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Four Decades Along the Rainbow Road

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The OUTIES: the Best (and Worst) of 2014

It’s that time when I once again look through the rear view mirror and award the OUTspoken OUTIES for the past year.  I reviewed the events of this past year in the areas of politics and culture and am presenting an unapologetic, subjective, biased list of winners (and losers) who are deserving of the OUTIES trophy. In no particular order, here are the OUTspoken OUTIES of 2014.

Best Politician: Hands down, it’s Larry Hogan.  The Republican managed to rise from obscurity in a state that is 2 to 1 Democratic and ran a steady race to upset Anthony Brown (see below).  His economic message was focused, and his debates’ searing zingers hit the mark. The Brown strategists’ ineptitude and voter apathy helped.
Worst Politician: Hands down, it’s Anthony Brown.  Having cruised to a primary victory, aided by the Democratic establishment, a solid running mate and outspending his opponent by a 5 to 1margin, Brown went negative too early to lift Hogan’s name recognition giving him a chance at victory and squandered a clear opportunity to be the state’s first African-American governor.

Worst Example of Citizenship: The tens of thousands of voters who sat out the election but undoubtedly will grumble ad nauseam about how bad our elected officials are.
Worst Political Bet: Equality Maryland’s PAC for riding the front runner and endorsing Brown before the primary while alienating Mizeur and Gansler supporters in the process.  With three proven allies for LGBT equality running, EQMD should have remained neutral until the general election.

Most Gratifying Success: The passage of the Fairness for All Marylanders Act (FAMA) resulting in non-discrimination protections for transgender folks without having to deal with referendum drama.  The hyped bathroom scare didn’t work.

More Good Fortune for Trans: Movies, TV shows and a cover story on TIME helped propel more visibility for the transgender community.  Recall how Will & Grace and Real World helped gays to be more accepted.
Worst News for Trans: Two more brutal murders of trans women in Baltimore with little likelihood the cases will be solved.

Doing More With Less: A scaled down Equality Maryland, financially and in staff, managed to be a significant player along with other groups and individuals in getting FAMA enacted.
Best Local LGBT Organization: FreeState Legal Project for providing important pro bono legal assistance to those LGBT folks who can least afford it.

Most Altruistic Organization: Repeat winner Brother Help Thyself, which raises much needed money for non-profit LGBT orgs. Great work and they do it every year!
Most Popular Job: Executive Director at the GLCCB.  Three people have held that (or interim) position during 2014.  Here’s hoping for more stability at the Center.

Least Popular Move: Shifting the Pride block party to the MICA-Mt. Royal-Artscape area from Mount Vernon and eliminating Druid Hill Park met with significant blowback from communities.  The GLCCB is listening.

Best ‘I Got the Message’ Organization: The GLCCB, under fire for a lack of transparency and inclusiveness, has taken a series of concrete steps to help alleviate concerns.  It needs to continue.
Best Eatery to Lunch in Mount Vernon: Tavern on the Hill on Cathedral Street offers up a broad menu, tasty food and friendly service at a reasonable price.

Best Mount Vernon Restaurant for Dinner: The Mount Vernon Stable, an area fixture, provides a nice atmosphere for LGBT folks and serves fine dinners (and brunches and lunches) from a friendly staff.
Sorry to See You Go: The closing of The Quest was a blow to the Highlandtown locals and others who wanted to venture from other LGBT venues.  Its neighborhood feel is hard to duplicate.

Best Gay-Friendly Theater: Basically all local theaters are LGBT-friendly.  But Toby’s of Columbia with its large number of resident gay performers and staff gives it an edge.  Sometimes when visiting it seems like Pride with a buffet.  And the shows are reliably superb.
Best Gay Film: The BBC-produced Pride, which ran at the venerable Charles Theater, was my favorite.  It told a heartwarming story of how blue collar laborers and gays bonded to form a strong and successful alliance during the 1980’s miners’ strike in the U.K.

Best Gay Play: Iron Crow Theatre’s Homo Poe Show wins here. Well directed and acted, Homo Poe Show is a weird play in true Iron Crow tradition that consisted of a series of short pieces in an attempt to present Edgar Allan Poe’s works through a queer lens—forevermore.
Best Gay Musical: Dundalk Community College’s splashy production of one of my all-time favorites La Cage Aux Folles wins.  Given that there were gay main characters, the music and lyrics were penned by a gay composer Jerry Herman and the book written by Harvey Fierstein who is also gay, there is no question it deserves the OUTIES trophy.  Moreover, La Cage gives us the unofficial gay anthem “I Am What I Am.”

Best TV Show with a Gay Character: Move over Modern Family and make room for the Boston-based The McCarthys.  Ronny, the gay character played by Tyler Ritter (who is straight), is a hoot as is the rest of his snarky, loveable, sports-obsessed Irish-American family.
Best Kiss Since Al and Tipper Gore: Michael Sam locking lips with his sculpted abs boyfriend Vito Cammisano on ESPN upon learning that Sam was the first openly gay player to be drafted in the NFL.  Sadly, he failed to make a team—yet.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Stonewall v. Ferguson: Different Eras, Outcomes

In the wake of nationwide demonstrations protesting controversial grand jury decisions in Ferguson, Mo. and New York, a provocative piece ran on the Bilerico Project website titled “Gays Condemning Riots: The Greatest of Hypocrisies”.

The melee outside the Stonewall Inn in June 1969
The guest blogger who authored the article, Matt Comer, editor of QNotes, a Charlotte, NC-based LGBT newspaper, saw a parallel in the riots that accompanied the Ferguson protests and the Stonewall Inn uprising and asserted, “Some gays are hypocrites: They condemn the rioting in the aftermath of extreme miscarriages of justice for black people, all the while ignoring the fact they gather once a year to openly celebrate and commemorate a riot—a violent outburst that served as the so-called birth of their movement.”
I have some issues with the premise. True, there are gays who oppose what is occurring in Ferguson and New York and in other cities around the country as do people in the non-gay population.  Nonetheless, I am reasonably confident that far more LGBT folks have stepped forward in support of the protesters.  We see the failure of justice continue to plague African-Americans combined with the strained relations blacks as well as LGBT folks historically have endured with local police departments.  There is a natural alliance here. 

