Thousands Turned Out for Baltimore Pride

Any concerns from the shift of dates for Baltimore Pride from its customary June event to the weekend of July 25-26 should be put to rest. Thousands descended upon Mount Vernon on a sun-baked Saturday to cheer on the Pride parade and celebrate at the block party.

Baltimore Pride’s 40th Anniversary festivities had returned to the “gayborhood” following an unpopular move in 2014 to Mount Royal area. Pride is run by the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center of Baltimore and Central Maryland (GLCCB).

The new dates deep into July and a revised location for the annual parade as well as a new venue for the block party did not deter visitors from all over Maryland, D.C. and beyond to partake in the celebrations. “I like this set-up,” commented Andre from Baltimore. “Last year it was too spread out.”

For many in Baltimore’s LGBT community, it was a bittersweet event as it marked the last time the Club Hippo would take part as it is scheduled to close its doors later in the year after over four decades.

“This is my last Pride as owner of the Hippo,” said Chuck Bowers, who was selected to serve as the Grand Marshal at this year’s parade. “But it’s not my last Pride.”

As has been the tradition, the High Heels Race preceded the parade, and the winner of this year’s event was Jay Day.

The parade included a record 82 units and proceeded up Cathedral Street from Monument Street. It ended on Chase Street several blocks north. Marchers were flinging colorful beads, candy and other items at the crowds lining the parade route.

A contingent from BlackOutPrideBmore including transgender activists led the parade under the banner #BaltimoreTRANSUPrising. They pointed out racism within the LGBT community and called attention to the lack of safety in Baltimore for transgender folks. Marchers also carried signs proclaiming Black Lives Matter.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Interim Police Commissioner Kevin Davis marched as did Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby. Other political figures included Representatives Donna Edwards and Chris Van Hollen who are seeking to succeed the retiring Sen. Barbara Mikulski.

Local advocacy and health organizations participated, such as FreeState Legal, Chase Brexton Health Services, Johns Hopkins Medicine, PFLAG, ShipMates and C.O.M.M.A.N.D. leather groups plus drag and leather title holders from around the state, and a number of LGBT-welcoming churches. Bars past and present were represented including the Hippo; The Lodge from Boonsboro, Md.; and a sizable contingent standing on a flatbed from The Baltimore Eagle, which has been closed since 2012 but which supporters are hoping to re-open.

There were various sports groups as well as banks and other LGBT-friendly businesses participating. Drums of Mass Destruction and D.C. Different Drummers provided the percussion beats along the route.

“This parade is outstanding with more diversity and businesses,” said Tonya from Baltimore. Paul from Southern Maryland who is attending his first Baltimore Pride event agreed. “It’s entertaining, fun and energetic. People are happy and are having a good time.”

Stacie from Greenbelt, Md. was on hand to support her gay son. “I like how everyone is getting along, no arguing, no fighting, and there’s unity.”

The block party following the parade became so crowded it spilled onto surrounding streets. Newly elected president of the GLCCB Board of Directors, Jabari Lyles, spoke from the main stage and emphasized the role of people of color in our successes. “We’re not free unless all of us are free,” he cautioned. Other speakers appeared on the stage to relate their experience as both black and LGBT and the oppression they had received.

Headliners Cazwell, Ts Madison and Martha Wash and other performers entertained on the stage throughout the evening to a packed area.

The Sunday event, more laid back than the frenetic block party, returned to Druid Hill Park after a one-year absence. A number of LGBT organizations and gay-friendly business had set up booths along the paths for people to peruse. Many performers appeared on the Main Stage and the Lady Lisa Memorial Drag Stage to entertain the masses. Popular country singer, Steve Grand was Sunday’s headliner.

Paul Liller, the deputy director for the GLCCB and the person who oversaw Pride, was pleased with the weekend’s festivities. ”We at the GLCCB are very excited about how Pride 2015 went,” he said. “We feel it was a great way to honor 40 years of LGBT activism and civil rights.”

Batts Reached Out to LGBT Community

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake fired Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts on July 8 saying that he became a distraction. “Too many continue to die on our streets, including three just last night and one lost earlier today,” Rawlings-Blake said. “Families are tired of feeling this pain, and so am I….We need a change.”

Batts, 54, who was hired on October 12, 2012, faced criticism, particularly from the Fraternal Order of Police and the city council, for his leadership during the riots that took place in Baltimore in April in the wake of the Freddie Gray death. In addition, he was assailed for the closing of some police stations to the public after 7 p.m. and for the spike of homicides in the city following the unrest in which the mayor described as an “utmost urgency.”

One of Batts’ legacies, however, was that he sought reform within the Baltimore Police Department (BPD), and part of that effort was to reach out to the LGBT community.

Following the high profile attack in East Baltimore on Kenni Shaw, a gay man, on Christmas night in 2012, a march and rally took place on January 5, 2013 at the site of the crime. Batts addressed the crowd and promised to set up an LGBT Advisory Council that would meet regularly with community members to discuss concerns. The 10-person council was comprised of representatives of the community as well as from the city and BPD including Batts. The council was eventually established in June 2013.

On October 10, 2013, Batts and other members of the department held an open town hall meeting at the Waxter Center with members of the LGBT community. “We’re here to be open, we’re here to engage, we’re here to be part of the community — all parts of the community,” Batts said. He stated he grew up with a gay uncle, and the beating of Shaw became the catalyst to improve communication.

