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Four Decades Along the Rainbow Road

Friday, December 28, 2012

2012: The LGBT Year in Review

Gov. O'Malley signs marriage bill into law
The year 2012, as in the case of any year, had its ups and downs.  We saw historic struggles ending up with historic victories.  We saw heroes and villains aplenty.  We went through a rough and tumble expensive presidential election.  We witnessed triumphs and natural disasters.  And we ended up experiencing the effects of the horrific slaughter of innocent little kids and brave adults in Newtown during the heart of the Christmas season.
For the LGBT community, the quest for marriage equality in Maryland—putting gays and lesbians and their families on an equal footing with our heterosexual counterparts—was clearly the top story as chronicled in the events below.  The eight-year struggle, which at times seemed nearly impossible to attain, culminated in a decisive victory for equality.  For transgender rights, there were mixed results.
As we take a look back at this past year, we recognize that the marriage success isn’t the final chapter of the story but just the beginning as there is so much more work left to do.  But 2012 was a watershed year for our community, and amidst the horrors of the tragedies that beset humanity, we should celebrate our achievements and work towards making 2013 better than 2012.

.  Various leaders of Maryland’s transgender community met with Gary Maynard, the state’s Secretary of Public Safety and Correctional Services, in Towson to discuss improving the safety of transgender persons who are incarcerated.
.  As the 2012 Maryland General Assembly got underway, Del. Mary Washington introduced a bill in the House of Delegates taking effect in October that would criminalize harassment and bullying using electronic and social media including Facebook.

.  A statewide gender identity anti-discrimination bill was introduced in the Senate.

.  A bill to legalize same-sex marriage was introduced in both houses.

.  A bill introduced to the Baltimore County Council by Councilman Tom Quirk to protect county residents from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity passed.
.  The Maryland Corporate Council, a non-profit organization to promote networking among LGBT businesses and professionals, was launched in Baltimore.

.  The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Conference on Creating Change was held in Baltimore with NAACP president Benjamin Jealous as the keynote speaker with additional remarks made by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Mrs. Kate O’Malley.

.  An estimated 300 opponents of same-sex marriage—mostly clergy—gathered at Lawyers Mall in Annapolis to protest the marriage bill.


.  The LGBT community celebrated Black History Month.
.  The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down California’s Proposition 8—a ban on same-sex marriage—as unconstitutional.
Lobby Day

.  Governor O’Malley addressed the annual Lobby Day gathering of at least 500 at Lawyers Mall with the emphasis clearly on marriage equality.
.  The third annual Bmore Proud conference took place at UMBC whereby over 200 LGBT students and allies representing 10 Baltimore area colleges and universities participated with Del. Mary Washington as the keynote speaker.
.   New Jersey Governor Chris Christie vetoed a marriage equality bill passed by the state legislature.
.  The Maryland Senate and House of Delegates passed a measure that would legalize same-sex marriage in the state as celebratory emotions poured out through both chambers as the votes were announced.
.  The legislature failed to take up a gender identity anti-discrimination bill.
.  Seventeen year-old Trayvon Martin was gunned down in Sanford, FL by George Zimmerman prompting anger and protests from the LGBT community.

.  The LGBT community celebrated Women’s History Month.
.  Governor Martin O’Malley signed the Civil Marriage Protection Act into law in front of hundreds of cheering supporters.
.    The Maryland Marriage Alliance, opponents of the marriage equality law, begins efforts to gather sufficient signatures to petition the law to referendum.
.   Dante Parrish was convicted of murdering gay 15 year–old Jason Mattison, Jr. and was sentenced in April to life without parole.
.  The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) names Chad Griffin as the new president whose tenure would take effect in June.
.  A “White Pride” group with anti-gay messaging had formed at Towson University and was met with protests and a student forum to discuss concerns.
.  Governor O’Malley spoke to 365 Catholics at a New Ways Ministry symposium in Baltimore where he touted the Civil Marriage Protection Act and promoted equality.
.  A New Jersey jury found Dharun Ravibach guilty in connection with the suicide of gay fellow Rutgers student Tyler Clementi and was sentenced  in May to 30 days in jail.
.  AIDS Action Baltimore celebrated its 25th anniversary with a gala at the Four Seasons Hotel in Baltimore.

.  HRC obtained a secret document from the National organization for Marriage which disclosed its strategy of driving a wedge between African-Americans and the LGBT community on marriage equality.

