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Four Decades Along the Rainbow Road

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Banking on the 'Big Mo'

Courtesy of Jay W Photos
There’s no question that the rainbow gods are smiling on our LGBT community.  They ordered up absolutely glorious weather for the annual Baltimore Pride celebration right before an oppressive heat wave gripped the area.  This may be a sign that things MUST be going well to experience such good fortune.
That’s been the talk—how we have momentum or the “big mo” on our side as we enter the critical months leading up to Election Day when the law to legalize marriages between same-sex couples will be put to the voters by a referendum.  This momentum will hopefully propel us to reach that coveted goal.

There is ample reason for the optimism. 
The president’s complete support for marriage equality could turn out to be a game changer.  In a state where he enjoys widespread popularity, Obama’s revelation could tip the balance our way by convincing those who may not have been saddled by conservative religious dogma to lean towards fairness. The NAACP’s unequivocal endorsement framing marriage equality as a civil rights issue was also huge.  

Moreover, with the Dream Act referendum scheduled to share the ballot in Maryland with same-sex marriage, the National Council of La Raza, the largest Latino civil rights organization in the U.S., announced its support for marriage equality.

Country superstar Carrie Underwood’s backing of same-sex marriage to the chagrin of some of her conservative fans may have appealed to a different demographic altogether.  To that point, don’t dismiss the power of celebrities who, through their visibility and popularity, command a higher level of influence than ordinary folks.  America’s infatuation with celebrities and entertainment in general is embedded in our culture to such an extent that the TV sitcom Will & Grace has rightfully been credited, in part, for the improved attitudes towards gay and lesbians in our society. 
Then there is Mary Cheney, the daughter of the former conservative Republican vice president, who recently married her longtime partner Heather Poe.   This added a sense of “ho-hum” to the hot-button issue of same-sex marriage.

We’re confident of victory,” Josh Levin, campaign director for Marylanders for Marriage Equality, wrote in the June 15 issue of Baltimore OUTloud.  “Any campaign would be thrilled to have the momentum we’ve seen recently.”
Levin has also cited favorable poll results to augment the momentum perception but he quickly pointed out to me that he will not rely on them.  He knows better than to fall into that trap. “They offer a snapshot,” he said.  That recognition of reality presents me with further cause to be optimistic.

Indeed, when marriage equality went before the voters through ballot measures in the past, we have a 0-32 record.  Even in blue-state California and purplish Maine the polls indicated a similar degree of favorability this far out from the election.  Then the garbage came from the opposition with their well-funded air attacks that helped to reverse the outcome. 
A clear difference is that none of those battles had the President of the U.S. publicly on the side of equality.  Therefore, marriage equality advocates in Maryland, Maine (again), Minnesota and Washington State experiencing ballot referenda this November may benefit from that recent level of support.

Another reason for optimism that is fueling momentum is the increased engagement on the part of the LGBT community.  Sure, way too many see politics as a toxin to be avoided at all costs.  That’s a reality in all segments of the population.  But now we’re starting to see more rainbow folks engaged on this issue.  As an example, my colleague at OUTloud, Gerry Fisher, has been on a mission to bring marriage equality to fruition by jump-starting a grass-roots movement through face-to-face contacts with voters and using social media. (See related article in this issue.)
This is crucial for votes, of course.  As important as turnout is to success, the need to recruit volunteers and raise money to counter the lies and scare tactics from the opposition is also critical.  Josh Levin feels that Marylanders for MarriageEquality can get by on $5-7 million.  Others disagree.  Evan Wolfson, founder of Freedom to Marry, estimates over $10 million would be needed in Maryland to defend the law in a referendum.

Regardless, a heap of cash needs to be raised, and fundraisers have been taking place throughout the state and will continue until November.  How do you get people to reach deep into their pockets?  They need to think they have a good chance of winning; no one wants to contribute to a losing cause.  
Yet, there is a thin line between exuding confidence of a victory and acting like it’s in the bag.  While no one wants to contribute if defeat is likely, the same thinking would apply if it appears a win is a slam-dunk,   That money could be spent on other matters.

