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Baltimore could get its first openly gay Council member

Kelly Cross enters race from 12th District

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Kelly Cross, gay news, Washington Blade
Kelly Cross, gay news, Washington Blade

Kelly Cross is hoping to become Baltimore’s first openly gay Council member. (Photo courtesy of Cross)

In 2007, Fred Mason III announced his candidacy for Baltimore’s 11th Council District. Had he succeeded in the Democratic primary and won the general election, he would have been the first openly gay person to be elected to the Council. Jason Curtis, another gay man, made a similar bid in 2011 for the 12th District but also came up short.

On Jan. 29, a day before his 37th birthday, Kelly Cross, who is also gay, filed to enter the Democratic primary in the 12th. In a district that for years has been represented by Carl Stokes, Cross will have plenty of company as no fewer than six other Democrats are currently vying for the seat in the primary as well as one Republican and one Green Party candidate. Stokes is leaving his Council seat to run for mayor.

Cross was raised in a working-class family in West Virginia. He earned admission to Princeton University and followed his undergraduate education with a law degree from the University of Virginia. After living in Washington, D.C., and Europe, Cross and his husband, Mateusz Rozanski, decided in 2010 to make Baltimore their home.

Baltimore’s 12th Council District is a jagged swath of territory that runs north and south through the city. It touches such diverse neighborhoods as Waverly, Cold Spring-Homestead-Montebello, Old Goucher, Station North, Broadway East, Barclay, Oliver, Charles Village, South Clifton Park and Jonestown.

In announcing his bid, Cross notes that “the 12th District is home to some of the most important cultural, institutional and infrastructure assets in the United States.” Included in this district are Johns Hopkins Hospital and Medical School, Maryland Institute College of Art, the historic neighborhoods of Oldtown and Mount Vernon, and “the CSX and Amtrak lines that provide the transportation backbone of the Northeast.”

“I’m running for this seat because I love Baltimore,” Cross told the Blade. “It pains me to see that with all the amazing assets we have — some of the most beautiful architecture in America, world-class institutions and museums, prime location and a diverse economy — the city still struggles.”

Cross and Rozanski reside in the Old Goucher neighborhood. He has been active in local politics as a board member of the Charles Village Civic Association and currently as president of the Old Goucher Community Association.

“As a community association president for the last several years, I’ve seen that our city government is not forward-looking and proactive,” said Cross. “City government has been incredibly reactive, seeking short-term fixes without advancing Baltimore as a whole. I’m running because I want to be one of several new voices on City Council who will alter that dynamic.”

During the campaign, Cross will present how transit and education can be improved, how to create jobs, and restore the dignity of Baltimore, which he refers to as “one of America’s first, and greatest, cities.” He intends to discuss how these goals can be achieved without making bad decisions between higher taxes and fewer services.

However, he distinguishes himself from the other candidates not so much by issues but more in experience and vision.

“From my work in the private sector — both domestically and abroad — to my work as a community activist, I understand that Baltimore must do a better job of opening itself back up; of inviting resources and residents back to the city,” Cross said. “I recognize that we have to deal with issues like grinding poverty, poor education systems, violence in our streets. But we need to do so in a holistic way, in a way that makes Baltimore a magnet for talent and investment again.”

Cross also believes that City Hall needs to work diligently to make Baltimore a more open and accepting place for its LGBT residents. “We need to recruit and encourage more small LGBT businesses, and reestablish centers of LGBT life throughout the city,” he said.

“My neighborhood, Old Goucher, has one of the highest concentrations of transgender women of color in the country, and I’ve seen firsthand many of the struggles these women endure. The city can do more to be inclusive and supportive of the incredible LGBT diversity Baltimore has.

“Finally, we definitely need City Hall to take Baltimore’s HIV crisis seriously. While Leana Wen and the Health Department have made great strides, I have not seen the City Council openly acknowledge the havoc HIV is wreaking on the city.”

But can Cross make history and succeed in this election as an openly gay man where others before him have not?

“I believe times and attitudes have shifted from previous election cycles,” he said. “It’s worth noting that gay candidates who have run for City Council in the past have done fairly well in their districts. But I think that in the age of marriage equality and more general acceptance of gay lives, a broader constituency of people is ready to accept an openly gay candidate.”

