Featured Post

Four Decades Along the Rainbow Road

Thursday, May 31, 2012

We Have Pride in June

It’s become a rite of spring.  Every mid-June going back decades, June Horner gathers her PFLAG buttons and placards from her Sykesville, Md. home and stuffs them into the already cramped trunk of her car.  She needs to move around several hundred PFLAG and safe-school pamphlets as well as other LGBT literature to allow space for the signs, which she always takes with her to the Capital Pride (Washington, D.C.) and Baltimore Pride parades. 

Typically, the sign June and her husband Graham hoist up at these events reads: “Our Kids are Fine—Just the Way They Are.”  But there are others she will employ too, depending on the event and the message she wants to convey.  Often, June can be seen at Lobby Day rallies or other parades raising the familiar “Civil Marriage is a Civil Right” placard or a “Someone You Love is Gay” bumper sticker.

June is a recognizable figure.  Usually donned in a “I’m a PFLAG Mom” tee-shirt or similar PFLAG garb, khaki shorts, a pink HRC cap or straw hat with an assortment of LGBT-related buttons, and a fanny pack, June Horner, who is in her early seventies, crams more energy in her small frame than most Generation Y folks—one of the primary groups she has been fighting for when it comes to LGBT rights and equality.

And come this June 16, she will be even more recognizable. June Horner has been named unanimously by the Baltimore Pride Committee to be the parade’s Grand Marshal—an honor that has been traditionally reserved for city leaders and pioneers in the LGBT rights movement.

“June Horner has been to every single Baltimore Pride parade,” Donald Young, Parade Committee Chair explained to Baltimore OUTloud.  “Her outstanding work in PFLAG and her belief that every human being should be treated equally and based on character, not on sexual orientation were the reasons June was selected.”

June is modest and humble about her numerous accomplishments, and this was no exception.  “I am pleased beyond measure or words to be chosen for this honor.”

Her work for LGBT equality began nearly three decades ago upon learning that her youngest son, Mark was gay.  “Back in 1984 we quickly became aware of the existence of a frightening, horrible amount of misunderstanding and discrimination against LGB individuals and community,” June noted.  “Transgender wasn’t even on the radar.”

She was struck by the fact that because her son is gay, he would be discriminated against and treated worse than her other children. “I felt I simply had no choice other than jump in and try to get involved to tell the world as best I could within whatever limited capacities I might have, that good people are being misunderstood and hurt and THIS HAS GOT TO STOP.  And this has been my passion and my purpose for over 25 years now… and counting.”

Realizing that families suffer from the same pain and injustice that their LGBT members experience, June discovered PFLAG—Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays—that same year.  “The pain of parents and families who feel powerless as they watch the suffering of their LGBT loved ones is exquisite and intense,” June says.  “Any parent can attest to the feeling: ‘If I could only bear the pain for my child. If I could only make it better.’  Helplessly watching loved ones suffer somehow seems to increase the pain exponentially.” 

PFLAG is a place where parents, friends and family members are empowered to work together with the LGBT community to create change, as June put it, “one heart at a time.” Back then there were a relatively small number of chapters.  “I was inspired by the work of those who had come before me, and was emboldened (because I would not be working alone) to make a start toward creating change by doing those things that PFLAG does best—support, education and advocacy.”

June’s recollection of the AIDS crisis is profound.  “When I became involved in mid- 1980’s, ARC soon-to-be called AIDS was decimating the gay community.  Funerals were happening every week.  PFLAG families were banding together to support and attempt to be spokespersons to educate the general public.  It seemed the Federal Government was doing nothing and really didn’t care.  Those were heartbreaking and exhausting times. Thank goodness, we’ve come a long way… but still much work to be done.”

June started a PFLAG chapter in Baltimore in 1985, and it began well.  But after the first year there was a decreasing involvement from the city’s parents.  Other subsequent attempts to establish a chapter failed to catch on, so currently there is none in Baltimore.

Undaunted, PFLAG reached into the suburbs.  In 1994 June was a founding member of the Columbia-Howard County chapter that was started by Colette Roberts and Linda Linton.  And she continues to be a vital member of the chapter today.  June has been on the steering committee since its inception and currently serves as the chapter’s treasurer and librarian as well as any other function for which she feels she can help.  June is also a popular speaker before employee, community and LGBT groups. 

