Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Should Trump Feel Optimistic About 2020?

The president is banking on a lot to break his way to overcome his unpopularity.

We’re more than 16 months away from the presidential election and the Democratic field of challengers exceeds 20. Therefore, so much can happen in that time span that could alter the political landscape one way or the other. 

I make no predictions as to who the eventual Democratic nominee will be nor do I speculate on whether or not Trump will ultimately be impeached. (It’s not because I don’t want to, it’s because I simply can’t.) These are all fluid developments. The one constant has been Donald Trump’s job approval ratings, which have ranged from the low- to mid- 40’s throughout his presidency. 

Despite what has been characterized as a good economy, his numbers do not portend success in the election as he has shown to be president of his base only and not the country as a whole. The failure to expand upon his base is his likely undoing, but after 2016, who knows?  He won the Electoral College with some 46 percent of the vote. 

Accordingly, Trump is banking on a number of conditions to exist up to the election to overcome his being the most unpopular president in a more than a generation.  Some of these are legit but others are far-fetched.  I handicap each of these with “diamond” ratings—one diamond being next to impossible and five being a slam-dunk certainty—in no particular order.

The Economy. Most any incumbent president would see their reelection chances soar if the economy is good (“It’s the economy, stupid.”). However, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. While certain statistics like growth, unemployment and the stock market appear to be favorable, not everyone in the country is benefitting directly. Wages are stagnant necessitating people to work multiple jobs to keep up with rising prescription drug prices among other expenses.  Factory jobs continue to be lost, and the Trump-created trade war has hurt many farmers.

As for the stock market, most people in the know understand that the law of gravity is king here.  The markets are due for a correction and could tank at any time between now and November 2020.  A recession is certainly possible as well, according to some economists..

So, will the economy remain favorable to Trump as election nears?  ♦ ♦

Democratic Infighting. Make no mistake there is considerable tension among Democrats regarding priorities.  Is it more important to defeat Trump or push for policies that bend leftward?  Is a single payer for health insurance and scrapping private insurers preferable to massaging Obamacare?  What bold policies are desirable versus what can actually be accomplished?  Should Congress impeach the president based on evidence contained in the Mueller Report or should it assume such an action would benefit Trump in the general election? And, of course, the conflict between Speaker Pelosi and four freshman women of color still festers.  These are just a few of the issues that divide Democrats at this time.

Nonetheless, I believe 2016 is fresh in the minds of Democrats.  We saw what happened when the party was not unified.  Dems now understand the inherent hazards of Trump being re-elected, and they will likely get behind the eventual nominee. But you never know what the Dems are capable of when it comes to elections.

Should Trump bank on a Democratic circular firing squad?   ♦ ♦ ♦

The Socialist Label. Trump is a master of messaging and name-calling, and it helps to keep his supporters in line.  More precisely, Republicans in Congress are so terrified of Trump and the power of his tweets that they have sold their souls to him.

There is no secret Trump plans to roll out the “Socialist” brand on Democrats regardless of the nominee.  Radical, left, socialist Democrats will be the mantra.  Even Trump lapdog Lindsey Graham referred to the four women of color involved in the Pelosi controversy as “Communists” underscores how low they will go.

Though popular programs such as Medicare and Social Security can be considered socialist by some definitions, the moniker is treated now as a weapon.  To be clear, the term socialist was used against Barack Obama in 2008 without success.

Can this scare tactic be successful? ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Image: American Prospect
 Us Against Them: Donald Trump’s continuation of his long-held racist and xenophobic beliefs is a winning strategy, according to people in Trump’s orbit.  

Immigration will likely be a major issue in the general as Trump stokes fear, resentment and division.  But images are more powerful than anything Trump can tweet, and the footage showing inhumanely overcrowded cages on the border and children separated from their families are devastating.   

His tweet that that Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Talib, Ilhan Omar and Ayanna Pressley should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came” is yet another manifestation of Trump’s ignorance and desire to divide Americans.  Believing that incendiary tweets like this will firm up the bigoted elements of his base is safe to assume. 

However, Trump did not expect the blowback to be so harsh (though hardly a peep from the Trump-intimidated GOP Representatives and Senators) from the media, Democrats and independents that it seemed to have backfired and caused feuding Democrats to close ranks in unity against the profound racism emanating from Trump.

Remember Trump claimed that U.S.-born Judge Curiel could not be fair in presiding over a case involving Trump University because of his Mexican heritage. Then there are these:  “Mexicans are rapists”, the Gold Star Khan family, Charlottesville comments, the attack on some African-American celebrities as “low IQ”, "shithole countries",  etc.  Nevermind his examples of racism prior to his running for president. The racism and xenophobia are palpable and ongoing.  Yes, his bigoted base will be motivated to vote, and this serves to keep them enthused.  But will it work in the general election? ♦ ♦

Russia, Russia Russia! In my view, Trump doesn’t become president if Russia hadn’t interfered by particularly shaping and reaffirming people’s attitudes against Hillary Clinton and for Donald Trump.  Robert Mueller was very clear about that after the multi-year investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Trump had the audacity to side with Putin’s version of events over that of our intelligence community (some patriot!). He doesn’t take the interference seriously because he knew it helped him and other Republicans as well. Even worse, he has done next to nothing to prevent a similar attempt by Russia to plant doubts in the minds of Americans regarding the reliability of the election results.