Moreover, LGBT organizations and individuals have not only empathized with the protesters with public statements, they have joined hands in the marches, which have been, except for Ferguson, non-violent and restrained considering the level of injustice that has sickened so many.
I also contest the notion that gays celebrate and commemorate the Stonewall uprisings every year.  They are supposed to be doing that, but ask any LGBT millennial (and I dare say even older) if they are even aware of Stonewall or understand its significance.  Clearly, some do; I’m equally sure, however, most either do not or simply don’t care. 

In the early years following Stonewall, there was that energy to create social and political change as people gathered to mark that eventful June uprising with signs, speeches and rallies.  Today, not so much.  Pride is more about where celebrants can openly drink, who will be the entertainment and how organizations can profit from the event.  You never hear a political or rallying speech anymore though so much more work needs to be done. The historical value is rapidly being lost.
I agree with Comer that there are some similarities between Stonewall and Ferguson though he cites the acts of violence as the main reason.  In my view, the common thread is the fact that the participants were fed up with a cumulative effect of unjust police actions and disparate treatment gays and blacks have received. Yet there are differences. 

By most reliable accounts, Stonewall occurred as a result of two factors: bar patrons were angered by the constant police raiding of their “home” and also they had been appalled by the Mafia-run operation of the bar that included pricey, watered-down bootlegged liquor and unsanitary conditions within the establishment. The violence on that early June 28 early morning escalated at Stonewall when a lesbian was being roughed up by the police on the way to the paddy wagon and either she or someone else shouted, “Do something!” 
"Whatever coverage was offered on Stonewall, it appeared to have marginalized the demonstrators, demeaned them and used stereotypes to perpetuate the narrative."

African-Americans in Ferguson have had tense relationships with the police for a long time.  It boiled over when Michael Brown, 18 and unarmed, was gunned down on a Ferguson street by a policeman.  Residents and supporters were hoping that a grand jury would indict the officer, Darren Wilson, for committing a crime and there at least would be justice in the tragedy. 

The grand jury did not indict him and that’s when anger spilled out on the streets.  Although the testimony was murky and often contradictory, my impression was that the prosecutor did not want to see an indictment handed down or he wouldn’t have allowed Wilson to present his side of the story—an unconventional but not unprecedented tactic in the grand jury system.
Another dissimilarity between Stonewall and Ferguson was that Stonewall did not occur as a result of a death.  In fact, there were only minor injuries reported, mostly sustained by police personnel.  Ferguson, as we know, was sparked by the killing of Brown.

With Stonewall, there was no social media to fuel any uprisings.  They occurred mainly from word-of-mouth, and it certainly didn’t attract any national attention or protests until the one-year commemorative march in 1970. 
Local newspapers gave it little “ink” at the time—tiny articles buried among the other news of the day in the New York Times.   Demonstrations were commonplace in New York during that era because of the Vietnam War.  Therefore, Stonewall was merely a blip on the screen. The New York Daily News, the city’s tabloid that dwelled on the sensational, did run a front page article several days later with the headline, “Homo Nest Raided, Queen Bees Are Stinging Mad.” 

That’s another distinction between the two episodes.  With Ferguson, other than conservative news outlets, most of the media has been rather supportive of the demonstrators except when TV footage focused on the looting and burning.  The media today generally understands, at least, why this is occurring.  Whatever coverage was offered on Stonewall, it appeared to have marginalized the demonstrators, demeaned them and used stereotypes to perpetuate the narrative.
Unquestionably, the largest difference between the two events is race.  In Stonewall, the uprising bar patrons were from multiple races.  Race was never the storyline.  In Ferguson, the opposite is true. 

Race has become again a big part of a national conversation and debate.  The response in Ferguson, New York and elsewhere brought to the forefront dubious police tactics in dealing with African-Americans, the prevailing mistrust, as well as obvious flaws in our justice system.  Hopefully, it will spark reform in these areas.
That will be Ferguson’s legacy.  We are realizing Stonewall’s legacy today.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

In A Christmas Carol, Morella Acts Like the Dickens

Any actor will tell you that playing a role is not simply memorizing lines from a script and following the play’s director. One needs to do research and delve into the character’s qualities and persona and for a couple of hours lose one’s own identity and virtually become that character. 
Paul Morella in 'A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas 
Photo: Stan Barouh
In A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas now playing at the Olney Theatre Center’s Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab, multiple Helen Hayes Award nominee and Olney stage veteran Paul Morella does exactly that.  Except there is a major difference: he not only acts out a singular character, he plays over two dozen characters in this heartwarming, imaginative adaptation of Charles Dickens’ 1943 classic novella A Christmas Carol.
Mr. Morella’s hand in this one-man show stretches out from not only performing the myriad roles but also to being the theater’s usher (welcoming audience members with a warm smile and handshake), self-directing his own performance and turning in a fine job as set co-designer.  This is not a new experience for Mr. Morella as the current adaptation that is now running through December 28 is his fifth consecutive year at Olney—clearly a popular Christmastime tradition for the D.C.-area audience.

For full review, visit MD Theatre Guide.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Thanksgiving Turkeys to Carve Up

Thanksgiving offers a great opportunity to reflect on our blessings and bring those not as fortunate into forefront of our thoughts.  To be sure, from a personal standpoint I feel I’m blessed.  Regarding the accomplishments within our LGBT community to which I’ve dedicated a good portion my life, there have been blessings aplenty, which make me feel proud and fulfilled.

I’m proud that Baltimore achieved a perfect score in the Human Rights Campaign Metropolitan Equality Index that reflects myriad achievements on various levels to help bring our community to at least on par with the rest of the citizenry.  I am also elated that my state was wise enough to allow same-sex couples like ours to marry and finally be able to receive the benefits that marriage affords.  I am also happy that the state ended discrimination against my transgender friends this year by asserting that all of our citizens should not be subject to discrimination.