.  An effort to secure enough signatures to kill the gender identity anti-discrimination law in Baltimore County through a referendum failed.
.  The semi-annual Gender EDGE Collective attracted a gathering at Red Emmas’s Bookstore Coffeehouse to help empower gender variant and queer individuals through art and creativity.
.  GLSEN-Baltimore sponsored the Students of Color Organizing Conference at the Sheraton Baltimore City Center.
.  President Obama criticized the Minnesota marriage amendment characterizing it as divisive and discriminatory.
.  Former Senator Rick Santorum, known for his anti-gay views, dropped out of the GOP primary leaving the field open for former governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney.
.  Baltimore Archbishop Designate William Lori publicly vowed he would work to overturn the law that would legalize same-sex marriage through referendum.
.  Marylanders for Marriage Equality announced that Josh Levin, a native of Chicago, would head up the campaign to defeat the expected referendum aimed at overturning the Civil marriage Protection Act.
.  Former Maryland governor Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr. predicted in a column in the Baltimore Sun the marriage law would fail as a result of a prospective referendum.
.  The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has determined that job bias against employees on the basis of gender identity amounts to sex discrimination under existing law.
.  Retiring gay Congressman Barney Frank called Mitt Romney’s anti- gay views “despicable.”
.  Moveable Feast was recognized for its community service by receiving the first annual William Donald Schaefer Helping People Award.

.  The Gay & Lesbian Community Center of Baltimore started a comprehensive strategic planning process facilitated by Odette Ramos, president and CEO of Strategic Management Consulting, LLC.
.  Voters in North Carolina approved an anti-gay constitutional amendment that bans same-sex marriage.
.  The Den, which serves as a safe space for LGBTQ youth ages 13-24, opened at the GLCCB.
.  Three days following Vice President Joe Biden’s revelation on Meet the Press that he supports marriage equality President Obama completed his “evolution” and announced on ABC News that he thinks “same-sex couples should be able to get married.”
.  The Maryland Court of Appeals by a unanimous 7-0 vote ruled that same-sex couples legally married in other states and D.C. may obtain divorces in Maryland.
.  The NAACP issued a resolution supporting marriage equality.
.  Former Secretary of State Colin Powell voiced his support for marriage equality.
.  Opponents of same-sex marriage in Maryland surpassed the requisite number of signatures to place the law on the ballot in November for the voters to decide in a referendum.
.  TransPride drew nearly 150 to Southwest D.C. in the 6th annual event.
.  A U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California declared Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional for violating equal protection rights.
.  Over 50 marriage equality advocates from various PFLAG chapters in Maryland met in Columbia for a strategy briefing.
.  Rookie Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III was among a dozen NFL players who said they would welcome a gay teammate.

.  DeSean Bowman, a young African-American gay man was killed in East Baltimore prompting a vigil with the Guardian Angels and LGBT leaders to take place in July.
.  President Obama proclaimed June Pride Month and included marriage equality in his proclamation.

.  Pride events took place throughout the world with Baltimore’s Pride featuring the traditional parade that was preceded by a high-heels race, block party and festival.
.  PFLAG Mom June Horner of Sykesville, Md. was selected to be the Baltimore Pride parade’s Grand Marshal.
.  Stefany Hoyer Hemmer, the daughter of Rep. Steny Hoyer, came out as lesbian.
.  The GLCCB announced that board president Trevor Ankeny has been replaced by Bud Beehler as part of a revamping of the Center’s leadership.
.  Mollie Olgin and Kristene Chapa, a lesbian couple, were shot in a Texas park.
.  The second annual Diversity Weekend took place in Westminster, Md.
.  Former Miss Phoenix (bar) Michael Joseph Root who performed as Michelle Rose passed away at his Ocean City home at the age of 46.
.  Marylanders for Marriage Equality—the group leading the effort to defend the marriage equality law—opened offices in Baltimore and Silver Spring and began hiring staff.
.  More than 20 statewide LGBT groups including Equality Maryland met with Administration officials at the White House on federal initiatives and policy changes that would benefit the LGBT community.
.  Exodus International, an ‘ex-gay’ group admits there is no ‘cure’ for being gay.

.  Washington County in Western Maryland began offering partnership benefits to employees who legally married their same-sex partner in other states and D.C.
.  Popular TV journalist Anderson Cooper came out in an email to blogger Andrew Sullivan that said, in part, “The fact is, I’m gay.”
.  The Club Hippo, Maryland’s largest gay bar, celebrated its 40th anniversary.
.  Barney Frank, the first openly gay sitting member of Congress, married his partner Jim Ready.
.  Fourth of July parades and events around the state featured advocates for marriage equality.
.   Attorney Aaron Merki was named executive director of Free State Legal Project, a Baltimore-based organization serving the legal needs of the low-income LGBT community.

.  The International AIDS Conference drew over 30,000 in D.C. with former President Clinton among the speakers.
.  Longtime Baltimore LGBT activist Lisa Polyak announced her resignation as chair of the Equality Maryland board of directors.
.  Many pro-marriage equality advocates were stunned to see people they knew including family members who were listed as those who signed the petition to place the marriage law on the ballot.
.  Sally Ride, the first female astronaut died from pancreatic cancer at the age of 61 left Tam O’Shaughnessy, her same-sex partner of 27 years, as her survivor. 

