LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth
|by Stefani Deoul|
|A Fight that Must Never End
Advocacy is a very strange beast. According to Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of Law it is defined as 1: the profession or work of an advocate, 2: the action of advocating, pleading for, or supporting a cause or proposal. It all seems easy enough. But, what makes advocacy the strange beast that it is, is its success can only be measured by looking honestly into a rear-view mirror. A successful advocate can tell you where you were then and show you where you are now and still unabashedly recognize we are not even nearly where we deserve to beyet.
But staying with the strange beast of it all for just a moment, perhaps the hardest part about advocacy is the more you gain, the more people forget just what that rear view mirror looked like and the more they become disenchanted with where you still have to go. Even more daunting, those who arrive where you are now, too often see nothing but entitlement. And again, the irony shows itself. When the critics are now moving into your own back yard, you must be successful.
CAMP Rehoboth continues to give and grow all the while mired in this very paradox. As an advocate they have helped to make Rehoboth Beach the gay haven it has become. Steve Elkins, a founder and Executive Director of CAMP still remembers the joy, when in 1994, he and Murray drove down Rehoboth Avenue and the old Convention Center marquee (you know, the one with the letters that were put up by someone with a none-too-steady hand) read "SunDance '94," complete with date, ticket price, and a phone number. "There we were, the gay dance of the summer blaring off the marquee right on our main street for all to see!" Talk about "let freedom ring." And this didn't just happen. It was one rained out "private" anniversary party in 1988 that moved indoors to the newly opened Strand dance club, the start of CAMP Rehoboth, the Convention Center and a whole lot of folks working together to make it happen. And still it remains simply one shining moment in a lifetime of advocating. Even as time and memory slowly fades, it is still a blinking beacon of light in our rear view mirror.
But for a group that was once no different than all of ussome friends hanging out, having a barbecue, playing in the hot tub and complaining about all that was wrong, CAMP's advocacy and outreach has brought us far. The building itself speaks volumes. CAMP isn't stuck on some road out of town. It isn't hidden in the shadows, tucked away from all who might shun it. CAMP's location turns realtors and contractors green with envy. And when we walk past, we should swell with pride, but somehow we don't. We don't take a step back and remember where we were and what this means. We simply accept it is there. We stroll by, nonchalantly holding hands in public, and don't even think to stop in and say hi. But you know, that Kodak moment didn't just happen. It is brought to us all courtesy of CAMP Rehoboth's dedication to us all. And if their success is measured by how we can take these moments for granted, then CAMP risks becoming ignored; just a place for services to use if we choose. Yet without our building we, as a community, would be homeless. And sadly, the homeless are too often voiceless as well.
So today, in honor of the fourth of July, stop and read the sidebars. Take a moment to celebrate a few of our stories on the road to independence. And then, stop by the CAMP home front. Say hi and share the pride. Chat with Steve or Murray or Beth or Kathy or well anyone you might meet out in the Center. And maybe, just maybe, stop hanging out at the barbecue and complaining about all we don't havejoin CAMP and help advocate for it all, for us all. Whether you make a donation, stuff an envelope or join a committee, advocacy has a need for us all. Have a voice; welcome home and happy Independence Day.
As one tireless advocacy group, Peter, Paul and Mary remind us, "We have come this far always believing that justice will somehow prevail. This is the burden. This is the promise. This is why we will not fail!" Do not let the light go out. Together let us shine another light in the rear view mirror as we sashay our way forward down the highway.
Natalie Moss to Natalie Ellis & Back
Natalie Moss spent her childhood summers in nearby Ocean City and it was a grand time to be a kid. But as she turned nineteen, she decided she needed to explore a bit further north and never looked back down the coast. Religiously, every weekend, Rehoboth Beach became home. It began with summer rentals and then finally, that first house, bought with a group of friends. Then it was another group of six who bought the house off Route 24, the one they laughingly called "the West Shores" home. They built a pool. And ten years ago they sold it to two gentlemen who still own it today. Six years ago, Natalie moved here full time and today owns her own home.
When asked why people should get involved in CAMP, Natalie's answer is quick to come, "I was up on the HRC Web Page and what's amazing is we do so many things on a local level that they are doing on a national level. Everyone reads Letters which is great, but not enough people understand how extensive our outreach is, and how much work goes into making and maintaining the connections CAMP has built for us all."
And her passion for all CAMP means can be best underscored as Natalie Moss then shares her story of Natalie Ellis. It was the 70s and in Washington, DC, there was a courageous group of men and women trying to get a new paper off the ground. They were going to call it The Washington Blade. Natalie was at those first meetings, but you won't find a record of heror virtually any of those men and women. She gave her name as Natalie Ellis. "We all used assumed names. In those days, you just did it that way." It wasn't safe to be known.
