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Four Decades Along the Rainbow Road

A look back at my work with the LGBTQ community. I first became active in the gay rights movement in 1980 when I launched my LGBTQ jo...

Thursday, December 31, 2020

There Used to be a Gayborhood in Mt. Vernon

As soon as the Hippo announced its closing in 2015, members of Baltimore’s LGBTQ community began seeing the handwriting on the wall regarding the “gayborhood” in the Mount Vernon area. The state’s largest dance bar and night club closed its doors several months later with the edifice being converted to a CVS store. That was the first piece to fall.

Two years later, as first reported here Don Davis, the owner of the second largest gay club in town, Grand Central, indicated. the establishment would be put up for sale. Fast forward to 2020, under new ownership, Grand Central closed its doors this past summer amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and a new office complex would reside where the club once stood.

On its website, the Grand Central Management team wrote:

After over 30 years of serving the community, Grand Central sadly has shut its doors. Given the overwhelming challenges created by the pandemic and our beverage-only driven business, the operations were not sustainable as we prepare for the next chapter. We appreciate all of our customers and supporters and thank them for their long-time loyalty; we look forward to celebrating the institution’s legacy in the future development. We strongly believe in the Mt. Vernon community and will always drive to be stewards of quality, growth and retention to ensure the neighborhood’s character stays true to form.

The gut-punch reality of this latest occurrence was jarring with the 30 year-old Grand Central building succumbing to the business end of a wrecking ball. But the memories of this place did not vanish in the rubble of what was once a proud and glorious safe space for the LGBTQ community.

The pulsating beats on the often crowded dance floor were high tempo, driving energy levels sky-high. The needlessly loud music in the saloon area on the weekends, however, rendered attempts at conversation a monumental task.

The famous red, white and black parties where imaginative patrons dressed up in dazzling, clever attire to fit the theme were experiences to savor.

There were fundraisers and other events

for the benefit of the community. Ravens watch parties took place on Sundays. Karaoke, drag shows, go-go dancers, you name it, were part of Grand Central’s grand entertainment. On two occasions piano bar set-ups were tried to create an alternative vibe but those was short-lived.


The upstairs loft in the adjacent but attached building was set aside for lesbians to congregate and socialize, and when the original Eagle closed, that area was inhabited by the leather community.

Who can forget that out-of-control pickup truck that careened into the outside tables and building entrance and splashing a river of white paint on the sidewalk and walls of the bar? And, of course, there were the ongoing public grievances the owner had with a string of mangers that were laid bare on social media.

Grand Central with all its quirkiness and merriment had been a good compliment to the Hippo when they both competed for the attention of our diverse community. But now they are gone.

The smoking ban, the advent of online dating and hookup apps, the increasingly difficult parking situation and a greater willingness of the younger generation to patronize “straight” bars took its financial toll on both the Hippo and Grand Central—the bulwarks of the gayborhood.

However, other developments impacted of the gayborhood.

Years ago, we lost the iconic LGBTQ Lambda Rising bookstore—another casualty of the internet. The Community Center left its Mount Vernon birthplace and headed to Station North/Old Goucher slightly less than a mile away from the gayborhood in order to provide targeted services to low-income and people of color not prevalent in Mount Vernon. Along with it went the Pride parade and block party, where every year thousands used to pack the intersection of Charles and Eager Streets and surrounding streets to eat, drink and be merry while live entertainment added to the high-energy atmosphere.

Other establishments closed as well. Flavor, a lesbian-owned bar on nearby Centre Street known for its community-oriented fundraisers, dancing and good eating, is no more. After 25 years of operation the City Café, a gay-owned, popular restaurant, which was situated a block away from the Hippo, closed for good in the Spring.  While many LGBTQ folks made a habit of enjoying lunches and dinner there, patrons from the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, a few blocks away, also partook. With the Symphony closing during the pandemic and the closings of the nearby bars, the impact on the City Café had to be devastating.

We also lost a favorite of mine, the Mount Vernon Stable on Charles Street, another nice, gay-friendly restaurant, which closed its doors after many years.

Remaining are the two oldest gay bars in the gayborhood, The Drinkery and Leon’s, with their own claim to memories over the years. Both are closed now because of the pandemic. It remains to be seen if and when they will re-open.

On the bright side, the gay owners of the chic new LGBTQ-friendly Manor Restaurant and Ultralounge that inhabits the old Brass Elephant restaurant opened a month before COVID hit. Undaunted, they plan to re-open as soon as they are permitted.

Over five years ago on a typical Saturday night, the gayborhood was alive and teeming with crowds ready to party or dine or both. People sat outside of the City Café enjoying their meals. Folks meandered to any combination of the four bars in the immediate vicinity. Lines snaked outside the Hippo; Grand Central was hopping.