Therefore, it behooves the Marylanders for Marriage campaign to maintain an upbeat but cautious posture, leave nothing to chance, and capitalize on the “big mo” that is ostensibly taking place now.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Fun and Games at Olney’s Sleuth

BobAri as Andrew Wyke, left; Jeffries Thaiss as Milo Tindle
Gamesmanship abounds in Anthony Shaffer’s playful mystery Sleuth, which kicks off the Olney Theatre Center’s summer season.  Artistic director Jim Petosa, who is leaving Olney after 20 years, orchestrated a splendid mix of accomplished acting, clever lighting, special effects and scenic finery in a fast-paced two-hour production of this 1971 Tony Award-winning play.
Sleuth opened on Broadway in November 1970 at the Music Box Theater and ran for 1,222 performances.  Shaffer adapted the play into a film in 1972 starring Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine and then another film adaptation occurred in 2007 with Michael Caine and Jude Law as the co-stars.
For full review visit MD Theatre Guide.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Marriage Equality Activists Going Above and Beyond

While efforts are underway by Marylanders for Marriage Equality (MfME) to fight the November referendum attempt by opponents of same-sex marriage, some LGBT folks and allies are anxious to get into the fray on their own.  Gerry Fisher, a Life Coach and columnist for Baltimore OUTloud (Getting Unstuck) and his husband David Kimble, have taken steps to help ensure marriage equality becomes law effective January 1.
Gerry Fisher and husband David Kimble
One of the early initiatives was the establishment of a Facebook page called “Marriage Equality Information Exchange-Maryland.” Currently there are over 600 members and is growing steadily.  Fisher and Mike Bernard are administrators of the page.
On this page like-minded individuals can discuss a variety of grass-roots techniques to gain support for the movement.  It is a “closed’ group, meaning that other Facebook users can see the existence of the group and members but not the contents.  The page is intended “to build community, share strategies for marriage-equality signature gathering and other events, post documents and pictures, and to inspire one another.”
Members post related articles and announce events including signature-gathering activities at farmers markets, rallies, festivals, such as Hon Fest, Orioles games and other venues around the state where crowds typically form.  The signatures are part of the strategy by MfME to obtain as many “pledges” as they can for compiling a database, which will be used as a means of communication with voters, fundraising, recruitment of volunteers and get-out-the-vote drives.
“It was our goal to set up an online presence similar to the ones we saw in the Governor Deval Patrick (D-MA) campaign and with MassEquality. Something that connected local activists so that they could organize locally more efficiently,” explains Fisher. “We also hoped that some areas of the state could share ideas and information with other areas of the state, so there'd be a cross-pollination of ideas, across geography and across subgroups.”
Shortly after the creation of the Facebook page, Fisher and Bernard were contacted by MfME. “We quickly agreed on a few concepts: the Facebook page does not speak for the campaign (it's individuals speaking on their own behalf), and that we'd emphasize positive messaging about love, commitment, and family. Based on that agreement, we began a partnership with the campaign.”
Fisher adds, “Mike and I are team leaders for MfME; we're in every-other-day contact with the MfME Director for Baltimore.  We collect signatures for the campaign, and we encourage our membership to participate in MfME volunteer efforts and events.”
However, Gerry Fisher and husband David Kimble are going beyond social media to attract activists.  They are working to hand out stickers, amass signatures and chat with supporters at the Waverly Farmers Market every Saturday from 8 a.m. until Noon.  They are seeking leaders to work the Downtown and Canton farmers markets as well.
In addition, until the election, the couple will be hosting an open house in their Charles Village residence at 2721 Guilford Avenue, Baltimore 21218 every Friday night.
 “The purpose of the ongoing open house is to provide a space for people to meet, get support, have a laugh and vent some steam, get information, talk informally, brainstorm ideas, strategize, announce events, pick up supplies (pledge sheets, stickers), connect across a diverse set of subgroups within the community, and begin the process of ‘having conversations’ that we’ll take with us back out into our daily lives,” explains Fisher.  “Hang out on the porch, hang out inside.  Come, connect, talk, and let’s figure out together how we’re going to reach the people we need to reach to win this referendum.” 
Those who cannot make it to Baltimore, the couple can be contacted through Skype.  Refreshments, such as soda, lemonade and light snacks will be available. BYOB. For more info, contact Gerry at gerryfisher61@comcast.net or 410-949-7888.
Working with MfME is imperative. “This effort is helping the grassroots to find its voice and use it, to get on its feet and move, that will provide the campaign with the foundation from which to organize,” says Fisher. “Without the glue of grassroots participation, it becomes ‘dueling campaign calls,’ and we're vulnerable to losing. If everyone is having the conversations with family, friends, and coworkers, we can't lose. But we've got to nurture, support, and encourage those conversations.”