It's funny, "those days," the 70s, really aren't far behind us, but Natalie's story highlights how quickly we have sped forward. Check the masthead in Letters and you will see CAMP RehobothTreasurer, Natalie Moss, CPA; one hundred and twenty pages of "claimed" material. And while money donations are absolutely needed and appreciated, and although Natalie is, first and foremost a treasurer, she still puts new volunteers at the top of her wish list. And for the record, a bookkeeper was once at the top of (former Letters' Editor) Jim Bahr's list. Natalie read about his wish in one of Letters first editions and, with a little prodding from a few friends, granted that wish for him. So if you're reading this, Natalie would love you to stop in, see the breadth and scope of CAMP's activities, and join a committee. Natalie Moss knows together we will continue to fight, ensuring that Natalie Ellis can stay safely retired.
In Donna St. George's Words
In 1999 the Washington Post sent Donna St. George to do a follow-up story, ten years after the Post had run a story titled, "SHOWDOWN AT REHOBOTH" written by Elizabeth Kastor (August 6, 1989). This excerpt is from Ms. St. George's story titled, "HOW THE TIDE WAS TURNED", originally published in the Sunday edition, August 29, 1999.
...In a small town like Rehoboth Beach, social tolerance comes in a thousand personal reckoningsdisparate moments when something in a mind or heart is shifted, unlocked, reenvisioned. Some people regard the change with awe. For others, it is barely perceptible, unseen and largely unknown....
...Ten years ago Rehoboth Beach was a town in the throes of the culture wars, divided into factions, split and distrustful. Now it is something elsenot exactly a hamlet of harmony, not at all, but a blend of worlds, a place of adjustment and accommodation and, at times, even changes of the heart.
The town is at this moment both what the old guard fought to preserve and what the gay community wanted to createa mix of small-town tradition and beach-town tolerance, a place where hand-holding men in sandals coexist with baby strollers and kiddie rides. Tension can still be found, but it is the get-along middle ground that draws the crowd.
While there are other gay-friendly sunspots on the Eastern SeaboardProvincetown, Mass., Key West, Fla., Fire Island, N.Y.none have reconciled the clash of values in quite the same way."
Scott and Lori Success Measured in People
Scott Spangler is twenty years old with the chiseled looks of a model, charming, droll, at times self-deprecating and loaded with a compelling personality. He is also a young man who has journeyed many miles to get where he is and has plans to journey many more to get where he is going. His story is both heart breaking and heart lifting as he sits in the CAMP courtyard and disarmingly picks and chooses what he shares.
In the eighth grade Scott faced a choice few people can honestly fathom. It began with a list of clothing items he was not permitted to wear. He wore them. The school suspended him. Fellow students taunted him. Scott refused to be dictated to. Then the ultimatum came. Either change his "flamboyant style" or leave his public school. Faced with an administration that obviously not only didn't support the notion of diversity, but also would smother any sign of it, at age thirteen, Scott dropped out. And what might have become another sad statistic of yet another boy lost to the streets didn't, derailed by a supportive mother and an astute therapist, who referred Scott to a youth group, AIDS Delaware of Wilmington, which then held meetings at the Rehoboth Library.
It was not too long after that CAMP arranged with AIDS Delaware to take over the youth group, moved it to their building, and recruited Jen Booth and Lori Kline to be their Youth Coordinators.
Lori Kline came to Rehoboth Beach in the summer of '95 and never went back to teaching Special Ed in Silver Spring, MD. Instead she went to work at Cuppa Joe and when she turned thirty, bought the place and at age thirty-one she became a proprietor as Lori's Caf joined Rehoboth Beach's eateries.
And it was here, in the safety of CAMP, as Lori and Scott worked together, Scott's world began to find some answers. But it would soon spin again. When Scott was sixteen, his mother and constant supporter, passed away, leaving him virtually homeless.
And yet now, sitting on the patio amid all the noise of the CAMP construction, listening to these two bicker and banter, it's easy to forget that they met at a time when Scott was facing choices too big for a young boy. Now he is an intense young man and his choices are his own. Prodded a bit by Lori, Scott acknowledges certain scars from his pasthe doesn't like crowds, teenagers and being talked down tobut he doesn't dwell. He is a man in motion and a man with a mission. Scott has not only earned his GED, he carries a 4.0 at Delaware Technical Community College, is working as a lifeguard and is studying voraciously to ace his SAT's. If you pass him in the courtyard, you might notice Bob, another CAMP regular, helping tutor him in math. You see, Scott plans to forge ahead, first to a premiere college, then a Masters and then a PhD. And betting against him would seem a fool's bet. After all, he wouldn't cave as an eighth grader. So let's just toast to the future Dr. Spangler. And if he ever needs to bum a lunch, guaranteed he will find Lori. And for all Lori may glare and stare, guaranteed she'll still hand over the best chicken salad sandwich in townon the house.