.  Gay rights activists staged a National same-sex kiss day at Chick-fil-A in response to the company’s CEO Dan Cathy’s opposition to same-sex marriage, the company’s donations to anti-marriage equality organizations, and to demonstrators who “appreciated” the chain.
.  The annual Chesapeake Pride festival took place at Mayo Beach in Anne Arundel County.
.  A gay man, Joseph Alexander “Alex” Ulrich, Jr., 40, was shot to death near the Belvedere Hotel and Lawrence R. Peterson, 56, was critically wounded in an apparent robbery attempt.  A suspect was apprehended three weeks later.
.  Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney selected Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who opposes same-sex marriage, to be his running mate.
.  Light Brigade Maryland held its first of two dozen pro-marriage equality events at the Dulaney Valley Road Bridge over the Baltimore beltway.
.  The Republican platform includes a federal constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
. Todd Akin, who has a long anti-gay record in Congress and is running for U.S. Senate in Missouri, said a woman can resist pregnancy after a “legitimate rape.” 
.  Del Maggie McIntosh joined the Marylanders for Marriage Equality campaign to handle its strategic decision-making.
.  Del. Mary Washington, the first ever openly gay African-American legislator in Maryland, was awarded the David Bohnett LGBT Leadership Fellowship at the Harvard Kennedy School in Boston.
.  Anti-gay Delegate Emmett C. Burns, Jr. wrote a letter to Steve Bisciotti, the owner of the Baltimore Ravens, protesting linebacker Brandon Ayanbadejo’s support for marriage equality.

.  Several openly gay delegates spoke before the Democratic National Convention, and marriage equality was included in the Party’s platform.
.  Governor O’Malley attended a star-studded fundraiser in New York to help defend Maryland’s marriage law in the referendum and later stated the campaign needs another $2 million.
.  Rev. Al Sharpton was among a group of prominent black clergy that urged Maryland voters to support the state’s same-sex marriage law while another group of pastors held a dueling news conference advocating for the law’s repeal.
.  Former Pittsburgh Pirates owner Kevin McClatchy who is the chairman of the nation’s third largest newspaper company has come out, saying he hopes it will spark change.
.  California Gov. Jerry Brown signed an executive order banning reparative therapy aimed at changing the sexual orientation of a minor from gay to straight.

.  The LGBT community celebrated Gay History Month.
.  Entering its 10th year, Baltimore Black Pride held a week-long celebration of black LGBT life and culture with workshops, galas and spiritual services.
.  Keith “Ebony” Holt, Lea Gilmore, Dale Guy Madison and the community organization AIRS received Black Pride Awards.
.  Ravens center Matt Birk publicly expressed his opposition to same-sex marriage.
.  The Spotlighters Theatre marked its 50th anniversary with the presentation of Bus Stop.
.  A transgender student was suspended then reinstated after a fight with another student at Patapsco High School.
.  Julian Bond, the former chair and current Chairman Emeritus of the NAACP recorded an ad in the Baltimore and D.C. markets to present his support for the marriage law.
.  Hopkins alum Mayor Bloomberg donates $250,000 to Maryland marriage effort.
.  Former Senator Arlen Specter, a pro-LGBT rights advocate, died at the age of 82.
. Angela McCaskill was placed on leave by Gallaudet University from her job as a diversity officer after it was revealed she signed an anti-gay marriage petition.
.  Fox 45 News held town hall on marriage equality.
.  TV ads from Marylanders for Marriage Equality included Rev. Donte Hickman, Rev. Delman Coates and others to offset the Maryland Marriage Alliance ads.
.  Hurricane Sandy struck the East Coast wreaking havoc and causing billions of dollars in damage along the New Jersey shoreline and NYC.
.  Baltimore hosted the annual Out & Equal Workplace Advocates Summit at the Convention Center.

.  President Obama, the most pro-LGBT president in history was reelected to a second term.

.  Question 6 succeeded in Maryland by a 52-48 percent margin thereby upholding the marriage equality law and becoming the 7th state plus D.C. to legalize same-sex marriage.
.  Baltimore City, Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Howard, Fredrick and Montgomery counties provided margin of victory.
.  Maine and Washington voters also supported marriage equality at the ballot box joining Maryland on Election Night.
.  Minnesota voters defeated an anti-gay marriage amendment to their Constitution.
.  Marriage advocates in Maryland celebrate historic victory with parties throughout the state.
. Pro-LGBT rights Democrat John Delaney ousted Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, a 20 year Congressman.
.  Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin was elected as the first open lesbian to the U.S. Senate was among a total of 6 openly gay candidates who were elected to Congress.
.  Openly gay Del. Heather Mizeur (D-Montgomery) considers a run for governor in 2014.
.  Stacie Laughton, a New Hampshire Democrat, became the first openly transgender person elected to a statewide office in the U.S.
.  The 14th annual International Transgender Day of Remembrance was observed at the First Unitarian Church of Baltimore.
.  Equality Maryland put forth their post-marriage agenda.
.  Marylanders for Marriage Equality raised nearly $6 million to defend the marriage law in the referendum.