Can Trump count on Russia to help him win again? ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Friday, June 21, 2019

Straight Pride: Another Way to Mock LGBTQ Folks

Photo: Boston Globe/Boston Globe Via Getty Images
With each year, the annual ritual of holding LGBTQ Pride festivals and parades all over the world is gaining more media coverage and popularity.  These celebrations have been taking place for 50 years since the first one in New York City marked the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall uprising where patrons in the Greenwich Village underground bar fought back against yet another police raid.

Pride, as it is simply called, has had different meanings to different people. To me it is acknowledging the adversity LGBTQ people have had to endure throughout their lives, and that we are proud that we have survived though sadly, not everyone has.

To some straight folks who are not allied with the LGBTQ community, there has been a growing distaste for this traditional event and have mocked us with calling for or establishing “straight pride” parades to counter it. One, for instance, is being planned in Boston.  

Even merchants see a profit in this development and are selling straight pride t-shirts and similar merchandise online. They are the opposite of the familiar rainbow colors; they’re black, white and (perhaps 50) shades of gray.

The notion that straight folks need to demonstrate their pride is ludicrous, and that’s being mild.  LGBTQ Pride, as I indicated, is a celebration of enduring the myriad manifestations of hatred directed towards our community.  Straight people have not had to grapple with being straight in our society. Consider:

• No straight person has been fired from their job or not hired for being straight.

• No straight person has been kicked out of an apartment or disapproved of a lease because he or she is straight.

• No straight person has been assaulted or killed for being straight.

• No straight person has to hide their sexuality from  family members, classmates, clergy, co-workers, bosses, friends and neighbors.

• No straight athlete has been harassed in the locker room or denied an endorsement deal because he or she is straight.

There are more contained below in this popular meme.

People took to social media to voice their displeasure at the proposed straight pride parade in Boston.

“Straight” pride is culturally irrelevant. It means nothing, except as an insult and degradation of LGBTQ+ people. Such a statement isn’t about equality, but is an exclamation of continued superiority. It screams: Look at me! I’m insecure as hell!”

Says another, “Holy f***ing shit balls! Have you ever BEEN to pride??? This isn't even about ‘well I think I should support the LGBT’s, this is about FUN!  Just think for three seconds…how much fun do you think these ‘straight pride’ idiots are going to be having? Stomping around in their white golf shirts and Dockers khakis chanting slogans?”

And from one who is straight, “They have the right to assemble just like everyone else, but to call it a 'Straight Pride' parade is really a misnomer. They should just say what they mean, and say we are Anti-Gay Pride. Everyone knows what they are about, and trying to call it something that they think will be more politically correct doesn’t replace their underlying theme. I certainly won’t be participating no matter what they call it. It is going to be a bunch of narrow minded people who are intimidated by the idea that being gay is acceptable and that LGBTQ people should have the same rights and recognition of their relationships that heterosexuals enjoy.”

There are a number of reasons why straight folks support this.  I believe that many would like to push LGBTQ folks back in the closet.  They don’t like us out and proud.  The Pride celebrations don’t conform to their beliefs that we are inferior, different, and an abomination. Thus, there is resentment.

As we approach Howard County’s first ever Pride festival (HoCo Pride) on June 29 at Centennial Park, marking the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, opponents, I would say haters, have taken to social media to voice their displeasure. They have posted memes like this one

or comments like this one.

They can mock all they want. The LGBTQ community and its growing number of allies need to ignore the taunts by a noisy few and enjoy our special day.  As the theme for HoCo Pride states, our community and supporters should Remember, Resist and Rejoice.  

We expect a large representation of straight allies attending the festivities and to them, there is no need to have a separate, silly straight pride.  This one will be far more fun and far more meaningful.

For more information about HoCo Pride, visit the website.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Trump’s Cheatin’ Heart Could Beat on Him

Last month I argued that the Democratic 2020 presidential hopefuls ignore the pundits and handlers and start going after President Donald Trump. Go on the offense, I implored. Why cede the offense to Trump?

One of the ways to do that is to fight on “his” turf and resort to nicknames as Trump does routinely.  It’s been a successful tactic for Trump because labeling and branding are key components of the modern election campaign.  If he does it, so should his opponents. Remember how “Crooked Hillary” stuck on her like a stain.  Now it’s “Pocahontas,” “Sleepy Joe,” “Crazy Bernie” or whoever becomes the eventual nominee.

Yes, I know it’s childish. Why stoop to the level of a pre-teen?  Well, with so much at stake—our democracy, the rule of law, our standing and leadership in the world, and fighting for the middle class, climate change, and gun violence— winning back power is crucial.  If the media, who made Trump, continues to cover his inane tweets and rallies, then his opponents must get on the stage and battle him.  We can’t afford to give this lawless, corrupt and profoundly incompetent narcissist a second term with no accountability.

