Bil Browning

Cincinnati NAACP president warns LGBT community

Filed By Bil Browning | March 31, 2009 6:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics, The Movement
Tags: Chris Finney, Cincinnati, community organizing, LGBT community, NAACP, race relations, racism in the gay community

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 The ordinance was repealed by voters in 2004.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.

Cincinnati NAACP president warns GLBT community about criticizing appointment of anti-gay rights activist Chris Finney, 3/28/09 from Funky Broadway on Vimeo.

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."

Before the ordinance passed, one of our alumni wrote a post about the local (overwhelmingly Caucasian) religious right bankrolling African-American ministers to oppose the measure. He summed up his post like this:

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.

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Wilson46201 | March 31, 2009 7:15 PM

At the risk of opening old wounds, the Indianapolis Congressional Democratic Primary last year showed real divisions between the white LGBTQ activists and the progressive Black Democratic leadership. Black leadership that had always been supportive of LGBTQ equality was ignored while the white LGBTQ activists veered off supporting a very progressive (but fundamentally weak) white candidate. Sadly, the LGBTQ clique thus showed itself to be rather politically impotent as well as disrespectful of the many Black leaders who had supported LGBTQ issues but were heavily backing the eventual winner. Of course, the eventual winner, Andre Carson had a multi-racial coalition backing him while the LGBTQ folk were immersed in an almost all white campaign. It was not pretty.

Congressman André Carson is a member of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus and a proud co-sponsor of queer-friendly legislation. Sadly, the Indianapolis LGBT community was not a part of his winning electoral coalition when he needed them.

A. J. Lopp | April 1, 2009 1:19 PM

For readers outside Indianapolis, we might point out that the winner, Andre Carson, is the grandson of the immediate former US Representative from that district, Julia Carson. We might also point out that during her long Congresisonal career Julia was a tremendous ally on LGBT issues, and there were no indications that Andre would change course.

Secondly, anyone familiar with the racial constituency of this district would know that an "almost all white campaign" there would be doomed to failure. The LGBTQ faction you speak of, Wilson, lacked some rather basic political intuition.

(Interesting footnote for non-Hoosiers: Andre Carson is one of only two Muslim members of the US House of Representatives. His grandmother was a Christian Protestant. Even so, Andre's religion, although discussed, proved not to be problematic in his campaign.)

He talks about the LGBT community as if it were this white machine, as if it didn't have African Americans working to illuminate these issues. So, shall we vouch for lack of cooperation with African American issues because the community is rabidly homophobic? It slices both ways.

And the Dr. Martin Luther King part is just rich with arrogance. What, should Indians be resentful as well when other movements borrow Gandhi as an inspiring figure? Who the hell is he to claim that MLK is his, and only his, for inspiration? That others are borrowing MLK, but he is not?

It just reeks of lame justification. "Oh, some of yours have screwed some of mine over; therefore, it is fine for some of mine to screw you over!"

What a child.

I agree about being there for each other. However, I get the impression the African-American community in SW Ohio does really not want to work/with for us LGBT folks.

In November 2007, the Dayton (OH) Black Ministerial Alliance along with African-American City of Dayton Commissioner Dean Lovelace vehemently opposed the amendment that added sexual orientation and gender identity and expression to the city’s non-discrimination ordinance. At each commission ordinance reading, they also deliberately tried (unsuccessfully) to engage LGBT citizens present in a confrontation to derail our effort.

After the ordinance was passed, this same group refused to engage in an open dialog with a group of representatives from the LGBT community to discuss inter-community relations. This was because the local LGBT group unanimously refused to agree to their stipulation that the discussion begin by talking about repeal of the amendment.

I'd like to feel the African-American community is supportive, but I'm sure it's not a majority. We can do a lot working together. As was pointed out to me, cooperation like this is a 2-way street. If NAACP Cincinnati really does want to work together with the LGBT community, hiring homophobe Chris Finney is not the way to do it.

Chitown Kev | March 31, 2009 10:33 PM

All I can say is:

Follow the money.

