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Four Decades Along the Rainbow Road

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Here Are Some More Good Reasons to be Proud

By Steve Charing

As Baltimore’s Pride kicks off, several recent events add more to the meaning of Pride. To be sure, I reflect upon the commitment and sacrifice from thousands of activists who, through nearly four decades, have struggled to achieve equality for all gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered individuals.

I salute those who took the punches and even lost their lives, got thrown out of apartments, were fired from their jobs, and were kicked out of the military for simply being who they were born to be.

I tip my cap and thank the many LGBT organizations—both political and social—that have risen up to serve us well. Groups like the Human Rights Campaign (HRC); Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG); Equality Maryland; the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN); and the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) are just a few among the myriad organizations that have been on the battlefield to fight for our rights and to combat the hate and prejudice that ignorance produces.

These taken together would be sufficient to provide good reasons to celebrate Pride. Yet there are more.

California Dreaming
Our friends in California, thanks to a favorable ruling by the state’s Supreme Court, opened the door to tens of thousands of same-sex marriages. This is awesome! Previously only Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage and had done so since 2004. And guess what? The institution of marriage did not disintegrate as some fools predicted. The sky did not fall. When Larry and Eddie got married, there was no rush for straight couples to seek divorce. In fact, Massachusetts enjoys the lowest divorce rate in the country.

And on to California we march. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom selected Phyllis Lyon, 84, and Del Martin, 87—lovers of 55 years—to be among the first California couples to take advantage of this ruling. On June 16, he officiated a private ceremony in his City Hall office before 50 invited guests (pictured). Mayor Newsom did so in recognition of the couple’s long relationship and their lifetime work to achieve justice for gays and lesbians. My dream and hope is that we can share the same joy here in Maryland some day.

Massachusetts and California are paving the way. It’s a reason to be proud.

Obama More than Historic
The Democratic Party and its voters served this nation well when Sen. Barack Obama emerged as the presumptive nominee. While it is too soon to predict the ultimate results, I am proud that for the first time in our history an African-American will represent the party in the fall. We will not exactly know how much racism will play a part in the campaign and the election to determine how far we have come as a people. But the fact that Obama is there and will be, at the very least, extremely competitive with Sen. John McCain, speaks volumes.

For the LGBT community, it goes beyond the historic significance. With Barack Obama we will have for the very first time a candidate and hopefully a president, who will do his best to end the discrimination that still exists.

In an open letter to the gay community Obama asserted, "As president I will place the weight of my administration behind the enactment of the Matthew Shepard Act to outlaw hate crimes and pass a fully inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act to outlaw workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity."

"I will never compromise on my commitment to equal rights for all LGBT Americans," Obama wrote in the letter. "But neither will I close my ears to the voices of those who still need to be convinced. That is the work we must do to move forward together. It is difficult. It is challenging. And it is necessary."

He added, "As your president, I will use the bully pulpit to urge states to treat same-sex couples with full equality in their family and adoption laws."

Obama reiterated his pledge to do what it takes to end the "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" military policy against gays and lesbians and supports the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act.

Steve Hildebrand, Obama’s deputy campaign manager and who himself is gay, said lesbian musician Melissa Etheridge would serve as co-chair of the campaign’s 50-state voter registration program. The campaign is hiring other lgbt individuals to join the cause as well.
Obama’s historic run and his commitment to LGBT equality offer another reason to be proud.

Rising from the Ashes
Finally, the news of the fire that burned through the roof of Grand Central earlier in the month failed to mention the fact that the offices of this newspaper were destroyed. Baltimore OUTloud has rented third floor space at Grand Central for the past two years, and the fire rapidly swept through and gutted furniture, files, supplies and equipment including computers and telephones.

Undeterred, publisher Mike Chase and the partners in OUTloud’s parent company, Pride Media as well as other members of the staff, were determined to publish this and future issues. It is a credit to them and their commitment to providing information to the lgbt community that they would persevere by overcoming the absence of office space from which to operate, having to deal with insurance issues, and searching for new office space. They have since acquired new space in Mt. Vernon. And despite all of the challenges, these folks managed to publish this issue in time for Pride.

It’s still another reason to be proud.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

McCain Mimics Bush's Policies

Letter published in the

June 5, 2008 edition of The Baltimore Sun

Douglas MacKinnon did his very best as a partisan of Sen. John McCain to spin the Republican's prospects for an electoral victory over Sen. Barack Obama in November. But he missed the mark ("Tying McCain to Bush," Commentary, June 2).

He argued that while President Bill Clinton's efforts in 1996 to tie Bob Dole to the unpopular Newt Gingrich were successful, the effort by Mr. Obama to link Mr. McCain to President Bush will fail.

I don't see why that should be the case.

In most major areas involving the economy and foreign policy, Mr. McCain is in lock step with the Bush administration, and a win for Mr. McCain would clearly represent, in effect, a third term for Mr. Bush.

