With the LGBTQ community under assault in many states, LGBTQ Marylanders say Pride Month has taken on added meaning this year.

There are an estimated 11 million LGBTQ adults in the United States, with 151,000 in the state of Maryland, according to the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Law and Public Policy at UCLA School of Law. The community covers a diverse spectrum of genders, identities, races and cultures.

The Baltimore Banner spoke and emailed with members of the community about the meaning of pride and the greatest challenges facing the LGBTQ community. Here are their answers, some of which have been edited for length and clarity.

Marquis Clanton, 35, East Baltimore

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Renowned choreographer and professional dancer

A mainstay in the ballroom scene, Marquis Revlon has done work for shows like “Pose” on FX, “Legendary” on Max and the 2020 film “Dark City Beneath The Beat.”

Pronouns: He, him

Identifies: Gay, bi

What does Pride mean to you? To me, pride means to be proud of who you are and to walk in your truth and be your authentic self.

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What is the greatest challenge facing the LGBTQ community? My greatest challenge is being yourself and being confident and comfortable in your own skin and not caring what someone says or thinks of you.

Tia Hopkins poses for a portrait around Mount Vernon, in Baltimore, Tuesday, May 30, 2023.
Tia Hopkins poses for a portrait around Mount Vernon in Baltimore, Tuesday, May 30, 2023. (Jessica Gallagher/The Baltimore Banner)

Tia Hopkins, 34, West Baltimore

Baltimore City Democratic Central Committee member; National Committee representative, Young Democrats of Maryland

The activist made history in August when they were one of two nonbinary candidates elected to Maryland’s Democratic Central Committee.

Pronouns: They, she

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Identifies: Nonbinary

Pride’s meaning? Pride allows people to celebrate their identity and be proud of who they are. It’s an opportunity to celebrate a once-oppressed community and presents a monthlong celebration for the community to come together in mass visibility.

Biggest challenge? Stigmas surrounding the community; hate crimes against members; and a lack of education surrounding gender identity and sexual orientation.

Bryan Macfarlane, 40, poses for a portrait around Mount Vernon, in Baltimore, Thursday June, 1, 2023.
Bryan Macfarlane, 40, poses for a portrait around Mount Vernon in Baltimore, Thursday, June, 1, 2023. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

Byron Macfarlane, 40, Columbia

Register of wills for Howard County

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The Howard County elected official has been fielding questions this past year from LGBTQ residents about domestic partnerships since last year’s Supreme Court ruling striking down Roe v. Wade, which has led to severe restrictions on abortions in many states. He suspects the queries are tied to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s suggestion in a concurring opinion that the conservative-led court should reconsider past rulings on same-sex relationships and marriage.

Pronouns: He, him

Identifies: Gay

Pride’s meaning? To me, Pride is a celebration of who we are and what we’ve achieved but also a commitment to keep up the fight for a better future. We use this time to take pride in being able to enjoy living lives of authenticity and happiness, and to take pride in how far we’ve come in terms of legal equality, cultural acceptance and representation in government. In Maryland, we have anti-discrimination protections, marriage equality and we’re expanding access to gender-affirming healthcare … While there’s much to celebrate, we have some work to do.

Biggest challenge? For LGBTQ+ Marylanders, we’re in one of the safest and most welcoming places to live in America. However, things here aren’t perfect, and in some parts of our country, these are dark times. Our most pressing challenges are the war against reproductive freedom, the assault on transgender Americans, particularly minors, and a right-wing theocratic takeover of our public schools. We have to remain vigilant. We can organize, we can contribute to organizations fighting for us, and we can elect more allies and more of ourselves to public office, especially at the local level to our school boards.

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Missy Smith, poses for a portrait around Mount Vernon, in Baltimore, Tuesday, May 30, 2023.
Missy Smith poses for a portrait around Mount Vernon in Baltimore, Tuesday, May 30, 2023. (Jessica Gallagher/The Baltimore Banner)

Missy Smith, 41, Waverly

Artist, community engagement specialist, property manager

Smith, a mainstay in Baltimore’s creative community, goes by the name QueenEarth when performing.

Pronouns: She, her, they

Identifies: Queer

Pride’s meaning? Pride is about having language and a growing community to cultivate safer spaces for inclusive identity and abilities, narratives, conversations, and lessons from a troubled past towards a future where we can live, walk, and love without shame for the things our ancestors may or may not have been able to actualize. Pride, whether Black or queer for me, means that I am, we are here, and we will continue to be a welcomed piece of the cultural fabric.