.  The LGBT Community observed World AIDS Day on the first.
.  Pennsylvania State Representative Mike Fleck, a Republican, came out as a gay man.
.  The American Psychiatric Association removed being transgender from its list of mental disorders.
.  The Supreme Court announced it would hear the cases on California’s Proposition 8 and a section of the Defense of Marriage Act.
.  Maryland began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples which can be effective as soon as Jan. 1, 2013.
.  Catholic University declines to recognize LGBT group.
.  Saba becomes first Caribbean island to legalize same-sex marriage.
.  Longtime pro-LGBT rights Democratic Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii died at the age of 88.
.  Twenty children and six adults were massacred in Newtown, CT prompting many LGBT folks to demand action on gun control legislation and improvements to the mental health system.
.  Sen. Barbara Mikulski was appointed as the first woman to chair the prestigious Senate Appropriations Committee.

.  Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich shifted his position on marriage for same-sex couples, urging Republicans to heed public opinion and move toward acceptance of the freedom to marry.

.  The Centers for Disease Control and Infection reported that the new HIV infection rate among young gay and bisexual men rose by 22 percent between 2008 and 2010.

.  Anti-gay Del. Donald H. Dwyer was charged in connection with a boating accident in August that sent several people to the hospital.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

'Billy Elliot' Will Dance into Your Heart

Photo by Doug Blemker
The last thing macho Jackie Elliot needed was his 11 year-old son Billy hoping to be a ballet dancer. After all, Mr. Elliot is widowed, a miner about to go on a protracted strike in a grimy English coal mining town in 1984, struggling to make ends meet while heading a household that includes his two sons and their grandmother, and where gender stereotypes are always in the forefront.  But that’s exactly what Dad is confronted with, and that dilemma forms the central theme for the astounding production of Billy Elliott the Musical now playing at the Hippodrome Theatre.
Billy is forced to take boxing lessons by his Dad because that’s what young men are expected to do in that part of the country.  Like his grown-up brother Tony, Billy is assumed to follow in his father’s footsteps and enter the mines.  But the paradigm dissolves when Billy stumbles into a ballet class following his boxing lesson.  There he meets dance instructor Mrs. Wilkinson who persuades him to join the heretofore all girls class and perform some steps.

Billy discovers he has a talent for dancing, and this is how he hopes to pursue his dreams.  Mrs. Wilkinson notices this as well and pushes hard for him to gain an audition at the prestigious Royal Ballet School in London despite significant social, economic and family obstacles. 
This struggle is juxtaposed against the community’s anguish and uncertainty caused by the miners’ strike in County Durham, in North Eastern England. The eventual support that Billy receives from his family and the miners is touching.

Billy Elliot the Musical is based on the superb 2000 film Billy Elliot. The music is by Elton John, and book and lyrics are by Lee Hall, who wrote the film’s screenplay.  The show captured 81 awards worldwide including ten 2009 Tony® Awards including Best Musical on Broadway, where it ran from October 2008 to January 2012 at the Imperial Theatre.  Nearly 1.8 million people saw the 1,344 performances.
On its national tour, the mounting at the Hippodrome under the direction of Stephen Daldry, who helmed the Royal Court Theatre production, and multiple award-winning Choreographer Peter Darling, is profoundly sensational.  John’s and Hall’s music is energetic, thematic and effectively underscores the powerful plot.  But with all the dramatic dialogue—and there is plenty of that—a generous sprinkling of British humor breaks the tension.

Just about all the musical numbers are either toe-tapping fun or they bring the serious moments to life. As good as the dramatic dialogue is, the music takes it to lofty heights.  Numbers such as “Shine,” “We’d Go Dancing,” “ Dear Billy,” “Deep Into the Ground,” and “Once We Were Kings,” were emotive.
Others, such as “”Solidarity,” “Expressing Yourself,” “Angry Dance,” and “Electricity” are authentic show-stoppers that garnered thunderous ovations from the audience.

Darling’s dance numbers—a highlight of the production—form an eclectic mixture of tap, hip-hop, jazz, acrobatics and folk dancing.  While the show’s plot is centered on ballet, the predominant dance form is tap and deliberately so.  “Tap is rhythmically exciting and such an expressive kind of dance,” says Darling. “At the same time, it’s synonymous with show business and musicals.  And Billy Elliot is very much a musical; it’s not a ballet.”
The entire company is outstanding, and all speaking parts require English accents.  Rich Hebert as Mr. Elliot perfectly played the complex character to the hilt.  Dealing with his son’s passion for dancing and later fully supporting it while coping with the effects of the strike is a daunting challenge for sure, but Hebert pulled it off.  His number “He Could Go and He Could Shine” with his older son Tony (Cullen R. Titmas) was solid.   His rendition of “Deep in the Ground” was one of the show’s highlights.  He even displayed some clever comedic moments at Billy’s audition.

Janet Dickinson as Mrs. Wilkinson is one of the plot’s heroes.  She saw in Billy the potential that nobody else could and was his biggest advocate.  Her vocals were quite good when called upon (“Shine,” “Dear Billy”) and she was a powerful dramatic force throughout.
Patti Perkins as Grandma gave a strong performance, and her revelation about her abusive late husband and her long-held desire to dance is powerful.

