Vocal Gay Political Voices

September 06, 1991

It may well be that the support of Baltimore's gay community pushed Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to his narrow primary victory four years ago. Against that background, it is ironic that the Baltimore Alternative, one of the city's two gay newspapers, has endorsed former mayor Clarence H. "Du" Burns, who has been perceived as less friendly toward the gay community than Mr. Schmoke.

What often used to be a politically monolithic gay community in Baltimore now appears to be fracturing. Several activists have endorsed Mr. Schmoke. In the Second District, City Council President Mary Pat Clarke's past ability to rally the gay community around council candidates she supports is being severely tested. This was strikingly illustrated Wednesday at a forum sponsored by 12 gay organizations. Two challengers -- Dr. Peter Beilenson and Bea Gaddy -- got a better reception than one of Ms. Clarke's allies, Councilman Carl Stokes. In particular, Mr. Stokes was harshly questioned about his performance as chairman of the council's subcommittee on health.

As AIDS spreads, it is not surprising that many activists are becoming increasingly impatient about bureaucratic red tape that keeps the local government from responding as aggressively as it should. Although a gay rights ordinance was passed nearly four years ago, activists feel incumbents have failed to address other concerns, including police insensitivity.

About 75,000 Baltimore City residents are estimated to be homosexual. Whether openly or secretly gay, they wield considerable influence. This could be seen at the gay political meeting. Although Mr. Schmoke boycotted a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters the same night, he spoke at length and answered questions at the gay event. So did Mr. Burns and William Swisher, a former state's attorney running for mayor. Nine out of the Second District's 13 Democratic council candidates also appeared, contributing to one of the more substantial debates of the primary campaign.

Over the years, the seeming monolith of Baltimore's gay community has given away and revealed a mosaic of cultural, economic and racial diversity. Even though gay activists no longer may be speaking in one voice on political issues, they are vocal. Their message to municipal candidates this week was that no one should take them for granted in next Thursday's primary election.

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