Biggest challenge? Challenges arise where we build walls and neglect folks on the margins. Black, trans, bisexual folks and a myriad of intersecting identities create more barriers of understanding for folks who don’t exist in the same paradigms. We have so much work to unpack “fluidity” as it relates to love and gender, and I am amazed by the younger generation’s ability to normalize things that I did not have language for 20 years ago. When we are fighting or working for peace, we must remember those who are least likely to be included and make sure they/we are in the room, and the space is accessible, and representative of the future, with all of those voices as a part of the planning to create better systems.

Blair and Brandon Dottin-Haley, husbands, poses together for a portrait around Mount Vernon, in Baltimore, Tuesday, May 30, 2023.
Blair and Brandon Dottin-Haley, husbands, pose together for a portrait around Mount Vernon in Baltimore, Tuesday, May 30, 2023. (Jessica Gallagher/The Baltimore Banner)

Blair Dottin-Haley, 44, Fells Point

Blair Dottin-Haley and husband Brandon have been married for 12 years. They run The Blairisms, a merchandise company where items are adorned with witty phrases and affirming messages. Blair is originally from New Orleans. Brandon is from Accokeek in Prince George’s County. They have lived in Baltimore for the past year.

CEO, entrepreneur

Pronouns: He, him

Identifies: Black queer

Pride’s meaning? Loving yourself, especially the parts the world have told you are unlovable, from the inside out.

Biggest challenge? Bigotry disguised as the love of God from outside the community and racism and white supremacy within the community.

Brandon Dottin-Haley, 37, Fells Point

COO, entrepreneur

Pronouns: He, him

Identifies: Black gay man

Pride’s meaning? Pride is having the ability to see yourself and your community with love and clarity. Pride is choosing to celebrate every facet of self and loving all of the parts that make the whole.

Biggest challenge? The internal division that prevents the community from becoming a unified group, specifically the racism, misogynoir and transphobia that continue to perpetuate violence towards members of our community.

April Watkins, poses for a portrait around Mount Vernon, in Baltimore, Tuesday, May 30, 2023.
April Watkins poses for a portrait around Mount Vernon in Baltimore, Tuesday, May 30, 2023. (Jessica Gallagher/The Baltimore Banner)

April Watkins, 46, Pigtown

Educator, founder of Lotus Flower Candle Collective

Pronouns: She, her

Identifies: Lesbian

Pride’s meaning? Pride is an opportunity to shine! An opportunity to be comfortable being yourself in safe spaces with people who accept you as you are. It’s an opportunity to meet new people and build community. A time to come together, have fun and just be free.

Biggest challenge? The lack of acceptance. Individuals are taking the time to highlight differences instead of focusing on what can be learned from each other. People going to extremes because they choose not to accept how others choose to live and express themselves. It’s becoming detrimental to so many in the LGBTQ community. People fearing for their safety, the toll its taking on individuals’ mental health, and people being afraid of being their true authentic self.

Reginald Dowdy poses for a portrait around Mount Vernon, in Baltimore, Wednesday May 31, 2023.
Reginald Dowdy poses for a portrait around Mount Vernon in Baltimore, Wednesday May 31, 2023. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

Reginald T. Dowdy, 39, Sparrows Point

The Baltimore native has owned his Fells Point salon, Reginald Thomas Studios, since 2012.

Business owner, phlebotomist

Pronouns: He, him, his

Identifies: Cis gay male

Pride’s meaning? Pride means waking up every day happy to be who I am. Happy to smile being just the way I was made and excited to share my life with those around me who also are fortunate to open their eyes daily to see another day.

Biggest challenge? I see some of the greatest challenges facing the LGBTQ community [are] our stands. … being too over-politically correct. Everything seems to have to fit into what society sees as [the] norm or a means to research the meaning. … As time passes and, at my age as I look back, I can honestly say we have come a long way with so much further to go.

Marisa Dobson, 37, and wife Jamie Sumague, 33 pose with their baby Eden for a portrait around Mount Vernon, in Baltimore, Thursday June, 1, 2023.
Marisa Dobson, 37, and wife Jamie Sumague, 33, pose with their baby Eden for a portrait around Mount Vernon in Baltimore, Thursday June, 1, 2023. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

Marisa Dobson, 37, Northeast Baltimore

As the mothers of a newborn, Eden, parental rights for same-sex couples remains top of mind for Marisa Dobson and her wife.

Publicist and medical cannabis advocate

Pronouns: She, hers

Identify: Queer, bisexual

Pride’s meaning? Pride is about joy — honoring and fondly recalling the queers who came before us and making space for happiness in the here and now.

Biggest challenge? The greatest challenge right now are Republican state legislatures passing and expanding the scope of laws like the Parental Rights in Education law in Florida.

Jamie Sumague, 33, Northeast Baltimore

Program Manager of Therapeutic Horticulture

Pronouns: She, her, hers

Identifies: Queer

Pride’s meaning? Love and acceptance of who you are while uplifting others.

