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Four Decades Along the Rainbow Road

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Cruise on the Oasis Had Baltimore Feel

When Cruise Planners and Baltimore OUTloud assembled a group of a couple of dozen to sail on Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas—the largest cruise ship in the world—we all thought we'd be leaving Charm City behind for a week beginning September 18. And there were reasons to believe that. The ship had over 6,000 passengers representing 80 different countries plus an international cadre of over 3,000 crew and staff. The ship visited the ports-of-call in the Western Caribbean Labadee, a Royal Caribbean International-owned peninsula on Haiti; Costa Maya and Cozumel—both in Mexico. None of these resembled Baltimore.

And yet, it did not take too long to find out that Baltimore was a recurring theme. First off, the event was arranged by Glen Burnie-based Cruise Planners (www.BelleCruises.com, 410-760-1589) who brought together gay and straight passengers including OUTloud's Leather columnist Rodney and his partner Steve. Cruise Planners booked our rooms and dining preferences, held a tour of the ship and hosted a couple of cocktail parties for the group.

There was the fabulous production of Hairspray—a theatrical marvel that is set in Baltimore and is based on Baltimore's own John Waters original movie. As an aside, the talented cast, staging and costuming were Broadway caliber. Special kudos go to the leads Tara Siesaner as Tracy, who possesses an amazing voice and hot looking Tommaso Antico, who played the male lead, Link Larkin. Link, if you remember, is a character that the girls drooled over (and so did some of the boys).

Not only did Antico offer a solid dose of eye candy, but he also is an extraordinary dancer and vocalist in his own right. Moreover, he played in the touring production of Hairspray when it visited Baltimore's Hippodrome Theatre a couple of years ago.

Also, the vocal performances of Tim Singleton (Edna), Joel Walker (Seaweed), April Monte (Penny), Robin Myles (Motor Mouth) and Mark Petit (Corny Collins) were outstanding.

Another theatrical extravaganza, Come Fly With Me, was simply breath-taking.

Then there was one of the two stand-up comics on board, Baltimore's own Rodney Johnson. He was hilarious as he focused his act on the inadvertent comedic behavior of the passengers. Trust me, there was enough material to cover a 4-hour set. The other comic, Al Romas, who was a little raunchier but quite effective as he parodied relationships, particularly married couples.

And if that wasn't enough Baltimore, the headliner act was native Baltimorean and veteran performer Tony Tillman. Tillman in a musical and comedy show kept the mood upbeat with his sparkling personality and singing talent. The climax occurred at the end when he paid tribute to his old hero and friend, Sammy Davis, Jr. with a moving rendition of the classic Mr. Bojangles.

Although this is classified as a "straight cruise," (which is different from the Atlantis or RSVP all gay, all-the-time adventures), there are a lot of opportunities for our LGBT friends. For one thing, Royal Caribbean is extremely gay-friendly, and a good portion of the crew is over the rainbow.

That leads me to the "Friends of Dorothy" get togethers. That code phrase is used, as it was pre-Stonewall, to identify as gay without explicitly saying so. A Community Bulletin Board, not unlike OUTloud's, is posted in the Guest Relations area where events, meetings and socials are announced. Someone arranged for "Friends of Dorothy" to meet every midnight at the Champagne Bar.

From there our group doubled in size as folks from Boston to Wichita and from New Orleans to Michigan as well as the U.K. gathered to make new friends and hang out and even dance together on the ship's Disco floor. I am assuming the moniker "Friends of Dorothy" is still being used to prevent would-be "critics" of the LGBT community from disrupting the pleasantries.

Being on a cruise ship this size seemed like living in a gigantic shopping mall/hotel and restaurant complex/playground on water. This mega-ship had its own Central Park, an ice-skating rink, a carousel, rock climbing wall, basketball courts, miniature golf, several swimming pools and spas, a complete gym, a two-story theatre, an Aquatheater where an amazing diving and acrobatic show took place, an entertainment area, a promenade, a Zip Line, Flow Rider surf simulators, numerous specialty restaurants plus its lavish dining rooms, night clubs and, of course, a casino with slots and table games. There is always something going on and you can choose to do whatever you want or simply do nothing.