We’ll find out on primary day, April 26.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Haans Gottlieb

    February 11, 2016 at 1:25 pm

    Kelly is a great community leader! He was the only one who fought for the reopening of the Baltimore Eagle. Baltimore political elites are full of homophobia and hatred.
    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=3q7ANgcBxHs

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Howard County activists and allies hit back at censorship, hate

More than 100 people attended ‘We ARE the People’ rally

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(Photo by Bob Ford)

A diverse crowd of 100 to 200 folks gathered at the Columbia Lakefront on Saturday to attend a rally to push back against censorship in the county’s public schools as well as homophobia and transphobia emanating from a group of conservative parents.

The rally called “We ARE the People” was organized in response to the comments and actions by members of a Maryland-based conservative group “We the People 2” that among other things are anti-masks, anti-vaccinations and are opposed to teaching racial history in the schools. They also oppose two books that are in Howard County Public Schools library shelves: “Gender Queer” and “Lawn Boy.”

Speakers at a We the People 2 rally last month at an Elkridge warehouse condemned the books, which contain LGBTQ characters, as sexually explicit. The group later filed police reports against the Board of Education alleging the books constitute pornography with “graphic sexual content and materials being used and disseminated in public schools,” according to the group’s press release.  A flier announcing this action used the loaded terminology, “We must not allow our children to be abused and victimized.”

Among the speakers at the Elkridge rally was Republican Gordana Schifanelli who is running for lieutenant governor on the ticket with Daniel Cox. Another speaker, George Johnson, a teacher from Baltimore City, was heard on a video of the event saying, “We’re doing God’s work because Marxism, homosexuality and transgenderism is the devil.”

In response, the pro-LGBTQ rally in Columbia announced the following:

We are taking a stance against hate in the community as we raise our voices in support of equity in our schools. Attacks on teachers and school staff have prompted us to stand united and drown out the noise.

In addition, We ARE the People states:

We stand for LGBTQ+ students and educational professionals

Teaching accurate history to our students

Supporting equitable practices in our schools

Providing students with relevant LGBTQ+ media through their school libraries

The two-hour rally, which was attended by several county council members, featured speakers representing a wide swath of community, educational, religious and political organizations. They included: Community Allies of Rainbow Youth (CARY), Black Lives Activists of Columbia (BLAC), Absolutely Dragulous, Howard County Schools, PFLAG-Columbia/Howard County, IndivisibleHoCoMd, Columbia Democratic Club, Howard Progressive Project, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia (UUCC), HoCo Pride, Progressive Democrats of Howard County, and the Columbia United Christian Church.

Many of the speakers denounced the censorship of materials that are needed by many LGBTQ students. Genderqueer and non-binary students, they point out, are most vulnerable and need affirming literature to help with their development and self-acceptance. The speakers also decried hate speech, which has surfaced again, as well as the opposition to teaching history as it relates to race.

Others argued that the community must not sit back and take it from extremist groups.

“You are all defenders,” said Cynthia Fikes, president of the Columbia Democratic Club, in a fiery speech. “But to succeed a strong defense also needs a strong offense.”

The two books in question were recently the center of controversy in the Fairfax County (Va.) school system. The books were removed in September from the shelves of the high schools pending a comprehensive review following opposition from a parent at a school board meeting. It should be noted that both books were previous winners of the American Library Association’s Alex Awards, which each year recognize “10 books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18.”  

The board established two committees consisting of parents, staff and students to assess the content of the books and make recommendations to the assistant superintendent of instructional services who would make the final determination.

One committee found that “Lawn Boy” includes themes that “are affirming for students” with marginalized identities. “There is no pedophilia in the book,” the committee added. The other committee found that “Gender Queer” depicts “difficulties non-binary and asexual individuals may face.” The committee concluded that “the book neither depicts nor describes pedophilia.” The books were restored to the shelves.

“As this backlash against LGTBQ+ literature demonstrates, we must be ready to stand up and defend the progress we have made,” said Jennifer Mallo, member of the Howard County Board of Education, expressing her own point of view. “We must ensure our elected officials understand and share our values and will fight for our marginalized students.”

The enthusiastic crowd was clearly pleased with the event.

“Today’s rally was meant to inspire our community to take action,” said Chris Hefty, who was the lead organizer of the rally and the emcee. “Action that protects our youth. Action that protects our educators and admins. This action comes in the form of advocacy, communication with elected officials so they know your voice, and through well informed voting to ensure those who represent us are those we know will support us. We shared a message of love, acceptance, and warmth.”