Let’s give him a nickname that will surely get under his skin. My suggestion: Cheatin’ Trump.  We have seen similar monikers employed on social media like “Don the Con” but that’s on social media. 

Candidates themselves must use two words and make it stick and ignore the sanctimonious objections by those who feel we must maintain decency.  It’s a different ballgame now, and like it or not, I assure you this election will be all about Trump and not Wall Street and other pet issues.
Cheatin’ Trump. That’s the message. There is so much to back it up.

► He has cheated on his 3 wives.

► His cheating is so obvious he had to pay adult film stars to keep quiet about it.

► He has cheated employees and contractors out of their payments.

► He cheated military service by concocting a fake bone spurs condition.

► He undoubtedly cheated on his taxes, which is probably one of several reasons he is fighting tooth and nail to keep his returns from the public.

► He cheated the unsuspecting with his joke Trump University.

► He cheated to win the election in 2016 by seeking and accepting help from a foreign adversary to persuade voters.

► He cheats the taxpayers as he violates the Emoluments clause in the Constitution by raking in millions from private properties while sitting in the White House.

► He cheats in golf “at the highest level” as sportswriter Rick Reilly pens in his book, The Commander-in-Cheat: How Golf Explains Trump.

There are potentially many more examples as his foundation and charities are under investigation.
Cheatin’ Trump would be a good name for him; it’s certainly accurate.  He can’t defend against it. He can only go on the offense.  Dems should, too.

Image by Murdo McCleod, The Guardian

Monday, June 10, 2019

The Power of the Music of the Night

CCTA Delights with ‘The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber’

Aficionados of musical theatre and even those who are not are well acquainted with the body of work by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber. The English composer, who had collaborated with several lyricists like Tim Rice throughout his career, has been wildly successful in this genre spanning five decades with a string of some 13 musicals and 2 film scores among his accomplishments.  Several shows have run for over 10 years—a remarkable feat whether on Broadway or London’s West End.

“The Music of the Night” and “All I Ask of You” from The Phantom of the Opera, “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” from Jesus Christ Superstar, “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” from Evita, and “Memory” from Cats are popular hit songs that have been cemented in our musical culture.  #hocoarts

On June 9, the Columbia (Md.) Center for Theatrical Arts (CCTA) and The Young Columbians Senior Ensemble & Alumni presented a magnificent offering of Lloyd Webber’s works including those and other favorites from the composer’s vast catalogue at the Smith Theatre at Howard Community College.  The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber, performed by mostly middle and high school students, was a wonder to behold.

CCTA founder Toby Orenstein, the founder of Columbia’s venerable Toby’s Dinner Theatre, made brief remarks before the show in which she pointed out that the mostly student performers also included CCTA staff and alumni.  She singled out a student from her very first class, Larry Friedman, who is currently the Young Colombians’ artistic director and with Ms. Orenstein co-directed this show.

From the rocking number “Superstar” from Jesus Christ Superstar in which Mr. Friedman took the lead, to the finale “Love Changes Everything” from Aspects of Love, the performances by these artists were scintillating. The selections consisting of a combination of solos, duets and group numbers were generally organized by show.  

It was fitting that “Superstar” launched the presentation not only because the invigorating high tempo of the song and the cast’s journey up the theater’s aisles induced the audience to be involved immediately, but I have no doubt there are potential superstars among this group of entertainers.

Guided by choreographer Tina Desimone, the ensemble remained on the stage throughout each song utilizing methodical movements and a variety of positions from standing to lying down while featured performers emerged downstage to sing.  In some instances the positioning of the ensemble simulated that of the Broadway version of the numbers.

A duet consisting of Kyra Britt and Abby McDonough beautifully performed “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” from Jesus Christ Superstar.  During the rendition Ms. McDonough experienced a mic snafu. Undaunted, the young lady kept her poise, recognized the situation and increased the volume of her vocals to help compensate. Both performers deserve kudos for seamlessly overcoming a technical problem outside of their control. 

Prince Havely, an alumnus of the program, performed a stunningly moving interpretation of “The Music of the Night” from The Phantom of the Opera while the Ensemble silently stood motionless in the background.

All the other lead performers were outstanding as well. The talented list includes: Bradley Leverett and Ben Saunders (“Song of the King”) and Justin Diaz, Richard Seipel and Gavin Willard (“Close Every Door”) from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat; Cade MacFee (Light at the End of the Tunnel”/”Starlight Express” from Starlight Express); Andrew Fleming, Evan Williams and Justin Diaz (“Oh What a Circus”) and Alyssa Young and Sophie Snider (“Another Suitcase”) and Caroline Otchet and Logan Dixon (“Don’t Cry For Me Argentina”) from Evita; Rachel Kohen (“Memory”) from Cats; Avery Fahey (“Anything But Lonely”) from Aspects of Love; Peyton Kern and Andrew Fleming (“Think of Me”) and Bradley Everett, Leah Reineck, Cade MacFee and Shira Seaman (“All I Ask of You”) from The Phantom of the Opera; and Gavin Willard and Ben Saunders (“Love Changes Everything”) from Aspects of Love.

