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Why I marched in Baltimore

I’m a journalist, not an activist, but it’s time to stand up

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Baltimore

A scene from Thursday’s march through Mount Vernon in Baltimore. (Blade photo by Kevin Naff)

As a journalist, I’m not supposed to protest or become involved in activism, but the events of this week in Baltimore are too personal and wrenching to watch from the sidelines.

I grew up in Columbia, Md., one of the early James Rouse “pioneers” who never saw race as an issue. In Columbia, we had black friends and neighbors and teachers; I took my black best friend to prom and no one thought twice about it.

Columbia occupies an enviable location between Washington and Baltimore, and, growing up, I cultivated a deep appreciation and love for both cities. My early memories of Baltimore involve Orioles games at Memorial Stadium and trips to downtown before Harborplace was built. Before they tore down Memorial Stadium, I was among the first in line to purchase and salvage two of the stadium seats — one for me and another that I restored for my brother. Our shared love of baseball was born in that stadium.

Years later, after college and a stint in New York City, I moved to Baltimore and fell in love all over again. The authenticity of Baltimore is hard to match and residents have a collective feeling of being in this together. Sure, I’ve been robbed and my car has been broken into. But such is life in urban America anywhere. My partner and I bought a house. I worked for the Baltimore Sun. And tutored inner city kids in reading. And served on the board of Live Baltimore, a non-profit that advocates for homeownership in the city. I’ve led seminars in D.C., urging Washingtonians to move north and buy in Baltimore — it’s cheaper! I was always a Baltimore booster — cheering the Ravens and Orioles and cringing when “The Wire” became a phenomenon. On a trip to Honduras a few years ago, a local we met recoiled in horror when I told her we were from Baltimore. “It’s SO dangerous there,” she exclaimed. That sentiment has been echoed countless times by gays in D.C., as I’ve worked at the Blade since 2002. I’ve always ignored all the judgments and snobbish remarks and the turned up noses because I know that Baltimore is something special and I don’t care about the stigma.

And then this week happened. It began with Facebook posts from friends working downtown. Law firms and accounting firms were closing at 3 p.m. Downtown traffic was snarled early, as the suburbanites were desperately fleeing the chaos that hadn’t even begun yet. What did they know that the rest of us didn’t?

Then the protests, or at least the TV images of what looked like protests, began. We’d later learn that innocent school kids were prevented from going home — their busses boarded and emptied by police, their Metro stops closed down. They were stranded, confused and afraid. And they finally snapped and lashed out. As the violence erupted, I watched Mondawmin Mall — where I do my Target shopping — looted and vandalized and wondered along with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, “Where are the police?” Then it got worse — fires, police cars trashed, journalists assaulted. The mayor and police commissioner were MIA for hours. The newly elected governor made belated excuses about waiting to hear from Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. His phone doesn’t dial out? And Rawlings-Blake, who clearly underestimated the need for help on Monday, then overreacted and has kept in place an infantilizing curfew that only hurts local small businesses and their many employees. Her City Hall office has become a military encampment — barricades, machine-gun toting troops, military vehicles. If she feels she needs all of that to be mayor then perhaps she’s in the wrong job.

On Monday, we needed help and security. But after the energy of Monday subsided and the dust settled, it became immediately clear that the young people were trying to show us something. They are in pain and feel abandoned. They are attempting to learn in schools with inadequate heat and air conditioning and outdated textbooks. They have no after-school options — no jobs, no playgrounds, no community centers. It’s time the grownups woke up.

On Thursday, I sat in City Café, a restaurant in Mount Vernon that I’ve frequented for 20 years and listened as the couple next to me talked ignorantly about the events of the week. The staff fretted about lost wages thanks to the curfew. The TV above the bar was tuned to CNN and there were scenes of protesters making their way up Charles Street, directly toward us. The couple next to me panicked, paid up and fled; I paid up and headed out to join the marchers.