Hefty adds, “The unity we facilitated through this rally was a sight to behold. As the lead organizer I couldn’t have been more pleased! In the future we will be sure to better meet the needs of all our community members. We thank all those in our community for their support and feedback and look forward to accomplishing great things together moving forward.”

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Comings & Goings

Nathanson takes role at Outright Action

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Rikki Nathanson

The Comings & Goings column is about sharing the professional successes of our community. We want to recognize those landing new jobs, new clients for their business, joining boards of organizations and other achievements. Please share your successes with us at: [email protected] 

The Comings & Goings column also invites LGBTQ+ college students to share their successes with us. If you have been elected to a student government position, gotten an exciting internship, or are graduating and beginning your career with a great job, let us know so we can share your success. 

Congratulations to Rikki Nathanson on her new position as Senior Advisor – Global Trans Program with OutRight Action International in New York. Nathanson will be based in D.C.  

 “I am absolutely thrilled to be taking on this new role as Senior Advisor in OutRight’s Global Trans Program,” said Nathanson. “I have finally found the perfect fit for me: as a trans woman who has been fighting for equality not only for myself, but for others globally, this position is not only a job, it’s intrinsically part of who I am. So, what better way to live, nurture and grow myself.” 

Nathanson will be working closely with all program staff to ensure a cohesive and intentional approach to gender issues throughout OutRight’s programs, including its approach to gender ideology movements. She will lead new initiatives on gender advocacy and policy change, focused but not limited to legal gender recognition and anti-discrimination legislation and policies.

Prior to this Nathanson was director of housing programs at Casa Ruby in D.C. She has also held a number of other positions including: founder/executive director of Trans Research, Education, Advocacy & Training (TREAT), Zimbabwe; chairperson Southern Africa Trans Forum, SATF, Cape Town, South Africa; executive director, Ricochet Modeling Agency, Zimbabwe; and company secretary for Dunlop Zimbabwe Limited, Zimbabwe. 

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SMYAL Director Shakir to step down Dec. 31

Board to launch Executive Search beginning in January

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SMYAL Executive Director Sultan Shakir addresses the crowd at the 2021 Fall Brunch. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Sultan Shakir, who has served as executive director of D.C.’s LGBTQ youth advocacy organization SMYAL since August 2014, announced on Friday that he will be stepping down from his position effective Dec. 31.

In a Dec. 3 announcement, SMYAL said details of Shakir’s future career plans would be announced in the coming weeks.

“While we are sad to see Sultan leave, we wish him nothing but the same success in his new endeavor as he had at SMYAL,” said Rob Cogorno, SMYAL’s board chair. “His leadership and vision enabled SMYAL to expand greatly needed services to LGBTQ youth in the DC metro area throughout his tenure,” Cogorno said.

“I am immensely proud of the work we have been able to accomplish together in my time at SMYAL,” Shakir said in a statement released by SMYAL. “SMYAL has been an integral and vital resource in the DMV community for over 37 years, and while we have come a long way in combating homophobia, transphobia, racism, sexual health stigma, homelessness, violence against the LGBTQ community, and oppression, we have a long way to go,” he said.

“This work has never been about one person,” said Shakir. “SMYAL was founded by our community and we’re still around because of our community,” he said. “I leave knowing that the commitment and passion of the SMYAL Board, staff, volunteers, and youth leaders have created a solid foundation from which our work will continue to grow until LGBTQ youth no longer need us.”

The SMYAL statement says that under Shakir’s tenure, SMYAL, which stands for Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders, expanded its programs and services for LGBTQ youth. Among other things, in 2017 SMYAL opened its first of several housing facilities for homeless LGBTQ youth that include culturally competent case management, education and employment assistance.

“The Youth Housing Program now comprises five programmatic models that serve a combined 61 youth residents,” the statement says.

It points out that also under Shakir’s leadership, SMYAL expanded the age range of the youth its programs serve under a new Little SMYALs program, which welcomes LGBTQ youth ages 6-12. And earlier in 2021 under Shakir’s guidance, SMYAL began a new Clinical Services Department “which provides affirming and accessible mental health counseling,” the statement says.

“The SMYAL Board of Directors will officially launch an Executive Search beginning in January 2022 and expects to have named a new Executive Director by summer 2022,” the statement says. It says the board will soon name an interim executive director to work with SMYAL’s Deputy Executive Director, Jorge Membreno, and the organization’s leadership team to oversee the day-to-day activities until a new executive director is named.

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