Biggest challenge? Homophobia and transphobia in all aspects of life, including within ourselves.

Perry Hughes Williams, 37, poses for a portrait around Mount Vernon, in Baltimore, Thursday June, 1, 2023.
Perry Hughes Williams, 37, poses for a portrait around Mount Vernon in Baltimore, Thursday June, 1, 2023. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

Perry Hughes Williams, 37, Reservoir Hill

Corporate sustainability at sportswear company Under Armour

Pronouns: He, him

Identifies: Cis gay man

Pride’s meaning? Pride is taking a moment to celebrate being queer and taking pride in that. For many of us, it’s not always been easy to do so, and that continues to be the case for some. Pride reminds us that it’s okay.

Biggest challenge? After decades of perceived progress that culminated in the [Respect for Marriage Act of 2022], there’s now a full on assault on LQBTQ rights in today’s charged political environment. Now, many in our community are fighting for basic acceptance and basic rights, and the fight will take all of us.

Matt McCoy, poses for a portrait around Mount Vernon, in Baltimore, Tuesday, May 30, 2023.
Matt McCoy poses for a portrait around Mount Vernon in Baltimore, Tuesday, May 30, 2023. (Jessica Gallagher/The Baltimore Banner)

Matt McCoy, 40, Canton

The longtime Baltimore resident sees progress, but also sees a need to continue to fight for others.

Regional property manager

Pronouns: He, him

Identifies: Gay male

Pride’s meaning? Pride means walking down the street with your chin up and loving yourself regardless of what some may say around you.

Biggest challenge? We have had tremendous movement and progress for some but not all those of the LGBTQIA+ [community]. We have to remain united and fight for each other as we are only as strong as our most marginalized community.

Myoshi Smith, poses for a portrait around Mount Vernon, in Baltimore, Tuesday, May 30, 2023.
Myoshi Smith poses for a portrait around Mount Vernon in Baltimore, Tuesday, May 30, 2023. (Jessica Gallagher/The Baltimore Banner)

Myoshi Smith, 34, Pigtown

Myoshi Smith believes that in order to foster a more inclusive and anti-racist LGBTQ+ community, its members must engage in open and honest conversations, actively listening to and amplifying the experiences of Black, POC and other marginalized queer individuals.

Relationship enhancement specialist and sex coach

Pronouns: She, her

Identifies: Pansexual

Pride’s meaning? PRIDE is more than just a word or an event; it’s a powerful and empowering feeling of self-acceptance and celebration of one’s authentic identity. Pride represents the freedom to love and express oneself authentically without fear, shame, guilt, or persecution. Pride is a reminder of the progress we’ve made, while also recognizing the ongoing work needed to ensure equality and inclusivity for all of us.

Biggest challenge? One of the greatest challenges is achieving full societal acceptance and eradicating discrimination and prejudice. Many individuals within our community continue to face discrimination in various aspects of life, such as employment, healthcare, housing and even within their own families.

Additionally, the intersectionality of LGBTQ+ identities with race, gender and socioeconomic factors adds complexity to these challenges, making it important to address systemic inequalities and uplift marginalized voices within our community. There are complex dynamics that exist within the LGBTQ+ community in relation to racism and white privilege, and it’s essential to recognize that while we share a common struggle for equality, experiences within the LGBTQ+ community are shaped by intersecting identities and systemic inequities.

Jonathan Knox, poses for a portrait around Mount Vernon, in Baltimore, Tuesday, May 30, 2023.
Jonathan Knox poses for a portrait around Mount Vernon in Baltimore, Tuesday, May 30, 2023. (Jessica Gallagher/The Baltimore Banner)

Jonathan B. Knox, 57, Mount Vernon

The Rhode Island native has lived in Baltimore since the 1980s.

Works in the real estate industry

Pronouns: He, him

Identifies: Gay Black man

Pride’s meaning? Pride is a time of celebration and reflection. I reflect on those we’ve lost who are not here anymore but celebrate their memory, celebrate how far we’ve come, but realize the fight is not over. There’s so much more work that needs to be done for the community locally, nationally and globally.

Biggest challenge? It seems as though there’s an attempt to legislate us out of existence. Unity is needed to fight against these attacks. We’ve come together before to battle hate and ignorance and I know we can and will do so again. Love always wins.

Stealya-Manz Blue, 35, poses for a portrait around Mount Vernon, in Baltimore, Thursday June, 1, 2023.
Stealya-Manz Blue, 35, poses for a portrait around Mount Vernon in Baltimore, Thursday June, 1, 2023. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

Stealya-Manz Blue, 35, Baltimore City

Dubbed “Baltimore’s Bearded Beauty,” the drag queen is one of a new crop of talented performers challenging beauty norms of traditional drag.