The Ensemble deftly performed vocally in support of the leads and had their own selections in the group numbers “Evita Requiem” from Evita, “Jellicle Ball” from Cats, and “Masquerade” from The Phantom of the Opera.

They are: Julia Chapman, Amaya Cunningham, Ana Cunningham, Madeline Ellinghaus, Hallie Goldstein, Ally Kolp, Andrew Pavuk, Alyssa Renew, Drew Seipel, Sierra Segal, Kate Tourison, Ava Vanek, and Carly Victor.

Musical Director Todd Twining and the 5-piece orchestra were superb and did justice to Lloyd Weber’s rich and melodious score.  The production itself was stellar, but seeing how the hard work of these young people led to a successful show with tons of potential to be realized is truly inspiring.

There are two flaws I can identify, however. One, the performance was only for one night and the broader community will not have a chance to witness this terrific show. And two, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber wasn’t on hand to marvel how his work was performed in such a superb manner. #hocoarts

Ironically, this presentation took place on the same night as the 2019 Tony Awards (yay DVR!) It would not be a stretch to imagine at least one of these young performers receiving that honor someday.

CCTA is a non-profit organization founded in 1972 by Toby Orenstein. Its mission is to educate through the arts by creating theatrical experiences that inspire thought, action, creativity, and change. This performance was a fundraiser for CCTA’s outreach programs aimed at helping special needs and at-risk youth.  More information can be found on CCTA’s website.

Thursday, June 06, 2019

‘Grease’ at Toby’s is the One That I Want

Nicki Elledge as Sandy and Matt Hirsh as Danny in Toby's
production of "Grease'  Photo: Jeri Tidwell Photography
It’s pretty safe to say that virtually all theatre-goers have heard of or seen the American classic musical Grease in some form or another. Grease had been one of Broadway’s longest running productions. It spawned several revivals on Broadway and has played all over the world in professional theatre via tours as well as in summer stock, community theatre and in schools all over the U.S.

The 1978 movie with the same title starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John was a smashing success.  And even that led to a sequel. 

In 2007, a reality TV show was presented whereby a combination of judges and viewer voting determined who the two lead characters should be in an upcoming Broadway revival. And in 2016 a live TV presentation was aired.

Therefore, in so myriad ways through the years this beloved 1971 musical, written and composed by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, found a way into the hearts of so many. So it is fitting that the bouncy nostalgic 1950’s era production is currently playing at Toby’s, the Dinner Theatre of Columbia and it, too, can be characterized as a smash.

Helen Hayes Award winner Mark Minnick directed and choreographed this vibrant masterpiece with supreme skill and vision. The precise staging and period aesthetics are matched by an utterly superb young but experienced cast whose dance moves are dazzling and whose vocals are sparkling.

Musical Director Ross Scott Rawlings’ six-piece orchestra is in total synch with the performances, never overwhelming the vocals. Janine Sunday designed a splendid array of 1950’s costumes including black jeans, black tight t-shirts and black leather jackets for the male characters and cheerleading uniforms or below-the-knee pastel-colored skirts for the female characters.

Lynn Joslin’s lighting design is captivating and creative. And Mark Smedley’s sound design brings crystal clear audio to Toby’s in-the-round theater.

Scenic Designer David A. Hopkins kept things simple allowing the audience to focus on the performers on the stage, as they should. This doesn’t mean that the stage was bare save for the cast.  Awesome set pieces from diner booths to a miniature Chevy convertible dubbed “Greased Lightning” amplified the presentation so adroitly.

"...an utterly superb young but experienced cast whose dance moves are dazzling and whose vocals are sparkling."

In addition, a variety of posters are mounted on the walls around the theater denoting the cultural charm of that bygone era.  You would see a poster of James Dean or an advertisement for a box of Frosted Flakes or a poster of TV shows Lassie or Howdy Doody and even cigarette ads—so commonplace during that period—like Lucky Strikes.  While the audience enjoys the fabulous buffet prior to the show, they can peruse these posters and get squarely into the mood.  So cool!

The plot, probably familiar to most due to the show’s prolific exposure, has undergone some tweaking in terms of score and dialogue during its course.  Yet, it continues to center on the relationships between lead characters Danny Zuko (played brilliantly by Helen Hayes Award winner Matt Hirsh) and the Sandra Dee-like Sandy Dumbrowski (played exceptionally well by Nicki Elledge) and among their respective working class peer cliques—the Burger Palace Boys (formerly called the T-Birds in other iterations of the show) and Pink Ladies—at the fictional Rydell High School in 1959. 

While other characters emerge and their attempts at coupling form much of the comedic sequences, the focus remains on the ebbs and flows of the romantic relationship between Danny and Sandy.

Director Minnick steers the action with a light touch and keeps the proceedings breezy and fun throughout. Yet, embedded in the plot are such social issues as teenage pregnancy, peer pressure bordering on bullying, and gang violence amid the themes of love, friendship, teenage rebellion, sexual exploration during adolescence, and class consciousness. 