And she is one fierce advocate.  Always telling her story to elected officials either at Lobby Day or some other event, June consistently impresses.  She has testified in front of legislative committees in an effort to move the marriage equality bill along.  Republican Senator Allen Kittleman credits June along with other PFLAG advocates for helping him see the light in supporting marriage equality.  She was on hand to witness Governor O’Malley’s signing the bill into law in March, and she later hugged him for his efforts.

 Marching in Baltimore Pride Parade in 1986
Recognizing the need for an LGBT support group in conservative Carroll County, June along with other concerned county residents helped establish a PFLAG chapter in Westminster in 2011.  She sits on their steering committee as well.

June Horner began marching in Baltimore’s Pride Parade in 1986.  “I am truly proud of my gay son, and I was and continue to be ready to tell the world!!” she beams.  “I’m proud of every son and daughter of our fabulous community.”

She has marched in countless pride parades over the years in D.C., Baltimore, New York, San Francisco and Philadelphia.  “Marching in pride parades is the easy and fun part,” June points out.  “Not so easy but most essential is changing the law.  Old discriminatory laws needed to be changed.  New civil rights and protections need to be added.”

June acknowledges that we’ve come a long way but we’re not done yet. “Now we’re preparing for the referendum which will surely come. And we’ll be trying our best to spread the word to Vote FOR the Maryland Civil Marriage Protection Act in the November election.”

This tireless PFLAG Mom has been the quintessential ally, and the LGBT community of Baltimore and beyond should be eternally grateful as she has dedicated the past two and a half decades passionately fighting for the cause.

As we approach yet another Pride Parade, June won’t have to march this time; she can ride, right up front. 

Cheer her on!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Let's Not Get Carried Away

A recent wave of positive events has added momentum to the effort to defeat a near-certain referendum on the Civil Marriage Protection Act that was signed into law in March.  Not the least of which was President Obama’s offering public support for marriage for same-sex couples.  That was followed by the NAACP’s endorsement of same.  Then Colin Powell added a powerful voice to the cause.  And rapper Jay-Z also weighed in with a strong message. 
These developments are seen by the pro-equality forces as huge steps in helping to mitigate opposition within the African-American community in Maryland given that this support was expressed by well-respected, influential individuals and organizations.

Adding to this string of welcome developments was a Public Policy Poll released May 24 and commissioned by Marylanders for Marriage Equality that revealed an astonishing 20 percent margin—57 percent to 37 percent—favoring the marriage law in Maryland. 
In a memo, PPP pollster Tom Jensen notes there has been a “major shift in opinion about gay marriage among black voters [in Maryland].” Fifty-five percent of African Americans now say they would vote for the law and only 36% oppose it. These numbers have essentially flipped since PPP conducted an identical poll in March.”

Rather than viewing these numbers through rose-colored lenses, however, they should be examined with caution.  Even if the results are accurate, which would be great news, let’s not get carried away.

You may wonder, why put the damp cloth over what appears to be an outstanding and historic few weeks in the quest for marriage equality?  Simply put, we’ve been led down this primrose path before with favorable polling data and we had our hearts broken.  It behooves us to learn why.

Anybody who is associated with Marylanders for Marriage Equality and all other advocates and supporters should make the Prop 8 Report  required reading.  This in-depth analysis of the failed Prop 8 campaign in California is instructive, and it would be foolish and irresponsible to ignore the lessons provided. 

You see, in the equivalent period before the decisive voting took place in 2008, the polling numbers were similarly favorable.  The “No on 8” group (pro-marriage equality) raised  tons of money (over $43 million) and had a record-setting number of volunteers (51,000), so the playing field was level even considering the influences of the Mormon Church, the Roman Catholic Church and others pushing the “Yes on 8” vote.
So what went wrong?  Many erroneously blamed African-American voters who turned out in large numbers to vote for Barack Obama and are generally opposed to same-sex marriage..  But while that group did support Yes on 8 by a decent majority, they are not the principal reason for the disappointing failure.  In fact, African-Americans only comprise about 6 percent of California’s population.  In Maryland it’s close to 30 percent.