An older black man spotted me on the curb and motioned for me to join him, which I gladly did. The marches are entirely peaceful; the marchers mostly black, but multi-racial, young and old. We chanted, “All night all day, we will fight for Freddie Gray.” And my personal favorite, “We love Baltimore, we want peace!” A tear ran down my cheek as I wondered if all my years of pulling for Baltimore, of trying to contribute and do the right thing, had really mattered at all.

CNN’s cameras panned the crowd and three helicopters hovered overhead, no doubt anxiously waiting for us to start smashing windows so they’d have a better story and bigger ratings.

My feelings remain conflicted. I disagree with violence as a means to any end. My brother is a cop. My brother-in-law is in the National Guard and was deployed to downtown Baltimore. They’ve been put in an untenable position thanks to years of shitty government policies that have decimated America’s middle class and shipped our jobs overseas. Of course there are bad apples in the police force, but they are rare and the depictions of them as killers are just as wrong and dangerous as the depictions of black youth as “thugs,” an offensive, racially charged term used by even President Obama and the Baltimore mayor. Demonizing the police erodes public trust in the most fundamental pillars of our society. It must stop. We should prosecute the bad apples without indicting the legions of good cops who risk their lives to keep us safe.

I’m heartbroken by what’s happening to my city. People don’t break their own spines — no one is buying that. The police and state’s attorney need to expedite their investigations and make the results public.

It’s time for the National Guard to go home. It’s time for the Orioles to play ball — at home. I read the Tweet from John Angelos, son of O’s owner Peter Angelos. It was nice. What would be nicer is for the O’s to play the Tampa series in Baltimore and for the Angelos family to donate all the proceeds to the neediest schools in the city.

The kids had their say and now the adults must step up. Each of us who lives here must find a way to contribute to the solution. We can be mentors or tutors; we can donate money or time. Call the school nearest to you and find out what they need. If you own a business, reach out to underserved communities the next time you’re hiring. If you give money, look around your own city before cutting checks to out-of-town charities. On Election Day, SHOW UP! How many city officials are elected by a tiny minority of voters? You’d be surprised.

And if you’re white and watching the events of this week unfold from the comfort of home on CNN, get off your ass and join the marches. Meet your neighbors and show them solidarity. You never know when you might need someone to march for you.

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The future of lesbian bars

Resolve to support our queer spaces in 2022

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lockdown zone, gay news, Washington Blade

This New Year, I hope you wish for more lesbian bars across the country. The story of lesbian bars in the U.S. has been slightly tragic of late: as of January 2021, there were only 15 clubs or bars dedicated to queer women across the country. 

That’s right—only 15. Across all 50 states. 

In Washington, D.C., my hometown, A League of Her Own stands out as the only lesbian bar in the city, dedicated to queer women. Located in Adams Morgan, A League of Her Own, also known as ALOHO, is a small mecca for queer ladies to pass through, socialize, and flirt. ALOHO is a chic gathering point for all queer folk, with posters of softball players dotting the walls and gender neutral signs lying about. 

Several years ago, another lesbian bar called Phase 1 existed in Southeast, where queer women could slam eight balls in pool games and engage in raunchy yet ever-so-hot jello wrestling competitions. 

Unfortunately, Phase 1 shut its doors in 2016. 

So what explains the closure of so many lesbian bars, while bars for gay men continue to flourish? Perhaps many queer women view gay bars as a space for their own as well, whereas gay men view lesbian bars as less of a place for them to socialize. 

Either way, we need to give support to lesbian bars now more than ever. Tokens of support can take many forms. 

For one, make sure to socialize in spaces dedicated to queer ladies. There are three lesbian bars in New York City: Cubbyhole (281 W. 12th St.), Gingers in Brooklyn (363 5th Ave.), and Henrietta Hudson (438 Hudson St.). Next time you visit the Big Apple, make sure to give these three spots some love. Maybe drag your experimenting bi friend to these locations. Or your pansexual roommate. 

Back in D.C., you can buy unisex shirts in A League of Her Own’s merchandise store, available online. 