Although those issues are legitimate in any period, Grease is all about the 50’s in terms of music, wardrobe, culture, dialogue, and gestures. Its popularity over these many years is a testament to the show’s ability to entertain audiences of all ages and in all eras.

And entertain they do.   #hocoarts

The perfectly cast, energetic and multi-talented ensemble in the Toby’s production do the show proud.  Once the iconic production number “Summer Nights” is performed so effectively in the second scene of the first act, the tone is set and the audience is captured for the duration.
As one would expect in a musical with the pedigree of Grease, the songs are the show’s strength, and the cast delivers under the guidance of Mr. Minnick and Musical Director Rawlings.

A big dance number “Greased Lightnin” with the aforementioned hot rod rolling on the stage belonging to one of the greasers Kenickie (played strongly by handsome Paul Roeckell) is a crowd pleaser to be sure. As part of the choreography are flawlessly executed cartwheels by two members of the ensemble, the always athletic AJ Whittenberger and Shiloh Orr.

Other numbers with high-level, high-intensity choreography include the production numbers “We Go Together,” “Shakin’ at the High School Hop” and “Born to Hand Jive.”
Members of the cast of Grease  Photo: Jeri Tidwell Photography
“You’re the One That I Want, ” another production number, has been a long-time favorite.
Then there is the hilarious song “Mooning” performed wonderfully by Justin Calhoun and Kalen Robinson.

As Danny, Matt Hirsh excels as an actor and vocalist.  With his D.A. haircut (see if anyone remembers what that is) complete with the requisite spit curl, Mr. Hirsh does his greaser garb proud.  He has all the moves: a cocky swagger, preening and adjusting his hair frequently to make it crystal clear he is the lead greaser and attracting women is essentially a given.  Mr. Hirsh’s strong tenor voice excels in “Summer Nights” and “Alone at the Drive-In Movie.”

Nicki Elledge plays innocent Sandy to the hilt. Also equipped with strong vocal prowess, Ms. Elledge performs very well in “Summer Nights” and the lovely ballad “Hopelessly Devoted to You”—a song popularized by Olivia Newton-John in the film version of Grease and later incorporated in the stage musicals. She also performs well in the reprise of “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee.”

As Betty Rizzo, the tough, gum-snapping, chain-smoking heavy among the Pink Ladies, Maggie Dransfield plays her role with relish.  She expertly performs the song “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee.”

The other outstanding lead performers include Paul Roeckell as Kenickie, Justin Calhoun as Roger, Taylor Witt as Doody, Nia Savoy as Marty, Joey Ellinghaus as Sonny, Allie O’Donnell as Frenchy, Shiloh Orr as Eugene, Crystal Freeman as Teen Angel whose performance of “Beauty School Dropout” is a goose-bump-producing vocal, Jeffrey Shankle as Vince Fontaine, recent Helen Hayes Award winner DeCarlo Raspberry as Johnny Casino, Rachel Kemp as Cha-Cha DiGregorio, and Louisa Tringali as Patty Simcox.

Rounding out the cast are the ensemble members Brandon Bedore, MaryKate Brouillet, Kourtney Richards and AJ Whittenberger.

The Toby’s production stayed true to Grease’s rock ‘n roll core, and everybody associated with it deserves an ovation. Even if you spent a summer night with Grease before, drive your hot rod over to Toby’s and catch this amazing production.

Running time. Two hours and 10 minutes with an intermission.

Grease runs through July 28 at Toby’s the Dinner Theatre of Columbia, 4900 Symphony Woods Rd., Columbia, MD 21044.  Tickets may be purchased by calling the box office at 410-730-8311 or visiting online

Monday, June 03, 2019

Stonewall Bartender Recalls the Historic Night

Back in June 1981 when I was a volunteer writer for the former Baltimore publication The Gay Paper, I was fortunate to receive a significant lead for a story.  I was advised that a former bartender at the Stonewall Inn the night the bar was raided, which touched off nearly a weeklong uprising against the police, had moved to Baltimore and was available for an interview.

During this exclusive interview, the bartender used the name of “Don” as he had taken up a different line of work and wanted to protect his identity. However, the facts as he laid them out during our conversation jived with the research conducted by a number of reputable journalists and authors that had been made public subsequent to this interview.  Therefore, I concluded that the substance of his description of the events on that fateful night of June 27-28, 1969 just 12 years prior was legitimate.

As we commemorate the 50th anniversary of this seminal chapter in the LGBTQ rights movement, I thought it fitting to post the story with a copy of the actual published article appearing below. 

Monday, May 27, 2019

Jumel Howard: Leading Howard County to Pride

Jumel Howard

So, check out this resume: MD Democratic Party LGBTQ Leadership Council Director, Vice President of PFLAG Columbia-Howard County, Membership Chair of PFLAG Columbia Howard County, HoCo Young Dems Sexual and Gender Minority Caucus Chair, 2nd Vice Chair of the Community Advisory Council of the Howard County Public School System, Member of the Board of Directors of The Pride Center of Maryland, Chair of the Howard County Sexual and Gender Minority Community Center Planning Committee, and Board Member of The Helping Hands Fund (Maryland Legal Aid).