Billy’s best friend Michael, played by Jake Kitchen the night this performance was reviewed, is another interesting character.  He is the one soul his age Billy could confide in.  Billy was surprised by the fact that Michael likes to wear his sister’s clothes now and then and Michael explained it that his father wears women’s clothes routinely.  Billy seems taken aback when Michael kissed him on the cheek, revealing a crush he has for Billy.
With all the interesting characters, this show is about Billy Elliot.  On this night, the role was played by 13 year-old Massachusetts resident Noah Parets.  He is one of four boys alternating the part on the tour.  To say young Parets stole the show would be an understatement.  Charismatic, fresh and spunky, Parets played the role as it was designed. 

Parets’ vocals are steady with a sweet voice that has yet to undergo the dreaded deepening as he progresses through adolescence.  His dancing is simply spectacular.  He displays the power, grace and form that is required of a potential world-class ballet dancer.

His performances were sparkling especially in the outstanding duet with Michael “Expressing Yourself” and then “Angry Dance.”  Parets soared to new heights (literally) in a number when he imagined how he’d be dancing ballet in Swan Lake several years down the road.  He is paired with his future being  (Christopher Howard) in a moving, artistically choreographed number.
The other elements of this show—the orchestration (Conductor Bill Congdon), lighting (Rick Fisher) and sound (Paul Arditti), and Costume Design (Nicki Gillibrand)—are stellar. 

Just a few days removed from the massacre at Newtown that sickened the nation where twenty young children will never realize their dreams, the fairy-tale Billy Elliot the Musical comes along in the heart of the Christmas holiday to offer the right medicine.
Running Time: Two hours and 50 minutes with a 15 minute intermission.

Advisory: This show contains profanity and is not recommended for children.

Billy Elliot the Musical plays through December 30 (except Christmas) at the Hippodrome Theatre, 12 North Eutaw Street Baltimore, MD 2120.  Tickets are available at the Box Office, all Ticketmaster outlets, or call 410-547-SEAT.

Monday, December 10, 2012

A Ray of Hope

When President Obama was re-elected last month, it not only set up another four years of the most pro-LGBT president in U.S. history but it also sent a cold splash of water streaming down the faces of the Republican Party as a stern wake-up call, particularly in presidential politics.  The post-mortems continue among GOP operatives and politicians as to how they managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
In President Obama, this was one of the most vulnerable incumbents in recent memory.  He was the steward of a slow-to-recover economy with unemployment hovering around 8 percent.  There were reports that his base was nowhere as enthusiastic as his supporters were during the historic run in 2008.  His rival’s backers were hell-bent on defeating Mr. Obama, very motivated, and thanks to the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Citizens United case, unlimited amounts of big money were raised to defeat the president.

The president prevailed.  There are almost as many reasons why Mr. Romney lost (and why Mr. Obama won) as there are people offering them.  We can parse the exit polling, analyze demographics, compare the technological advantages the Obama team had in the get-out-the-vote efforts and the miscues of the challenger and still not have the full picture.
But one factor that is emerging is that there is an internal struggle within the Republican Party between the doctrinaire ideologues and the pragmatists, with the latter projecting long-term doom for the GOP unless it softens its hard-line stances on such issues as immigration, women’s rights, and same-sex marriage.

Speaking from the pragmatist side of the GOP, veteran Republican consultant Mike Murphy in a recent piece in TIME magazine wrote, “The alternative is a more secular and modernizing conservatism that eschews most social issues to focus on creating a wide-open opportunity society that promises greater economic freedom and the reform of government institutions like schools that are vital to upward social mobility.”  Even the big funders are frustrated, says Murphy, because of the “party’s perceived focus on divisive social issues.”
If the Republicans are serious about remaining a viable force at the national level it will need to become more pragmatic and less dogmatic.  The era of Lee Atwater’s cozy relationship with the religious right in the 1980’s to gain Republican votes and Karl Rove’s use of social wedge issues (i.e. “gay marriage”) in the 2000’s to strip votes away from Democrats may be coming to a close. 

For that to happen, the Tea Party must weaken and more pragmatic conservatives must replace them.  Abortion, contraceptives and same-sex marriage would have to be taken off the table.  Republicans must try to persuade voters with their brand of economic conservatism, not social dogma.

Enter the Supremes
LGBT folks could stand to benefit should such a radical transformation ever take place.  The country’s continued movement towards support for same-sex marriage is not only a signal for the GOP faithful to hop on the rainbow bus, but it could also provide a critical social backdrop as the right-leaning Supreme Court hears arguments in March on the Prop 8 and DOMA cases.  The question of the validity of same-sex marriage will finally be answered.  Some have already dubbed this the gay rights equivalent of Roe v. Wade.
Legal experts have agreed that the Supreme Court considers public opinion in their deliberations.  The trend is going in the right direction.  Obviously the young voters of today will be participating in more elections than older conservative citizens. 

So when a recent Gallup poll indicated that a whopping 73 percent in the 18-29 age group support same-sex marriage, that should send a strong signal as to how society is changing as well as the other data showing increasing support from the general population. The Justices will also be cognizant of the three states that voted for marriage equality and one which turned back a constitutional amendment at the ballot box. 
Congress’ movement on social matters tend to lag behind the general public; therefore, political considerations for electoral politics notwithstanding, it is unlikely, but not impossible, that progress could finally be made on an all-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act, for example.  Lawmakers can observe that the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ in 2010  did not result in any negative impact on the military’s readiness, unit cohesion or effectiveness.  More to the point, there was little outcry from the citizens when the nefarious law was finally repealed.