According to this report, a large number of people—regardless of race—who claimed they supported marriage equality in the months prior to November 2008 changed positions at the end.  In three-fourths of the cases, those who shifted were parents who have children under age 18 living at home.  The report states, “When parents hear that their kids are in danger, even if it’s a lie some of them believe it—particularly when the lie largely goes unanswered.” 
This swing from supporting marriage equality to voting for Prop 8 occurred several weeks before the election—following a series of TV ads that charged that schools would expose kids to inappropriate information about gay people.  This is the key weapon for marriage equality opponents and why they have won every state ballot measure in the past: scare families that children in school will be taught about the evils of homosexuality.   And there was a two and a half week delay in rebutting the ads by the No on 8 side—a costly tactical misstep—allowing the lies to sink in.

Accordingly, polling taken today does not necessarily presage similar results in the future.  When our highly motivated opponents use their proven tactics of lies and exaggeration—and they certainly will—people could be influenced to change their minds.  And conservative religious leaders will continue to use their pulpits to hammer away at the one “sin” (ignoring all the others) and framing marriage in biblical terms.  The current rosy picture we are witnessing today could be quickly crushed.
On the bright side, the Prop 8 campaign was waged without any national leaders like Barack Obama and Colin Powell expressing support for marriage equality. Their recent pronouncements could make a substantial difference with those voters in Maryland who are soft on the issue and are not tied to deep religious convictions.

But it’s critical that the folks at Marylanders for Marriage Equality do not fall into the same trap that wrecked other states’ efforts.  They should not interpret these positive news developments and poll results as a juggernaut of support.  They cannot afford to take their eye off the prize. 
Fundraising and a solid ground game is crucial.  And we must engage and galvanize our own community to be part of the effort.  There should be no perception that we have this in the bag.  

But equally as important, these leaders should read that Prop 8 report, learn from past mistakes, and use that to formulate a blueprint for this campaign.  As American philosopher George Santayana wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Good things are happening now, but complacency can be a killer.

Friday, May 25, 2012

'Thursday's Child' is Good and Gay

Thursday’s Child: A Gay Man's Memoir Told in Sessions of his Psychotherapy by Phil Cooper is a poignant, personal account of what it was like growing up gay in a small town on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and in Baltimore from 1935, the year of his birth, to 1980.   Gay men who recall that era and their own experiences would certainly appreciate this memoir.  And younger LGBT people would get a sense of gay life prior to Stonewall.
Cooper decides to employ the services of a psychiatrist because of a fundamental question in his mind about his capacity to love and to achieve intimacy with another person.  The psychiatrist is a patient, calm and engaging professional who rather adroitly grasped the complexities contained in Cooper’s life and was eventually able to become Cooper’s beacon in unraveling the torments that have plagued him.

The unique structure of the book allows Cooper to discuss with the psychiatrist in vivid detail his relationships with family members, fellow students, business associates and love interests—anyone who has been part of his life—and how the burden of growing up gay during that particular place and time had taken a toll on his ability to forge genuine and intimate connections and to understand the nature of love. 

Cooper candidly brings to the surface his feelings to the therapist as they pertain to various people and events in his life. These one-hour, weekly sessions began March 1979 when Cooper was 44 and concluded in August 1980.  During that timeframe there were 72 such sessions but only 24—one-third of them—were depicted in the memoir.  The question begs, what transpired during the other sessions?

How these incidents and events in his life are presented form the foundation of the book.  Cooper recounts a specific memory each session, which effectively is the equivalent of a chapter in a novel.  After Cooper provides a re-cap of each that includes dialogue among the principals, the psychiatrist weighs in and engages the patient.  Then the two analyze what was said, and with the skilled hand of the psychiatrist guiding him, Cooper gradually achieves greater self-understanding.

Giving a nod to literary license, the reader must overlook the reality that Cooper could not have possibly recalled specific conversations, meals, drinks, or even Bridge hands from years, even decades in the past.  Cooper’s recounting of a day he was potty-trained by his mother and the instructions he received from her strained credulity.  But these events did occur as the author remembers them, and such minutiae were likely re-created for the benefit of the readers.

Phil Cooper

Most of the episodes conveyed during therapy were beautifully written and poetic in some instances.  Superbly presented detailed descriptions and good pacing helped to portray the angst that Cooper had to confront. 

Those that were especially riveting include descriptions of Cooper’s sexual encounters with an early lover, his experiences in Europe, the investigation of his homosexuality by Army officers, his drug-induced running through Bolton Hill in the nude after he jettisoned the Barracks Baths, a moving and dramatic conversation with his father, and a confrontation with his company’s co-manager.

