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Thursday, December 30, 2010

The OUTIES: the Best (and Worst) of 2010

The OUTIES: Best (and Worst) of 2010

By Steve Charing

Happy New Year, readers!

In keeping with the year-end tradition of columnists’ picking the best, worst and whatever, I am bringing back OUTspoken’s Best (or Worst) of 2010, or the OUTIES. It’s an unapologetic, biased, subjective, slanted list of the best (or worst in some cases) of politics, culture, the city, the state, the country and the scene. Some selections call for a brief explanation; others clearly do not.

In no particular order, welcome to the 2010 OUTIES:

Best LGBT Ally (Individual): Attorney General Douglas Gansler who is an unabashed advocate of marriage equality and issued a critical opinion that Maryland can recognize the lawful nuptials of same-sex couples from outside the state. Honorable Mention: Lady Gaga.

Best LGBT Ally (Group): Maryland Black Family Alliance who works behind the scenes to help influence the hearts and minds of intractable African-American clergy and their followers on marriage equality.

Best Baltimore LGBT Organization: Trans-United under Sandy Rawls. They actually produced results, such as meeting with then-Baltimore state’s attorney Pat Jessamy to establish a database for hate crimes tracking and organizing a moving candlelight vigil to protest hate crimes. Never before have the concerns of transgender people in Baltimore been brought to the forefront of public consciousness thanks to the work of Trans-United.

Worst Political Candidate: (Tie) Martha Coakley who lost to Republican Scott Brown for the U.S. Senate seat held by the late Ted Kennedy in Massachusetts and Robert Ehrlich who flamed out against Gov. O’Malley even when Republicans in general did well nationally.

Worst Elected Official: Many vied for this honor but John McCain is a cut above (or, in this case, below).

Best Local Political Newcomer: (Tie) Gregg Bernstein upsetting Pat Jessamy for Baltimore state’s attorney and Byron Macfarlane for squeaking out a victory over a 6-term Republican incumbent for Howard County Register of Wills.

Best Comment by an Elected Official: “For we are not a nation that says, ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ We are a nation that says, ‘Out of many, we are one.’ We are a nation that welcomes the service of every patriot. We are a nation that believes that all men and women are created equal. Those are the ideals that generations have fought for. Those are the ideals that we uphold today.”—President Obama as he concluded his speech before singing the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t tell.”

Dumbest Comment by an Elected Official: John McCain at recent Senate hearing: “If they’re mature enough to fight and die, they’re mature enough to form an opinion on who they want to serve with. I’m speaking from personal experience.” No, Senator. Troops don’t have any say as to who they serve with any more than we civilians get to choose who our co-workers are.

Best Annual Event: Pride…what else? Colorful, festive and brings community together, at least for a weekend.

Best Monthly LGBT Event: Guerilla Gay Bar Baltimore (GGBB) attracts hundreds of LGBT folks to invade a straight bar or club once a month and mix with the heteros. Almost all the time the event produces positive results and helps to encourage allies within the straight community.

Best Weekly Event: Showtunes Video Madness at the Hippo hosted by Baltimore OUTloud theatre critic Ben Ryland. You cannot head to your car afterwards without humming some song from one of the video presentations.

Best Single LGBT Event: “B’more Aware: Living Red Ribbon.” The organizers and sponsors did a splendid job in heightening awareness of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Baltimore with a powerful and moving event at Rash Field.

Best Event Gay Bar: Grand Central for their well-executed Red, White and Black parties and a multitude of other events—some to benefit LGBT organizations.

Biggest Mover and Shaker: Mark Yost, Jr., co-founder of GGBB and now heads the influential Maryland Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce and is also a member of Equality Maryland’s Board. He is a great guy, well-connected and is expected to do great things for the LGBT community.

Best LGBT Local Leader: Morgan Meneses-Sheets. Her first year at the helm at Equality Maryland was characterized by her plucky, determined and affable style. She is capable of bringing about important changes for LGBT folks in 2011.

Best Happy Hour: Leon’s. Sundays, in particular, with packed crowds and two-for-one specials, add to a gay old time.

Best Little Corner Bar: The Drinkery. Neighborhood feel, friendly service, and karaoke, where you really don’t have to sing well, makes it a fun place to hang out. Honorable Mention: The Rowan Tree.

Best Leather Bar: Leon’s Leather Lounge

Best Drag Queen: Shawnna Alexander. Funny, sassy, delightful—works hard on behalf of community organizations.