One thing is for certain, any action on ENDA or the Congressional repeal of DOMA known as the Respect for Marriage Act will not take place until the Supreme Court decides on the Prop 8 and DOMA cases.  As soon as the news broke about the Supreme Court’s acceptance of the cases, activists from all over the country believed that the days of DOMA are about to come to an end.  The Prop 8 situation is more questionable because the Court can rule against Prop 8 but narrowly or its ruling can have a broader impact.
If either or both turn out to be favorable, the good news is expected to be delivered in June—just in time for most of the U.S. to celebrate Gay Pride.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Race and Question 6

The high-fives, toasts, hugs, kisses, and dancing have abated somewhat since the historic election on November 6 when Maryland voters supported Question 6 and thus, marriage equality, by over 127,000 votes.  As we turn the calendar to 2013, many of the state’s estimated 17,000 same-sex couples will tie the knot.  Cheers to them all!
This was a surprising outcome because  never had marriage equality been favored by statewide votes until last month’s election.  (We know, of course, that Maine and Washington also made history on that glorious night as did Minnesota in turning back a constitutional amendment that would have banned same-sex marriage.) 

One of the issues that dominated the conversation following the signing of the Civil Marriage Protection Act and the inevitable referendum attempt in Maryland is race.  We were told from the Proposition 8 experience in 2008 that African-Americans’ opposition to same-sex marriage was a huge factor in upholding the measure that denied gay and lesbian couples the right to marry in California. 
Later analyses from exit polling and other data pointed to a different conclusion.  While more African-American voters in California supported Prop 8 than were opposed, the differential would not have impacted the ultimate result given the percentage of African-American voters in California is smaller than many other other states, especially Maryland.  Regardless, post-Prop 8 assessments indicated there was inadequate outreach to the African-American community—a lesson learned.  The chief contributor to the Prop 8 debacle besides outside money, we found out, was not the black vote but seniors.

Nonetheless, marriage equality advocates in Maryland largely marketed their campaign towards black voters who were expected to comprise around a quarter of the total voters.  Though polls showed greater support among African-Americans, advocates did not rest on those numbers.  The plan was to win over as many persuadable African-American voters as possible to mitigate the number of opponents who have strong religious beliefs against homosexuality and follow the preaching of influential church leaders.
Presenting the testimonials favoring marriage equality and its connection to fairness from two leading black pastors in TV commercials and web videos was a smart tactical decision.  This followed the public endorsements from President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Biden and former President Clinton.  Also joining in was a key endorsement by Benjamin Jealous of the national NAACP, civil rights icon Julian Bond, Rev. Al Sharpton and several local celebrities—an cache of big-name supporters the Prop 8 advocates lacked. 

In addition, there was a solid grass roots effort, helped out by supportive clergy, in the predominantly African-American areas to reinforce these endorsements and help repel the exposed wedge attempts on the part of the Maryland Marriage Alliance and their sponsor the National Organization for Marriage.
When the happy numbers rolled in on Election Night, it was very obvious the strategy of strong outreach to African-Americans paid off.  In predominantly African-American Baltimore City, the pro-Question 6 folks outnumbered the opponents by 57% to 43% margin.  In Prince George’s County where so many advocates feared that blacks would vote overwhelmingly against Question 6, opponents outnumbered supporters by a scant 3,000 votes out of nearly 370,000 cast.

Marriage equality supporters also held a majority in Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Frederick, Howard and Montgomery counties.  The remaining jurisdictions in the state, which are largely white, opposed the measure.  It is apparent that age and political leanings were more of a factor than race.  One could argue that we won not in spite of the black vote but because of it.

On this point, Delegate Mary Washington, the first out lesbian African-American legislator in the state’s history and a powerful leader in achieving marriage equality in Maryland, told me: “The truth here that should never be forgotten by our national and local LGBT advocates is that on Question 6, the African-American voters carried the day well above conventional wisdom and without which we could not have won this historic victory.  It is my hope that what we have done in Maryland is to begin to put to rest one of the longstanding quivers in the arsenal of the anti-marriage crowd and end race-based discrimination and avoidance in our own equality movement.”

I always thought that blacks were given a bum rap on this issue.  Although there is clear resistance to marriage equality among churchgoing African-Americans, other ethnic groups are generally non-supportive as well.  They include Hispanics, Asians, Muslims and Orthodox Jews. Those white Catholics who adhere to their hierarchy’s dogma have consistently opposed same-sex marriage. 
Those who are so-called socially conservative have done the same.  That explains the lack of support for Question 6 in the rural, traditionally conservative jurisdictions in the state.

Ethnicity aside, I believe the real opposition is in the older members of population.  Surely the younger voters under 30 support marriage equality and LGBT rights in general in a big way, and in due course, they will constitute the overwhelming majority.

