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State's LGBT business group looks ahead, and back

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Want the back story on that red-and-pink Human Rights Campaign logo that sweeped Facebook as the U.S. Supreme Court prepared to hear arguments on two same-sex marriage cases earlier this year?

Want to know what leaders from the HRC, the nation's largest LGBT organization, think of the odds the court's justices will hand down pro same-sex marriage opinions in those cases?

Curious to know what Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler thinks of the direction the state and the nation are headed in terms of gay rights?

If so, I can fill you in -- thanks to an event held Wednesday morning by the Maryland Corporate Council, an LGBT business organization founded last year to build networking opportunities for the state's gay business community.

Approximately 50 LGBT and allied members of the group attended the group's annual breakfast meeting at the Hotel Monaco in Baltimore -- at $75 and $90 a pop for members and non-members, respectively -- hearing from Gansler, HRC Legal Director Brian Moulton and HRC Marketing Director Anastasia Khoo.

They let me in with my notepad, too.

The theme of the event was "Getting Ready for Change," and the speakers each talked of continuing to build on recent surges of momentum in the gay rights movement.

"Ten years from now, marriage equality will be a reality in every state," said Gansler, who earned serious credibility with the LGBT community when he issued an opinion in 2010 that Maryland could recognize same-sex marriages from other states.

Gansler said his two teenage sons "don't even understand the issue" that people take with same-sex marriage.

"Among that generation, there's not an issue at all with it," he said.

More and more older people are coming around as well, he said. Even politicians.

At one point, Gansler spoke of President Barack Obama's supposed "evolution" on the issue, from supporting civil unions to supporting full same-sex marriage.

Gansler, who described himself as a "dyed-in-the-wool, drink-the-Kool-Aid Obama fan" who helped run the president's first Maryland campaign, said Obama's initial public stance on same-sex marriage wasn't genuine -- but more a reflection of what was possible politically at the time.

"That was the one thing that bothered me about him, because I know he was pro-marriage equality," Gansler said. "That was the one time he was dishonest with the American people."

Obama has maintained that his feelings on the issue developed over time.

Either way, Obama came around, and Gansler said the changing times are allowing more people to do the same.

Khoo, who was the brainchild behind the HRC's tinting its well-known logo red and pink and encouraging same-sex marriage supporters to repost the image prior to the Supreme Court hearings, said she has been inspired by the "sea of red" she saw on her own Facebook page and the broader support sent from around the world.

She also filled the room in on what it was like to launch the image onto the web and see it flooding back from all directions.

Prior to the Supreme Court cases, Khoo said she was "very, very strict" with usage of the HRC's well-known blue-and-yellow logo.

"It's sacrosanct," she said. "But there was something about this moment. It was historic, and it felt right that we tweak it a little bit to the color red, which is the color of love."

The HRC launched the tweaked image at 2 p.m. on a Monday. Khoo went to sleep at 10 p.m. By the time she rose at 5 a.m., the HRC website had crashed, she said. It would go on to see a 600 percent increase in traffic and 700,000 unique visitors in 12 hours.

The new logo would set Facebook records for the number of people changing their profile pictures to a single image or in a single time period; HRC tweets in line with the campaign would set records on Twitter.

And of note to the business group before her, Khoo noted that many corporations and companies put their own spin on the image to show their own support. (Turns out two Bud Light cans turned sideways work as an equals sign.)

Khoo called the campaign an "incredibly powerful moment" for HRC but also for those young LGBT teens struggling with their identity, who could suddenly see support from all around.

(By the way, supporting younger LGBT people, particularly in the business world, is a major goal of the Maryland Corporate Council, said Christopher Apple, the group's president and a senior manager with Ernst & Young. "It shouldn't be about just watching 'It Gets Better' videos all the time," he said. "You should be able to go somewhere and see that it has [gotten better].")

On prospects for the two Supreme Court cases -- one challenging Propisition 8 in California and the other challenging the federal Defense of Marriage Act -- I may have exaggerated on how much I can fill you in on HRC insight.

Moulton, the HRC's legal director, offered a quick recap of the different possibilities in the two cases. He touched on the fact that the justices could essentially rule that they shouldn't have taken up the case -- something they pondered in oral arguments. They could rule on narrow legal grounds, such as the legal standing of some parties in the cases. Or they could issue broader rulings that amount to more clear-cut wins or losses for gay rights advocates.

But until the justices hand down their opinions -- likely this month -- it's just too hard to call, Moulton said.

When one guest asked Moulton to place percentage odds on a win, he demurred.

"I would be in soooo much trouble if I did that," he said with a smile.

"My Magic 8 Ball says, 'Cloudy. Ask again later,'" he said at another point, to laughs from the crowd.

Speaking of the crowd: The MCC is looking for new members, said Apple.

Right now, they have about 100, with an average of about 20 to 30 at each event. But they'd like to get more younger members, and more small-business leaders. 

"With any kind of networking group, the more people who are involved the better," Apple said.

You can find out more at the group's website.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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