A flaw in this work, however, is the scattershot sequence of the episodes.  While the therapy sessions were chronological, the incidents were not—one when he was older, another when he was younger, no timeline, bouncing around.  It was difficult to assess the cumulative effect these  events had on Cooper’s psyche when presented in this manner as it lacked context.  It is tantamount to randomly placing photographs of a person at various points in his life on a table but not in any order; discerning the person’s physical progression would be a challenge.

Nonetheless, I recommend this book to observe how a gay man in that era faced the trauma of coming out to family, friends and business associates; the disgrace of being discharged from the military because of being gay; the feeling of isolation, and the fear of being intimate with a person and how therapy enabled him to overcome those hurdles.  Many of us could easily relate to Cooper’s experiences and his anger at being unconnected, being left out. 

In addition, a number of familiar places in Baltimore were identified, which should appeal to Charm City locals.  Phil Cooper, who still resides in Baltimore, overcame the struggles and torments of his past, and with the help of this psychotherapy, he has lived a successful life. 

Thursday’s Child: A Gay Man's Memoir Told in Sessions of his Psychotherapy; Phil Cooper; Authorhouse; Feb. 2012;  244 pages, hard cover (ISBN: 978-1-5685-4616-3), soft cover (ISBN: 978-1-4685-4617-0) and e-book (ISBN: 978-1-4685-4615-6).

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Bigotry and the Bible: My Letter the Howard County Times Chose Not to Publish

This is in response to Geri Ungurean’s letter (“Nobody is denying rights to gays, transgender people,” May 3).  In her letter that speaks out mostly against abortion but also includes the following: “I also thought about my right as a Christian, to be able to worship God and agree with Him from His Word about homosexuality.  It’s not bigotry, it’s called the Bible.”

I am not accusing Ms. Ungurean of being a bigot, as I do not know her personally.  But we have seen and heard so often during debates concerning the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals and in particular civil marriage equality that it is not bigotry but that the Bible condemns homosexuality. Keep in mind that Jesus never condemned homosexuality.

Again, I’m not accusing Ms. Ungurean, but the inconvenient truth is that bigots have used the Bible to cloak their own prejudices and quote Scripture to justify their beliefs. We have seen examples of this not that many years ago when Southern Baptist preachers—all Christians—used the Bible to condone slavery, segregation and Jim Crow laws against blacks and opposing interracial marriage.  For example, in the Old Testament, slavery was regulated and by no means condemned:

“However, you may purchase male or female slaves from among the foreigners who live among you. You may also purchase the children of such resident foreigners, including those who have been born in your land. You may treat them as your property, passing them on to your children as a permanent inheritance. You may treat your slaves like this, but the people of Israel, your relatives, must never be treated this way.” (Leviticus 25:44-46)

My point is that the Bible was crafted at a time when tribal societies existed and much of what was written was to control the population as a means of ensuring the survival of those tribes.  As such, Scripture included scores of verses that demand retribution for myriad sins.  Another example: “For anyone who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death; he has cursed his father or his mother; his blood is upon him.”  (Leviticus 20:09)

As we have evolved to a modern world view, our society has chosen to move past these archaic mandates and to a more tolerant place.  The Bible was never amended to reflect these changes, but clearly slavery has been outlawed and parents are not murdering their disrespectful children.

Denying bigotry by saying they are following the word of the Bible is simply an excuse in some cases because these people feel their views would be less subject to criticism. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Provincetown: Gay Mecca-by-the-Sea

It seems like I’ve been going to Provincetown, MA so long I think I saw the pilgrims checking out when I first rolled in.  Nestled on the tip of Cape Cod, this historic, artsy little colony has been a travel destination for LGBT folks for decades and decades.
Hanging out at The Boatslip
Provincetown is familiarly called P-Town.  A gay resort that at one time used to attract primarily New Yorkers, New Englanders and Canadians, it’s now a global Mecca with visitors from all corners of the world.

In many ways, P-Town is timeless.  The ice cream cones and pizza have always been tasty.  The Lobster Pot restaurant is iconic. The Boatslip tea dance remains a standing and modeling show at the bay’s edge.  The ocean is bone crunching cold.   The cabarets and street theater are as outrageous and campy as they have ever been.

But there have been noticeable differences, too.  With the expanded popularity there are, of course, the soaring prices of cramped guesthouse rooms, pricey dinner menus, and skyrocketing property values. 

