the lawmakers’ trust and respect, all three delegates co-sponsored this year’s Religious Freedom and Marriage Protection Act—a major accomplishment while the senator supported the two gay-friendly bills mentioned earlier. This transformation would not have occurred had it not been for the determined effort by the chapter’s members.

The experience in both District 45 and District 13 should be a model for other districts, particularly in Baltimore City where a number of Democratic lawmakers are supportive of most lgbt issues but remain hesitant about marriage equality. That shouldn’t be allowed to stand.

Sometimes it takes a kick in the butt to get people motivated. During a legislative hearing on the marriage bill, Delegate Frank Conaway, Jr. of District 40 had made homophobic comments. Equality Maryland whipped out an e-mail to lgbt constituents in the district to prod a protest, which several carried out. Later, Del. Conaway apologized, but it was clear that the power of activism cannot be understated.

This district is ripe for a grass roots lgbt advocacy organization. It includes such lgbt- populous areas as Hampden, Remington, Mount Vernon and Charles Village. In fact, according to the 2000 census, ZIP code 21218, which encompasses the neighborhoods of Abell, Guilford and Charles Village, contains the most same-sex couples than any ZIP code in the state.

"It's definitely an idea worth pursuing," said Abigail Cohen, the district’s Lobby Day coordinator. "We had a large turnout from District 40 for Lobby Day, and there were a lot of people who were very disturbed by Del. Conaway's remarks at the hearing and want to take further action. We had met with Del. Conaway on Lobby Day and he was cordial, so his later remarks came as a shock."

It shouldn’t have. According to the Baltimore Messenger, Del. Conaway had said in September that allowing civil marriage for gays and lesbians will open the floodgates to the state having to recognize other unconventional relationships, such as polygamy.

Imagine the level of influence a well-organized group in District 40 would possess. The many lgbt citizens should join forces with The P.O.R.T.A.L—an African-American lgbt center and service provider—that is also located in the district, to flex their muscles. Elected officials, such as Del. Conaway would likely pay attention.

This is how you combat apathy. You get your friends and neighbors to mobilize, join hands and fight for what’s right. It does work.