Thus, with the rainbow flags flying high and proud, this Thanksgiving brought into focus other areas of concern that afflict our communities. I don’t want to sound dour but there is a set of realities or turkeys that should also noted.
Around the same time HRC’s pat-on-the-back to Baltimore came out, GLSEN presented some disturbing news that indicates we’re not making sufficient progress in Maryland’s high schools when it comes to bullying and related issues.  In the report GLSEN’s survey revealed a staggering high percentage of secondary school students in Maryland who have heard taunts, name-calling and/or experienced various forms of bullying that are LGBT-oriented. 

Just as disappointing is the fact that only 14 percent attended a school with a comprehensive anti-bullying/harassment policy. We have been led to believe the state has such policies in place and perhaps the students aren’t aware of them.  But with so many of the students reporting such incidents you have to wonder. 
Recently, I represented PFLAG-Howard County at a county parks and recreation teen opportunities fair and heard mixed results from the students.  One student said that her gay friend at her high school is doing fine with being openly gay and has not experienced any problems with respect to bullying.  Yet, another student from the same high school, if you can believe it, mentioned her gay friend has been hospitalized due to the stress he received from being bullied by other students.

Clearly, anti-bullying policies must be tightened and enforced, and students, faculty and staff alike must be educated on these policies.  While it is true that today’s youth are increasingly supportive of equal rights for LGBT people, there is still evidence that it is not universal and bullying of all forms need to be eradicated.  No longer should a report emanating from GLSEN state that Maryland schools are unsafe for LGBT students.
Too many teens have taken their lives as a last resort because of kids who have the need to raise their own self-esteem at the expense of others.  According to The Trevor Project, an organization dedicated to ending suicide by LGBTQ youth, suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 24.  LGB youth are four times more likely (and questioning youth three times) to attempt suicide than their straight peers.  And about 25 percent of young transgender individuals have attempted suicide.

Another turkey that needs carving is the rate of homelessness among LGBTQ youth.  As the frigid, cold winter dawns upon us, it is imperative to acknowledge that homeless LGBTQ youth are sleeping outside in boxes or on grates just to survive. 
The National Coalition for the Homeless reports that 20 percent of homeless youth are LGBT.  (Some organizations’ estimates are even higher, even up to 40 percent.)
While homeless youth typically experience severe family conflict as the primary reason for their homelessness, LGBT youth are twice as likely to experience sexual abuse before the age of 12.  LGBT youth, once homeless, are at higher risk for victimization, mental health problems, and unsafe sexual practices. Over 58 percent of LGBT homeless youth have been sexually victimized compared to 33.4 percent of heterosexual homeless youth. LGBT youth are roughly 7.4 times more likely to experience acts of sexual violence than heterosexual homeless youth. 

"LGBT organizations must seriously direct their efforts to preventing homelessness among LGBTQ youth and dealing with those who are." 

To the issue of suicide, homeless youth who are LGBT commit suicide at higher rates (62 percent) than heterosexual homeless youth (29 percent).  Transgender youth are even far more vulnerable.
These statistics are as chilling as the weather and illustrates that parents and families who continue to reject their children based on sexual orientation and gender identity either throw their kids out on the streets or make their environment so inhospitable that the kids need to run away.

Foster care is not a solution at this point because of the discrimination homeless LGBT youth experience, and these situations promote a homophobic atmosphere leading many youth to run away believing they are safer on the streets.  
LGBT organizations must seriously direct their efforts to preventing homelessness among LGBTQ youth and dealing with those who are.  It’s not as sexy a cause as marriage equality where tons of money had been raised.  But this crisis needs to be met if those organization still aspire to remain relevant.

This little reminder only scratches the surface.  We still need to face the epidemic of HIV/AIDS as folks are mistakenly assuming that unsafe sex practices are OK now.  They aren’t.
We have a developing crisis in the rapid growth in the aging population whereby seniors are experiencing discrimination in assisted living and nursing care facilities.  The discrimination among those entities are driving LGBT seniors back into the closet and preventing their partner’s access to them.

There are other such turkeys that need carving providing more food for thought to chew on, but this list should fill you up for now.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

A Misfire Saved and Changed Josh Deese’s Life

At a recent meeting of the Howard County chapter of PFLAG, a handsome young man named Josh Deese, who was celebrating his 21st birthday, introduced a short film named Trevor.  The movie described how a gay youth named Trevor had been bullied to the point of suicide but then recovered to live, hopefully, a better life. 

Among the audience at this screening were a couple of dozen of members of the chapter’s Rainbow Youth and Allies group, ages 14-22.  The normally energetic youths sat riveted in stone silence throughout both the film and Josh Deese’s powerful post-film discussion that described a similar path he himself traveled and how it ultimately led him to be a compelling spokesman for The Trevor Project— the nation’s leading LGBTQ youth suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization.  Most young people who turn 21 go out partying to celebrate; Josh decided to help educate the community.
Josh’s life has been anything but easy.  Openly gay, he grew up in a small town in South Florida called Clewiston with all of its Southern charm hovering over the town’s sugar cane, orange farms and alligators.  “Clewiston is every Southern boy’s dream – if he were straight,” says Josh.
His parents were of modest means living in a 2-bedroom mobile home where he shared a twin-size bed with his little brother.  He was always treated differently beginning with elementary school.  Josh watched CNN in the 2nd grade, read newspapers and followed the 2004 Presidential election hoping to impress his teachers.  His friends traveled a different road, and the differences between Josh and them were beginning to widen.

“In middle school, I was treated differently because I was the kid who everyone thought was gay,” Josh recalls. “The teases and insults turned to slight shoves and slaps. Eventually, it got worse. The school administration never did anything to those responsible. I remember crying to my father in 8th grade asking ‘Why? Why don’t those kids get in trouble?’” He looked at me and ultimately said, ‘Well, that’s just how the world works. They’re at the top, and we’re not.’ Then he said something that really stuck: ‘But you can be… you can be. And one day, you will be.’”
As the only openly gay student in high school, he was known as “Josh, the faggot.” “Not “a faggot,” but THE faggot,” he emphasizes. School life was filled with isolation and fear. “From the members of my wrestling team, who hazed me intensely in an effort to get me to quit the team, to the rest of my peers, who threw insults, as well as punches.”

