Discuss joys, frustrations

LIVING GAY IN BALTIMORE 8

June 13, 1993|By Holly Selby | Holly Selby,Staff Writer

With a faltering voice, Jennifer Roberts told how her 13-year-old son's classmates ridiculed and harassed him -- because of her.

"The kids threw him against lockers and made fun of him. They said his mother was 'lezzie, lezzie, lezzie,' " she said.

Worse, the Baltimore mother of two continued, a lawyer she consulted about the harassment advised her to acquiesce. Because her four-year domestic partnership with another woman not recognized legally, the attorney feared that her suitability as a parent would be challenged in court.

"We were told we could lose our son," Ms. Roberts said. So she dropped the issue.

As the tale ended, her audience of four men and three women sat in troubled silence. Ms. Roberts and the others were participants in an informal discussion The Sun convened last week about living and working -- and being gay -- in Baltimore in 1993. Numerous area gays and lesbians are in the midst of two weeks of activities pegged to the theme of gay pride -- culminating today in an annual parade on Maryland Avenue from 21st Street north to the Wyman Park Dell and an afternoon festival there.

During a 2 1/2 -hour conversation, the eight traded stories and insights. Seven spoke openly; one requested that his name not be used and participated little.

They spoke of deep sorrow that their long-term partnerships aren't recognized by law, or even by heterosexual friends. They expressed dismay about the debate over the military ban on gays, and anger that society has been so slow to react to the AIDS epidemic. They talked about sexism -- including that between gay men and lesbians.

New reason for hope

But group members also spoke of great joys. Some told of beloved longtime partners. Others described the freedom they experienced upon affirming their sexuality. All eight said recent changes in attitudes toward lesbians and gays give them hope.

They didn't always agree. Voices rose and fell as opinions as diverse as occupations and backgrounds were shared. Occasionally, the conversation was flecked with hilarity.

All live in the Baltimore area for the same reasons other people do: jobs, schools, relatives who drew them or keep them here. At least one moved here because he knew no one in the area -- and could be openly gay without repercussions.

No state law prevents gays from being fired from jobs because of sexual orientation. However, a Baltimore statute prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. Howard County, too, progressive in its attitude toward gays, they said. But on the Eastern Shore and in Western Maryland, acceptance comes harder.

Many Baltimoreans seem slower to accept gays than do residents of other metropolitan areas, said four out of the five who had moved here from places such as Berkeley, Calif., and Brooklyn, N.Y. And, they said, the number of gays here who remain afraid to be open about their sexual orientation is striking.

'Revolving-door' lives

"A lot of people are leading a revolving-door life here, where they are active in one life professionally and another hidden life personally," said Margaret Fine, an attorney at the Health Education and Resource Organization, a nonprofit organization

that helps people with AIDS. "In my profession, there are many openly gay attorneys in major law firms in other cities. Here, they are hidden."

But Greg Satorie, a church music director, said that in Baltimore he could "be out and open because this is where I moved to."

"My parents are 1,500 miles away," he continued. "I'm basically in exile because they said, 'We love you and we want you to be happy, but we don't want you to do it in our neighborhood.' "

Still, to Timothy Hartlove, who grew up in Dundalk, attitudes seem to be changing for the better.

"I came out to a family who was not accepting and didn't know anything about gays or rights," said the insurance agent. "I said, 'I am going to be with somebody of my own sex, and if you want to deal with me, you have to deal with that.' "

They have begun to deal with it, he said. Then he added that, to him, coming out was a matter of principle.

"I don't think it's just fear [that is discouraging gays from coming out of the closet]. I think it's people who don't want to rock the boat," he said.

Ms. Fine disagreed: "I have an 'ex' who was a vice president of marketing, and she stood to lose her job and possibly her career by coming out. There is a valid element of fear."

Again and again, isolation was mentioned.

Several members said gays can feel alone because -- for professional or familial reasons -- they occasionally hide their sexual orientation. Or they feel alone because there are few gay role models.

"Imagine the world if everything -- all the books, the plays, the movies -- were written as though we were all gay, not straight. Imagine!" said Paul Garcia, who is bisexual.

In the city, there are gay bars and gay newspapers; elsewhere, news about gay issues and events is hard to come by, they said.

But the bar scene doesn't appeal to everyone, said two group members.

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