The Birth of an Advocate
If Steve Elkins was born to be an advocate, he managed to reach the age of forty without knowing it. For those of us too new, too young or too, let's say "indulged" to remember, the Year was 1988 and a disco named the Strand opened in the center of Rehoboth Beach proper, turning an old movie theater into one hot nightspot. Steve and his partner, Murray Archibald delightedly left their decade-long weekending behind and made Rehoboth home so Steve could manage the Strand.
But when the Strand applied for a liquor license, the town's homeowners group drew a line in our sand, using noise, traffic and parking to bolster their arguments. But underneath this legal sounding veneer, "These bars are catering to homosexuals," could be heard both loud and proud and muttered and sneered. Suffice it to say, tempers flared. A petition was circulated. Finally a public vote was taken on the question of banning bars and clubs altogether, except those that were part of a restaurant.
Businesses afraid of losing their own rights came off the sidelines to join the fray, but it was too late. The homeowners won. The city voted to ban new bars altogether, and a few years later, to limit the size of restaurants that serve alcohol.
For one body, however, a defining moment had arrived. Steve Elkins, two weeks into this new gig, found himself literally and figuratively thrust "out and about" at the city's monthly board of commissioners meeting. "I'm here to tell you things are going to change," was not only a declaration to them, but to himself and a community. An advocate was born.
Fast forward to 1998...Two renowned, family owned pizza places in townNicola's and Grotto'swanted to expand, but could not because of laws that had been enacted from that battle. The two pizza parlors asked for exceptions from that lawand in what some may find an ironic twist of the battle for equality, they were turned down.
Fast forward to 2008...Steve Elkins, once a closeted gay man, is now not only Executive Director of CAMP Rehoboth (an organization he co-founded), but he sits on the board of Delaware Human Relation Commission, Delaware HIV Consortium, Delaware Equal Rights for All Coalition, Election Judge for the Rehoboth Beach Board of Elections, and provides sensitivity training for the Rehoboth Beach Police and the State Park Police. In addition, he and his partner, Murray Archibald are certified Lay Speakers at Epworth United Methodist Church, where Steve also sings in the choir and plays in the handbell choir.
We are all here enjoying the fruits of labor that turned the tide of hate into tolerance. That compelled a large number of peopleboth gay and straightto perhaps unwillingly and certainly unwontedly to take up the art of advocacy. There was the infamous bumper sticker that once proclaimed, "Keep Rehoboth a Family Town." There were the acceptable taunts of "faggot." And then there was the night in 1993 when a gay bashing left one of our own with a skull lying in fragments strewn about the beach. The gentleman managed to somehow survive, but the town nearly didn't. It is a night whose horrors cannot be forgotten. It was a night that left everyone with deep anguish, heartache and hard choices. Retaliate? Run? Accept?
In the aftermath the Rehoboth Beach gay community chose to reach out. What they found were friends and neighbors willing to reach back. Horror could be turned into healing. Small advances on the road to equality began to become the norm. The Rehoboth Beach Police changed their hiring policies to include sensitivity training, Beebe Medical Center changed their policies to include same-sex couple visitation rights and in 1994, Epworth United Methodist Churcha church with roots going back to when Rehoboth Beach was nothing more than a Methodist camp meeting groundopened their doors to all.
Is it perfect? No. But we've all come a long wayand all we've achieved we have done the old fashioned wayby getting to know our neighbors. It wasn't rioting or legislatingit was sitting down and just talking. And while talking takes time and changing talk into action takes even longer, and not having it all yesterday can make the most tolerant of us edgy, the real benefit is we know we are taking the long way "home."
Letters from CAMP RehobothWe Are As We Write1991The First Issue of Letters is released. It is four pages. It has very little advertising. It's first was the Blue Moon.
1991The Second Issue of Letters is released with a few more ads sold.
1992Letters outgrows its press. New press, new look Letters comes with staples.
1995Fourth of July issue of Letters is released. It is 32 pages.
199996 Pages on the Fourth of July and still growing.
2000The Vice Versa Awards go to Murray Archibald for his Original Art Cover, Kristen Foery for her Youth Columns, Fay Jacobs for her CAMP Out. Best of Gay Delaware awards go to Letters from CAMP Rehoboth as the Favorite Area GLBT Newspaper.
2007Fourth of July Issue is sold out.
2008Fay Jacob's has not one, but two Letters columns singled out for honors at the Delaware Press Association awards dinner. And the award for Best Non-Fiction BookHumor, (a collection of Fay's columns from Letters from CAMP Rehoboth).
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 18, No. 08 June 27, 2008