Josh was constantly taunted, books were slammed out of his hands in the hallway, and he was shoved into lockers.  All the usual epithets were hurled at him.
After staying after class one day to speak with his English teacher,  he decided to take a shortcut home and noticed three guys following him.  He tried to move faster but it was too late. 

“A swift yank from a strap of my backpack and a stinging smack to the face knocked me to the ground. No one was there to help me. The three guys punched, kicked, and slammed me. I recognized one of them – a boy on my wrestling team; someone I trusted and confided in. ‘Deese,’ he said, calling me by my last name, ‘I’m sorry man, but we’re doing you a favor,’ he concluded, as he kicked me square in the gut. I got up, bloodied and bruised, and limped my way back home.

“My parents were furious. My father wanted blood. My mother just wanted the violence to end. My nose was fractured, my jaw bone suffered injury, and I had a busted lip – a hearty reward for the boy who just wanted a friend.”
Josh had begun looking for resources for LGBTQ youth on Google. He found The Trevor Project, which has a website full of resources and tips. “They had a 24-hour lifeline that LGBTQ youth could call if things ever got too tough and an awesome website – TrevorSpace – a social networking site, where LGBTQ youth from all around the world could talk to each other.”

He created a TrevorSpace account and began speaking to some of the first gay guys who he ever had interacted with. “It was refreshing to see so much diversity on the coming out spectrum. People on this site made me feel accepted, safe and happy.”
Through this site he made some friends. “I even found a boyfriend: a beautiful boy named Kyle. He was from Missouri. His parents were Baptist preachers. His beautiful blonde hair, radiant blue eyes and gorgeous white smile had taken me aback. I was in love. WE were in love.”

After a month of chatting on Skype, Josh and Kyle began dating.  They talked about their dreams of being together.  “Kyle suddenly went missing,” Josh says.  Over three weeks later Kyle’s sister contacted Josh to tell him that their father found out about Josh and discovered gay porn on Kyle’s laptop.  They were forbidden to speak to one another and Kyle was sent to a gay-reversion clinic.
“Three months later, I received a message on Facebook.  It was Kyle – he was back. I remember quickly rushing through my computer to get to Skype, so I could see his beautiful face again. My eager excitement turned to worry and deep concern. For the next few weeks that we talked, he wasn’t the same anymore. He wasn’t smiling anymore. His voice was monotone. His eyes looked sad and empty.”

After exchanging goodnight kisses through the webcam, Josh never heard from Kyle again.  The friend who had introduced them on TrevorSpace messaged Josh.  He asked if Josh was OK and asked him if he heard about Kyle. The friend attached a newspaper article from the Internet that indicated Kyle had hung himself.
“This beautiful boy felt so upset and hated and depraved by his parents, that he felt the only way out was to take his life. I lost it – I cried uncontrollably and felt hopeless. I didn’t know what to do,” Josh recalls.

“The next few days went by like a blur. I didn’t care about anything. I just wanted to be happy.  My parents didn’t understand me, I didn’t have any friends, and the first love of my life was gone. I had nothing else to live for. So I planned, and I waited.”

Since Josh’s father was a police officer, there were many guns in his house.  One evening when he was alone, Josh went to his parents’ room and took his father’s service pistol back to his bedroom.

“I sat on the bed, holding the gun, and began to cry. This is what my life had become: one of sadness, and sorrow, and fear. I put the gun to my right temple, counted to three, closed my eyes, and squeezed the trigger. My eyes still closed, I thought, ‘Is this death? I didn’t feel a thing.’ I opened my eyes, and saw that I was still in my room. No pain. No blood. No bang. I was alive. It appeared that the gun was loaded, but the firing pin didn’t strike the bullet properly – crazy odds.”
He put the gun down and began to cry again. “There had to be a better way to solve this… a safer, more peaceful resolution. I began to think and that’s when it hit me – The Trevor Project. I called the lifeline and was relieved to find a warm, caring voice on the other end of the line. His name was Adam who was a counselor for The Trevor Project. I told him about everything that had happened in my life and why I felt the way I did. He was supportive, caring, and accepting. He assured me that my life was full of value and meaning. He made me feel special and significant.”

"There had to be a better way to solve this… a safer, more peaceful resolution."

Josh continued to call the lifeline for the next few months and began his road to recovery. “It was around this time where I was approached by a friend I had met on TrevorSpace, who told me that The Trevor Project was looking for LGBTQ youth who had leadership potential to join a special youth council. I applied and was accepted.”
He persuaded his parents to allow him to fly to Los Angeles to attend his first Trevor Project training. “I spent the weekend meeting with a group of LGBTQ high school and college students who had also been admitted to The Trevor Project Youth Advisory Council. We shared experiences and stories with each other, gave each other advice, and allowed each other to grow.”

Josh learned LGBTQ 101, the basics of sex and gender, suicide prevention and crisis intervention strategies, as well as more background information on The Trevor Project’s programs and services. He was able to take all of the information that he had learned back home to Florida and did what he was taught to do: educate.
“I started with my parents. Now, they had never disagreed with me, they just didn’t understand – and who would, in a small town where no one talks about sexuality and gender? I explained the basics of LGBTQ 101 and it all began to fall into place. My parents understood and were full of questions, which I happily answered.”

Josh is proud and grateful for his family’s support along his journey.  His success with his parents led him to take that experience to school.  “People started to understand. People started to accept me. This was the first time where I had finally met some actual friends, in the flesh, who wanted to actively participate in my life. What my Youth Advisory Council advisor told me was true, ‘Education trumps ignorance.’ This is when I began my journey as an activist for LGBTQ rights, suicide prevention, and mental health awareness.”