Other states are poised to attempt to legalize same-sex marriage via the ballot box.  But as Mary Washington points out and the post-election numbers support, the results in Maryland should finally dispel the myth that African-Americans universally oppose marriage equality. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

MAME Delivers Big at Spotlighters

Photo by Ken Stanek Photography
When you think of a big-time, splashy, iconic musical such as Mame, you imagine (or recall) it unfolding on a grand stage of a Broadway theater.  You also picture colorful scenery, period costumes, a huge orchestra in the pit and a terrific storyline with a memorable musical score.  Mame ran on Broadway from 1966-1970 for over 1,500 performances and garnering three Tony Awards (Angela Lansbury, Bea Arthur and Frankie Michaels) and was nominated for five other categories.
So when Fuzz Roark, artistic director for the Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre, booked the show for the friendly confines of that venue during its 51st season, one can appreciate the challenges that awaited him and his staff.  But the courageous Roark and company pulled it off.  The production of Mame at the Spotlighters plays big in the little theater that could.

For full review, visit MD Theatre Guide.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

A Musical Christmas Carol Visits Toby's

The spirit of Christmas in more ways than one is alive and well at Toby’s, the Dinner Theatre of Columbia.  Charles Dickens’ beloved classic 1843 novella, A Christmas Carol, with its familiar characters featuring Ebenezer Scrooge, Bob Cratchit, Tiny Tim, Jacob Marley and various ghosts of Christmases—past, present and future—is presented onstage in a fanciful and entertaining musical production.
A Christmas Carol with music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, and book by Mike Ockrent and Lynn Ahrens was a fixture each holiday season at the Paramount Theatre in New York’s Madison Square Garden from 1994 to 2003.  Menken is an eight-time Oscar-winning composer of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid.
David James (who also plays Crachit) directed A Christmas Carol at Toby’s with a skillful touch.  The Helen Hayes winner staged a magnificent, well-paced production managing a large cast through the musical numbers, special effects and costume changes on Toby’s in-the-round venue.  
Many of the characters’ good attributes as well as shortcomings in A Christmas Carol related in some manner to Dickens’ own life’s experiences that included struggling to make ends meet and witnessing his father hauled off to debtor’s prison while he was a young lad in London.  The imaginative story centers on the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge (played superbly by David Bosley-Reynolds) and his Christmas Eve to Christmas Day evolution from when he began as a mean, arrogant and friendless soul to one that ended up as a caring, generous human being embodying the true meaning of the Christmas holiday spirit.
This extraordinary transformation in Scrooge’s personality was accomplished through the eerie nocturnal visits from three ghosts: one representing Christmas Past (Heather Beck), one from Christmas Present (Ray Hatch) and one from Christmas Future (Julie Lancione).  Through song and dialogue, these ghosts pointed out Scrooge’s failures, the effects of his actions, and the consequences that could occur in the future.
While the music isn’t stellar overall, a few songs stand out (“A Place Called Home,” “Fezzwig’s Annual Christmas Ball” and the Finale).  The lyrics worked well, along with the dialogue and actions on stage to spin the tale.  
Splendid vocals added to the joy.  As Marley, Andrew Horn’s tenor voice excelled in the wonderful production number “Link By Link.”  Elena Crall who played Emily, Scrooge’s one-time love, displayed a beautiful soprano in “A Place Called Home.”  And Bosley-Reynolds as Scrooge had some strong moments, particularly in “Yesterday, Tomorrow and Today” late in the second act. 
Pamela Witt conducted the five-piece orchestra and did a great job backing up the singers and dancers.  The sound quality overall in the show was perfect.  Drew Dedrick made sure the right balance took place so that the singers were not drowned out by the orchestra, and dialogue was clearly audible.  Coleen M. Foley handled the lighting expertly conveying the right effects for the appearances of the ghosts.
Many clever props and furnishings are used onstage and are a strong asset to the show.  Street vendor carts, bank teller windows and a dancing skeleton add to the joy.  A clock on a façade, though not visible to some in the audience, provides a terrific effect of the ghost’s faces projected on it when the ghost of Marley warns Scrooge of the three visitors he should expect overnight.
But of all the acclaim this show deserves, there is none better than the extraordinary costuming designed by Lawrence B. Munsey.  A veritable fixture at Toby’s who has performed every function through the years except perhaps preparing the beef stroganoff as part of Toby’s superb buffet, Munsey meticulously designed 1840-era early Victorian costumes for the large cast.  And with many playing multiple roles, Munsey had to have created over a hundred such glorious costumes. 
Toby’s tight, well-staged production of A Christmas Carol is great theatre, and it spins the right message as to how the spirit of Christmas and the holiday season in general ought to be.
Running Time: Two hours with a 20 minute intermission.
A Christmas Carol plays through December 30 at Toby’s, the Dinner Theatre of Columbia, 5900 Symphony Woods Road, Columbia, MD 21044.  Tickets can be purchased by calling the Box Office at 410-7390-8311 or 1-800-88TOBYS or online.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Winning Question 6

I must confess I didn’t believe what occurred on the night of November 6, 2012 would ever happen.  Marriage equality failed all 32 times it had been decided through state ballots, and I didn’t get that warm and fuzzy feeling that this time it would be any different. 

