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Quaker, French-speaker, educator, anti-racist; Southern-born & raised, and talking enthusaist.


Openly gay in Baltimore

P.D.A. could save your life-- but in Baltimore?

You know they’re a couple. They have to be. You’ve seen them (or someone like them). Two guys, each in his 50s, wearing jeans and leather vests with the sun glasses walking in very close proximity to one another somewhere around Mt Vernon. You can just tell that they belong together. Most likely you’re right. Why aren’t they holding hands, though?

Think about it: how often do you see two women in love, sitting in Mt Vernon park on a bench, snuggling and hugging by the flowing fountains while dogs frolic on the green? How many gay couples do you pass in a day in the so-called “Gayborhood,” holding hands while they admire the architecture, looking in the windows of the new stores or restaurants, and generally enjoying the beauty that is Mt Vernon?

I don’t know about you, but I don’t ever see any of that. My boyfriend often wants to hold hands, but for some reason I resist. I don’t feel comfortable in most of this city holding hands with another guy. I don’t feel safe. I don’t trust that the police would side with me if I were assaulted, that the city prosecutors would push for a strong punishment. I don’t trust that the average Jane or Jamal would actually defend me if they saw me being harassed or attacked by thugs who want to “jump my faggot ass” (as I’ve heard guys say numerous times on the street or MTA buses). About the only place where I’ll consider holding hands with my beau is in Mt Vernon, and only sometimes.

The truth of the matter is that according to recent study at UNC Chapel Hill, a short hug and about ten minutes of hand holding can reduce one’s heart rate and blood pressure. AOL – Health also refers to studies that show that stress is significantly reduced by hugs and handholding. I suppose this includes holding hands in the privacy of one’s own home, as someone emphatically suggested to me is the most appropriate place for showing affection, but have we become such a callous, unromantic society that any public display of affection is frowned upon?

If Baltimore is serious about marketing the city to queer tourists, then business owners, residents and queer people in general who come into Mt Vernon need to do what they can to really make Mt Vernon seem safe and welcoming. Why on earth would gay couples come to Baltimore, as gay tourists, if there is no place where they can enjoy their vacation with a hint of romance? The argument that creating a gay ghetto is passé ignores the truth that assimilation has become another form of the closet. We say that not showing our affection publicly is actually a maturation of our community. I believe it’s a cop-out. I think that queer Baltimoreans generally do not feel comfortable enough to hold hands and snuggle for fear of Baltimore’s rampant homophobia going beyond insults and turning violent. I think many of us have run to the suburbs as an escape.

Luckily, Mt Vernon is turning around quickly. It’s now becoming a nice, family-oriented neighborhood. Mind you, we’re talking heterosexual families who take their children to the new children’s park on Calvert (which used to be where homeless and prostitutes lingered). Crime is lower here. However, it’s becoming even less “gay.” I think it’s great that gays are moving all over the city to neighborhoods where they may never have once dreamed of choosing to live. I also think, though, that we have become so diluted as a community, so introverted, that it has affected the health of Gay Baltimore as a whole.

So, you may see me strolling around Mt Vernon hand in hand with my beautiful, biscuity-brown boyfriend. It’ll be an exercise for me. In truth, if I don’t think about what butthole may be lurking around the corner (ok, by that I mean “jerk”) then I can relax and enjoy the love. It does feel nice to enjoy the outdoors in the arms of a hottie who I adore. If only I can get over the fact that I feel alone in doing it, wishing that more of gay Baltimore would love more openly – for their own sake, as well as our community’s.

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