Josh found his final two years of high school to be amazing.  He had friends, boyfriends, and many fun experiences.
At his graduation, Josh  presented his last act of defiance by “doing the Cat Daddy” next to his principal, and walked off a proud graduate of Clewiston High School’s Class of 2012.  “One month later, I’d be on a plane to Washington, D.C., starting my new journey as a freshman at the University of Maryland, to pursue my passion for politics and public service.

Josh found the past two years in the D.C. area to be both rewarding and challenging.  His work with The Trevor Project allows him to speak at events and fundraisers, meeting Members of Congress, sharing his story and  explaining the importance of legislation that would benefit and increase LGBTQ education and life-affirming services to LGBTQ youth everywhere.
“I’ve had the privilege of being invited to the White House and working with President Obama’s staff to discuss important initiatives and programs for LGBTQ people. I was also humbled last year to win The Washington Blade’s Best of Gay D.C. Award for Most Committed Activist. I’ve even met an amazing guy that I’ve grown very fond of.”

Unfortunately for Josh, last semester he lost his co-signer for his student loans and was unable to pay for school, thus, forcing him to withdraw from the University of Maryland.  The financial worries have contributed to his anxiety. 
“I’ve been stuck working full-time in order to pay my living expenses, but am currently facing eviction. I’m unable to have a social life or see any of my friends because I’m not in school.”

 “As I said, happiness, or the lack thereof, has been the focus of my life. I continue to clutch closely, my father’s words to me. ‘But you can be… you can be. And one day, you will be.’ I think of this in my mind every night before I go to bed, thinking of a way out. Someone once said, ‘Some men aren’t meant to be happy. They are meant to be great.’ I intend to challenge this and prove it wrong. I know it’s possible. I don’t know how… but I’ll prove it wrong.”
Hopefully, he will. Josh deserves happiness.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Begonia People

Another interesting panel discussion took place at the Columbia Democratic Club on November 12.  This meeting featured four excellent representatives from Howard County’s myriad non-profit organizations to discuss the scope of the problems experienced by the low income citizens of the county and the challenges facing the organizations in attempting to provide needed services. 

One point raised at the meeting that really struck a chord with the audience is that people don’t notice the low income housing that exists in places around the county.  They drive, bicycle, jog or walk past these buildings oblivious to the folks inside the dwellings because they don’t appear to be in that situation.  Why?  These structures typically have landscaped flower beds in front—begonias to be specific—that create a sort of mask, which hides the economic realities of the tenants.
The problem of poverty, homelessness, substance abuse and mental health issues all exist in the county and begonias or not, the problem is very real.  Some parts of the county are affected more than others as Howard has a wide range of income disparities.  To be clear, the county’s strong government addresses many of these needs through their own services, but more must be done. That’s where the non-profits come in to strengthen the safety net.

We hear during election campaigns how Howard County is one of the wealthiest in the nation.  That its school system is second to none in the state, its parks rank among the best in the state and the library system is a model for the country.  Magazines tout the county as one of the best to live in.  These are all true and politicians should emphasize the positives if they are smart; there is nothing wrong with that.  One would not brag about the number of homeless people there are in the county unless, of course, the number is zero.   #hocopolitics

So we hear this refrain over and over how great the county is.  While this is accurate, it is imperative for the non-profits who provide needed services for those not mentioned in speeches—the begonia people including the homeless—to effectively vie with that messaging and educate a rather uninformed populace. 
Non-profits must compete among a crowded field of 1,600 similar organizations for resources and volunteers, but they must also battle the perception that the county is brimming only with rich people who send their kids to top-rated schools and play in superior parks. 

It is our obligation and duty to vigorously help spread that message. We need to raise the consciousness concerning the folks behind the begonias and those who live on the streets so that the county can fully be proud.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Seeing Red: The Dems and the Election Bloodbath

Typically, the color red signals danger, such as a red light at an intersection or a red flag.  In other cases, red has a negative connotation like in red-handed, red tape, redneck, red herring and an undesirable ink color on a balance sheet.

To Democrats, by the time midnight rolled around on Election Night, the nation in general and Maryland in particular had been soaked by a splash of red as if a bucket of pigs’ blood was emptied from above like in the horror film Carrie.
 Republicans, who are associated with the color red as in red states, counties, etc., pulled off a stunning string of victories from the U.S. Senate to council offices down the ballot that painted the map a sea of red.
This phenomenon is not unusual as the party not occupying the White House in the sixth year of a second term of a presidency historically makes gains—sometimes substantial and transformative as one we just experienced.  It was expected that the prevailing mood of national discontent with President Obama for reasons still beyond my comprehension would result in a changing of the guard in the Senate and an increase in the ever-growing conservative gerrymandered district-rigging of the House of Representatives.  #hocopolitics

Democratic candidates treated Obama like he was kryptonite with some even blaming him for the Ebola outbreak that consisted of one death here.  That the nation’s voters would ignore the fact that unemployment is down to 5.8 percent and the 214,000 added jobs in October means that employers have added at least 200,000 jobs for nine straight months, the longest such stretch since 1995 is pathetic.  
The stock market has reached new heights.  Gasoline is at relatively low levels. Obamacare, so reviled by those who didn’t have a clue what was inside the law, now allows uninsured citizens access to health care.  Oh, and Bin Laden is dead and GM is alive (even if some of their drivers aren’t).  Nonetheless, the Dems ran away from all that—a sure-fire losing strategy.

Yet, Democratic voters and candidates also seem to have forgotten how the Republican Party with the lowest approval ratings on record, shut down the government, nearly allowed the U.S. to default on its obligations, and stifled reform on immigration, sensible gun control and any job package the President sent up the Hill. 
It makes me see red. 
Not that the results would have been much different but Democratic candidates virtually conceded the election to the GOP by distancing themselves from Obama.  It wasn’t just a surge of anti-Obama folks that descended on the polls that shaped the outcome; reliable Dem voters stayed home.  That’s how you lose if you’re a Democrat.
In Maryland it was a similar playbook for the Republicans: tap the electorate’s perceived discontent and hope that the Democrats field less than stellar candidates so Dem voters, too, would pass on this off-year election.  That formula worked in the Governor’s race.

