I’ve known Bob Ford a long time, and while I’d say he’s one of the most recognized people in the Baltimore LGBTQ community, but also someone very few people know much about. It can’t be easy to shine when your husband is Steve Charing, someone most everyone in the community knows! I invited Mr. Ford to share his own story.
Bill Redmond-Palmer: Have you been in the Baltimore area all your life?
Bob Ford: I was born in Sioux City, Iowa, but my family moved to Baltimore when I was an infant, so I’ve essentially lived in the Baltimore area all my life. I attended St. Casimir’s Grade School and Baltimore Polytechnic Institute. I then graduated from the University of Maryland Baltimore County receiving a BA in political science. I always knew I was gay but growing up in a strict Catholic family I didn’t come out until after college.
How did you get interested in politics?
I’ve been interested in politics since I was a youth and was inspired by John F. and Robert F. Kennedy. Growing up in the Canton neighborhood of Baltimore, I was familiar with many of the local politicians. I received a scholarship from a local state senator, and that spurred my interest. Also, my aunt was an activist during the “Save Fells Point” effort and was involved in the Barbara Mikulski campaign for city council.
When Steve was editor of the Gay Paper, I wrote several political analyses of the 1983 citywide elections. At the time there was the Baltimore Lesbian and Gay Democratic Club, which had hosted a forum for 22 Democratic candidates vying for city council. In my opinion an organization like this is still needed in Baltimore since there’s never been an openly LGBTQ candidate elected to any citywide office.
In addition, I wrote an article analyzing the mayoral race between William Donald Schaefer and Judge Billy Murphy as it pertained to the gay and lesbian community. A portion of it was quoted in an editorial in the September 8th, 1983 edition of the Baltimore Evening Sun that was titled, “Courting the ‘gay vote.’”
You’re just finishing a term on the Democratic Central Committee (DCC) in Howard County. What are you are proud of having accomplished?
Howard County is a very diverse and politically active community. I’m proud of the diversity and quality of the Democratic candidates that have emerged. We’ve seen more women, more African-Americans, more Latinos, and more candidates of different faiths get involved in the political process, and this is clearly reflected in the committee. I am currently the only openly gay person on the committee. Our mission is to get more progressive Democratic candidates elected to offices at all levels.
One of my priorities is voter registration, and as such, I am the DCC’s co-chair for this initiative. I started registering people in 2012 when marriage equality was on the ballot as a referendum (Question 6). It is vital to our democratic system that we encourage people to register and vote, and I think I achieved a degree of success on that front.
I also serve as treasurer of the Columbia Democratic Club. I’ve been appointed to the county’s Human Rights Commission. I am a member of the county executive’s LGBT Round Table, and I was appointed to the #OneHoward steering committee.
You’re running for re-election to the Howard County DCC. What are some of your goals and priorities in another term?
As stated before, our goal is to get as many progressive Democratic candidates elected. In doing so, it is imperative that we thwart the effects of Trumpism that is damaging our country. Therefore, our candidates must stand up for our principles and values.
We’ve seen an increase in hate crimes directed to LGBTQ folks as well as other minorities across the country, and our mission is to stop that trend in its tracks. While we have made considerable progress, LGBTQ individuals are still vulnerable to discrimination, hatred, and violence. Young LGBTQ people are most vulnerable at home, in school, and online. Life is challenging as it is. I don’t want these youth to have to struggle with their sexuality or gender identity as I had to. We must begin right here at home in Howard County.
What is something you learned in your political career that you’d like to share?
I’ve learned over the years that politicians are everyday people. Most of them value our input to help them formulate and vote on policies especially on matters in which they are not familiar. It is essential that all of us make our positions known to our elected officials.
My favorite song from the musical Hamilton is “The Room Where It Happens.” The message from the song is that if you don’t participate in the political process, others will make the decisions for you.
How and when did you get involved in the LGBTQ community?
After I met Steve and he began writing for the Gay Paper in 1980, which, as you know was a program of the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Baltimore (GLCCB), I also became involved in the organization. We were both on the board of directors. I wrote articles for the paper on a variety of topics but focused on local and LGBT politics.
Looking back over your activist work, what you are most proud of?
On an emotional level, one thing I’m proud of occurred back when Steve and I were working on thet Gay Paper. The very first AIDS patient in Maryland was being interviewed by one of the writers and he appeared to be very ill. Steve and I shook his hand after being introduced while others present appeared fearful of catching the disease and did not engage him. He was grateful that we treated him with dignity.
From a political perspective, the successful fight for marriage equality at the local and state level ranks very high among my work. I attended virtually every Lobby Day in Annapolis to rally and persuade our local delegates and senators to recognize same-sex marriage.
As an active member of PFLAG-Howard County for over a dozen years, Steve and I visited with most of the Howard County delegation to present our story in an effort to demonstrate that we are no different from the other taxpayers in the county and are good citizens worthy of the same rights, benefits, and responsibilities of other married couples. It’s noteworthy that in a relatively short period, every Democratic office holder came around as well as one Republican senator, Allan Kittleman, who is now the county executive.
I also participated in a variety of capacities during the referendum battle to preserve the law as well as helping to pass protections for transgender individuals.
Our proudest moments occurred when Governor Martin O’Malley signed the Civil Marriage Protection Act in March 2012 as well as then Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake officiating the first legal same-sex marriages at City Hall on New Year’s Day 2013. We were right there to witness both historic events and saw the efforts of many people become reality.
Any final thought to leave us with?
It’s important for those of us who are fortunate to give back to the community and even more importantly, to get involved and not be complacent. Apathy is our enemy.
To follow Bob Ford’s campaign, visit Facebook.com/BobFord4HCDCC.