The Cincinnati NAACP has come under withering scrutiny for appointing anti-gay lawyer Chris Finney to their board. Finney wrote Article 12, a 1993 city charter amendment that forbid city officials from passing laws that protected the LGBT community. The ordinance was repealed by voters in 2004.
Christopher Smitherman, the President of the Cincinnati NAACP, responded recently on his radio show and it's definitely worth a listen. Smitherman warns the gay community about the holier-than-thou e-mails and phone calls he's been getting.
"I don't think this is a tree you want to bark up. But if you want to go there, if this is what you want to do, we can go there. But the bottom line is your community as it deals with racism in the African-American community, you're not there. You're absent. And then when it's convenient for you, you start evoking Dr. Martin Luther King... And you're showin' up at the last minute trying to build bridges and have relationships, and it doesn't work that way."
Audio of Smitherman's rant and listener responses after the jump with some observations of mine. I couldn't agree more with him on this one.
While I do think there are some glaring problems with the logic (Would it be acceptable for Equality Ohio to put a known segregationist on their board and claim, "Well, he's gay friendly and does good work!"?), I think Smitherman raises some valid points in regard to race and the LGBT community.
I ran headlong into this same situation while leading the coalition of LGBT groups that fought for Indianapolis' fully inclusive human rights ordinance. After the HRO passed (with two Democrats opposing the measure and two Republican supporting), two local black LGBT activists, three or four white activists and three black City-County Councilors and I sat down at the City-County Building to discuss race relations in the LGBT community. One of the messages clearly sent by the councilors was simply, "We were there for you. Now you'd better be there for us from now on because you sure haven't been there yet."
As a privileged white American, I admittedly cannot empathize with African-Americans who, despite obvious progress, still experience discrimination and injustice in Indianapolis and Marion County. Likewise, I do not expect an African-American city councilor to empathize with me as a privileged white American who happens to be gay.
But I will always stand up for civil rights and social justice. Will you?
That post was brought up at the meeting as a specific example of the other side of the coin. The councilors were upset at what they saw as a large part of the problem - the author expressed knowledge that "discrimination and injustice" still happened in Indianapolis, but what had he done to stop it? The African-American councilors voted for our rights; they made a difference and stood up for the LGBT community when we asked them to do it. While the author claimed to "stand up for civil rights and social justice," no one had ever seen him at any events supporting any black issues.
The meeting at the City-County building was in early 2006. Hoosier queers were racially divided and Indiana's LGBT groups were 99.9% white; they still are. I know from personal experience that the group leaders want a more racially diverse group of leaders, but don't know how to proceed. There haven't been any real advances. Why not?
As Smitherman says in the audio, "It's not enough to just talk about Martin Luther King."
So I guess this leads me to the logical questions to be asked of of Cincinnati queers: Have you been involved in African-American issues?" What has Equality Cincinnati or other local groups done to work on racial issues? How about any statewide organizations? Any of the national orgs? Maybe some local non-black LGBT activists? Are you there for them?
If you haven't been, are you going to be there in force on April 8 standing with the NAACP as Smitherman asks? I'd bet even money that Chris Finney will be, so if you don't want his voice to be the last one in Smitherman's ear, you'd better learn how to whisper too.
"Shouting" our outrage isn't doing any the community any good.
Working our asses off for "civil rights and social justice" for all people and not just LGBT people is what will turn the tide in our favor. It's not a quick solution, but it is the correct one.