Worst Drag Queen: You think I want to get myself killed?

Best Gay-Friendly Restaurant: Many to choose from but Brewer’s Art emerges. Great food, excellent service, ambiance—total package.

Best Baltimore LGBT-Friendly Theater— Theatre Project. Honorable Mention: Spotlighters.

Best LGBT-Friendly Professional Sport: Baseball. At least there are gay days/nights.

Best TV Shows with LGBT Characters: Glee, Brothers and Sisters, and Modern Family.

Most Disappointing TV Network: Logo. Just not enough good programming.

Best Hollywood LGBT Person—(Tie) Neil Patrick Harris and Ellen Degeneres (again).

Most “Shocking” Coming Out Revelation: (Tie) Ricky Martin and Ken Mehlman

Celebrity Likely to Come Out in 2011: Anderson Cooper

Best Political Story: The repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Honorable Mentions: Attorney General Gansler’s opinion on marriage recognition and Judge Walker striking down Prop 8 in Cali.

Feel free to share your opinions by mailing them to editor@baltimoreoutloud.com. Have a great New Year!


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Holiday Wish: Obama Addresses the Nation on DADT

2010 is certainly not winding up to be President Barack Obama’s favorite year by any means. While achieving some victories, such as health care reform and Supreme Court appointments, the continued sluggishness of the economy and its inherent unemployment, the “shellacking” he endured in November’s elections and his inability to gain any traction on any of his other priorities have tormented the President on many levels.

What could be worse for him is that he not only lost, at least temporarily, independent voters as evidenced by the elections, and from the outset of his presidency he has been hammered by the right wing of the Republican Party (expected), but Obama is also allowing the progressive wing of the Democratic Party to slip away. Among them, LGBT folks, once huge supporters of the president, are disappointed and angry.

The latest struggle in dealing with the extension of the Bush tax cuts proved Obama has lost his hold on those very Democrats who pushed him over the top in 2008. He needs to get back his base. He needs to return to his core principles and his campaign promises. He needs to show some feistiness, some fight or he will be a one-term president.

One way to help fix that is a nationally televised speech from the Oval Office on the Senate’s failure to enact the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Although I am not a speechwriter, I suggest something along the following lines:

My Fellow Americans (note the “birthers” will already be snickering):

When I addressed Congress and the Nation during my State of the Union Address on January 27, I called for the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” I said, “This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are. It’s the right thing to do.”

I believed that then, and I still do. With many problems facing our country this year both at home and abroad, I focused on some immediate steps, such as reforming the health care system and doing whatever it takes to get our people back to work and our economy back on track. If I didn’t directly and aggressively push Congress on the repeal of the discriminatory policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” I do apologize, because it remains a high priority to me and my Administration.

In late May the House of Representatives did vote for the repeal of the law as did the Senate Armed Services Committee as part of a broader Defense Department spending measure.

However, key opponents of the law asked that a survey be undertaken of our troops to determine if the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” would cause significant disruption to unit cohesion, readiness and effectiveness.

That survey commissioned by the Department of Defense and conducted by the Comprehensive Review Working Group has been completed and reported earlier this month. It found that a significant majority of those troops who responded said that they would have little or no problem serving alongside a service member who is gay or lesbian. In addition, more than 9 out of 10 who were aware of gay or lesbian troops in their unit did not oppose repeal.

The repeal of this law, which has accounted for nearly 14,000 discharges of qualified, patriotic service members—many with critical skills needed for our nation’s security—has been supported by Defense Secretary Gates; Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Mullen; members of the Joint Chiefs themselves, and countless current and former military leaders, such General Colin Powell. Moreover, a vast majority of fair-minded Americans, including a majority of conservatives, are in favor of overturning this law.

To my great disappointment, despite this mounting body of support for repeal as well as the evidence contained in the Comprehensive Review Working Group report, the Senate by 3 votes failed to vote on the bill. Another attempt for repeal is underway in Congress as a stand-alone measure.

All along, I firmly believed that since “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” needs to be repealed by legislative means. Since the 1993 law was put in place by Congress, it should be overturned by Congress.

However, as Commander-in-Chief, I see this discriminatory law harmful not only to our patriotic Americans who are willing to fight and die for our country, but it also impairs our efforts in the global war on terrorism and our defense in general.