Halloweens and New Year’s Eves were incredibly festive.  Pride was absolutely insane—colorful, creative, loud, hot, sassy, messy.

Yes, there used to be a gayborhood in Mount Vernon but no longer. The pile of rubble and debris on the Grand Central site symbolizes the gayborhood’s sad demise.

________

[Photo of Grand Central demolition by Justin Johnson. Other photos by Bob Ford]

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

OUTSpoken's Top 10 Posts of 2020


The end of the year means another list somewhere, and this blog is no exception. The Covid-19 pandemic and its resulting closures of theaters has effectively eliminated my theatre reviews typically contained in this blog over the years. Accordingly, most of the posts during the year focused on politics with particular attention to the presidential race.  

The Top 10 posts are listed in reverse order according to the amount of page views. You may click on the title of each to access the full post.

A review of my Top 10 posts from 2019 is shown here and 2018 here

10. A Biden-Abrams Ticket Sounds Like a Winner  (April 2020). I tried to make the case that Stacey Abrams and the excitement she would bring to the ticket should be considered for Joe Biden’s running mate to help stoke African American voters in the upcoming election.

9. Trump's Handling of the Pandemic: Negligent Homicide  (October 2020). First it was Trump’s denial of the pandemic by calling it a hoax. Then he admitted to playing it down so it would not frighten the people. Then he eschewed the wearing of face masks. And throughout, there was no national testing plan and blamed Democratic governors and media. People died on Trump’s watch unnecessarily because he politicized the pandemic.

8. Why Pete's Nomination Should Sail Through  (December 2020).  President-elect Joe Biden nominated Pete Buttigieg to head the Department of Transportation. If the nomination is successful, he would be the first confirmed openly LGBTQ person to serve on the cabinet. Despite some bigots in the Senate, I explained why he it should be an easy confirmation.

New LGBTQ-Friendly Establishment Opens in Mount Vernon  (February 2020). In the wake of prominent gay bars closing and before there was Covid, a chic new establishment called The Manor Restaurant and Ultralounge opened its doors in the old Brass Elephant building in Baltimore’s Mount Vernon gayborhood.

6. ‘Stand Back and Stand By’: What is Trump Up To?  (September 2020). During his final debate with Joe Biden, Donald Trump failed to denounce white nationalism and told the right wing extremist violent Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by” claiming he never heard of the group. In the post I speculated about the dangers of Trump’s losing the election.

5. Ticked-off Trump Threatens Tallies  (November 2020). I used an alliterative device to tell of Trump’s tempestuous temper tantrums to a tee following his loss in the election.

4. A Dress Rehearsal for November?  (May 2020). In the midst of the COVID pandemic, Trump urged his followers to liberate the starts. In Michigan a group of armed protesters entered the capital building. This level of intimidation and inciting violence gave Americans reason to fear the aftermath of an election that did not go Trump’s way.

3. Why is This Race Even Close?  (September 2020). From his mismanagement of the pandemic to calling military personnel “losers and suckers” to knee-capping the post office system, Trump had so many miscues it was impossible to enumerate them all. Yet, he remained within striking distance according to most polls. I offered up some explanations.

2.There Used to be a Gayborhood in Mt. Vernon (12/2020). The demolition of the building in which the gay bar Grand Central once occupied for 30 years is a symbolic reminder of how 'gay' has been scooped out of the Gayborhood in this midtown Baltimore area.


1. No Rainbow Over the Kingdom  (August 2020). A departure from the political scene, this post was by far the most viewed during 2020. The three- season series that is streaming on Netflix presents the conflicts and bonding of families with the gritty world of mixed martial arts in the background. The post explores the treatment and portrayal of the one gay character in the series, his internal battles climaxing with his dramatic and consequential coming out. A prominently displayed spoiler alert is provided for those in the process of watching the series.

 


Besides those above popular posts from 2020, below are several posts from previous years still garnering many views in 2020 (in no particular order):

‘Boys Will be Boys’ on Sizzling Atlantis Cruise (February 2009) 

‘Everwood’s’ Coming Out Scene Hits the Mark (April 2006)

Why Trump’s Purple Heart Comment is the Most Disqualifying (August 2016) 

The Man Who Would be King  (October 2019)


Thursday, December 17, 2020

Why Pete's Nomination Should Sail Through


On December 16, 2020, history was made as the first open LGBTQ person was nominated for a cabinet position. President-elect Joe Biden announced that Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, IN, has been selected to be the Secretary of Transportation in the new Biden-Harris administration. 

Mr. Buttigieg's remarks following the announcement are shown here.