And gay and lesbian couples have been able to marry here since 2004.  In July 2009 Bob and I chose to be legally married in P-Town because this was our first vacation spot together and it had grown into our favorite. 

More straight families partake in the Cape Cod ambience of P-Town now as the comfort level with gays and lesbians has increased.  Earlier on, they were a rare presence.

There isn’t as much tawdry “action” at either the dunes or the notorious cruising at the “meat rack” because the emergence of HIV/AIDS and heightened police awareness put the brakes on that. 

The numerous guest houses in P-Town can accommodate a variety of tastes and budgets (but more on the high side).  Most of these, as well as the other businesses in town, are gay- or lesbian-owned.  Although the rooms are often “cozy,” these houses offer many amenities including complimentary breakfasts, televisions, Wi-Fi, air conditioning, fireplaces, common rooms, porches, and colorful flower gardens in front. 

During the summer, if you plan on visiting on a weekend, it is highly recommended that you make reservations well in advance.  Mid-week stays may not be as tight.  Holidays such as Fourth of July, Halloween, New Year’s, Carnival and Bear Week attract the largest crowds, so reservations are a must.  

Bradford-Carver House
We have been staying at the Bradford-Carver House for years and love the hosts Jose and Bill as well as its convenient location.  Having free off-street parking available is a big plus.

You should definitely check out the Provincetown Business Guild, which lists all the events, lodging, dining, entertainment, shopping and even marriage information.  Also, visit here provincetown.com for additional information.

A stroll along Commercial Street, hand-in-hand is a delight not only to shop but to also snack, dine or enjoy people-watching.  Many visitors bring dogs, so Commercial Street can seem like a veritable dog show.  Like any tourist destination, you do have the “schlock” shops, sundries stores and tee-shirt emporiums, but there are also businesses that sell jewelry, leather goods, upscale clothing, antiques, books and fine gifts.
A number of visitors partake in bicycling at various land trails at the edges of the town or even inside P-Town center.  There are several bike rentals available.  And if you want to stay in shape further there are a couple of good gyms to work off your delicious meals. I happen to like Mussel Beach gym (musselbeach.net).

Famous Pilgrim Tower at left
P-Town is known for its beaches on the other side of the previously infamous dunes.  You can reach the beach by car, bike or on foot; it’s pretty close to the town center. There are gay and lesbian sections on the beach for further sightseeing and a neat way to make new friends.  But keep in mind, even during the summer while the sand is scalding hot, the water temperature is shiver-inducing.

Whale watching from a boat is a popular pastime during the day, and you can purchase tickets at the pier in the center of town. 

There are restaurants aplenty.  Seafood is king in P-Town, especially lobster and clams, but there are a variety of choices to go with every taste.  The restaurants are by no means cheap but the food is consistently excellent as well as the casual and often scenic atmosphere.  Breakfast, lunch, dinner or dessert—the selections are vast with few complaints.

For LGBT visitors, The Boatslip resort (boatslipresort.com), overlooking the bay, is world famous for its popular happy hour on its outside deck along with the high-energy daily tea dance.   Here you can enjoy cocktails, check out shirtless men or sexy women, gyrate to the music and build up an appetite for dinner.  Before the tea dance that usually begins at 4:00 p.m., many relax in lounge chairs near the pool and the deck and sip their favorite beverages while soaking up the sun (hopefully with sunscreen).
The 'A'-House

Nighttime brings a good choice of bars.  The Crown & Anchor complex is enjoyed by everyone.  For women, the Pied Piper is a favorite.  Men like the A-House and the Gifford House as well as other establishments.  Bars close at 1:00 a.m., and afterwards, crowds descend upon Spiritus Pizza on Commercial St. to purchase a tasty late night snack and to mill around outside for a while before bed.

And there is a wide array of cabaret and drag acts to enjoy.  You should definitely take in at least one per visit.  Celebrities from all over come to perform in P-Town. 

There is no question that Provincetown is a magical place for LGBT visitors for the spring, summer and fall.  But we love it during the summer, and that’s why we keep returning.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

How Will Obama's Support Play in MD?

In a column I wrote over 6 weeks ago, “Game Changer-in-Chief,” I indicated that there was at least a 50-50 chance the Obama would come out for marriage equality before the election and it could help in thwarting a referendum attempt by marriage equality opponents.
As we are now learning, Obama had already completed his evolution on marriage for same-sex couples months ago and was planning to make the announcement probably right before the Democratic Convention in September.  However, that decision to go public was accelerated by Vice President Biden’s declaration on Meet the Press that he is “absolutely comfortable” with marriage equality.