It’s quite an impressive catalog of community involvement and activism for anybody who may be middle aged or older. But this resume belongs to Jumel Howard, who is just 23 years-old.  Oh, and by the way, Jumel is also the HoCo Pride Planning Committee Chair.

In taking on that role, which he did over two years ago when the planning began for the first ever LGBTQ Pride in Howard County, Jumel had to figure out how to manage his increasingly busy schedule.

“This is definitely a work in progress,” Jumel explains. “I have a lot to learn in this sphere of life. At this point I just take my work everywhere. When I’m at brunch I’m checking emails, when I’m with friends just hanging out I’m updating budgets and reading various policy revisions. Bottom line I just work till I fall asleep,” he says half-jokingly.

Jumel Howard has a paying job on top of all these volunteer positions as a Paralegal for Maryland Legal Aid—a legal services organization for low income individuals and families in Maryland. He understands that prioritizing his work is, well, a priority.

“Anything I know that has a timeframe of a week or less comes next and finally anything that has more than myself working on it comes last. I’m pretty good at knowing when I need to take a step back to breathe so I don’t burn out but again it is all a learning process for me.” 

Right now, the big project on Jumel’s docket is HoCo Pride, which is slated for June 29 at Centennial Park from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.  It is being co-hosted by Howard County Executive Calvin Ball and the Howard County chapter of PFLAG.

Lanky and soft-spoken Jumel Howard is leading a group of dedicated volunteers on the HoCo Pride Planning Committee in an effort to make this premiere event a success. Members of the committee who have worked with and have been guided by Jumel these past two years note the talents and determination that he brings to the table. He ardently seeks results while maintaining a calm demeanor.

"This is my home and it is high time we showed our Pride."

“Jumel is the driving force behind HoCo Pride, and his ambition has been matched by his ability to lead and inspire,” says Christopher Hefty, the Sponsorship Coordinator who also coordinates with vendors, and for good measure he is overseeing the event’s entertainment.

“His love for the LGBTQ+ community is so genuine. The most notable point of mention about Jumel is how he calls out hate and injustice in all forms. Whether it’s the racial divide in the LGBTQ+ community or anti-transgender hate, he snuffs it out with a vengeance. He is a man I have come to respect very much. With his energy I feel that HoCo Pride will be something truly special, and above all else, a uniquely HoCo event!”   

Hefty, who works at Eastern Coral in the Columbia Mall, designs and creates an array of Pride scarves and jewelry that can be purchased on the HoCo Pride website with the profits benefiting HoCo Pride.

“Jumel, is, in a word, a dynamo,” says Akbi Kahn, a progressive activist and local blogger who is also on the Planning Committee.  “After I first met him in his role as a Vice President of Howard County PFLAG, we became fast friends. He has also included me in several other projects aimed at LGBTQ+ rights advancement in HoCo, which I think shows how he lives the ideal of inclusivity.”

Adds Bob Ford, another volunteer on the Planning Committee and who is Chair of the Howard County Human Rights Commission, “There is a bunch of talented and motivated folks on the Planning Committee. I can say that I have been especially impressed by Jumel’s leadership and his vision for what he sees as a great outcome for HoCo Pride.  His attention to detail is amazing.”

Jumel Howard being flanked by then Councilwoman Jen Terrasa now
MD State Delegate and then Councilman Dr. Calvin Ball now
County Executive at the HoCo Pride launch party June 28, 2018.
Photo: Andrew Howard
Jumel grew up in the Oakland Mills Village of Columbia, Md. but his contributions to the success of organizations have extended beyond Howard County. He is a member of Board of Directors of the Pride Center of Maryland, formerly called the GLCCB, and his colleagues have also taken notice of his character and abilities.  

Says Merrick Moses, venerable community activist and Board President, “Mr. Howard is a tenacious member of our board. He has a true heart for our community and works hard to create a better reality for the neediest among us.”

The logistics, volunteer coordination, community listening sessions, creative fundraisers, and the partnership with Howard County government are all coming together for this much anticipated event a month away.

“This is a completely grassroots, all volunteer-led effort,” Jumel explains. “We have been planning for two years and our kick-off event last June 28 was a resounding success that gives us good feelings about what the turnout for the inaugural festival will be!”

With the theme of Remember/Resist/Rejoice, the celebration will mark the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising.  As County Executive Dr. Calvin Ball put it, “At the 2019 Pride Festival, we will Remember those who fought for justice. We will Resist those who would turn back the clock on equal rights, and we will Rejoice because of the LGBTQ+ love we have in our community.”

Noting that Howard County has been in the forefront of LGBTQ advances in the state, Jumel asserts that the time is right for the county to celebrate LGBTQ Pride.

It has been 50 years since Stonewall, why are we waiting? Jumel asks. “We are supposed to be a community of acceptance and inclusion. Not everyone wants to have to go to a big city to celebrate and see their existence acknowledged. This is my home and it is high time we showed our Pride.”

Jumel is pleased that HoCo Pride is different from many other similar celebrations in that there have been to this point no corporate sponsorships. “This event has been completely funded by individual donations and contributions from small business, government agencies, and organizations that are all local,” he points out.