The Senate would have to confirm this nomination for this historic breakthrough to be official. And they will.

Yes, Mitch McConnell is a serial obstructionist and a spiteful one at that. And he could cause mischief with Biden’s cabinet nominees assuming his party retains control of the Senate and that is certainly an open question. And yes, Republican senators still under the thumb of sore loser Trump may resist anything Joe Biden tries to put forward. But in Mayor Pete‘s case, they will confirm.

For one thing, the Department of Transportation, important as it will be in a potential infrastructure deal as well as energy and climate considerations, is not part of the top tier cabinet positions. Those include State, Defense, Treasury and Justice. Therefore, the nomination should not be one in which Republicans will find ideological differences to contest.

Secondly, Mr. Buttigieg is a centrist and not a “left wing radical,” the type that Republicans loath. During his campaign he promised to work across the aisle so that will bode well for him during the Senate confirmation process.

Mr. Buttigieg’s personal story is compelling. A Rhodes Scholar, a military veteran, an ability to speak some seven languages fluently, and the first gay presidential candidate from a major political party to win delegates during a primary are qualities that endeared him to many in the public and media after he burst onto the scene two years ago. 


The historic nature of this selection will not be lost on the Senate. When McConnell grudgingly acknowledged Biden’s victory the day before, he proudly announced that Kamala Harris will be the first female vice president. If nothing else, the Senate reveres history.

If they block the nomination, the media and the public writ large will assume it was due to homophobia and not on the merits. That is a possibility for sure given that the Senate contains a fair number of bigots.

But it would be politically damaging to the Republicans if that perception gains traction. It’s not a good way to expand their “tent” if suburban women see this rejection for what it is. If this election proved anything, you cannot win a national race with just the base.

Moreover, there are a number of gay Republicans who are big donors. The GOP should keep that in mind.

The only reason I can fathom in which the Senate would reject this nomination is that they don’t want to bolster Mr. Buttigieg’s resume. He is an enormous political talent as evidenced by his brief remarks following Mr. Biden's introduction, and at age 38, a future presidential run is likely. The experience he will garner at the federal/cabinet level will put the kabash on his lack of resume. He will pose an enormous threat to Republicans in a potential presidential bid should he capture the Democratic nomination.

Nonetheless, the Senate Republicans will be eyeing the near term and should have no ostensible reason to reject this nomination with more significant battles looming. Mayor Pete should sail through without a hitch, and we will be calling him Secretary Pete in a few months.






Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Another Historic Breakthrough

Joe Biden broke new ground when he selected Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate for vice president. Now that she and Biden have been elected, Ms. Harris will be the first female vice president in our country’s history and the first of African American and South Asian descent.

Now the president-elect has broken additional ground in naming former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg to serve on his cabinet as Secretary of Transportation as reported by numerous major news outlets. If confirmed by the Senate, Buttigieg would be the first open LGBTQ person to receive Senate confirmation for a cabinet position.

Buttigieg burst on the national scene in April 2019 when the mayor announced his long shot candidacy for President. He was such a refreshing contrast to President Trump that I opined the day after the announcement that he would make a viable run and possibly even succeed.

A bodacious fundraiser, Mayor Pete as he was affectionately called, impressed many voters with his intelligence, political talent, military record and life story, but his lack of experience other than leading a smallish city gave voters pause.  His record as South Bend mayor, particularly when a Black man was shot by a white police officer, created friction with many in the African American community. As a result, failed to garner support from this critical voting bloc.

Nonetheless, Pete’s narrow win in the Iowa caucuses enabled him to claim that he was the first openly gay candidate from a major political party to receive delegates from a primary contest. Any momentum that should have accrued to him was stifled by the technical glitches surrounding the tallying of votes in Iowa. Regardless, he finished second in New Hampshire but his campaign fizzled as he entered states with a larger minority population than Iowa and New Hampshire.

Immediately following the South Carolina primary, Buttigieg suspended his campaign and joined other rivals in endorsing Joe Biden. For his part, the president-elect views Buttigieg very positively. Biden had compared the former mayor to his son, Beau, saying it’s “the highest compliment I can give any man or woman.”  

Buttigieg campaigned for Biden, raised money, represented the ticket on FOX News, and served on his transition team. His selection to a prominent position in a Biden Administration was expected by many Washington insiders and beyond.

According to Politico, “If confirmed, Buttigieg will head to Washington to take responsibility for nearly 55,000 employees, an $87 billion budget and more than a dozen agencies, overseeing the nation’s airspace, highway system, pipeline safety and much more.

On the campaign trail, Buttigieg introduced out a $1 trillion infrastructure plan that prioritized upgrading the country’s crumbling infrastructure and expanding broadband internet access through payment to state and local governments.

