More than 100 members of the Baltimore’s LGBT community and allies attended an emotional mayoral forum hosted by the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center of Baltimore and Central Maryland (GLCCB) on March 8. The event, which took place at the University of Baltimore’s H. Mebane Turner Learning Commons, featured a dozen mayoral candidates out of the 29 vying for the office held by outgoing Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.
Democratic candidates who participated included: Elizabeth Embry, chief of the Maryland Attorney General’s Office criminal division; Patrick Gutierrez, former operations manager; DeRay Mckesson, a gay civil rights activist; Council member Nick Mosby; State Sen. Catherine Pugh; Council member Carl Stokes; academic researcher Cindy Walsh; and engineer Calvin Allen Young III.
Former Mayor Shelia Dixon, a Democrat and who is perceived as the frontrunner, did not attend.
Other participants who will compete in the general election only include: Green Party candidate and activist Joshua Harris as well as unaffiliated candidates dispute resolution manager Nicholas Caminiti, state employee LaVern Murray and activist Andre Powell.
None of the five Republican candidates attended.
The candidates, following opening statements, fielded pre-determined questions regarding their records on advancing LGBT rights, what they would do to stop police profiling and violence against LGBT people, particularly transgender people of color, what they would do to support homeless LGBT youth, and what they would do to ensure equal education and employment opportunities for LGBT people, particularly youth, seniors and transgender people of color.
In addition to responding to those questions, the candidates explained other matters relating to governance, such as the need for new leadership for opportunity, education and the ills of crime and poverty.
Each candidate offered their personal commitment to LGBT equality with some more familiar with the issues than others. Stokes said he has a long history with LGBT rights. “I am not a friend of the community but am a part of the community,” he said.
Sen. Pugh cited several legislative initiatives she led, including group life insurance policies for domestic partners and co-sponsoring the Religious Freedom and Civil Rights Protection Act.
Walsh said she has fought for equal protection for many years. “We have gay rights but not equal protection,” she explained.
On the other hand, both Caminiti and Murray indicated that while they support full equality for all, they admit to not having much experience with LGBT issues.
The forum was interrupted by activist Akil Patterson who questioned why none of the candidates have addressed the HIV/AIDS crisis among young black gay and bisexual men. Lynda Dee, founder of AIDS Action Baltimore criticized the current and past administrations for not overtly publicizing HIV/AIDS in Baltimore and demanded that each candidate pledge to use a public information campaign to call attention to HIV/AIDS.
Another audience member, Kinji Scott, who is running for City Council, said, “We have to do something about HIV in the African-American community.”
Mosby responded to Patterson’s question by pointing out the issue is preventable and treatable. “We must take the trajectory of young African-American men seriously,” he said.
Harris added that there was $6 million being held up by the city’s Health Department earmarked for the Ryan White program, which recently had to fold due to lack of funding. He also said that sexual orientation and gender identity ought to be taught in schools as part of the sex education curriculum.
The candidates fielded questions from the audience on a variety of matters. Longtime activist Monica Yorkman, a trans woman, emotionally described being fearful of police because of her experiences of being harassed by police and how she, as a homeless person, had been afraid to go to a homeless shelter even more so now as a 62-year-old transgender person of color.
Many candidates decried lack of management and accountability in the current city government. “This city is corrupt,” Stokes said. When asked what issue left behind by the current mayor that she would like to tackle, Embry pointed to “so little accountability.”
Jabari Lyles, president of the GLCCB was pleased with the forum.
“The candidates provided enough insight to their platform to where our community can make an informed decision at election time,” Lyles told the Blade. “We have 29 candidates running for mayor. Only one will win but based on tonight, we should have 28 leaders that can still be held accountable.”