“I will measure the success of this event by the smiles on people’s faces. I don't care if we get 2 people and make $6 in profit. As long as those people come and feel a sense of love, acceptance, and community I will count it as a win,” he says.

Based on what Jumel Howard has accomplished in his young life, he has already won.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Going on the Offense

For Dems to succeed in 2020, they must take it to Trump.

As the field of Democratic candidates for president in 2020 swells, each hopeful is desperately searching for a lane that will distinguish himself or herself from the rest of the pack. Some choose specific issues, such as climate change, Wall Street, health care, jobs, gun restrictions and others. 

But in the end, the winner of the primaries and who will ultimately take on Donald Trump will be the one who can convince voters that that person can engage Trump on his own turf and beat him.

Of course, many believe that our political discourse is already uncivil mainly because of the historic elections of Barack Obama in which birthers and racists like Trump tried to de-legitimize.  That was followed by the 2016 election and subsequent vile tweets and other offerings from Trump himself that have clearly degraded the office of the presidency.

In normal times we would want to push for civility and dignity in the White House and on the surface that would make a strong campaign issue.  But these are not normal times.  Democrats are facing an uphill battle as it is with Trump constantly on the offensive, an economy that at this point hasn’t tanked yet, Trump’s immovable and loyal supporters who are motivated to vote, a sycophantic GOP-controlled Senate,  and a likely intervention by Russia to ensure that Putin’s puppet remains in power.

Two years ago, I wrote a piece titled, “Where’s the Flamethrower,”  a call to action for any prominent Democrat to take it to Trump. Prior to the Midterms I wrote this piece, "Democrats Must Play the Trump Card" with a similar message.  There are so many areas in which Trump could be attacked, so much vulnerability. The Democratic electorate craves that person, and so do I.

The 2018 midterms whereby the Democrats rode a blue wave to take back the House of Representatives did so largely based on their anti-Trump fervor. Sure, health care was listed as the number one issue and rightly so, but the motivation, the energy and the drive was powered by the voters disdain for Trump and Trumpism.

Democrats in the race need to exploit Trump’s many weaknesses.  That will get under his skin and he is sure to make a huge unforced error during this volatile election cycle.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, replete with a ton of baggage from his four decades-long career, remained at the top of the polls and leads by a seemingly insurmountable margin.  Yes, the nostalgia for the Obama presidency and name recognition has a lot to do with it.  But the surge occurred after his rollout in which Biden went right after Trump from the get-go by reminding voters of Trump’s callousness regarding the 2017 racist and anti-Semitic march and demonstrations in Charlottesville, which led to the murder of Heather Heyer.

Biden was wise to roll out his campaign that way.  The Charlottesville episode was a nadir in the Trump presidency. Biden came out of the gate and pushed the Charlottesville tragedy right into Trump’s face.  Trump’s weak, yes I said weak, response was that many were heralding the exploits of General Robert E. Lee.  Keep in mind that Lee, a slave owner, was a traitor to the U.S. by leading a civil war against our nation.

There are a number of such Trump vulnerabilities to exploit, and given there is so much time left until the voting begins in the primaries including the pivotal debates, it would be wise for the other candidates in the field to execute that strategy and fire up their supporters.

Below are just two examples of where Trump is ultra-sensitive.

Trump’s lack of intellect. Trump threw Mayor Pete Buttigieg a 3-0 fastball down the middle of the plate when at a rally he said the mayor resembles Alfred E. Neuman, the mascot for MAD magazine.  Instead of hitting that cookie over the fence, Buttigieg checked his swing and fouled it off when he replied that he’d have to Google it to check the reference and that it was a generational thing. A better response was called for.

But later on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, Buttigieg took a better swing and made solid contact.  “You know, we talk about elevating the dialogue, so the fact that I inspired him to make a literary reference possibly for the first time…” he said to great laughter.

Personally, I would have said, “I didn’t realize the president’s reading comprehension level has risen to the level of MAD magazine.”

Image by CNN.com
Cowardice.  Trump boasts and brags how tough he is, how he is the best person in the room, the smartest in the room, the bravest in the room. Not so fast, conman.  The reality indicates that he is a blustery coward, and Dems should irk him to no end by dubbing him “The Avoider-in-Chief.” Consider:

. Trump avoided military service by feigning bone spurs.
. Trump avoided paying taxes by losing nearly $1 billion from his businesses.
. Trump has avoided revealing his tax returns when all other presidents in modern history have.
. Trump avoided a face-to-face interview with Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
.  Trump avoided on two occasions the usually lighthearted White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner for fear he would be made fun of.
. Trump avoids condemning Putin for Russian interference in our election and other aggressive actions undertaken by Russia.
. Trump avoids reading briefing materials on national security.
. Trump avoids revealing his high school and college transcripts.
. Trump avoids condemning Nazis and other hate groups in a sincere, convincing manner.
. Trump avoids any semblance of truth telling.

The list breathlessly goes on.