Proceeds will go toward funding the bar, and making sure it stays afloat, especially during this COVID economy. 

Most of all, I hope you encourage your queer lady friends to keep on frequenting queer lady destinations. After all, there is only one thing that will keep lesbian bars afloat—and that is attendance. 

I, for one, will be frequenting many lesbian destinations this new year.  

Isaac Amend is a Yale graduate and participated in National Geographic’s ‘Gender Revolution’ documentary. He also is a member of the LGBT Democrats of Virginia, and contributes regularly to the Blade. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @isaacamend.

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Breaking barriers as an out trans ‘Jeopardy’ champion

Amy Schneider’s run inspires us all

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Amy Schneider (Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Television)

“When was the last time anybody said ‘wow!’” a friend asked me.

I couldn’t remember the last time anyone I know (including me) had any “Wow!” moments. Until I heard about trans woman and software engineering manager Amy Schneider’s 29-game winning streak on “Jeopardy.”

You wouldn’t think anything could dispel our COVID exhaustion and political divisiveness. Yet, news about a champion on “Jeopardy,” a quiz show that has been on TV since 1964, has broken through our gloom.

In our culture, there are few things that everyone loves. But, “Jeopardy” is beloved by many, from theater geeks to 80-year-old sports nuts. A progressive friend was over the moon when his brother was a “Jeopardy” contestant. A buddy, a hetero (non-Trump) Republican, is a “Jeopardy” fanatic and a gay librarian pal is a “Jeopardy” freak.

Many of us daydream about being on “Jeopardy.” But we know that we wouldn’t have a chance on this legendary quiz show with its deceptively simple format: You give the answer to the (often incredibly hard) clues in the form of a question. You have to have a strategic military commander’s and a world-class athlete’s coordination: so you can press the buzzer to answer the clue.

The game’s categories run the gamut from opera to mountain ranges. Most of us, mere mortals, would be lucky to know even one category in the first round of the game. Let alone in the “Double Jeopardy” round or the “Final Jeopardy” clue. I might jump on clues about Katharine Hepburn movies or M&Ms. But that would be it for me.

It’s exciting to watch a “Jeopardy” contestant become a long-running champion. You marvel at the player’s intelligence, endurance, and nerve. It’s thrilling when the contestant on a winning-streak is part of your community.

Many of us LGBTQ “Jeopardy” fans are thrilled by Schneider’s record-setting winning streak. As I write this, Schneider has won more than $1 million in 29 games of “Jeopardy.” She is the fifth millionaire in “Jeopardy” history, and only the fourth player to reach this milestone in the regular season. She has won more than any other female “Jeopardy” contestant.

Schneider, like so many of us, doesn’t want to be defined by her gender identity or sexuality. Schneider’s life is multi-faceted; she has many interests. Schneider lives with her girlfriend Genevieve. They have a cat named Meep.

Yet, Schneider doesn’t want to hide that she’s trans. On “Jeopardy,” Schneider brilliantly dealt with this dilemma. She didn’t make a big deal about being out. She just wore the trans Pride flag pin.

“It was something that I wanted to get out there and to show my pride in while not making it the focus of what I was doing there,” Schneider told the New York Times. “Because I was just there to answer trivia questions and win money.”

As a cisgender lesbian, I can’t speak to how Schneider’s record-setting “Jeopardy” streak feels to transgender people.

But, as a trans ally, I’m cheering for Schneider. Kudos for her bravery! At a time when many states are passing anti-trans laws, it takes guts to be out on TV and the Internet.

Few things are as mainstream as “Jeopardy.” I bet that many “Jeopardy” viewers who are frightened at the idea of trans people, will become more comfortable with transgender people after watching Schneider on the popular quiz show. Because folks on TV come into our living and bedrooms and we feel as if we know them after watching them for a while.

“Amy looks like everybody else,” my neighbor said when I told her Schneider was trans. “She doesn’t act odd. She’s not strange.”