Accordingly, I have decided to take the following steps should the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” not be accomplished during this Lame Duck session of Congress:

First, as Commander-in-Chief, I am empowered during a time of war to use the measure called stop-loss. As such, effective immediately, I order that no further discharges of gay or lesbian service members be permitted under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Second, I am instructing the Justice Department to stop appealing federal court cases challenging the constitutionality of the law as these cases make their way through the judicial system.

This country was founded on the principles of equality and justice for all. To discriminate against a class of people who are otherwise qualified to serve in our military runs counter to the values for which our men and women in uniform have fought and died throughout our history to defend.

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has been a blemish on our nation, and as President of the United States, I am fulfilling my promise by ending it now and forever. Accordingly, we will now join the other 35 nations who allow gays and lesbians to serve openly in their armed forces. As I said in my State of the Union address, it is the right thing to do.

God bless you and God bless America.


Friday, December 03, 2010

Adding Muscle to Our Cause

An interview with fitness model and ‘Real World’ ally Scott Herman
By Steve Charing
You may remember Scott Herman as the aw-shucks hunk on The Real World: Brooklyn. That intense show first aired in January 2009 and featured an eclectic cast that included a Mormon, an abused woman, an Iraq veteran, gay man, a bisexual and an openly transgender woman. Scott was one of the straight people in the house.
At the age of 12, Scott began lifting weights, and then at 14, he held various jobs at Gold’s Gym in Methuen, Massachusetts. After eventually being promoted to manager, he became a personal trainer at 18 and has been training men and woman of all ages ever since.

Before moving to Brooklyn to appear on The Real World, Scott not only managed the fitness department and sales department for “Answer Is Fitness” located in North Attleboro, MA, but he also developed and ran a highly successful DJ company called “Galaxy DJ’s”. In addition to this work, Scott attended and received his BA in Business from Merrimack College in North Andover, MA. Concurrently, he acquired his real estate and financial advising licenses.

Scott’s modeling career really started to take off his senior year of college after he entered and won the Men’s Health “Iron Abs” contest in November 2007. He made a series of personal appearances and began traveling to New York City for castings and other events, and the more he became acquainted with the city, the more his interest in becoming a professional model/actor grew.

