Op-Alt: In light of Orlando, thinking about how Baltimore can be better for the LGBT community

We who live in Baltimore City have become accustomed to the idea of random gun violence. If we're lucky, it's something that we mostly experience through the news. If we're unlucky, it is something we know personally. In 2014, I myself was robbed at gunpoint—in front of my home. Yet today I feel more unsafe than ever before because of a mass shooting in Orlando, nearly a thousand miles from my stoop.

Maryland has come a long way in providing legal protections for LGBT people. But those laws can't protect me and my husband from the hatred of our neighbors. Nor can they protect any member of the LGBT community from the sort of violence that is specifically targeted at us.

Most days I am afraid to hold my husband's hand on our block, or to kiss his cheek while on our sidewalk. I worry that some passerby with a special disdain for us will decide to do more than just call us "faggots." And I sometimes wonder if a stranger will kill me for the brazen act of having a public role in my community.

During my campaign for City Council, I learned that homophobia is still widespread in Baltimore and that my fears are shared by others. I met people in many communities where I campaigned who felt they should not live openly as an LGBT person. This was despite the leadership roles they held in their neighborhoods—and often because of them. I witnessed the prevalence of homophobia communicated with soft slurs and with "polite avoidance" in both rich communities and poor.

As we are all focused on the horrors that unfolded in Orlando, we cannot be distracted by the hard bigotry of those who expressed no outrage at this massacre. We must also recognize that there is no such thing as nonviolent homophobia. Every attitude that dehumanizes LGBT people undermines our personal safety, because those who feel no sympathy for LGBT people have no compunctions about killing us.

If Baltimore wishes to be a great city, it must foster and sustain the values of tolerance and acceptance. To lead this effort, our politicians must fulfill their moral duty to combat all forms of homophobia. They must every day push the conversations that create mutual respect among the city's residents. And they must speak out in places where these conversations are seldom convenient or comfortable.

We should not accept politicians whose support for the LGBT community consists of nothing more than an appearance at Pride, a few photos with gay friends, and the ability to avoid using anti-gay slurs. If Baltimore's elected politicians truly want to combat violence against LGBT people, they must work to end the HIV epidemic which continues to heavily affect Baltimore's communities of color. They must assure LGBT youth are safe in schools—places to be educated, not harassed. And they must fight the prejudices that deny trans women employment while forcing them to survive on the streets.

I believe Baltimore has the capacity to be a place where I can kiss my husband on the sidewalk; and I believe that we can find some good in this terrible event if we use it as a moment to make our own city a better place for all LGBT people.

Kelly Cross is president of the Old Goucher Community Association and recently ran in the Democratic Primary for City Council in the 12th District.

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