Transgender people encounter violence and discrimination in everything from housing to health care to employment.

I know Schneider’s “Jeopardy” triumph won’t end transphobia. But her winning streak will go a long way toward jumpstarting a change in hearts and minds.

Kathi Wolfe, a writer and a poet, is a regular contributor to the Blade.

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SCARY: Tucker Carlson now the conscience of GOP

Cruz bows down, kisses ring of Fox host

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Tucker Carlson (Screen capture via Fox on YouTube)

The Republican Party has sunk to a new low, hard to do, when a sleazebag like Tucker Carlson is now their conscience. Seeing Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) groveling before him is laughable, disgusting, and frightening all at the same time. 

As reported in Rolling Stone, Cruz said, “We are approaching a solemn anniversary this week. It is an anniversary of a violent terrorist attack on the Capitol where we saw the men and women of law enforcement demonstrate incredible courage, incredible bravery, risk their lives to defend the men and women who serve in this Capitol.” Then “Cruz was lambasted by Tucker Carlson that night, prompting him to hop on Carlson’s show Thursday and beg for forgiveness. “The way I phrased things yesterday, it was sloppy and it was frankly dumb,” Cruz said before Carlson cut him off and said he didn’t believe him. Cruz took it up a notch, stammering through an absurd bit about how he wasn’t talking about the “patriots across the country supporting President Trump,” only those who assaulted police officers, and that he’s always described anyone who assaults a cop as a terrorist.

Carlson has made a career of being a pompous commentator. Interestingly he worked at CNN, PBS, and MSNBC, before finally landing at Fox in 2009. According to his Wikipedia page he went to Trinity College where he earned a bachelor’s degree and Carlson’s Trinity yearbook describes him as a member of the “Dan White Society,” an apparent reference to the American political assassin who murdered San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk. After college, Carlson tried to join the CIA, but his application was denied, after which he decided to pursue a career in journalism with the encouragement of his father, who advised him that “they’ll take anybody.” Reading this clearly raised my opinion of the CIA and based on what we see in some media today I agree with Carlson’s father on his view of journalism. 

When you have a moment of silence in the House of Representatives to honor those who lost their lives on Jan. 6 and only two Republicans show up, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and her father Dick Cheney, the former vice president, one understands the influence Carlson has on the GOP. The rest were afraid of being criticized on-air by him or lambasted by Trump. 

Dick Cheney remarked on the GOP, “It’s not a leadership that resembles any of the folks I knew when I was here for 10 years.” He spoke to ABC News saying, “I’m deeply disappointed we don’t have better leadership in the Republican Party to restore the Constitution.” 

There is a leadership void in the Republican Party today. Their so-called leaders are afraid to say what they think if it differs in any way from Trumpism or Carlson’s view of the world, which requires total fealty to Trump. He found a home on Fox where he can lie with impunity and have millions believe his lies. 

President Biden said, in what many think was the best speech of his presidency so far, these people are “holding a dagger to the neck of democracy.” He went on to say, “For the first time in our history, a president not just lost an election, he tried to prevent the peaceful transfer of power as a violent mob breached the Capitol.” 

Tucker Carlson and his ilk have never bothered to answer a question the president threw at them, which is how they can accept all their down ballot victories, governors, and members of Congress, which occurred on the same ballots, cast by the same people, on the same day, as those for president. Of course, Carlson has no need to make sense, tell the truth, or speak rationally because of his platform on Fox, which doesn’t require that.

My question is whether Carlson is as dumb as he makes himself sound or is he brilliant and this is all a big act? Either way the acolytes that follow Trump don’t seem to care and are bowing down to Carlson’s big audience. It’s as if he can tell any Republican senator or congressperson, or Republican candidate for those jobs, to just ‘bend over and take it’ and they do. All we can do is mourn for the GOP of Lincoln and Eisenhower. Non-Trumpers will have to work hard and speak out if they ever want to resurrect a GOP that can be respected.

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

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