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.
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.