If confirmed, Buttigieg will be in a position to gain experience at the federal level and boost his qualifications for a future run for president.

But his appointment will be an inspiring message to members of the LGBTQ community. The Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ advocacy organization, said the nomination would be “a reminder to LGBTQ people everywhere that any opportunity is possible.”

In response Buttigieg  tweeted:

This is a moment of tremendous opportunity—to create jobs, meet the climate challenge, and enhance equity for all.

I'm honored that the President-elect has asked me to serve our nation as Secretary of Transportation.




Sunday, December 06, 2020

The Devil Went Down to Georgia

 The devil went down to Georgia. He was lookin’ for a soul to steal. He was in a bind ‘cause he was way behind. And he was willin’ to make a deal. –Charlie Daniels Band, 1979


On December 5, the most delusional, most undemocratic, most paranoid, most narcissistic, most incompetent and most corrupt president in my lifetime (and I go back to Van Buren) descended upon Valdosta, Georgia like a giant stink bomb. Donald Trump, the biggest sore loser in centuries, held his first post-election rally that was also yet another super-spreader event even while Covid cases continue to set daily records in hospitalizations and deaths. I suspect some of those attending the basically mask-less, ego-stroking rally will be leaving us in the not-too-distant future.

Ostensibly, Trump was there to motivate his troops to support the two Republican senatorial candidates in a crucial runoff election on January 5, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler. But as predicted Trump echoed the same lies, the same misinformation and the same unsubstantiated garbage that somehow the election was stolen from him; it was rigged; and that only widespread fraud kept him from enjoying and enriching himself and his family in a second term.

“They cheated and rigged our presidential election but we’ll still win it. And they are going to try to rig this election too,” Trump told the cheering crowd.

During the month following the election in which he lost by around 7 million votes and by 74 in the electoral college, Trump attacked our democracy and the election process with his inflammatory and untrue rhetoric that included zeroing in on Georgia as the runoff to decide which party will control the Senate looms.

That surely isn’t helping to gin up support and turnout for the two flawed Republican incumbents. Former members of Trump’s hapless legal team, which is challenging the results in several swing states armed with no evidence of wrongdoing, urged Trump believers not to vote in the runoff because the system was rigged and rife with fraud, (Translation: Attempts at voter suppression failed; Black voters are voting.)

The GOP infighting, normally more common among the Dems, is the catalyst the Democratic candidates—Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff—will need to overcome the intrinsic electoral disadvantages in Georgia. Who would ever suspect that as recently as a month ago, Georgia Governor and Trump toady Brian Kemp, Trump’s supplicant Attorney General William Barr and Trump state TV’s FOX News, would be in the crosshairs of Trump and his cult-of-personality followers?

Though some in his flock have drifted—a whopping 27 Republicans in Congress out of the 249 seated actually acknowledged Joe Biden’s decisive victory—Trump has terrified Republican officeholders into toeing the mantra that the election was fraudulent or that Trump has the right to pursue all legal means to overturn the results in what has amounted to be the theatre of the absurd. He even demanded to know who those 27 are.

Nobody can get into Trump’s disturbed brain. But either he truly believes that he won the race for not the widespread fraud, which miraculously affected his totals but not the down ballot contests where Republicans did better, or that this is another con from the best conman this planet has ever known.

Since the election, Trump has raised hundreds of millions of dollars from his supporters to help pay for his election-related legal challenges. Except the fine print indicates that most of the money raised can be spent on other matters. I see Trump using this largess to pay off sizable loans that are coming due. But don’t tell that to the gullible Trump supporter.

As for Georgia, I am not convinced that despite Biden’s 12,000 vote margin of victory following multiple recounts, the Peach State has turned blue. Many Republicans decided that Trump was too much but returned to the fold down ballot. Ossoff, for example, amassed far fewer voters than Biden did. Republicans control all the levers of power in Georgia, and outside the Atlanta and Savannah metropolitan areas, by and large, it is a conservative state.

For the Democrats to sweep this critical doubleheader (and they must sweep for Dems to relegate Moscow Mitch McConnell to minority status), the two candidates will need another massive turnout both through absentee and in-person voting. The efforts by Stacey Abrams to register new, young and minority voters spearheaded Biden’s triumph there. Similar work will be essential.

Moreover, Trump’s continued assault on our democracy, his un-American refusal to accept defeat and move on to a smooth and peaceful transition of power, and his attacks via countless rage tweets against Republican officials including the dangerous violence-stoking rhetoric in Georgia may diminish turnout sufficiently for the Dems to squeeze by.

The devil went down to Georgia looking for a soul to steal, and for Democrats, that might prove to be the best holiday gift of all.