Greg Baird is a public speaker, but he's far from a company spokesman. He's also a filmmaker, but not at all a Hollywood magnate ( not yet anyway ) . And, he's an actor and playwright but you probably won't find him on Broadway. The truth is that Greg Baird is a pretty average guy. But, once he takes the stage, his message is anything but ordinary: "Be the voice of change in your life." They are words he lives by every day, as he travels the country, speaking to students, teachers, community groups and the like about the importance of coming out; embracing diversity; and understanding the nexus of hate crimes in America.
Windy City Times caught up with Baird Sept. 30 at The Center on Halsted. There, he introduced Judy Shepard, the mother of Matthew Shepard ( the University of Wyoming student who died following a brutal hate crime in 1998 ) . Baird and Sheppard were speaking to educators and students for a series of seminars hosted by the Illinois Safe School Alliance.
When asked how he got into the inspiration biz, he said, "I suppose it evolved somewhat organically. I've worked in education most of my life. But, when I was younger I always feared what others would think if they knew I was gay. I realized I had to get over that hurdle in my life. I eventually joined a gay-straight alliance ( GSA ) , and I began the difficult business of coming to terms with the real me. Also, my brother and I are both adopted from different families and we're both gay. Of course, that realization [ being gay ] came later on."
So, what's a typical day like for Baird? "It's an unusual job, definitely not a typical 9-to-5 gig. I'm on the road a lot. When I'm not preparing for a lecture, I love to cook for friends, anyone who'll eat. And, I love taking photos of the stuff I've prepared and posting them online. If I ever stop being an activist and speaker, maybe I'll make a cookbook," he amused, then added, "Honestly, though, my film project has kept me very busy. It's an important story."
That film, which is currently in post-production, is an ambitious endeavor. ( The working title is Second Class Citizen: Gay Rights and the New Millennium. ) It examines the murder of Matthew Shepard and the town of Laramie, Wyo., a decade after his death. With candid interviews of the people who lived through Matthew's murder, the trial that ensued and its aftermath, Baird spotlights troubling facts of life for LGBTQ people and their allies: Why hasn't Wyoming, and much of America, expanded hate-crimes legislation to protect gay people? And, why is homophobia so pervasive in American culture?
In addition to his speaking engagements over the last 17 years, Baird's accomplishments also include co-hosting his own TV program in Northern Michigan called "ARTiculation." And, Dr. Ruth Westheimer ( "Dr. Ruth" ) recognized him for his contributions to her book, Guide to College Life.
"I've never heard someone his age talk about issues like that," said Tiffany Effort, a student who attended the seminar at the Center Sept. 30. "Most adults don't relate to you that way, so it's a good feeling to know that there are people out there like him."
Asked whether or not he has any critics, Baird replied, "Who doesn't? I'm not in this to debate anyone, though. I just love being out there and I hope some people are listening."
Like a troubadour, his songs are personal narratives that offer hope and compassion to audiences, gay and straight alike. They are heartfelt, witty and, perhaps, more important now than ever before.
To learn more about Baird, his upcoming film, or to find out where to catch his next lecture, check out www.GregRBaird.com .
Imlay City, Mich.
Cooking for friends ( with Mexican cuisine and seafood being his specialties )