Some of the issues addressed during the meeting included the handling of same-sex domestic violence situations between same-sex couples, the procedures in place to deal with profiling complaints, crime in the area and the success so far of the “Public Enemy No. 1” campaign. The police touted statistics indicating a decline in violent and property crime from the previous year.

In addition, a pamphlet was handed out that featured a distinctive design including rainbow-colored silhouettes of police officers and provides information on topics such as, “I’m LGBT and my rights have been violated,” “What Are My Responsibilities?” “How Do I File a Complaint?” It also enumerates the rights of LGBT persons, offers advice for those stopped for questioning, and what an LGBT person should do if arrested.

On the cover a statement reads, “All citizens regardless of race, religion, ancestry, age, sex, color, national origin, physical and mental disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression and minors have the right to expect courteous and respectful treatment from members of law enforcement agencies.”

On April 14, 2014, Batts held another town hall at the Northwest District Community Action Center in Baltimore. Acknowledging that some members of the BPD are not as sensitive to LGBT issues as they should, he pledged to “add tools to the toolbox” to remedy the situation. He was referring to stepped-up training to “change the culture in the department.”

Audience members brought up specific concerns, such as mistrust between the police and transgender residents, police response to domestic violence, need for policies that protect gender variant individuals when interacting with the police, dispatch policies, a reporting mechanism for negative interactions between the police and the community and fear of reprisals if such interactions are reported.

On June 6, 2014, three days following the murder of a transgender woman, Kandy Hall, which remains unsolved along with other similar homicides to trans women, a meeting took place at the Chase Brexton Health Services building. Although Batts was not present, Then acting Captain J. Eric Kowalczyk, Director of the Media Relations Center, was the principal speaker, and he emphasized that changing the culture is a slow process. He said that with Commissioner Batts leading the department, there is a strong emphasis on gaining the trust and confidence of the community.

A week after the news of Batts’ dismissal, Kowalczyk announced his departure from the BPD to form his own communications consulting firm. He was one of the first openly gay members of the Department, worked closely with Batts, and had acted as the LGBT liaison.

“Commissioner Batts’ commitment to building a strong and respectful relationship with the LGBT community was astounding,” said Carrie Evans, former executive director of Equality Maryland and a co-chair of the LGBT Advisory Council. “The Council met monthly, including every other month with Commissioner Batts.

The LGBT Advisory Council was very active. Every request we had for the Commissioner was met with enthusiasm and action.

“In the almost two years of working with him, we proposed and delivered LGBT related training to all cadets; we helped write a general order for the BPD on LGBT terminology and best practices for police interaction with LGBT individuals; we were briefed every 60 days of the status of the murder investigations of transgender women in Baltimore; we helped the BPD increase its recruitment efforts in the LGBT community and we held several community meetings. The LGBT community could not have asked for a stronger ally. Commissioner Batts was the real deal.”

Trans Activists March, Rally to Raise Awareness

A diverse crowd of around 100 trans activists took to the streets on July 24 to draw attention to the plight of transgender residents of Baltimore and in particular, those who are people of color. The march had been organized by Bryanna Jenkins, Founding Member and Director of the Baltimore Transgender Alliance, as well as leaders from other trans advocacy groups.

Jenkins saw the event, Baltimore Trans Uprising, as an opportunity for the transgender community and allies in Baltimore City “to put a voice and face to our anguish from the various traumas we have experienced in this City and to demand accountability from the systems that our supposed to represent protect us.”

The march originated on Charles Street and North Avenue and proceeded one mile down to the Washington Monument Plaza for the rally on a hot late afternoon. The route was chosen to symbolically pass through the Old Goucher neighborhood where many African-American transgender women have been harassed, according to Monica Stevens, founder of trans support group Sistas of the T.

A host of speakers addressed the crowd calling for action and solidarity. Frequent violence towards transgender people, police brutality and marginalization of the trans population were among the top concerns addressed.

“The world is watching and our voices were heard,” said Jenkins in a Facebook post. “I want to give special thanks for all of the speakers who set the stage on fire and let the city know that we are a force to be reckoned with.”

She points out that this event is just the beginning and further work and dedication will be required. There was a list of 14 demands issued at the rally.

Jenkins requested additional donations at www.gofundme.com/bmoretransup to continue the work that is taking place in Baltimore City.

She credited Merrick Moise, Dane Edidim, Roxanne Raven Storm, Danielle Revlon, Dionne Halsey, Tyler Vile, Monica Stevens, and Ken Jiretsu for their efforts in making the march and rally a success.

“As we marched down St. Paul St. we chanted ‘Your Voice is Power! Silence Is Death!’ The #BaltimoreTRANSUprising attendees found their power, they are choosing to live, and the new narrative has begun,” Jenkins said. “I look for forward to continuing to create a new narrative of equality in Baltimore City that intentionally includes the Transgender residents of this City.”

Merrick Moise, a volunteer leader with Black Trans Advocacy, agreed. “This is a very significant event in the history of Baltimore LGBT communities. Trans folks and our allies are saying we will no longer be ignored or seen as an addendum to someone’s agenda. We demand equal treatment and to be seen as human beings!”

Off to a good start, a contingent from #BaltimoreTRANSUprising led off the Baltimore Pride parade the next day to loud cheers.

Gay Life August 2015

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