I did not have confidence early on in Marylanders for Marriage Equality—the organization with a diverse array of coalition partners who assumed the lead to defend the Civil Marriage Protection Act against a referendum by opponents who rapidly amassed three times the number of signatures needed to place a minority’s rights up for a popular vote. 

The planning for a likely referendum fight began late, in my view.  A former staffer told me that the campaign was fritting away too much time and money on getting “pledges” signed.
HRC brought in their people to get the effort started and ultimately hired Josh Levin as the Campaign Manager. 

Early polls looked too good to be true and were shrugged off by many.  Yet, a national trend towards public acceptance of marriage equality was unmistakable.
Things started to break, however.  President Obama went public with his support following Vice President Biden.  Former President Bill Clinton did likewise.  Democrats installed marriage equality as part of the party’s platform.  

Governor O’Malley championed the cause following years of uncertainty as to how equality should be achieved.  He was a true leader during this fight, persuading wavering legislators to help pass the bill and then traveling around the country to raise needed funds for the battle ahead.
But according to a report in the Baltimore Sun, the campaign was having trouble as late as August in raising the necessary funding.  Delegate Maggie McIntosh stepped in to handle the Campaign’s strategic decision-making and asked former Gov. Ehrlich’s chief-of-staff Chip DiPaula to persuade Evan Wolfson of the national organization Freedom to Marry to jump in with monetary support.  He did. 

Marylanders for Marriage Equality ultimately raised nearly three times the amount of money than the opponents—a total of $6 million.  There was speculation that the Church of the Latter Day Saints who donated tons of money against marriage equality during California’s Prop 8 battle decided to sit these four marriage contests out lest they hurt Romney politically.  
The Campaign developed a sophisticated infrastructure for executing a potent ground game using nuts and bolts grass roots efforts.  The “Vote For 6” signage had a great design—eye-catching and recognizable in their blue and white scheme.

They oversaw a superb ad campaign that mostly featured religious leaders and straight individuals to validate the cause.  The Campaign developed direct mail and TV advertisements featuring Julian Bond, Revs. Donte Hickman and Delman Coates, Todd Schuler, and Presidents Obama and Clinton.  They enlisted the public support from celebrities, such as the Ravens’ Brendon Ayanbadejo and actor Josh Charles to win the hearts and minds of voters regardless of sexual orientation, political party, race, age, gender, religion or ethnic background.    

Their efforts were bolstered by all the thousands of volunteers in and out of the campaign’s organization who knocked on doors, engaged strangers, family members, neighbors and co-workers, participated in phone banks, raised and contributed funds and developed innovative methods for getting the message out.
I began to feel more confident on Election Day as I worked the polls at Clarksville Middle School.  Not only were voters pronouncing their support for Question 6 but did so with intensity and enthusiasm.  Sure, there were opponents—some of them even rude.  But the overwhelming majority (63 percent in actuality) appeared to be on our side, and it gave me hope that perhaps later that night there would be cause for celebration.

That momentous night, when the voters re-elected President Barack Obama, the most pro-LGBT president ever, we were creating another headline.  For the first time in U.S, history, Maryland, Maine and Washington succeeded via the ballot to legalize same-sex marriage.  Minnesota beat back an anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment.  Moreover, six LGBT candidates were elected to Congress, including for the first time, an openly lesbian person, Tammy Baldwin, who was elected to the U.S. Senate.
In Maryland proponents of marriage equality defeated the forces who would deny the legal, economic and social benefits that marriage equality would confer by a 52-48 margin or more than 90,000 votes. 

A review of the election results should lay to rest the myth that African-American voters are the key to marriage equality defeats.  Both sides were clearly courting African-American voters, but the pro-equality side’s messages of fairness broke through. 

The president’s support as well as the National NAACP’s endorsement had to be huge.  And the testimonies offered by African-American pastors Donte Hickman and Delman Coates on TV ads were received very positively.  This helped reassure voters that religious institutions would not be affected by the law and fairness for all was underscored.
We don’t know yet how the black vote went, but the fact is that Baltimore City with Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake as a key advocate had a sizable plurality for Question 6, and Prince George’s deficit was much smaller than anticipated.  Consequently, the recent hateful comment by a pastor stating gays and supporters “are deserving of death” most likely did not sit well with fair-minded voters regardless of race.

Governor O’Malley, the gay and lesbian members of the legislature and their colleagues who voted for the bill and defended it during the referendum battle deserve much praise and gratitude.

Josh Levin and his team should be applauded for ultimately getting the job done. The 200 coalition partners, such as HRC, NAACP, SEIU, ACLU, Equality Maryland and PFLAG as well as leading clergy were instrumental in this battle.

All the volunteers and contributors including the 2,000 poll workers on Election Day and those who began this fight and laid the groundwork for success should be thanked.
And most of all, thanks to all of you for coming out to vote and making November 6, 2012 a historic milestone in the history of LGBT rights.