Story: Devin Hamberger
Multimedia: Ashley Ward
On the night after the Presidential Election, a small but spirited group of individuals met on the corner of Light and Pratt Streets. It was not only the re-election of President Obama, but something bigger and more meaningful, that they were celebrating that night.
As the group came together so did large letters written in small light bulbs on wooden panels that formed two words. “Marriage Victory” was what they celebrated that night because the passage of the marriage equality bill, better known as Question 6 Maryland was something that would change their lives forever.
The event held on Wednesday, Nov. 7 was organized by Mark Patro, president of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, also known as PFLAG. This non-profit organization serves lesbian and gay youth and their families by helping them to feel included in a supportive community.
Patro brought the idea of using lit up letters to share messages with passersby through bringing what he calls Light Brigade Maryland to Baltimore.
“The idea for the movement started with the Overpass Light Brigade in Wisconsin,” Patro said. “I contacted the group and asked them how they constructed the panels with lights. Then I did a few on my own, made a couple of modifications to make it easier for me,” he said.
Patro said that some PFLAG parents participated with the Light Brigade before the election to show how widespread the issue was.
“We were hoping to give the parents and the allies another way to keep the conversation alive about the marriage equality bill,” he said. “The visual impact we made was the most impressive part of what we have done,” he said.
There were over 30 people last Wednesday night that hoisted the gay pride flag and posters supporting question six, and cheered as cars drove by that honked to show their support.
Among the supporters who came out last Wednesday night was State Delegate Mary Washington, who represents the 43rd legislative district of northeast Baltimore. She is one of eight openly gay government officials.
Delegate Washington raised money for marriage equality, knocked on doors, made phone calls, and talked to her fellow legislators to help pass the bill.
“I am so grateful and proud of Maryland and of all the volunteers who made this possible,” Washington said. “That’s why I’m out here tonight, just to say thank you to all the people who voted, to all the people who stood in line, and to all the people who have been talking to their friends and neighbors about this issue,” she said.
Bud Beehler, president of the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Baltimore (GLCCB) was also a participant at the Light Brigade’s event. GLCCB is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year, and it has historically advocated for equal rights for the LGBT community.
Beehler got involved with the GLCCB 20 years ago when he was going through a divorce
“I found a group called the Gay Fathers Coalition, and that group became my friends, my support and my lifeline after breaking up with my wife,” Beehler said. “It was a hugely supportive, invaluable resource for me,” Beehler said. “I don’t know where I’d be today if I didn’t have them to support me though some very challenging times.”
Beehler participated in the event because he was celebrating the newly acquired rights for the LGBT community, and also to raise awareness about parts of the community that continue to be underserved.
“So much work still needs to be done for LGBT youth and seniors, as well as the transgender individuals because these groups are, in some ways, disenfranchised from the rest of what’s going on in the community because they have not yet been completely accepted,” he said.
He said that these communities the focus of the GLCCB’s efforts.
Carrie Evans, executive director of Equality Maryland, worked tirelessly to help get the marriage bill to pass in this election.
“When the Governor signed the bill on March 1, we went immediately into campaign mode,” Evans said. “We came together with the Human Rights Campaign as well as a few other organizations and formed a coalition called Marylanders for Marriage Equality,” she said.
The coalition staff had 25 people, including field staff, religious and faith teams and a new media team, but the organization’s volunteer base was much larger.
“Thousands of people canvassed the streets every weekend, knocked on people’s doors, handed out flyers and shared their stories,” Evans said.
Evans said that gaining support for question six was easier with the help of couples who shared their stories with legislators as well as friends and neighbors. It helped them to win the hearts and minds of Maryland voters.
“Having couples share their stories was our most powerful weapon because they weren’t concocted or manipulated. You can’t debate it; you can’t dispute the truth of these people’s lives,” she said.
Evans watched the election results in a back room at Baltimore Soundstage with the Governor, supportive legislators, the Mayor and some other volunteers.
“When we won, we went up on stage and it was unbelievable to look out at the people who were there,” Evans said. “Most of us were crying like babies, but to see the pure joy in everybody’s faces was just incredible,” she said.
Evans said that she is still feeling the adrenaline from the marriage equality bill being passed.
“It was a huge victory. I’m still excited and still on a high about it,” she said.
Pete Castro was another participant at the event who was celebrating for his own unique reasons.
“After 23 and a half years, I’ve had the longest engagement out of anyone in my family,” he said.
Since the bill passed, he and his partner will be celebrating their 25th anniversary in 2014, and are thinking about getting married then.
Castro became a volunteer with Marylanders for Marriage Equality after he got laid off from his job on Halloween.
“On the Friday before the election I went out sign-waving and I realized just how empowering this all was,” Castro said. “So I continued canvassing over the weekend for about 20 hours, dropping things off at people’s doors to give them more information about the marriage equality bill,” he said.
He celebrated election night with some of his friends at the Baltimore Soundstage. When the news arrived that question six has passed, he was overcome with a barrage of emotions.
“I was laughing, I was crying, everyone was hugging each other. It was a very emotional night,” he said.