Lt. Governor Anthony Brown, the heir apparent to Governor Martin O’Malley, skated through the primary to defeat two other LGBT equality advocates, former delegate Heather Mizeur a lesbian, and Attorney General Douglas Gansler.  The LGBT community was divided among them but Mizeur garnered the most enthusiasm.  Dissension spiked when the Equality Maryland PAC made a curious and controversial endorsement of Brown so early in the process.
It wasn’t just a surge of anti-Obama folks that descended on the polls that shaped the outcome; reliable Dem voters stayed home.

Brown avoided specifics during the primaries—a deficiency that would later haunt him in the general election—and squashed his two rivals by depending on the formidable O’Malley “machine” that attracted huge amounts of cash, paid worker bees, numerous volunteers, union support  and a host of other endorsements.  Don’t knock that machine, however; we wouldn’t have achieved marriage equality without it being cranked up at the right time when the Question 6 campaign was floundering in the early stages.

In the Brown vs. Hogan match-up, Brown failed to present any kind of vision for the future and instead trusted his “campaign strategists” by attacking Hogan as a bogeyman thus raising the profile of the relatively unknown former appointments secretary in the single-term Ehrlich administration.
Larry Hogan was far more effective in face-to-face debates, staying on message about the multitude of tax hikes under the O’Malley administration and the disastrous rollout of the state’s new health care exchange of which Brown had been assigned the lead.  Armed with witty quips and zingers, Hogan scored big during these contests and Brown’s failure to defend the administration or Maryland’s economic posture for that matter helped seal the deal.

Though Republican voters in the state sniffed a huge upset, the ultimate outcome was not decided by them but the tens of thousands of eligible Democrat voters who rode this one out.  Call it voter self-suppression.  Baltimore City, an anticipated boon to the Brown election map, had a 35 percent turnout.  Ouch.
Fortunately, marriage equality and transgender protections were achieved in Maryland before this election.  Hogan, although he promised not to try to turn back these settled issues, probably would not have signed a same-sex marriage bill into law, let alone fight for it like O’Malley did.  He said he has since “evolved” on marriage equality (sound familiar?) but stated he opposed the transgender non-discrimination bill—the Fairness for All Marylanders Act.

Nationally, the more conservative entrenched Congress will not act on finally passing the Employment Nondiscrimination Act or ENDA, which has been languishing in Congress for decades.  As has been the experience in the past, the GOP will probably misinterpret the election results as a mandate, and will hamper their being a national party when its leadership will revert to appealing to their shrinking base of white, male, older, rural, Protestant and heterosexual Americans, believing there is no need to reach out to LGBT folks.
The next two years will be seen as a pause in our struggle for progress on many levels.  If we can wait it out, perhaps all that the red will turn into a rainbow.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

LGBT Support Split in Howard County Executive Race

Riding the red wave that splashed across the country and Maryland on November 4, former GOP State Senator Allan Kittleman stunned Democrat councilwoman Courtney Watson and her supporters in the race to succeed term-limited Ken Ulman as Howard County Executive. In doing so, Kittleman became only the second Republican to be elected to that office in the county’s history. 
Allan Kittleman with Carrie Evans during a fundraiser at Pride
Ulman lost his chance to be Lieutenant Governor as part of Anthony Brown’s failed bid to be Maryland’s first African-American governor. The 51.3 % to 48.6 % margin in the Kittleman-Watson contest was closer than the Larry Hogan margin over Brown in the county suggesting that Brown’s poor performance was a drag on Watson’s quest to be the county’s executive.
The race in Howard was distinguished by the fact that two strong LGBT advocates faced off against one another.  Although marriage equality and transgender non-discrimination were settled issues and were not the focus of the campaigns, each side tried to woo LGBT voters by touting their respective records. 
Watson’s campaign, for instance, held at least two LGBT-specific events.  Kittleman enlisted the support of Carrie Evans, executive director of Equality Maryland, to boost his campaign.  Evans recorded a video extolling Kittleman’s accomplishments for LGBT equality.

Kittleman had been a vocal supporter of marriage equality in Maryland’s Senate the last two years the bill came up for votes.  He also vigorously campaigned to protect the law that was signed by Governor Martin O’Malley in 2012 when it was petitioned to referendum.   
In addition, Kittleman supported and voted for this year’s successful passage of the Fairness for All Marylanders Act (FAMA) that provided anti-discrimination protections in employment, housing, public accommodations and credit based on gender identity. Those actions, which cost Kittleman his position as the Senate’s Minority Leader because they bucked party dogma, did not go unnoticed by the LGBT community.

For her part, Watson, as councilwoman, played a significant role in getting a similar transgender non-discrimination measure passed in Howard County.  She took that success to Baltimore County to persuade wavering lawmakers, and it passed just a couple of months later.  Watson went to Annapolis two years in a row and testified on the statewide bill’s behalf during House committee hearings.
Through the years, both candidates had regularly appeared at PFLAG-Howard County events to demonstrate support for the county’s LGBT citizens. Most notable of these was a joint appearance at a PFLAG-sponsored forum in July.   In October both candidates addressed the crowd during a celebration held by PFLAG and Gender Rights Maryland on the effective date of FAMA.
Though no data are available as to how LGBT folks and allies voted during the election, it is clear that each camp can claim support from key LGBT leaders. 

“Allan Kittleman was a champion for LGBT issues over the last few years in the General Assembly, and I know that he will continue fighting for fairness and equality in his new role,” said Equality Maryland’s Carrie Evans.   #hocopolitics
Watson had a staunch advocate as well. “We’re concerned about ensuring continued improvement in our quality of life as well as bullying in schools, affordable housing, and public health,” said Byron Macfarlane, the county’s Register of Wills and the first open LGBT person to hold elective office in Howard. “I hope now that the election is over, the vagaries and generalities of the Kittleman campaign will give way to concrete plans to address these very real concerns. I congratulate him on his victory and hope that the LGBT community and the new county executive will have a productive working relationship in the years ahead.”

