A Gay Autumn in Washington and Baltimore
On a recent late summer’s afternoon, 36th Street in Baltimore was closed to auto traffic to make way for Hampden Fest, an annual street festival. Hundreds flocked to The Avenue, as it is locally known, flitting in and out of the many LGBT-owned stores, attending an all-male drag show, boogying to rock bands, or nibbling on crab-stuffed pretzels. A highlight of Hampden Fest each year is a toilet race - homemade carts that race downhill, each featuring sections of porcelain commodes.
An hour’s drive away, in Washington, D.C., where same-sex marriages are legal, gay couples could be seen taking the air on a lazy Sunday near Dupont Circle, strolling and enjoying the balmy weather. And a drive through to other neighborhoods in the District - Crestwood, Shaw West, and Shaw East, for example - revealed more of the same.
Greater Washington, D.C., over the past decade, has seen a doubling of gay couples living in metropolitan neighborhoods. The same is true in neighboring Baltimore, where twice as many gay couples are living in Baltimore city and in Baltimore county, and in several cities in Maryland.
An analysis of last year’s U.S. Census by Dr. Gary Gates of UCLA’s Williams Institute, a think tank that focuses on sexual orientation law and public policy, supports what is visible in both cities.
Gates, distinguished scholar at Williams, is co-author of The Gay and Lesbian Atlas. According to his report, published in August, there has been a 50 percent increase of LGBT folks living in Washington, D.C., and a 51 percent increase in the gay population of neighboring Greater Baltimore, during the past decade.
While it’s true that Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, Md. have not made it to the top ten places in the United States with the largest LGBT population influx (those awards go to an increase in baby-boomer retirees to Provincetown and in Florida, already boasting of large gay populations), the numbers are nonetheless impressive. They reveal that the demographic make-up of the neighborhoods in these two cities is changing for the gayer.
According to demographer Gates, a contributing factor to this increase is the growing social acceptance of gays during the last decade that has led to an increase of those completing the self-identification section of the census form indicating their sexual orientation.
"The fact that the census is very publicly beginning to acknowledge the need for this kind of data, that’s a big deal," Gates told CNN. "Those who work to expand civil rights and legal protections for same-sex couples say having some sort of baseline count helps their efforts."
The old saying is true: there is strength in numbers. The gay presence in both cities not only influences the sense of life in the cities, it is also a contributing factor to a political climate in perhaps the most political region of the nation.
"We sent dozens of emails," writes Maggie Beetz, the editor of Gaylife, a twice-monthly Baltimore tabloid. "We sent letters. Follow-up emails and phone calls. We checked the list for updates, made a few more calls, a third and final email. And then we compiled the results."
What Beetz is describing is an effort by the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Baltimore to reach every "city-wide and district candidate running in the primary election...to see how they stood on the issues of most concern to Baltimore’s LGBT community."
And while there was a response from several of the politicians, many more pols chose to ignore the paper’s requests, leading Beetz to urge her readers, "...and if you don’t see their answers in our candidate survey-give them a call."
The same call to activism is taking place in Washington, D.C. Members of GLOV (Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence) meet regularly with D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier to press her on beefing up police patrols in gay neighborhoods and to respond to hate crimes, like the one that took place this past July, when a group of lesbians were attacked at the Columbia Heights Metro station. The failure of the police to respond to the plight of the women may cost seven officers their jobs.
Baltimore and Washington, D.C. are making great efforts to promote LGBT travel to the cities.
Visit Baltimore devotes an entire page on its website -- http://baltimore.org/lgbt-baltimore -- listing gay friendly activities and places of interest. And in nearby Washington, the Capital Area Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce -- http://www.caglcc.org/events -- lists upcoming events and other opportunities to connect to folks living there.
Despite ongoing crime concerns - and both cities urge visitors to be hyper-vigilant - the atmosphere couldn’t be friendlier.
This fall is an excellent time for visiting the region, bringing with it cooler temperatures, yet abundant with opportunities for outdoor dining and socializing.
I chose to stay at the affordable and cozy Admiral Fells Inn, http://www.harbormagic.com/, in Fells Point, a colorful and reclaimed historic section that hugs the bustling Baltimore waterfront. The hotel, composed of several 19th century row homes that are now interconnected, has waterfront views and all the amenities of a hotel twice its size, without the noise or distractions.
It also has access to a park directly across the cobblestoned street that bustles with local activities: a farmer’s market on Saturday and a flea market on Sunday. Restaurants, bars, and bistros, including Meli and Adela, two award-winning restaurants within the Admiral Fells Inn complex itself, are all within easy reach. I dined one night at Adela, where the tapas menu was extensive, and the service impeccable.
The next night I took a short stroll from the Admiral Fell Inn along the waterfront, past yachts and a water taxi that takes visitors to several stops along the Baltimore waterfront.
In a few minutes time, I arrived at the nearby Canton neighborhood, where I dined at Langermann’s, http://www.langermanns.com/, which also has an outdoor patio perfect for dining at candlelit tables. The food, prepared by chef Neal Langermann, who was named Chef of the Year in Washington, D.C. in 2001, puts emphasis on preparing regional American dishes with influences from the coastal southeast.
When I was hesitant to try a shrimp dish served on a bed of grits - my previous experience with grits had been a watery disappointment - the waitress served me a sample that was creamy and tasty, with a risotto-like consistency that won me over immediately. The resulting entrée was flavorful and unique, and it demonstrated the chef’s culinary passions perfectly.
We enjoyed a crab dip for a starter, followed by mussels prepared in white wine and garlic, and we finished with homemade key lime pie. Dining at Langermanns was an exquisite experience.
This fall there is so much more to see and do in the area, including a "free fall festival" in Baltimore -- www.freefallbaltimore.com - and many outdoor concerts and events in nearby Washington, D.C.
There are travel specials to arrive at the cities via Amtrak, or at the convenient Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI), which has rail and bus service - and car rentals -- connected to the terminal.