Although not on the schedule of his choice, the president made his historic announcement on May 9 (see front page story).  It was met with enormous enthusiasm from important components of the Democratic base: gays and lesbians, voters under 40, college educated, suburban women, Hollywood types, and yes, independents who lean towards marriage equality. 

Lacking the same level of enthusiasm this cycle that was evident in 2008, the revelation was the perfect catalyst to inject much needed fervor into the 2012 campaign.  Immediate tangible results followed: the president raised around $15 million at a Hollywood fundraiser hosted by George Clooney the next night.
It is unclear how the risks and rewards will eventually play out with the election less than six months away.  Some have speculated this announcement may cost Obama among working class voters in some battleground states.  I disagree. 

This election will be about the economy unless some international event changes the trajectory.  And Obama’s public support for marriage equality will continue to generate passion, which not only translates into dollars raised but also adds volunteers and “boots on the ground” to execute an already formidable ground plan.
How this news will play out in Maryland during the near-certain referendum battle in Maryland is also murky.   Polls don’t offer many clues as the voters in the Free State are virtually split on the question of marriage equality.  But with Obama being the first black president of the U.S., there is a unique dynamic to consider.

For the earlier column, I did receive some insight as a result of polling data from OpinionWorks.  African-Americans who comprise nearly 30 percent of the state’s population are more inclined to vote against marriage equality in a referendum.  And it is expected that with Obama on the ballot in November, higher than normal turnout among African-Americans is a slam-dunk.
The independent survey taken in mid-March reveals that in Baltimore City, the state’s most populous jurisdiction, voters oppose marriage equality 49 to 35 percent.  And among African-Americans statewide, those who oppose the law outweigh supporters by a margin of 48 to 29 percent.

Those are big deficits to overcome.  The Maryland Marriage Alliance who is partnering with the Maryland Catholic Conference has reached the halfway point in obtaining the requisite number of valid signatures to place the issue of marriage equality on the ballot in November.  Many African-American pastors are aligned with this organization and have used their churches to distribute petitions to volunteers and to conduct training.
Steve Raabe, President of OpinionWorks told me in late March that if President Obama were to publicly embrace marriage equality, it could influence those African-Americans who are “soft” on the issue.

“It is likely that people with the strongest feelings on this issue have already declared
themselves, so that the referendum battle will be waged over the small number in the middle who may be coming out to vote in the presidential race, but for whom this issue is not do or die,” Raabe explained.

Still, there needs to be a plan in place to target those “soft” voters within the African-American community.  Such a plan has not yet been publicly articulated to those who are seeking marriage equality.  A lack of outreach to African-American voters in California has been cited as one of the factors in the Proposition 8 debacle in 2008.  History must not be allowed to repeat itself in Maryland.  The persuadable “soft” voters should be targeted with a robust education campaign.

The Maryland Black Family Alliance (MBFA) met in late April with Josh Levin, the new campaign manager for Marylanders for Marriage Equality, to discuss a strategy for reaching out to African-American voters, particularly in Baltimore.  Some who attended that meeting, however, voiced concerns that a clear plan has not yet been formulated. 

Levin did not respond to multiple requests to go on record to alleviate those concerns.

Nonetheless, Lea Gilmore, a founder of MBFA, who did not attend that particular meeting but participated in a follow-up meeting stated: “The MBFA is looking forward to working closely with referendum Campaign Manager Josh Levin and the marriage coalition. We will be an active, necessary and informative part of the campaign and have been assured no less. Maintaining and gaining more African-American support is crucial to a win. Of course, there have been missteps in the past, but we are looking forward and will work in partnership to ensure that our LGBT brothers and sisters retain the legal right to marry in Maryland.”

As the clock ticks down towards the election, a considerable amount of work remains.  What marriage equality advocates need to do is frame the issue as one of “equal rights,” not “civil rights,” The use of the latter term has been a key obstacle in winning over African-Americans. 

In addition, emphasis must be made that religious institutions are protected by the law.  Some are still suspicious that they will be forced to officiate same-sex unions.  And according to the above poll, those who attend church once a week—regardless of race—oppose same-sex marriage by 58 per cent to 28 percent.