Brad Bailey | April 1, 2009 12:39 AM

When I heard that 70 percent of California's black voters approved of Prop 8, I was very disappointed. There's obviously a huge disconnect between the black and gay communities.

I believe one of the biggest conflicts between us is the way in which our respective communities regard mainstream organized religion. Faith has played a crucial role in the struggle for black equality. Time and again, throughout the hell on earth African-Americans had to endure, religion provided them with hope for a better future and a guide for living in the present. Consequently, mainstream Christianity is an indispensible part of the black experience. And not just any Christianity; mainly Protestantism, and mainly evangelical.

For much of the gay community, this fundamentalist form of Christianity is Public Enemy Number One. And they're not far from wrong. James Dobson's Focus on the Family, the Family Research Institute, the American Family Council, and Americans for the Truth (About Homosexuality) are this country's biggest purveyors of lies and misinformation about the so-called "gay agenda." All of these groups are associated with Christian fundamentalism, and all inform the conservative cause.

If I had to fault the gay community for something, it would be for the black-and-white mindset against organized religion in general, and Christian fundamentalism in particular, that I see displayed by many of its members. To blindly accuse mainstream Christianity of every evil under the sun is to insult the black community whose very survival relied upon its faith in Christian principles.

And if I had to fault the black community with something, it would be for the same thing that I fault the white evangelical community with: believing that Christian principles and Christian dogma are one and the same. The Bible was written by men; therefore, it is fallible. Love, faith, courage, honesty, and humility are Christian principles. Equating homosexuality per se with immorality is Christian dogma.

Chitown Kev | April 1, 2009 10:49 AM

Good post.

I am reading a study now that shows that 52% of African American LGBTs are highly or somewhat influenced by their church.

To hear the understandable vitriol in the gay community against the Christian Church probably turns black LGBTs off!

Just the Facts | April 1, 2009 8:35 AM

Bil - Get to know Cincinnati NAACP president Chris Smitherman better via this clip from the same radio broadcast you posted above:

Cincinnati NAACP president threatens Mayor Mark Mallory - WBDZ, 3/28/09

For easier access, why not embed a screen view below the clip in your article?

Bill Bliss | April 1, 2009 9:10 PM

I would be very interested to hear Baynard Rustin's answer to the question "Where was the LGBT community" in the fight for racial equality. I know where Baynard Rustin, a gay man arrested on "morals charges" (code for being gay) was. He was at the right hand of Dr. King, as one of Dr. King's closest friends and most trusted advisors. Even after Dr. King distanced himself from Ruskin at the behest of other members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, when asked to return to organize the 1963 March on Washington, Rustin did so without hesitation. Fittingly enough, it was Roy Wilkins of the NAACP was vocally opposed to Dr. King's appointment of Rustin to spearhead that monumental event.

So you ask where we have been? We've been here. We've been fighting discrimination in all it's forms -- side by side, and arm in arm with you -- even when you did not know who and what we are.

I just went and looked at the old post and I was surprised to see it had so many comments. 11? That's like at least 110 on the site nowadays.

This guy has a point - white gay activists tend to think of "allies" and "coalitional politics" as "Support me on marriage and I'll vote your way on another issue." And then when that other issue comes up, well, there's always 800 excuses.

With people like Andrew Sullivan and Dan Savage in places of high prominence in the community, I don't wonder why they get the impression that white gays just don't get it when it comes to race. Especially after the fiasco known as the no on 8 campaign.

down2earth210 | June 18, 2009 11:56 PM

FINALLY someone got it right:

"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?"

This is how you talk about race and sexual discrimination. I'm so very tired of the equivocation that's been going on of late - when clearly there is a sad and tragic history of race in this country and that in itself is insulting.

I'm both black and gay and the "gay community" really needs to stop pushing this issue of "race" because there are some serious, serious challenges regarding race within the gay community itself, let alone the straight community. If gay people as a group want credibility with straight african-american communities, as a group they should at least try to attempt to address racism in its own communities.

Before you dig the mote out of your brother's eye, deal with the beam in yours first.