Drag artist, performer

Pronouns: She, he, they

Pride’s meaning? Unapologetic, self-celebration and proclamation of my queerness. This is also time for me to embrace/be embraced by my community. Pride is that time of the year when we show the whole world that we are worthy of respect, we are worthy of recognition and we should not be afraid to be ourselves.

Biggest challenge? Health care access. Many members of the community struggle finding professionals they feel comfortable with — who don’t “other” or exoticize us. Just taking the time to listen to LGBTQ+ patients, trusting that they know what they are experiencing and what they need, seems like a low bar for any health care provider.

Phillip Westry poses for a portrait around Mount Vernon, in Baltimore, Wednesday May 31, 2023.
Phillip Westry poses for a portrait around Mount Vernon in Baltimore, Wednesday May 31, 2023. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

Phillip Westry, 38, Greenmount West

Executive director of FreeState Justice

Last year, Phillip Westry took over the Baltimore-based legal advocacy organization that seeks to improve the lives of low-income LGBTQ Marylanders.

Pronouns: He, him

Identifies: Gay

Pride’s meaning? Pride is about reflecting on the LGBTQIA+ movement’s past and celebrating the victories of those who fought to get us where we are now, all while planning for the future.

This year, our organization was honored to aid in the expansion of rights for trans and nonbinary communities with the passage of the Trans Health Equity Act in Maryland. We also expanded our legal services in the state and added community navigation services throughout Baltimore, all while our LGBTQIA+ siblings fought for basic human rights in other states. We are overjoyed by our successes, but seeing the discrimination still faced by people in this country reminds us that we must keep up our vital work to continue the fight for LGBTQIA+ rights. I am thankful for all of the LGBTQIA+ advocates in Maryland, past and present.

Biggest challenge? Disparity within our own members and how this division enables the dangerous rhetoric coming from outside the community. Protecting the most marginalized of us is vital, specifically our youth, elders, people of color, folks with low or no income, people living in rural communities, incarcerated people, and our trans and nonbinary siblings. Access to housing, employment, education, and health care is vital to ensure our underserved populations can live authentically. Our community must not only focus on addressing these resource gaps, but pushing back against propaganda rooted in ignorance and hate. All of this while we fight transphobia, misogyny, and racism within our own.

Lee Carpenter, 56, poses for a portrait around Mount Vernon, in Baltimore, Thursday June, 1, 2023.
Lee Carpenter, 56, poses for a portrait around Mount Vernon in Baltimore, Thursday June, 1, 2023. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

Lee Carpenter, 56, Baltimore City

Estates and trusts attorney

The attorney, who is also an adjunct professor at the University of Maryland Carey School of Law, has been closely monitoring the actions of the Supreme Court following the defeat of Roe v. Wade.

Pronouns: He, him, his

Identifies: Gay

Pride’s meaning? As a young man, I enjoyed Pride Day as a once-a-year celebration of freedom. It was a chance to hold hands in public and celebrate being gay, rather than hiding behind a closet door. Since then, just as Pride has grown from a single day into a whole month, the freedom it signifies is now a cause for year-round celebration. Marriage equality and new protections against discrimination have given our community a sense of dignity and self-worth that were once denied us. I am proud of my family, my colleagues and my neighbors for being so accepting of members of the LGBTQ community.

Biggest challenge? We need to hold on to the victories we have enjoyed but still keep moving forward, even in the face of opposition from certain quarters. Some members of our community are still struggling, especially young people and trans individuals. By continuing to tell our stories, we can achieve greater equality for everyone who identifies as LGBTQ.

Shaylee French Elliette-Charles, 26, poses for a portrait around Mount Vernon, in Baltimore, Thursday June, 1, 2023.
Shaylee French Elliette-Charles, 26, poses for a portrait around Mount Vernon in Baltimore, Thursday, June, 1, 2023. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

Shaylee French Elliette-Charles, 26, Patterson Park

Multidisciplinary artist and performer, dog mom

The MICA graduate is concerned with a myriad of issues, including expanding access to gender-affirming healthcare.

Pronouns: She, her

Identifies: Transgender woman

Pride’s meaning? Pride means celebrating the freedom of living your life authentically and finding joy in being different.

Biggest challenge? I wouldn’t really call it a challenge, it feels more like the term “threat to our community” is more accurate. And my answer to that question would be intolerance, bigotry and the current politicization of trans and some queer peoples lives. The biggest threat to our community right now is the fear-mongering and the stripping of our basic human rights that is being led by certain ultraconservative politicians to distract from the real issues that our country is facing right now.

johnj.williams@thebaltimorebanner.com

John-John Williams IV is a diversity, equity and inclusion reporter at The Baltimore Banner. A native of Syracuse, N.Y. and a graduate of Howard University, he has lived in Baltimore for the past 17 years. 

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