The Dems need to go after Trump as he will certainly do to them. He already welcomed each new candidate to the race with insults. Sure, “Little Marco” Rubio’s return volley fell flat and lost his home state by 20 points in the primary.  But Trump wasn’t president then; Rubio never expected him to even be the nominee. 

Democrats have a whole lot of fodder to choose from, and they must attack Trump relentlessly. Not only is this necessary because the charges are true but it will hopefully gin up enthusiasm and unify a fractious Democratic Party in time for the election.

Disregard what the pundits and polls say.  This election is not about issues as much as it is all about Trump. If you think that Trump has been bad and scary for our nation the past 2-plus years, imagine how an unbridled Trump would be in another term with no accountability to the American people.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

A Prideful First for Howard County

LGBTQ Pride festival set for June 29 at Centennial Park

“This year we will finally celebrate Pride right here in Howard County,” states Howard County Executive Calvin Ball who along with the Howard County chapter of PFLAG is co-hosting the historic event.

After a year of planning by members of the local community with support from several key sexual and gender minority advocacy organizations along with an affirming and inclusive county government, the dream of holding the first ever LGBTQ Pride Celebration in Howard County is about to become a reality.

Coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the famous Stonewall uprising, HoCo Pride, as it is known, will take place on Saturday, June 29.  The festival will be held from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Centennial Park, 10000 Clarksville Pike, Ellicott City, MD 21042.

Historians have credited the June 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City—a spontaneous violent backlash at the Stonewall Inn against persistent police harassment of gays (the umbrella term used then for what is now the LGBTQ+ community)—as the launching pad for the gay liberation movement.  Beginning in 1970 in New York City, Pride parades and festivals had sprung up in cities and towns all over the world to commemorate Stonewall.

Indeed, planners of the inaugural event in Howard County have embraced its historical significance in the motto “Remember/Resist/Rejoice.”

Says County Executive Ball, “At the 2019 Pride Festival, we will Remember those who fought for justice. We will Resist those who would turn back the clock on equal rights, and we will Rejoice because of the LGBTQ+ love we have in our community.”

This motto will manifested at HoCo Pride with an interactive Historical Art Wall consisting of a four-panel display, according to Alisha Tronetti, the display’s coordinator.  Three of the four panels will depict past events that are significant to the LGBTQ+ community, which have occurred in the U.S and in Maryland.

“There will be space for attendees to add their own history into the wall (i.e. when they got married,
The Stonewall Inn, New York City, 1969
when they came out, when they adopted/had a kid, etc.),” says Tronetti. “This will be the Remember and Rejoice section that reflects both the good and the bad that has happened to our community. The fourth panel will be the Resist panel, where attendees will add where we think we need to go still, and what we still need to do to fight for our equality.”

In addition, a memorial recognizing those transgender individuals who had been murdered since last June is planned. It will be situated near the Historical Art Wall.

There is a sizeable LGBTQ+ population in Howard County, and over four decades ago it became one of the first jurisdictions in the state to enact protections based on sexual orientation in the areas of employment, housing and public accommodations.  In 2011 the county added similar protections based on gender identity.  #hococommunity

Noting the diversity and the numerous accomplishments for LGBT individuals in Howard County, leaders believed the time was right to celebrate Pride.

“Howard County [is] such a population center for the state but we don’t have an event to highlight the diversity we supposedly treasure here,” Jumel Howard, chairperson of the HoCo Pride Planning Committee and vice president of the Howard County PFLAG chapter told the Baltimore Sun  last June while the planning for HoCo Pride was in its nascent stages. “This is a great way to not just show how much we care for the LGBT community [but] to educate the community on some of the issues that affect the LGBT community.”

The festival, which is free to the public, will feature food, games, entertainment, speakers, art, and community-based vendors, at this family-friendly event. There will be Family Pride spaces and Elder Pride spaces set aside from which to enjoy the festivities. 

Family is a point of emphasis for the organizers, and accordingly, alcoholic beverages will not be available.

“I want HoCo’s first Pride to help foster a new sense of family in Howard County’s diverse LGBTQ+ community and celebrate the tremendous progress we’ve made–both inside and outside of our home,” explains Howard.

Entertainment, a hallmark of virtually all Pride celebrations, promises to be a fun-filled attraction at HoCo Pride’s debut.

“We have many entertainers being featured at Pride, and some fantastic speakers as well,” according to Chris Hefty, HoCo Pride Sponsorship and Fundraising Coordinator.  “It’s a great line-up and we even have the School of Rock booked.”

The HoCo Pride website provides information on how you may donate monetarily to this event as well as to volunteer.  Areas where people may help out include parking attendants, event tabling, event set-up crew members, and clean-up crew among other functions.

The HoCo Pride Store has handmade rainbow jewelry and a beautiful Pride flag scarf that are all original designs and creations made by Chris Hefty. “All the sales benefit HoCo Pride to ensure our historic event will be a huge success,” he says.   Visit the Store  for more information.

Sponsorship applications can be found here and vendor applications are here

For more information and to find out the latest developments, LIKE the HoCo Pride Facebook Page , follow on Twitter @hocopride or Instagram @hocopride.