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Behind Maryland’s marriage debacle

HRC and Gill overreach, Democrats cower and O’Malley turns invisible



The debacle that unfolded in Annapolis last week can be traced to multiple causes with one common root: old-fashioned homophobia.

The Maryland House of Delegates abandoned a bill that would have granted marriage equality to gay and lesbian couples in the so-called Free State.

But an epic train wreck derailed the wedding plans of so many deserving couples that have waited so long for justice. In all their hateful gloating after the bill’s defeat, opponents like those at the National Organization for Marriage seem to forget that this isn’t about a bunch of gays wanting to throw a fabulous wedding reception. It’s about real people — committed couples and families facing discrimination and adversity because of our second-class status.

My heart broke last week for so many of those Marylanders I’ve come to know and respect during this process. Elderly couples together for 40 years now worried about having to return to the closet as they move to retirement communities. Gay and lesbian parents raising kids without the protections and respect afforded by marriage. The gay schoolteacher whose partner died suddenly and was sued by his ex’s parents because they wanted to exhume the body and move their son to the family plot against his directives. A gay man who legally adopted his partner because lawyers determined it was the only way to guarantee hostile family members couldn’t sue for half their estate in the event one of them died. Foreign-born partners facing deportation because U.S. laws don’t recognize our relationships as legitimate.

And there are more subtle ways this discrimination affects us. After 13 years together, my relationship with my partner isn’t viewed as equal to our straight counterparts. It is always something less than, even though we’ve seen our straight friends and family members marry, divorce and remarry. They immediately enjoy the legal benefits and instant respect afforded by that word, “marriage,” while we are referred to by the cold and clinical “partners.” It’s an empty, meaningless term. And it’s insulting. Our society has a term for our relationship — marriage — but lawmakers aren’t willing to take a stand and face down their ignorant (and often closeted) pastors. They run in fear of Fox News’s blowhards and NOM’s $1 million war chest. They are cowards and don’t deserve our support for re-election.

This is what gets lost in all the venom spewed by our opponents and all the halfhearted, hollow arguments made on our behalf by well-meaning Democrats afraid to fully embrace us and demand our full equality under the law. It’s about love and family and children and being able to properly care for our loved ones when times are tough.

But our allies sold us out. They are weak and afraid and driven by self-preservation. Lawmakers who campaigned on support for marriage equality and co-sponsored the bill pulled out and opposed it. The betrayals of Dels. Sam Arora (D-Montgomery County), Jill Carter (D-Baltimore), Tiffany Alston (D-Prince George’s) and Melvin Stukes (D-Baltimore) must not be forgotten. No LGBT money, votes or support for those backstabbing traitors.

Maryland has the largest caucus of openly LGBT state legislators in the country, yet they couldn’t sway one or two votes to bring the bill across the finish line. Maybe Sen. Rich Madaleno could host a Lobbying 101 seminar in the House. He was able to shepherd the bill, with support from key straight allies, through the more conservative Senate. He helped convert former opponents into supporters. And Madaleno’s presence in the chamber seemed to have a calming effect on even the most strident opponents of marriage equality, ensuring a professional and hate-free debate.

But seven openly gay and lesbian members in the more liberal House couldn’t replicate that success. The most senior out gay member, Del. Maggie McIntosh, didn’t even bother to deliver a floor speech for the bill. With the vote so close — perhaps as close as a single vote — didn’t it occur to her that junior members who were undecided might be swayed to support their senior colleague?

Freshmen Dels. Luke Clippinger and Mary Washington deserve our gratitude for their visibility and impassioned floor speeches. They were not intimidated by NOM and Del. Don Dwyer and put their own self-interests aside to do what’s right. Perhaps the most gratifying moment of the House debate came when Del. Peter Murphy stood up to correct a colleague who’d said the House had six openly gay members. Murphy bravely came out in an interview with me last week. A grandfather of two, Murphy represents conservative southern Maryland, yet found the courage to take a public stand when it counted the most. He stood on the House floor to correct the record — there are now seven, he said.

As Murphy stood up, McIntosh sat down — because she knew the fix was in. The Human Rights Campaign and Gill Action intervened and urged the LGBT Caucus and Equality Maryland to cancel the vote. They feared that a failure might jeopardize similar efforts in Rhode Island and New York. It’s more likely they’re worried about the demoralizing effect of a marriage defeat on wealthy gay donors. We wouldn’t want to upset them so close to 2012.

The people who actually live in Maryland deserved a vote. They’ve worked hard for years to get to this unique opportunity and it was snatched away prematurely. Some have speculated that there were 71 votes to pass the bill; now we will never know.

