Politics and Power

Greg Baldwin speaks with the straightforwardness of a person who has made the following statement so many times he has forgotten that most people will miss the weight of its full meaning: "The heterosexual community has to understand what we want and where we're coming from and who we are."

Baldwin, a 44-year-old litigation attorney and a partner in the state's largest law firm, chairs the Dade Action PAC, a year-old political action committee that is an incipient presence on South Florida's gay and lesbian landscape. Sitting at the varnished desk that takes up most of his eleventh-floor office in Holland and Knight's Brickell Avenue suite, Baldwin is a presence in himself: tall and fair-skinned, with a powerful build that seems appropriate for his clean-cut American good looks, and gray eyes that are remarkable not because of their size or color, but because they seldom seem to blink.

"I would say 75 per cent of all heterosexual people think of gay people as a bunch of promiscuous, maniacal nuts who run around in dresses, talk with lithps, and have loose wrists," Baldwin continues. "And what are we really? We are teachers, we are lawyers, we are doctors, we're next-door neighbors, we are priests, we are nuns, we are rabbis. We're laborers, we're cab drivers, we're everything else. We pay taxes just like everybody else does."

Unlike everybody else, gays and lesbians tend not to get the benefit of the taxes they pay. Baldwin and the 107-member Action PAC aren't pursuing a goal that's unique among homosexual activist groups: They want equal rights in housing and health, and they want the government, the police, and the heterosexual public to treat them like human beings. But their approach to that deceptively simple-sounding destination sets them apart. Neither a placard-toting crew of radical activists nor a crisis organization with an AIDS-specific agenda, the Action PAC delivers its broader message through traditional political means: phone calls and meetings with local and state officials; endorsements and campaign support at election time.

Which is not to say they oppose the efforts of other activist groups, or ignore crises in health, harassment, and hate crimes in the campaign off-season. The Action PAC played a role in shepherding the recent hate-crimes amendment through the state legislature. Earlier this year, when several Miami Herald stories prompted county officials to draft laws prohibiting unsafe sex in health clubs and so-called bathhouses, Action PAC was contacted for support and advice.

More recently, in response to an increasing number of complaints about harassment by police in Miami Beach, Baldwin and other Action PAC board members, along with members of Broward-based GUARD (Gays United to Attack Repression and Discrimination), have held meetings with Miami Beach Police Chief Phillip Huber, demanding unbiased police treatment of gays and lesbians, and successfully lobbying for a "sensitivity" section in the department's in-service training sessions for officers. Huber is cooperating; the sensitivity training, a one-hour course taught by the Action PAC's Robin Buhrke, was added to the in-service sessions for Miami Beach officers in mid-May.

"It's just beyond the pale to have a cop walk up to you in 1991 and say, `Hey faggot.' I mean, it's hard to picture a cop walking up to a black person and saying, `Hey nigger.' And I have trouble imagining a cop walking up to a Jewish person and calling him a kike. But to say, `Hey faggot,' `Hey queer,' `Hey fairy' -- that's the coin of the realm. It's not just punks driving past a gay bar, it's cops, calling you a faggot. I mean, there's a real societal message in that stuff.

"`Sensitivity training' is really a misnomer. All it is is an attempt to explain to authority figures where a particular group is coming from, its view of the world. See, we -- and I suppose this goes for any minority -- we don't view authority and government the way the average middle-class white American straight person views it. Because we've been beaten up by it. A lot of us will walk out of a gay or lesbian bar at one or two o'clock in the morning and be stopped by the cops and be terrified. Why? Not because we're being stopped by a cop, but because of the fear that being stopped is going to wind up `outing' us -- by `outing' I mean the involuntary disclosure of a person's sexual orientation. And for us that's a very real fear. Because when we get outed, we can get fired, we can get thrown out of our apartments, our neighbors can turn on us, all sorts of terrible things can happen that you never even think of.

"Chief Huber was very responsive. We've met with him twice. The first was at the end of April. There had been reports in The Weekly News [the Miami-based gay and lesbian newspaper] of people complaining that they were entrapped, or harassed verbally. The cops in Miami Beach had been outstanding during the Health Crisis Network AIDS march in February. They were polite, they were respectful, they were sensitive, it was everything you could want. And yet a month later we get these awful reports from TWN.

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