In December 2007, Scott sent his audition tape into The Real World: Brooklyn and was selected from a pool of approximately 50,000 to 70,000 applicants. He moved into the Real World house six months later and, as a result, he stayed in Manhattan. He has since relocated to New Hampshire.
Scott, 26, is also an accomplished athlete and enjoys sports such as wresting, soccer, running cross country, boxing and kickboxing. He spends his days going to castings, the gym, and updating his fitness website.
Scott Herman is also a dedicated ally in the quest for LGBT rights and recently joined the NoH8 campaign and The Trevor Project—an organization dedicated to prevent LGBT teen suicides.
Just before Thanksgiving, Scott was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to be interviewed for Baltimore OUTloud following one of his workouts to discuss his Real World experience, his career and his activism on behalf of the LGBT community.
Steve Charing: When you started lifting weights as a teenager, did you ever have any idea that you would eventually be an international celebrity—especially in the fitness world?
Scott Herman: I had no idea. My goal at the time was to become big and strong like the superheroes in my comic books that I idolized.
SC: The general public first became acquainted with you on The Real World: Brooklyn. How did that experience help transform your life?
SH: The Real World: Brooklyn gave me a crash course on social media and kind “threw” me into the middle of the entertainment world. The show allowed me to take GIANT steps in my journey to becoming who I am today by allowing me to network with a lot of great people. I was always taught to listen and learn and believe me I learned as much as I could from everyone I met!
SC: Throughout the episodes of Real World, you were one of the very few who interacted positively with the only transgender person ever to be in the cast, Katelynn. What set you apart from the other roommates?
SH: I was brought up by my parents to treat everyone I meet with respect, especially if they are good people. But I think the main difference was that I wasn’t looking to draw attention to myself or to anyone else while on the show. My goal was to go there, make some new friends, and pursue my goals whether they got me camera time or not. At the end of the day, I know what it is like to be bullied and picked on. That was the whole reason I started working out in the first place; because I was a victim of it myself. So by nature I don’t pick on others, I prefer to make new friends instead.
SC: My recollection of these episodes is that Kat seemed to have caused a lot of tension. Would you care to comment on that?
SH: Katelynn sure liked to stir the pot. I love her; she is one of my close friends, but even SHE will admit to that! Katelynn is a genius… seriously. She is extremely smart, enjoys playful banter, and knows how to make it happen (smiles).
SC: The show only offered occasional glimpses of your sculptured body. Were the producers unaware of how appealing your physique would be?
SH: I realized that the producers didn’t have too much air time with me because I wasn’t a “controversial” roommate. Maybe if I had been more outspoken I would have had more air-time, but to be honest I was still working on coming out of my shell while on the show. My season was focused on transgender awareness and Iraq Veteran “abuse,” which I think are two greater causes than how ripped my abs are (smiles). So I wasn’t bothered by it. Rather, I am blessed to have been a part of such an amazing experience.
SC: As a straight man, you have taken up LGBT equality and anti-bullying as significant causes in your life. When did you first realize that these issues were important to you?
SH: When I was 12 and was constantly picked on at school. I decided that I was going to get big and strong so that I could protect myself and my loved ones. I just don’t put up with negative people and I am not afraid to jump in the middle of any kind of bullying even if it has nothing to do with me. I take pride in being able to protect those who can’t fend for themselves. We are all here for a reason; maybe my purpose is to be a shield for those who can’t wield a sword.
SC: Having an ally such as you for LGBT issues is critical for the movement. How are you using your celebrity to effect change?
SH: I am just “being me.” By this I mean, yes I go out of my way to talk about LGBT rights; but also in my daily interactions I lead by example. My community page on Facebook has an EXTREMELY large portion that is gay male [oriented], and if they leave comments on photos saying I look good I say, “Thank you.”
I believe leading by example is just as important as talking about equality. I have also gotten involved with some amazing organizations such as The Trevor Project. I recently gave a speech at an event for the foundation and talked about how bullying was a big part of my life and that is how I can relate to the recent attacks in the LGBT community. George Takei was also a speaker there, and it was great to listen and learn from him as well. He is an amazing public speaker.
SC: Your involvement with The Trevor Project was clearly motivated by the recent spate of suicides by LGBT teens. What, in your view, is needed to combat bullying in schools and in the workplace?
SH: People need to “grow a pair.” Seriously, there is power in numbers. Straight men and woman are SO WORRIED about being labeled “GAY” that they don’t want to stick up for someone being bullied even if they know it is the right thing to do. Also, there is no HONOR or PRIDE in “turning the cheek,” or “walking away” from a bully, especially if you CAN do something about it. People need to realize that when they ignore a bully they just go find someone else to pick on. If we start to band together against the people who have hatred in their hearts then maybe they will be too scared to find another victim.
SC: As to your fitness career and your website, many theories have evolved over the years regarding weight training techniques. Would you mention some of the recent changes in thinking that you offer and what are some of the myths in weight training?
SH: The fitness industry is CONSTANTLY changing. My goal is to help people to understand that there are MILLIONS of different ways to train the body and that I am going to do my best to find experts in as many areas as possible so there will always be fun new workouts to try. But my BIGGEST pet peeve is when people think that CARDIO is the answer to weight loss. NOOOOOO, a proper MEAL PLAN and Circuit Training are the way to lose weight. So if you have questions, join the most positive community on Facebook and let us help you reach your goals!
SC: Have you kept in touch with the cast of Real World? How did Ryan eventually make out in Iraq?
SH: I talk to Chet all the time and he is doing great things. He has his own YouTube channel and does very well. He is also in the midst of starting a clothing line. I am VERY excited for him! I talk to JD and Ryan at least once a month and Baya and Katelynn too. Sarah—I haven’t heard from in a while because she has been doing challenges and Devyn—I haven’t heard from since I left NYC last September. Ryan made it out of Iraq safe and sound and is now in school, living with his new girlfriend, and traveling around the country giving speeches about his time in Iraq and promoting his book An Angel from Hell.
SC: So is there a book by Scott Herman in the future?
SH: Yeah, I’ve been thinking about it.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Is 'Glee' Sending the Right Message on Bullying?

It’s just a TV show. The characters are fictional and the plot is pure fantasy. But we all know the impact TV shows can have on societal values and beliefs. Coincidental perhaps or as a result, America’s attitudes regarding gays started to trend towards more acceptance as the hit TV sitcom Will & Grace reeled off 8 successful seasons from 1998 to 2006.