HRC and Gill argue that if lawmakers are forced to vote and then cast a vote against us, that it’s unlikely they will change their vote a year later. I would point them to Sen. James Brochin, a Baltimore County Democrat who campaigned against same-sex marriage but who switched his view after hearing the sickening, bigoted testimony in the Senate committee hearing. Or to Sen. Allan Kittleman, the former Senate minority leader who gave up that post over his unexpected support for marriage equality.

The people at HRC and Gill are strategic and well intentioned, but this was a bad call. In a state dominated by Democrats, this vote should never have been in doubt. But it fell apart because support was soft. How will we know who really supports us and is deserving of our money and votes in the next election if we don’t take the vote? Canceling the vote only gives cover to cowards. The collective sigh of relief in the House last Friday was deafening. Even the LGBT Caucus didn’t speak up to oppose the motion to send the bill back to committee. Whew! Kick the can down the road, avoid a vote and let’s call it a day.

No one was more relieved than Gov. Martin O’Malley, who has been celebrated and feted by LGBT activists and donors from around the country, despite his outdated support for civil unions. In a 2007 interview, O’Malley told me he would sign a marriage bill if the legislature could pass it, knowing there was zero chance of that happening anytime soon. He reiterated that pledge this year to the LGBT media but was more circumspect about it when talking to the mainstream press. In the run up to the House vote, O’Malley reportedly helped lobby some delegates. Either he lied or he’s just ineffective.

Where was his public advocacy during the session? His wife found time to record a video for the “It Gets Better” campaign but Maryland’s first couple lost their voice when it came to marriage equality. We know the O’Malleys are privately supportive and have gay friends and family members, but their unwillingness to speak out undermined the effort to pass the bill.

So what now? One key lesson from this failure: Do not underestimate the influence of black pastors. Equality Maryland failed to solidify support among black lawmakers from Baltimore City and Prince George’s County. And when the preaching began on Sundays in February, several black delegates caved under the pressure. Equality Maryland must take a page from their counterparts in D.C., where the visibility of pro-gay black ministers and the involvement of black gay and lesbian couples were at the center of their successful strategy.

In addition to cultivating black support, advocates must grow a backbone and work to oust Dels. Arora, Carter, Alston and Stukes. Arora represents liberal Montgomery County. Surely we can find a marriage equality supporter there. Stukes and Carter are from Baltimore, which suffers from a dearth of LGBT activism. If a politician in D.C. had done what Carter and Stukes did, they’d be hammered and drummed out of office. But Baltimore lacks a vocal and visible activist presence. So it will fall to Equality Maryland to finally get tough with those who take our money and votes and then toss us under the bus.

Sadly, it really does come back to simple homophobia. Democrats who say they support us during their campaigns go soft because they, deep down, don’t really think our relationships are equal to their own marriages. Others cave to pressure from pastors because somewhere beneath the surface promises, they’re not so sure we’re not sinners destined for hell. The governor tells us in private that he supports us, but can’t find his voice in public because it might offend conservatives who hate us irrationally — and O’Malley might need some of those votes in a future run for Senate. And some members of the LGBT Caucus, too, lose their voice because they’re terrified of being known as the “gay delegate.” As if that’s a bad thing.

As a lifelong Marylander, I’m hurt, disappointed and disillusioned by what happened. I expect better results in a state with monopolistic Democratic control. Marriage equality isn’t some bizarre, threatening or abstract concept. It’s a reality in a growing list of countries around the world. It’s a reality in five U.S. states. I can hop on the MARC train and get married in neighboring D.C.

As Maryland’s Attorney General Douglas Gansler has said, marriage equality is inevitable in all 50 states. We know the work that lies ahead and so we must pick ourselves up and get on with it with a renewed sense of urgency and passion.


Blade Blog

Cruising into Pride

Celebrity holds firm as a proud corporate supporter of LGBTQ community



Celebrity APEX (Photo by Peter Rosenstein)

As you know if you have read my columns and blog posts, I love cruising. The kind where you are on a river or the ocean. Today in both the United States and around the world the LGBTQ community is facing difficult times. Attacks are coming fast and furious. There are few places where members of our community can feel totally safe these days. 

One of those places is on a cruise ship that values the community. That is what I have found whenever I travel on a Celebrity ship. Today, they are going even further in letting the world know about their respect for the community. They happily advertise Pride at Sea. Of course, they are doing it to attract LGBTQ passengers and their dollars, but that’s great in this day and age, when a company is willing to step up proudly, wants our business, and will do everything they can to make us feel both wanted and safe. That is what Celebrity Cruise Lines is doing. 

I want Pride to be celebrated not just in June, but every month. But I am excited about the June celebrations whether hosted in D.C. by Capital Pride, or on the high seas. While many of us will be at the D.C. Wharf, on June 10 to help the Washington Blade celebrate Pride on the Pier with spectacular fireworks, those who miss that and are on a Celebrity ship will be part of a Pride celebration as well. Their ships will all celebrate the month in various ways including flying a LGBTQ Pride flag. 

