5 years of substance, meaning

Passion for: gay rights

Dan Furmansky, leaving as head of Equality Maryland, sees a cultural shift that might lead to broader marriage rights

November 02, 2008|By Rona Marech | Rona Marech,rona.marech@baltsun.com

When Dan Furmansky, 34, steps down from his position as executive director at Equality Maryland next month, gay couples still won't be able to get married in Maryland, much to his disappointment. But there were also victories during his five-year tenure at the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization, he said, and as he moves on, he remains hopeful about the gay rights movement.

What brought you to this advocacy work?

In my first job after college, I ran community programs for an animal shelter. ... Having that job really taught me that whatever I did in my work, life had to have substance and meaning. So throughout the years, I've worked on environmental issues, animal welfare issues, hunger and poverty issues. I came to LGBT issues in 2001 when I got a job as a senior field organizer for the Human Rights Campaign in the Western United States.

You have said you were frequently harassed as a kid. How did that affect you?

I was bullied, and I was also a victim. That followed me around. ... I could have conceivably chosen to commit suicide before making the choice to let it all go and be honest about who I am. Letting go of the victim mentality meant I wanted to make things different for future generations.

How does your Jewish faith fit into all of this?

The fact that so many religions choose to spiritually disenfranchise LGBT people is totally anathema to the very idea of God to begin with. ... The first time I ever testified in Annapolis, was before the House Judiciary committee in February 2004. I testified against a constitutional amendment. ... Delegate Carmen Amedori of Carroll County, she pointedly asked me whether or not I believed in God. I literally couldn't believe I was sitting before a legislative body trying to have a policy discussion and being queried about my personal worldview as it relates to a higher power. ... I did answer and told her, "I do believe in God, but my God is nothing like your God."

Last year, Maryland's highest court rejected same-sex marriage and upheld a law defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Talk about your reaction to the ruling.

For those of us who were closest to the litigation - the folks at the ACLU, Equality Maryland and the plaintiffs, the amount of our hearts and souls we put into believing that justice would prevail is more than people can imagine, and the sense of loss when we read that high court opinion - most people will never fully understand how devastating that was for all of us.

But working on civil rights means you move on. Because if it weren't a struggle then there wouldn't be anything worth fighting for. You have to keep going. Despite the very narrow loss, both our organizations feel a tremendous amount of good came from the lawsuit, and we're confident that Maryland's General Assembly will pass a marriage equality bill.

In the 2008 General Assembly, Equality Maryland sought such a marriage bill, but the only related laws that passed were measures that extend protections to domestic partners in the areas of health care and taxation.

It was very disappointing. Losing Senator [Gwendolyn] Britt was just awful. ... There are a lot of us, advocates and legislators, who were carrying the water on this, but she had a quiet strength about her and a background in civil rights struggles that buoyed our spirits. ... We'll never know how things would have played out were she still with us.

What's next in Maryland on gay rights?

We're continuing to push for a statewide gender identity anti-discrimination measure. If people knew how blatant discrimination was against transgender individuals, they wouldn't even believe it. ... The struggle for marriage equality will be front and center until the General Assembly passes a law. ... Another outstanding issue is domestic partner benefits for state employees. ...

Same-sex couples deserve access to health care when they're dedicated employees of the state.

Will same-sex marriage rights spread in this country?

I think the cultural shift is at play. There isn't the same resonance as a wedge issue, mostly because people realize the sky didn't fall in Massachusetts, the sky didn't fall in California and the sky isn't going to fall in Connecticut.

Your plans include writing and consulting for progressive causes. You've also been ordained online by the Universal Life Church and are launching a business as a wedding celebrant for both gay and straight couples.

A couple's wedding day is one of the most important in their lives and to be able to use any gifts I have to make that day special, meaningful and memorable - what could be more rewarding than that? I've invited into my life a lot of hatred, bigotry and ignorance, and it's nice to counter that with the best of the cosmos.

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