President Obama’s announcement could provide cover to those who are not deeply religious and may now find a reason to vote against the referendum. A fresh, new independent poll will offer us more insight into the prospects, but a strategy that is shared with the LGBT community must be in place and soon.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Evolution Complete!

May 9, 2012 became an historic day for equal rights in America. For the first time, a U.S. President has unequivocally and publically given his support for the legalization of same-sex marriage.  While this statement may be symbolic and does not carry the full force of Federal law, its significance cannot be overstated.

 In an interview with Robin Roberts of ABC News, President Obama acknowledged he had believed civil unions would have been sufficient, but now he decided to take it to a new level.
“I have to tell you that over the course of several years as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together, when I think about those soldiers or airmen or marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage, at a certain point I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married,” the president said.

Most observers speculated that Vice President Joe Biden's comments on Meet the Press three days earlier pushed the president in making this move now.  On that broadcast Mr. Biden said that he was perfectly “comfortable” with gay people being married.

“I am vice president of the United States of America,” Biden replied to a question posed by David Gregory. “The president sets the policy. I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women, and heterosexual men and women marrying another are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties. And quite frankly, I don't see much of a distinction—beyond that.”
For his part, the president indicated that his announcement was going to take place in the near future.  “I had already made a decision that we were going to take this position before the election and before the convention,” Mr. Obama said on ABC the next day. “He probably got out a little bit over his skis, but out of a generosity of spirit. … Would I have preferred to have done this in my own way, on my own terms without there being a lot of notice to everybody, sure.”

This occurred a day after voters in North Carolina—a battleground state in the upcoming presidential election—resoundingly voted by a 22-point margin to forever ban marriage for same-sex couples and as well as civil unions.
As portions of the broadcast were released by ABC, within minutes leaders of LGBT organizations and elected officials commended the president for this statement that many viewed as courageous, overdue and in some quarters, even risky.

“Today, President Obama affirmed that for a people of many different faiths—a people who are committed to the principle of religious freedom—the way forward is always to be found through greater respect for the equal rights and human dignity of all,” said Governor Martin O'Malley, who on March 1 signed into law a bill that legalizes same-sex marriage in Maryland. “In Maryland, we agree.”

Chad Griffin, the incoming president of the Human Rights Campaign released the following statement: “If you are one of those who care about this issue, you will not forget where you were when you saw the president deliver those remarks.  Regardless of how old you are, it’s the first time you have ever seen a president of the United States look into a camera and say that a gay person should be treated equally under the law. The message that that sends, to a young gay or transgendered person struggling to come out, is life changing.”
Carrie Evans, the executive director for Equality Maryland said, “The President came out in support of the freedom to marry for same-sex couples. Although this statement does not undo the results of [the] vote in North Carolina, it does provide us with hope—the hope that people’s hearts and minds can evolve on this issue. And though this evolution may not always be on the timetable we would devise, we must embrace this historic declaration by President Obama.

In 1996, Obama indicated support in a questionnaire, then reversed course in his 2004 Senate race, and in 2008, he argued for civil unions.  In February 2011, President Obama instructed the Justice Department to no longer defend the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, the legal prohibition on federal recognition of same-sex marriages.

But to the frustration of marriage equality activists, Mr. Obama maintained that his position on marriage equality is “evolving.”  With the president’s historic public statement on May 9, the evolution is complete.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Urinetown: A Steady Stream of Fun

Photo by Nate Pesce
“This is not a happy musical,” stated the show’s narrator rather candidly to the audience.  “But it is a musical.”  Indeed, Urinetown: The Musical, which is presented at the Smith Theatre by Howard Community College’s Arts Collective, confronts a variety of societal ills that lead to despair and tragedies.  But these plot elements are treated so satirically that laughter from the crisp dialogue, the joyful musical numbers, and the spoofing of other Broadway hits like Les Miserables permeate throughout the show.
Urinetown: The Musical was a three-time Tony Award winner in 2002 (including Best Director, John Rando) with music and lyrics by Mark Hollmann and lyrics by Hollmann and Greg Kotis (both won Tony’s).  Kotis also wrote the book where he drew his inspiration by backpacking across Europe on a tight budget and encountering a pay-per-use toilet.  According to Jenny Male who directed the Arts Collective production of Urinetown: The Musical, Kotis “envisioned a world where a corrupt private company controlled all toilets to preserve water and ensure the continual flow of cash into its own pockets.”

Read complete review at MD Theatre Guide.