Watch Out for the Gay Agenda

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Silhouette Stages Announces Auditions for RENT Jul. 12 & 16

Silhouette Stages proudly announces auditions for its fall production of Jonathan Larson’s musical/ rock opera Rent– the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning musical that changed Broadway forever.

Auditions (by appointment only) will take place Thursday July 12 & Monday July 16 - 7:00pm-10:00pm in Howard Community College's Horowitz Center, in HVPA 115 (Directions/Parking info – see “Rent Audition Details” www.silhouettestages.com).  The production, directed by Susan G. Kramer, will begin rehearsals early September; performance dates include October 25, 26, 27, 28 and November 1, 2, 3, 4, 2012 at Slayton House in Columbia, Maryland.

Audition appointment information is available on Silhouette Stages’ website:  www.silhouettestages.com.

About “Rent”:  The cast includes a diverse cast of 5 Men, 3 Women, Ensemble 6+ - Ages 18 and up.  All roles are non-paid.  Set in the East Village of New York City, RENT is about falling in love, finding your voice and living for today. Winner of the Tony Award for Best Musical and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, RENT has become a pop cultural phenomenon with songs that rock and a story that resonates with audiences of all ages.  Based loosely on Puccini's La Bohรจme, RENT follows a year in the life of a group of friends struggling to make it in the big city. How these young bohemians negotiate their dreams, loves, and conflicts provides the narrative thread to this groundbreaking musical.
About Silhouette Stages
Silhouette Stages is a 501c3 non-profit organization and is proud to contribute a portion of their proceeds to local charities in need through tax-exempt donations from patrons and community members like you who support our work.

Silhouette Stages started life as Shadow Block Productions in May 2003 with a production of “Quilters,” an unconventional, vignette-based musical about frontier women. The name “Shadow Block” actually referred to the blocks individually sewn into the quilts. At that time, the goal of Shadow Block was to produce rarely seen, small-cast musicals - the “hidden gems” of Broadway and Off-Broadway. Over the next five years, Shadow Block shows ranged from the serious, Violet and Working, to the seriously funny, Lucky Stiff, Johnny Guitar, and Is There Life After High School, to the satiric Ruthless, Nunsense and Nunsensations. These shows and many others entertained and enlightened Howard County audiences and the small group developed a loyal following.

In 2008, a change of venue provided the opportunity to re-examine the group’s mission statement and reach out to a broader population. Having relocated to Slayton House in the Wilde Lake Village Center of Columbia, MD, the first season’s offerings included the familiar; You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown and Rock & Roll Review, as well as the peculiar and very funny, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and Sugar. The group formed a new Board of Directors, incorporated and officially re-named themselves as “Silhouette Stages” in fall of 2009. Each season’s offerings will include a mix of big-name musicals, straight plays/comedies, and the obscure gems. Silhouette Stages touches an ever-expanding community of actors, musicians, production and technical crew, and creative staff in its mission to bring audiences the joys of the theatre experience.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Shane Messick: A Model for Pride

Upon his graduation from CCBC-Essex earlier in the month, Shane Messick can reflect on the journey he has taken during his young but full life.  He’s had to overcome a number of challenges, and at this point in that journey, he is so comfortable in his own skin that he wants to be a role model for others. 
It started out rocky for Shane though.  His father came out as gay while Shane was 5 years-old.  That disclosure upset his mother very much and his parents divorced, costing the family their home.  They moved in with his grandmother in Essex, Md. where he lived most of his life.

“My family did not like that he got married and had kids knowing he was gay, but as I got older I realized he had to try and live a lie, and times were much less safe then, than they are now,” Shane told Baltimore OUTloud.