The Oasis of the Seas is in its inaugural season. A twin ship, Allure of the Seas, will be ready to set sail in December.

A good time was had by all if one can judge by the smiles on people's faces. With all that distance traveled we still felt Baltimore in our presence. You can't get homesick that way.


Thursday, September 16, 2010

30 Years and it Seems Like Yesterday

This issue marks my 30th anniversary writing for the gay press in Baltimore. I know, "how can that be? You look 29!" Yeah, I get that all the time. But the fact is, it's true. I've been writing longer than some of our writers have been on Earth.

My first article (pictured) was about New Hope, PA in September 1980. To prove how long ago it was I predicted this locale would be a potential hot spot for the gay and lesbian community, and explained I left early on a Sunday to return home to visit the Baltimore City Fair. Ancient history here.

Writing was not a new endeavor for me as I had previously written for my college newspaper and in the military. I wanted to pen for the gay press, however.

I typed the New Hope review on an electric typewriter (remember what that was?). I handed in a hard copy to the then chair of the newspaper committee, Jeff McCrae, who ran The Gay Paper. I was in the closet then and didn't include my full name—just my first name and initial of my last name, as others writers typically did at the time.

It was during the pre-computer era that The Gay Paper was put together manually by using cardboard panels, X-Acto knives and hot wax. Text was produced on galleys from typesetting machines. Oh, how the process has transformed!

My next article was about the new volleyball league that formed in Baltimore. Then I proceeded to write about a wide range of other subjects to gain experience in other areas. I covered everything from ballet to murders. I reported on the crackdown on hustling in Patterson Park and critiqued books, theatre and television. I wrote about antiques, sports as it related to our issues, travel and politics at all levels of government.

Three years after my first article I became the editor or principal co-chair of the publication and re-named it Baltimore Gay Paper. We continued to toil with the crude tools at our disposal. But the horror for us as volunteers was that we were obliged to work in the dank, window-less firetrap known as the basement of the GLCCB—a situation that I couldn't tolerate anymore; therefore, I left but continued as a journalist for the paper.

The topics for stories covered over the past 30 years have varied, of course, but we are still dealing with HIV/AIDS, harassment towards LGBT people, police and government relations, health, entertainment, violence, hatred, and the ongoing struggle for equal rights and acceptance. Alas, some of these battles never seem to terminate.

While at Baltimore OUTloud, I launched my "OUTspoken" column and blog with the same name to offer commentary on politics as well as other topics affecting our community.

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.

Thirty 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 bi-weekly which makes the news more current, but it's still not as up-to-date as one would like. Production and editorial costs for these free newspapers render a weekly publication impractical at this time.

There was a sense of apathy among the gay community early on which remains today, perhaps more so. Not only does this prevent members of the community from being informed about current issues, it hurts our cause since there is a great need for grass-roots advocacy to realize our goals.

People will casually pick up the gay newspapers at gay bars, bookstores, cafes, markets and other distribution points, as they did 30 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.

I am concerned that young LGBT individuals who have been raised on the Internet see no value in LGBT newspapers. If in fact they do have some interest in LGBT news, they probably get it from blogs, or some other web-based news service.

When I was asked to be Managing Editor of Baltimore OUTloud in the spring of 2009, I understood these challenges. I have made every effort to assemble a staff of dedicated writers who are diverse and talented and could appeal to every demographic. My goal has always been to offer our community excellence in local news coverage and to ensure there will be something for everybody within our pages.

For centuries, newspapers have provided an invaluable opportunity to read what one is interested in and skip those articles 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.

What hasn't changed throughout this 30-year journey is that my husband Bob has been with me every step of the way.


Sunday, September 05, 2010

When Coming Out, Timing Could Be Everything

Former Chairman of the Republican National Committee Ken Mehlman finally decided it was convenient for him to come out. He did so last month to Marc Ambinder, a blogger for The Atlantic. This was a Clay Aiken or Ricky Martin moment in that it was not a shocker that Ken Mehlman was gay. The difference is that these two singers never actively harmed LGBT individuals or families by overseeing policies and campaign strategies that demeaned gays. Mehlman did.