Friday, October 31, 2014

First Drag Show in Columbia Scheduled

For a number of years, drag shows have been one of the popular entertainment features at PW’s Sports Bar in North Laurel—Howard County’s only gay bar.  Many of these shows are held in conjunction with charitable events and causes in which PW’s participates.
Now some of the drag acts will be traveling up the road to Columbia where they will perform in a straight bar named Second Chance Saloon in the village of Oakland Mills.  When the performers hit the stage on November 8 at 10 p.m. it will mark the first time a public drag show takes place in the city of Columbia, Md.

Titled “Sugar, Spice and a Little Something Nice,” the event will be hosted by Anastacia Amor, a well-known drag performer at PWs.  Co-hosting the show will be another drag celebrity Shawnna Alexander.  In addition, local performers Ariyanna Myst, Onyx D' Pearl and Krystal Nova will entertain.

“This is exciting because it’s a new venue that has never done a drag show and the establishment reached out to me,” Anastacia Amor said.  “This is something that they are excited for and want to embrace the community and provide another place to enjoy a night out. You can expect a great show, a wonderful establishment and an all around great time.”  #hocoarts
Indeed, management from Second Chance Saloon did seek out Miss Amor to put on this show.  “The owner Declan Wood and I would often go to PW’s in Laurel to watch the drag shows because it’s always a blast,” said Jacquie Ramsey, the manager of Second Chance Saloon.   “I arranged this night by knowing the bartender at PW’s who set me up with Lovell (Anastacia Amor’s boy name).  I’m looking forward to this event and I hope that we can do it more often!”

The Second Chance Saloon is located at 5888 Robert Oliver Place, Columbia, MD 21045.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Vote Frederic, Not Bates

Ryan Frederic, who is in a tough fight in District 9 for Maryland State Senate, would bring a fresh perspective to Annapolis on job creation, growth and fiscal responsibility.
His opponent, Gail Bates, does not reflect the values of Howard County.  She fought tooth and nail to derail any attempts to pass legislation that would allow marriage for same-sex couples and nondiscrimination protections for transgender individuals.  In fact, she has opposed every piece of legislation that would benefit LGBT couples and families.

Mrs. Bates continued her assault on equality during the referendum in 2012 but to no avail.  The law conferring same-sex couples the same rights, benefits and responsibilities that heterosexual couples take for granted was upheld during the referendum battle despite Gail Bates’ unabashed opposition.  In Howard County voters supported the measure by nearly a 3 to 2 margin reflecting Howard County’s values of inclusion, equality and diversity.
Several years ago when the struggle for marriage equality was in its infant stages, I, along with a bunch of good people from PFLAG, testified before the Howard County delegation at the Howard Building in support of the cause.  While all the other legislators, regardless of where they stood on the issue, listened attentively with respect to each person testifying, Gail Bates, sat with her head bowed, averting any eye contact and seemingly paying no attention to what county citizens were saying.  #hocopolitics

This lack of courtesy and respect, which was clearly noticed by all of us who testified, further demonstrated Mrs. Bates’ eschewing the values of Howard County.

With her poor record on equality Mrs. Bates does not deserve another election victory.  We should support our fellow Democrat Ryan Frederic.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Battling Through Voter Apathy

It was a cool wet morning on October 1 when my husband and I volunteered at a voter registration table in Howard Community College’s Duncan Hall.  This is one of the growing number of buildings at HCC, which is regarded as one of the best community colleges in the nation.  The semi-annual drive representing the Columbia Democratic Club is non-partisan; we just try to get the kids to register to vote and do not discuss candidates or parties unless we’re asked.  

Between classes, the millenials bustle about enroute to their next destination, perhaps English, History, or a Political Science course.  They form an amazingly vibrant tapestry of diversity reflecting virtually every race and nationality under the sun.  The students shuttle through the hall alone, in pairs or in groups toting backpacks with many of them plugged into their electronic devices.
“Are you registered to vote?” one of us calls out to a young woman in a tan jacket. 

Some good news: “I’m already registered.”  “Great,” we say approvingly.

“Are you registered to vote?” we ask again to a group of four, a little damp from the rain, coming through the doors from the quad.  
“Can’t now, on the way to class.” Okay, that’s understandable.

“We’ll be here ‘til 2,” we point out, but we suspect they’re not coming back.
To another, “Would you like to register to vote?” 

Now the bad news: “I’m good,” says a young man trying to breeze past our table to anyplace but.
“Don’t you want to vote in the election?”

“Not really.”
During the four-hour span we managed to sign up 20 students, and with some it was a hard sell.  The election was a month away yet there was no enthusiasm among the students.  It’s not unusual. 

Ever since the voting age was changed to 18, this age group historically had low turnout at the polls.  Most have not yet been wired to politics and are oblivious to the issues of the day.  The Obama candidacy generated considerable electricity throughout the nation’s college campuses, and turnout spiked among this demographic, especially in 2008.  In 2012 it was still better than the norm but declined somewhat from the previous presidential election.
Now we are facing the dreaded mid-terms, and I’m not referring to the exams these kids zipping through Duncan Hall would soon be facing.  These off-year elections when no presidential contest is in play typically attract a paltry fraction of all registered voters, not just the eligible youth.

The phenomenon of only a minority of the electorate choosing our leaders has a consequence. George Jean Nathan, a collaborator with H.L Mencken, once said, “Bad officials are the ones elected by good citizens who do not vote.”
Low voter turnout has long been analyzed by political pundits, and so far no one has been successful in ensuring a consistently strong turnout at the polls.  Even with early voting in many states including Maryland, the results are the same.  Campaigns have programmed hefty amounts of money from their budgets to implement sophisticated Get out the Vote (GOTV) mechanisms that would encourage their computer-identified supporters to head to the polling places.