He hated his father for being gay because it meant he had no father living at home. “Ironically, at 14 when I came out as gay myself, I realized like father, like son.” 

But having a gay dad made it easier for him to come out to his mom.  “I was a bit unsure how she would take it but it was a very simple coming out. I did not have the beating-around-the-bush moment. I think I told her within a week of my realizing it.”

Shane, now 22, feels lucky about that experience.  “My mom and grand mom have always loved me, and when I first came out I was very in your face about my sexuality, so they worried about my safety and tried to limit how much I expressed it. As I got older I calmed down and things were fine.”  Even though his oldest brother does not like that he’s gay, Shane says that he would be one of the first to help him out and keep him safe.

Shane with his Mom, Donna Lewis
But his mother continues to be a huge supporter and had appeared on YouTube with Shane as the supportive mother of a gay son.  She and his grandmother once went shopping with Shane for “drag clothes” and accessories for his first drag performance at “So You Think You Can Drag.”  Beaming, he says, “I was told I placed third so we must have shopped right!”

Shane says his mother is amazing.  “She is one of my best friends, I can talk to her about nearly anything, and I only wish every other person got to feel that way.”

His physical appearance was an obstacle for him early on, but no longer.  “Growing up I was the chubby awkward kid that everyone loved to hate. As I got older I thinned out and became a lot more popular.”  Indeed, Shane evolved into a handsome, tall, square-jawed lad with a mega-watt smile.  And people noticed.

After trying his hand at theatre early on, he found a new outlet.  Last October Shane was signed as a model and actor by L&M Modeling and Talent Management.  This was something Shane had never imagined possible given that he grew up chubby.   He has done some promotional work and was a “Top Ten Cover Boy” contestant for Metro Weekly.

“My goal is to be an actor, a full time actor and not struggling. I want to be in feature films, nationwide commercials, leading TV roles. I have gotten to do some pretty cool things so far as an actor. I was in a nationwide commercial for a Zombie 5K race called ‘Run for Your Lives.’ I was also in a WWII National Geographic special airing later this year, and I was in a feature film called Jamesy Boy coming out next year I believe.”

Currently he is in a web series called Rebels and Rejects, directed by Aaron Smith.  He plays the role of Lucas, a gay student in high school.  He is also the Assistant Casting Director.

Shane loves all that but Glee is his current dream. He auditioned for The Glee Project four times, even made semi-finals in Season 1 but did not make the show.  Shane would also like to be in horror movies and be a victim that has to fight for his life but is killed toward the end. “I feel a scene like that shows many emotions, and I know I could do it. I want to be the role model for all LGBT youth by giving a lot of attention to those fields as a celebrity.”

And Shane wants to perform that mission as an activist.  “In high school I was in our GSA, and I always was very outspoken about myself and I never liked seeing people bullied. We all do it at some point but going through the bullying that I did, crying every night because you will wake up and go back to hell... I would never want anyone to go through that.”

At CCBC-Essex he discovered the LGBT Rainbow Club.  He was elected vice president and became president a year and a half later.  The group participates in the National Day of Silence and Coming Out Day.  Shane’s mother appeared as a guest speaker before the club.

“After the Chrissy Polis attack we had a film on transgender education, and in Pride 2011 we walked with two themes (No TXT N DRIVE, and Transgender support).”  His biggest accomplishment as president was organizing “Drag-U-Cation”—an event that focused on creating understanding for the drag community through a drag show and a Q&A session.  

“We had local queens from Baltimore (Sue Nami, Anita Minett, and Anastasia) and we were able to have Jessica Wild from Season 2 of RuPaul’s Drag Race perform as well. We raised money for HIV/AIDS research and sent a check for over $430 to AmFar.”

The goal of the Rainbow Club was to foster equality throughout the campus and it ventured into the issue of same-sex marriage.  After a presentation by Marylanders for Marriage Equality, Shane created a Facebook event to vote YES for same-sex marriage this November, and has currently over 500 attendees.

“Our college awarded us best club program for the three years I was at CCBC-Essex. I will miss being such a big part of activism on campus. Outside of college, I was on a collab channel I started called  “7DailyGays” to try and help the youth. I think I will always be involved as an LGBT activist in some way, shape or form.”