Celebrity has invited my friend, entertainer extraordinaire, Andrew Derbyshire, to lead the celebration on the Edge on June 13, in Ibiza. He recently quoted Celebrity, “In honor of Pride month and our continuing commitment toward fostering positive and authentic partnerships within the LGBTQIA+ community, Celebrity Cruises is raising the Pride flag to celebrate acceptance, unity, and support for the community. Each June, Celebrity Cruises hosts our annual Pride Party at Sea. Every ship takes part in the celebration that brings our crew and guests together to honor and celebrate Pride.” Andrew added, “I am happy to announce I will be flying to Ibiza on the 13th of June for a few nights, to host Pride on the Celebrity Edge, with my friend and captain, Captain Tasos, and the amazing team on board.” Andrew, like many of the entertainers I have seen and met on Celebrity ships, is encouraged to be who he is, ‘out’ and proud. 

The Edge will kick off Celebrity’s fifth annual Pride Party at Sea during its June 10, 2023, sailing. “The party will take place in tandem across the award-winning Celebrity fleet, with each ship ‘handing off the party baton’ to the next, to keep the festivities running across hemispheres and time zones. A variety of multi-generational LGBTQ+ focused programming will take place throughout the month of June. Together, officers, staff and crew around the world will participate in Celebrity’s signature Pride programming.”

You should know one of the things straight couples could always do on a Celebrity cruise is have the captain marry them. Now, since same-sex marriage became legal in Malta, where most Celebrity ships are registered, their captains can legally marry same-sex couples. After this happened the first legal same-sex marriage at sea, on a major cruise line, occurred on board Celebrity Equinox in January 2018 when the captain married Francisco Vargas and Benjamin Gray.  

Celebrity is a Florida-based company, and along with Disney, they are standing up for the LGBTQ community. They have been a Presenting Sponsor of Miami Beach Gay Pride for four years in a row. They continue to advertise their collaborations with gay cruise companies like VACAYA, which has charted the Celebrity Apex for a cruise of the Caribbean in 2024. The ship will be sailing with a lot of happy LGBTQ cruisers on Feb 17-24, 2024 for seven nights from Fort Lauderdale to Puerto Rico, St. Croix, and Antigua. For anyone who hasn’t been on the Apex, it is an amazing ship. While not during an official Pride month I will show my Pride along with many other LGBTQ travelers on Celebrity Beyond this October out of Rome, and on Celebrity Ascent in October 2024 out of Barcelona. The Ascent hasn’t even set sail yet. 

Let’s hope other companies will follow Celebrity’s lead and value the LGBTQ community. We are entitled to live our lives safely and to the fullest, as who we were born to be. 

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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Blade Blog

Shawna Hachey of Celebrity APEX on what makes a good cruise director

A love of people is a must



Shawna Hachey (Photo courtesy Hachey)

The position of cruise director on any ship is one of the most important, especially on a transatlantic voyage, like the recent one I took on the Celebrity APEX. So much of what people remember is the entertainment. Shawna Hachey is a great Cruise Director and I had the opportunity to sit and chat with her during the cruise. The job keeps her jumping and she is one of the busiest people on the ship. Shawna has a great bubbly personality. She likes people, which is a requirement for that position. 

Shawna shared she is from New Brunswick, Canada, and has come a long way from there. She has now been with Celebrity for nearly thirteen years. I kidded her that meant she must have begun when she was ten. She is actually a very young looking thirty-five. She graduated from the University of New Brunswick with a degree in fashion design, a passion of hers. Shawna told me when she graduated, she had the options of a job in the fashion industry, or working on a cruise ship.  Her dad was the one who suggested she go see the world and she ended up falling in love with cruise ships.

It is not an easy job. Her schedule is four months on and four off. The recent pandemic had her off the ship for a year and a half, during which time she worked in a government job back in Canada until Celebrity called her back. Her first contract after the pandemic, because of staff shortages, was eight months on and two off. But she loves the job. 

Shawna did the usual for someone in her position and worked her way up the ranks from activity host, to activity manager, to cruise director.  At one point she did something different and had a stint as a school teacher in London for a year, teaching kindergarten, but came back to cruising. I can just see her with those kids and am sure she was great. 

As Cruise Director she is responsible for organizing all the entertainment on the ship. That includes lectures, Zumba, game shows, silent disco’s, evening parties, resort deck parties and other games, as well as the back of house and theater tours. She works to ensure every traveler has something to keep them busy and having fun. As Shawna told me, that is always a little harder on a transatlantic cruise with so many sea days. But judging by the comments on the ship by so many of the people I met, she was doing a great job. 