Even presidential elections produce disappointing turnouts.  Between 1960 and 2008, the percentage of eligible voters who have bothered to cast their ballots during these elections have ranged from about 49 percent to 63 percent. This means that as much as half of American voters don’t care enough to decide which candidate would make a good chief executive.
Locally, there are consequential elections taking place.  Besides the gubernatorial race, the entire state Senate and House of Delegates are up for grabs not to mention Congressional seats. Plus, there are numerous county-level races with the county executive election in Howard County between pro-LGBT candidates Courtney Watson and Allan H. Kittleman figuring to be tightly contested.

“Bad officials are the ones elected by good citizens who do not vote.”

Yet, with so much at stake there has seemingly been a lack of voltage during this cycle.  Much of this can be attributed to the ho-hum campaigns of Lt. Governor Anthony Brown and Larry Hogan.  Neither has caught fire either because of their style, the negative ads, the bland debates or a lack of a singular burning issue.  The Governor’s race at the top of the ticket typically drives voter turnout, not local Orphan Court judge races or other down ballot contests.   #hocopolitics
Whether you’re stoked for this election or not, one thing we can do is pay back our elected officials who supported marriage equality and transgender non-discrimination measures during the past term.  We owe it to them for making the tough votes and speaking out not knowing how such controversial stances would affect their political careers. 

If you are progressive, you should check out Progressive Maryland’s voter guide.  In this way, you can reward those who stood for us whether you ever plan to marry or not or whether you’re transgender or not.  These folks deserve our votes.   #hocopolitics
There are many reasons for voter apathy.  They include a lack of awareness of the issues, a disdain for politicians in general, not believing their vote matters, feeling politically alienated, dislike for the specific candidates, and other factors.  Any or all of these plus weather conditions or ill health will keep folks home.

Accordingly, many people decry the disturbingly low turnouts.  You hear them say, “If you don’t vote, you have no right to complain.”  Well actually one does have that right. But as Abraham Lincoln commented, “Elections belong to the people. It’s their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.”

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Charles Brings 'Pride' to Baltimore

Recall the film and musical Billy Elliot, the delightful heart-warming story of a young ballet dancer trying to fulfill his dreams with Great Britain’s arduous miners’ strike as the backdrop.  That strike, thirty years later, is thrust to the forefront in another sweet movie that also shines a spotlight on courage, humanity, warmth, friendship and triumph. 

Pride, a BBC-produced film directed by Matthew Warchus and written by Stephen Beresford, was screened as part of the Directors’ Fortnight section of the 2014 Cannes Film Festival at which it received a standing ovation.  The venerable Charles Theatre, situated in Baltimore’s Station North arts and entertainment district, is presenting this treasure of a film, whereby audiences—gay or straight—should eat up like an English crumpet. 
I understand the reason for the movie’s title Pride given that the plot of the film is bookended by London gay pride parades in 1984 and 1985 and that there is a sense of accomplishment among many of the characters in the film despite challenges.  But it seems a bit simplistic and non-descriptive since the word “pride” is so generic.  Perhaps, Pride and Prejudice would have been a more suitable title, but unfortunately, it was already taken.   #hocoarts

That is my only quibble about this excellent film.  Based on a true story with a few fictional characters thrown into the mix, Pride follows the travails of a group of lesbian and gay activists who felt the need to support the striking British miners in 1984 by raising money for the strikers’ families.
While initially the group questioned why they should support a bunch of macho guys who have historically been unfriendly to gays, their young, outspoken, charismatic and handsome leader Mark Ashton (Ben Schnetzer) argued the miners’ struggles were not that different from their own.  He pointed out that gays and lesbians and the miners have common enemies: Margaret Thatcher, the police and the right-wing tabloid press. 

Their newly formed group called Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) was born in London’s Gay’s the Word—the U.K.’s only gay and lesbian bookstore—a venue where these gay folks hung out.  LGSM attempted to raise money and donate through the national miners union only to notice the discomfort on the part of the union leadership from the public relations risk of being associated with a bunch of puffs. 
Undaunted, LGSM decided to take their donations to a small mining village in the bucolic Dulais Valley lodge in Onllwyn, South Wales. It was there that the odd alliance was formed.  The initial meetings were fraught with tension and awkwardness with the villagers being apprehensive towards “the gays.”  But through the sheer force of getting to know people on a personal basis, minds opened up and bonds were gradually created and fortified. 

As a culmination of their efforts, LGSM formed a wildly successful benefit concert called “Pits and Perverts,” smartly co-opting the word “perverts” that was derisively printed in the tabloids to use as a rallying device.  When that event actually occurred, the group Bronski Beat headlined.   
In actuality, this was a national movement but Bereford funnels it into this London-based group.   What transpires is a beautiful blend of empathy, solidarity and friendship that is both moving and inspirational.  And Pride’s climactic conclusion, which will not be disclosed here, is guaranteed to leave you teary-eyed.
Besides the New York-born but London-trained Ben Schnetzer who turned in a strong, focused performance, the remainder of the talented cast brought to life Bereford’s poignant and humorous script that entails several sub-plots.  They include the onset of AIDS, the tense discovery by parents that their son is gay, and another gay man who reconnects with his estranged family. 
George MacKay as Joe, the closeted 20 year-old, was convincing and played the role with sensitivity.  Others who were part of “the gays”—Dominic West, Andrew Scott, Joseph Gilgun, and the colorful token lesbian, Faye Marsay as Steph—are solid actors.  

Equally strong were the Welsh characters including Imelda Staunton, Paddy Considine and Bill Nighy.  Staunton as Dulais community leader Hefina provides a good deal of the humor especially when she wields a large pink dildo—a scene not to be missed.
Considine as Dai, the representative from Dulais, provided a soothing, amiable contrast to some of the homophobic characters.  His performance was splendid.

Pride is a must-see uplifting film.  Director Warchus beautifully takes us on an historic journey from the streets of London to the lush South Wales countryside and back while Bereford’s writing shows exquisitely how disparate groups of people can shrug off their differences and meld together for a common goal in this true story.     
The Charles Theatre is located at 1711 N, Charles St., Baltimore 21201.  Tickets and show times are available by calling 410-727-3464 or visiting thecharles.com.