Shane would like to see more accepting parents and families as well as more gay adoptions and full marriage equality.  “A big thing is I would love to see is more transgender support from everyone especially the gay community. I feel they face more discrimination then anyone and it makes me sad.”

And Shane would like to see less preaching of hate through religion, less divisiveness within the LGBT community, less violence towards our community and less outbreaks of STD’s/HIV.

As Pride nears, Shane ruminates further.  To him, Gay Pride means “family.”  “We are all family in this community, and fighting for the same things gives us a creative bond. Although we should already have these rights, I feel it creates a bond that heterosexual people will never know.”

He also feels that “Pride means finally living your life and being you. It means loving who you are and loving what you are.  What I have gone through has created me to be the person I am. As my mother says, ‘tell the truth or live a lie.’ Gay Pride is something that takes time sometimes, and I hope anyone reading this gets to feel that soon enough.”

Shane’s overall message for Pride: “We get one life. Be proud of yourself; don't focus on living it for someone else.”

Shane Messick can be reached at vocals_messick@yahoo.com for acting/modeling work or for anyone needing advice.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Checking In and Out of the Hot L Baltimore

Photo: Ken Stanek - Ken Stanek Photography
The grit, decay and lost souls that are featured in Audrey Herman’s Spotlighters Theatre production of The Hot L Baltimore may have been more relevant in 1973 when award-winning playwright Lanford Wilson wrote the script.  There may have even been some shock value back then—a play that offers, for example, three hookers among the characters—but it can be seen as somewhat jaded today. 
The script includes over 12 characters, and few are likable enough to merit the sympathy one would expect given the fact that their home—a run-down, once majestic Baltimore Hotel—is scheduled for demolition, forcing the residents to find another place to live.

For full review, visit MD Theatre Guide.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

A Good Time to be OUT and PROUD

Since last year’s Pride, happily there have been some quick-moving major developments in the quest for LGBT equality.  The repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” took effect with a ho-hum reaction from within the Armed Services instead of the predicted panic by anti-gay worry-warts. 
Both California’s Proposition 8 and the federally passed DOMA—Defense of Marriage Act—are not being upheld in the lower courts on Constitution grounds.  These cases will eventually go before the Supreme Court for an ultimate ruling.

New York State’s legislature passed same-sex marriage and Governor Cuomo immediately signed it. In Maryland the General Assembly narrowly approved marriage equality and Governor O’Malley signed it into law on March 1.  A referendum in an effort to overturn the law is likely in November.

As for gender identity non-discrimination, although Maryland’s General Assembly failed to bring the matter to a vote again this year, protections were legislated successfully in Baltimore and Howard counties, which expand on those already passed in Baltimore City and Montgomery County.  Perhaps next year, the state will follow through.
We witnessed for the first time in U.S. history a sitting president publically support same-sex marriage as did the current vice-president, his two predecessors and two former presidents.  And this hasn’t been demagogued so far by equality opponents as one would have expected.   You can sense a change in the direction of the wind.

One of the factors for this welcome progress has been the trending revealed in local and national polls about the improved attitudes towards LGBT folks including support for marriage equality.  A few years ago this would have seemed implausible. 

The people seem to be always out in front of the politicians on these matters, and the politicians take notice.  That was one of the reasons “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed; it garnered huge widespread backing from the citizenry.
What is causing the needle move into the positive side of the dial?   A recent CNN-ORC International survey offers some clues.  Although the divide continues by political party and age, the support for marriage equality, for example, is inching upward, and it might be because the issue has become more personal than before. 

According to this poll, the number of Americans who say someone close to them is gay stands at 60 percent.  Contrast that to 49 percent in 2010.  And during the 1990’s, CNN reports that the highest percentage of Americans having a gay family member or a close friend reached only 41 percent.   And that was a mere 14 years ago.  In that timeframe, that number rose from 41 to 60 percent, almost a 50 percent increase.
Gays and lesbians are coming out; it’s just that simple.  More are doing so at an earlier age than ever.  Added familiarity with gay people through culture or other means creates a safer environment to come out as do the increased protections against discrimination in employment and housing allow gays and lesbians to disclose their sexual orientation at work. (Note, there is still a long way to go in that regard and federal protections are still lacking.)