Besides his role at the RNC, Mehlman served in the first Bush Administration as White House Political Director. In 2004 he was the general chairman of the Bush reelection campaign. In this capacity, Mehlman oversaw the placement of anti-gay marriage amendments on the ballots of 11 states in 2004 to stoke fears among conservatives about same-sex marriage in an effort to drive up voter turnout and donations.

Many have credited (or blamed) this effort for the higher-than-normal turnout in Ohio that swung the state in Bush's favor, which was the tipping point of the 2004 election. He also orchestrated the failed strategy to pass the Federal Marriage Amendment—a cynical attempt to permanently enshrine bigotry against gays and lesbians—into the U.S. Constitution.

Despite Mehlman's occasional denials through the years that he was gay or his unwillingness to answer directly if he was straight, his being gay was an "open secret" in Washington, D.C. circles. Rumors were running rampant as far back as several years ago, and his unwillingness to address the issue fanned the flames, so to speak. Still, he continued as one of the most influential GOP operatives until the party lost badly in 2006 when he left.

His recent revelation was an attempt to conceal his past, closeted as it may be. “At least for me, it wasn’t like there was a light-bulb moment,” said Mehlman, a former Pikesville resident and who is now a partner and head of global public affairs for Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, a private equity firm. “The reality is, it’s taken me 43 years to come to terms with this part of my life.”

Even more disingenuous was his comment that if he were out, he could have held back the attacks on gays. Truth be told, had been out then, he wouldn't have been chair of the Republican National Committee.

Well the damage has been done, and now he wants to make amends by helping a group, the American Foundation for Equal Rights, which was formed last year to support a legal challenge to Proposition 8.

Some activists, such as blogger Michael Rogers who writes on blogActive.com, which has the objective to out closeted gay officials who promote anti-gay policies, are not satisfied.

"I want to hear from Ken that he is sorry for being the architect of the 2004 Bush reelection campaign," writes Rogers. "I want to hear from Ken that he is sorry for his role in developing strategy that resulted in George W. Bush threatening to veto ENDA or any bill containing hate crimes laws. I want to hear from Ken that he is sorry for the pressing of two Federal Marriage Amendments as political tools. I want to hear from Ken that he is sorry for developing the 72-hour strategy, using homophobic churches to become political arms of the GOP before Election Day."

Mary Cheney, the lesbian daughter of the former vice-president, is another tool. While her father and Bush were seeking re-election and all those anti-gay marriage amendments were part of the 2004 election landscape, Ms. Cheney was silent. She could have spoken out against these initiatives either publicly or privately because her father's party was relegating her and her partner to second-class citizenship. Who would have blamed her? Fearing such potentially damaging publicity, especially from someone who was actively working on the campaign, the GOP clearly was in prevent-defense mode by making her virtually invisible during the 2004 Republican Convention.

But her silence was deafening until…she emerged on a bookselling tour to make Mary Cheney rich. That was the moment she decided to publicly come out for marriage equality safely after the election. Here is where opportunism, greed and hypocrisy intersect. David Letterman called her out on this while she was a guest on his show. He asked that important question: why wait for the book tour? She was befuddled, and couldn't mumble a coherent answer while the audience cheered at an ear-splitting level.

This wasn't a matter of Mary Cheney's coming out of the closet as Ken Mehlman did; it was more about the timing of her "activism." Regardless, neither of these individuals came forward in time to do us any good, or in Mehlman's situation, to prevent any harm.

The more people that do come out of the closet, the better it is for us as we strive for equality and non-discrimination. Friends, neighbors, co-workers, business contacts, family members—all those touching our lives—are more apt to support us if they know us personally. This widens the circle of those affected by pro- and anti-gay policies so politicians are mistaken if they think it is limited strictly to the LGBT population. That is why we should welcome those who have taken that step.

But sometimes, as in the case of Ken Mehlman, the timing of the decision is more important than the decision itself.