Glee, in its second full season, is a top 25 show viewed by millions of people weekly. In the commercially vital 18-49 age demographic, Glee typically lands in the top three. Therefore, its popularity is quite high, so whatever message the show is conveying, it could influence large chunks of the population.

Among the myriad subplots and musical production numbers is the story of Kurt Hummel—the only openly gay student in his McKinley High School. The role, played by Chris Colfer, is sincere and heartfelt. Since the outset of the series, Kurt has been bullied and picked on. He was thrown into a dumpster and has been mocked mainly by the stereotypical jocks in the school.

Most likely because of the recent spate of teen suicides that were linked to bullying of kids who are gay or perceived to be gay, Glee has made the bullying of Kurt a central part of the plot. In the much talked- and written-about “Never Been Kissed” episode that aired on November 9, Kurt confronts his new tormentor Dave Karofsky (Max Adler) in the locker room following his habitual shoving of Kurt in the corridors of the school as well as the accompanying name-calling.

Courageously, Kurt gives him the what-for, and the TV audience of nearly 11 million was expecting the big goon to lay a right fist across Kurt’s face. Ah, but television doesn’t always show the predictable! Instead, Karofsky plants a big wet one on Kurt’s lips, which elicited the twin reactions from Kurt of shock and repulsion.

So yet another stereotype lives on: the biggest bullies against gay kids are closeted themselves. This, of course, is a myth, and the kiss scene does nothing to dispel it. Not everyone who hates us wants to sleep with us.

The causes of bullying have various roots. Often, we find the bullies have been bullied themselves during their young lives, or even worse, abused by family members. Some have genuine self-esteem issues, and picking on a smaller, fatter, poorer or gay kid helps him or her elevate their own worth. Others ascribe the bullying of gay kids as a normal ritual in high school in an effort to be popular. But one cannot draw the conclusion that bullying of gay kids results from sexual conflicts or confusion, although undoubtedly that is a factor in some cases.

As the bullying and harassment of Kurt by Dan Karofsky continues, the taunts and threats of bodily harm seem more frequent and darker (perhaps fueled by rejection). And if Kurt ever disclosed the kissing incident, Karofsky would kill him.

As we saw in the November 23 episode titled “Furt,” Kurt is completely terrorized. He and his supportive father go to the Principal (Sue Sylvester’s character) and then members of the school board to ask for help. Without “proof” they can’t do anything to Karofsky. How no one has witnessed any of Karofsky’s actions is hard to fathom, but proof is what is needed to expel the student.

Frustrated, Sue (Jane Lynch) resigns from the position of Principal in protest as a gesture of support to Kurt.

Kurt and his Dad, as well as his new step-mom decide a transfer from McKinley H.S. to a nearby all-boys school (Dalton Academy), which has a zero-tolerance for bullying, is needed. On a romantic level, this is a good thing for Kurt since there are feelings between him and a slightly older boy in the new school, Blaine (Darren Kriss) who promised to be his “mentor.”

They had met in the same “Never Been Kissed” episode when Kurt checked out Dalton Academy (also the competition in the upcoming glee club sectionals) when he was down on his current school environment. Blaine explained to Kurt that he is the only gay kid in the school and mentioned the zero-tolerance policy towards bullying.

All-boy schools or institutions have a well-deserved reputation of being harder on homosexuality than their co-ed counterparts, so it is speculative that the environment at Dalton is realistic in that the straight boys actually embrace Blaine.

The problem I am having with the plot is the removal of Kurt from McKinley H.S. While Kurt will be presumably safer (and perhaps land him a boyfriend as a bonus), it doesn’t offer a positive and encouraging message about combating bullying. If not Kurt then some other kid—gay or straight—will be a victim soon enough. It’s more of an avoidance solution than confronting the issue head on. Problem solved for Kurt, perhaps, but not at McKinley.

Bullying occurs in most schools with varying degrees of involvement from the school system down to the faculty support staff to the kids themselves. Zero-tolerance bullying policies are excellent but are they always enforceable? Remember, there must be a witness. Are teachers trained on LGBT issues and with particular emphasis on transgender students? And what are the roles of parents concerning bullies? Are they aware of the child’s actions and they simply look the other way?

Glee is a fine TV show with a large following especially in the LGBT community. The producers’ attempt to address the serious topic of bullying is noble and should be applauded. And this storyline is yet to be completed. If nothing else it brings further awareness to the issue.

But with the use of stereotyping, are they sending the right message?