While there are too many instances whereby parents reject their children after they come out, those who are accepting have recognized that sexual orientation is not a choice or these families are not dominated by religious dogma.  Or maybe they simply love their kids as they are supposed to do!
All this may explain the fact that more people have close ties to a gay or lesbian person than before.  It should also explain why the positive numbers are rising since folks do not want to see the people close to them hurt by discrimination.

Still, there is so much work left to be accomplished.  We still have too many haters, and that’s an obstacle that will be difficult to overcome.  They should be remanded to the ever-shrinking minority of homophobes and Bible thumpers.
As Pride rolls in, there are certainly reasons to celebrate.  More people are coming out and are being more accepted for who they are.  And that translates into progress.

Pride began as a commemoration of the Stonewall uprising in New York when a rag-tag bunch of trans people, drag queens, street hustlers, and others marginalized by society in general and by gay folks in particular fought back after constant harassment.  Gay rights then were completely non-existent. 
Each year Pride parades and celebrations allow LGBT people to let it rip and be themselves. Sometimes this has impeded progress, but the world is getting used to it—or over it. 

The evolution from political rallies at Pride to a party atmosphere has been the subject of much commentary over the years.  We have plenty to celebrate to be sure.  But we should never forget how this all started in the first place.  And we cannot allow ourselves to forget the road to equality remains largely unpaved.

Let’s celebrate our accomplishments as a community and who we are as individuals, but let’s also rally the masses to join in on one of the most fundamental battles for equality this state has known.  If we do that we can achieve further success.
To do that, we need the entire community to get behind the effort to defeat the referendum in November.  Not everyone sees themselves as ever being married.  That’s OK.  But here’s the chance to show the world that the time for being treated like a second class citizen is over. 

That’s what real Pride is all about.  And why we should be out and proud.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Letter decrying gay marriage long on dogma, short on facts

Response Published in the Howard County Times-6/7/12

Free speech is what all of us cherish, but it’s a newspaper’s responsibility to ensure that even letters to the editor should be vetted for factual accuracy and should not allow opinions to be represented as facts.  Julian Bauer’s letter, (“Restricting religious opinions to churches limits free speech,” May 31) was long on religious dogma but short on facts.

Mr. Bauer used his letter to denounce same-sex marriage and referred to homosexuality as a “living style” and that it is somehow responsible for the collapse of empires and potentially society as a whole.  Massachusetts, where same-sex marriage has been legal the longest, continues to maintain the lowest divorce rate in the U.S.  It doesn’t appear that society in the Bay State has collapsed.

Yes, we hear all the time how marriage is intended for procreation; never mind it was once a business arrangement by the couples’ families until relatively recently.  I take it that those couples or cannot or do not want procreate should have their marriage licenses invalidated?

One particular comment merits scrutiny: “Religious people who practice their faith are, with some exceptions, happier, wealthier and have more stable families than the general public.”  In response I can offer real facts.  Of the 9 states with the highest percentage white evangelicals (source:beliefnet.com), 7 have the highest poverty rate (source: U.S. Census). 

The inconvenience of facts.

Steve Charing

Monday, June 04, 2012

'The Typographer’s Dream': Not Your Humdrum Day at Work

Jenny Male, Sarah Ford Gorman and Steven J. Satta-Fleming

“What if people really were their jobs?”  

This is the overriding theme in the Iron Crow Theatre’s 75-minute production of Adam Bock’s The Typographer’s Dream—the final installment of the 2011-2012 season.  It’s a smart, funny and unique theatrical experience that is masterful in its simplicity and clever in its use of language. 
Performed at the Swirnow Theater at the Mattin Center on the Johns Hopkins University campus, the stage is essentially bare except for three tables extended together and three chairs.  At each chair sits a typographer (Margaret, played by Sarah Ford Gorman), a geographer who is Canadian (Annalise, played by Jenny Male), and a stenographer (Dave, played by Steven J. Satta-Fleming). 

For full review, visit MD Theatre Guide.