Unfortunately for Mr. McCain, these policies are loathed by a majority of Americans. And the fact that Mr. Bush is helping Mr. McCain raise money only strengthens the link between them.

Mr. MacKinnon predicted that Americans will rally around Mr. McCain because of his valiant war service, which is lauded by voters of both parties.But heroic military service does not always translate into a November victory. Just ask Sen. John Kerry and Mr. Dole.

Steve Charing
Clarksville, MD

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Taking Stock at Pride

Celebrating much progress but we have a long way to go

By Steve Charing

It has been nearly four full decades since the Stonewall uprising erupted against the New York police during that iconic steamy weekend in June. A vast majority of the Pride-goers in Baltimore who will be attending the traditional parade, block party and festival the weekend of June 21-22 have no recollection of that incident, which symbolically transformed the gay rights movement. Sadly, of those who are aware of it, many do not appreciate its historic significance or even care. But they have indeed benefited from the progress that resulted.

At the time of "Stonewall" most gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered individuals lived shadowy, closeted and fearful lives. If they were discovered, many would be fired from their jobs, kicked out of apartments and disowned by their families. Touching or dancing with each other in gay establishments was against the law. Bar raids were commonplace. So were beatings.

Since those dark, rainbow-less days, there has been monumental progress. Attitudes towards the lgbt population are slowly improving. Sodomy laws were struck down by the Supreme Court. Many states, local governments, corporations and universities have anti-discrimination laws on the books. Two states now permit the heretofore unthinkable: same-sex marriage.

Young people are coming out at an earlier age with a plethora of resources and support groups to turn to as they make this acknowledgement. Even straight young people are accepting lgbt folks with increasing regularity; they are indeed our most valued allies for paving the way for future progress.

Politicians are now coming out of the closet and are filling legislative and executive seats in greater numbers. For the first time, presidential candidates support recognition of same-sex couples, even if they cannot bring themselves to favor marriage.

During the ensuing years since Stonewall, lgbt organizations, books, magazines, newspapers and websites have sprouted up like April’s dandelions. Television shows, movies and theater routinely portray lgbt characters in a positive light instead of the stereotypical brooding, suicidal, depressed souls as had been depicted years ago.

Yes, we should take stock of our progress during Pride weekend. But please know we still have a long way to go.

To many in society and in government, despite the gains, we remain second-class citizens. Except for Massachusetts and now California, gays and lesbians do not enjoy the over 1,300 rights and benefits that marriage confers on heterosexual couples. Our nation has no problem allowing murderers, rapists, child molesters and bank robbers to marry, but gays and lesbians are denied the privilege.

Our current president saw fit to use time during a State of the Union speech to push for a constitutional amendment that would forever ban same-sex marriage. Had it been successful, it would have marked the first and only occasion where discrimination was enshrined in our nation’s most hallowed document.

Further insults to the lgbt community are hurled in the form of the abominable "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy that prevents openly gay and lesbian servicemembers from defending their country. As the military struggles to maintain adequate troop levels during this detestable war in Iraq, the Pentagon has lowered the entrance standards to allow ex-cons, drug abusers and those with below-standard intelligence to represent the U.S. in battle. Even non-citizens of the U.S. are permitted to fight. But not gay folks.

Exemplary performing gays and lesbians—especially those with much-needed linguistic skills—have been discharged under the policy, which hurts us in the war on terror. To the military and many elected officials, gays and lesbians are the lowest of the low.

We still do not have a national law that protects lgbt people from discrimination in workplace hiring and promotions. It is a stain on our country that work performance takes a back seat to prejudice and religious dogma.

And we cannot openly walk hand-in-hand with our loved one in most places lest we get smacked over the head with a baseball bat. Hate crimes legislation to include attacks on lgbt people is stalled in Congress.

These are the reasons we must continue to fight. With an Obama administration and a more heavily tilted Democratic Congress, there would be hope that the Employment Non-discrimination Act and the Hate Crimes bills may have a better chance of passage. There should also be movement to end Don’t’ Ask, Don’t Tell.

We must continue to work with our legislators—both local and national—to make them aware of the harm these discriminatory policies have caused us and the nation. We should not ever, ever think of ourselves as second-class citizens and should be proud of our accomplishments and our contributions to our neighborhoods, to our places of employment and to society.

We have made much progress over the 39 years since Stonewall. We have traveled the uncertain road from rejection to tolerance to acceptance. And now full equality is clearly within our grasp.

There is reason to be optimistic if we can attract more people, especially young people, to be involved in the struggle. We should reflect on what we have gone through, where we are today, and where we want to be tomorrow. This is what Pride should be about—not just the partying and the hoopla. Let’s be proud. Let’s acknowledge that we should not take a back seat to anyone.
Happy Pride!