The Cruise Director doesn’t get to choose all the talent, as Celebrity does the booking, but Shawna can and did request some approved acts. She loves working with those like the incredibly talented, Andrew Derbyshire. Many of us were excited he was going to be on our cruise. I first met Andrew, and wrote about him, last year when I was on APEX. He is an amazing entertainer. Shawna explained to me with the big shows like Crystalize and Tree of Life, Celebrity now produces those themselves and interviews talent for them around the world. One of the cast members in those shows, Nate Promkul, I predict will end up a star on Broadway. With the individual artists, their agents submit them to Celebrity, who then hires them for all their different ships. 

Before working on APEX Shawna has worked on a number of other Celebrity ships including Solstice, Reflection, Equinox and Silhouette. Shawna shared a story with me about Celebrity. They have always had a lot of crew from the Ukraine. Apparently, after the war began any crew members from Ukraine still working, were able to bring their families who could get out of Ukraine on board to live with them. This is a wonderful humanitarian thing to do. 

I enjoyed talking to Shawna and urge any cruiser on the APEX to say hello when you are onboard. She will always have a big smile for you. 

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Blade Blog

Meet Captain Nikolaos Christodoulakis of the Celebrity APEX

Reflecting on life aboard a ship during COVID



Peter Rosenstein and Captain Nikolaos Christodoulakis (Photo courtesy of Rosenstein)

It really was a pleasure to chat with Celebrity APEX Captain Nikolaos Christodoulakis who invited me to the bridge for a conversation. I learned he is quite an amazing man.  

Captain Christodoulakis told me Celebrity is the only cruise company he has ever been with and joined them twenty-eight years ago in 1994. While still a young man of 47 he has already been a captain for 12 years. In one of the many interesting lectures during the cruise, we were given a talk on how one can become a captain. How one moves up the ranks at Celebrity. We were told about all the education and testing required. The speaker, who was not yet a captain, kidded he would reach that goal by 2080. He then told us jokingly about the exception for those of Greek extraction. He said they received their captain’s certificate along with their birth certificate. When I mentioned this to the captain during our conversation he laughed and assured me he did have all the needed education and tests.  

Captain Christodoulakis told me proudly he is from the Island of Crete, and still lives there with his wife and eight-year-old daughter. A captain with Celebrity is on a schedule of three months on, and three months off. He said he loves those three months off when he can be with his wife and daughter, and the rest of his family, back on Crete. I told him I had been to Crete many years ago and thought it was beautiful and asked him if he had ever walked down the famous Samariá Gorge and he said he hadn’t.

Over his years with Celebrity, he worked on many ships, including Horizon and Century among others. His most recent ship was the Reflection, which he captained during the COVID pandemic. That was not an easy time for the cruise line. He was with Reflection for three years and during the pandemic spent part of the time with the ship sitting in the Bahamas, with a crew of less than 100. Just enough to keep the ship ready to sail again when he could welcome passengers back. I told him I was on the APEX last year on a transatlantic cruise out of Barcelona with only had 1250 passengers and a crew of about 1,000. He told me on this cruise there were 2340 passengers and a crew of close to 1200. The APEX can accommodate up to 3,400 passengers with a crew of 1,250. The captain agreed staffing back up has been difficult and complimented the Celebrity HR department who he said has been working overtime recruiting crew. 

I asked him about protections for the crew during the pandemic and continuing today. He said Celebrity has been really good about that and all crew on the APEX have been vaccinated and boosted against Covid and during this transatlantic cruise they were all getting flu shots. On this trip the crew was required to wear masks for their safety. During the sea days they were allowed to take them off when outdoors, so we could see their smiles.

I then asked him what he wants to do next after he stops being a Captain. He told me he loves being a Captain and really can’t see another career. He did tell me once he retires, years from now, maybe when his daughter is in college, he wants to get an RV, and drive across Europe with his wife, seeing all the sites at a slow and leisurely pace. Then would like to do the same going across the United States stopping at all the national parks. Sounds like a great retirement.  I asked if he often leaves the ship in the ports where it stops. He says he does if his wife and daughter are on board visiting, and anticipates them joining him for the upcoming holidays. When they aren’t with him, he gets off if he can get to a beach, or a place to swim and dive, which he loves.

I then mentioned there was a party that afternoon my friends and travel agents, Scott and Dustin, with My Lux Cruise, were hosting in the Iconic suite. He said he would enjoy coming to that. I thanked him for taking the time to chat, said I hope to see him at the party, and left the bridge.

I didn’t say anything to Scott or Dustin about inviting him. Not only did he come but brought the Hotel Director, Christophe, with him. They were incredibly open and gracious, taking selfies. Christophe told us he would be on the BEYOND when we do our next transatlantic cruise in October 2023. 

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