News: Repairing the Wall

Gay rights lobby focuses on hate crimes and hateful law

Jun 4, 2003 at 2:06 pm
Jymi Bolden

Board members of Stonewall Cincinnati are (L-R) Doreen Cudnik, Carol Lippmann, Victor Fabro, Laurence Wolf and John Schlagetter.

When an openly gay man believed a Cincinnati Police officer discriminated against him in handling his robbery complaint, he turned to Stonewall Cincinnati for help.

After the group's mediators got involved, the officer's superiors ordered him to receive counseling and placed a reprimand in his file.

"Stonewall is an organization that has a long history, so they've already done a lot of the anti-violence and anti-discrimination work," says Carol Lippmann, who joined Stonewall's board last winter.

Stonewall is restoring its focus on education and advocacy about issues facing the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) community, according to Lippmann, a para-legal who has worked as a mediator in misdemeanor and small claims cases.

Lippmann wants to reinvigorate the campaign against anti-gay violence by spreading the message that Stonewall helps victims of hate crimes.

"It's got to be a critical piece of Stonewall's mission," she says. "We can't help them if they don't report it."

The organization plans to issue periodic reports on the calls it receives, hate crimes reported to police and the work being done on them.

'Not true allies'

Stonewall is stepping up the visibility of its work to protect the gay community against violence and discrimination, partly in reaction to publicity about internal divisions over the civil rights boycott of Cincinnati.

"We lost board members back when the decision was made back in February 2002 to make that public statement with the Coalition for a Just Cincinnati (CJC)," says Doreen Cudnik, a Stonewall board member and the group's former executive director.

The organization never endorsed the complete list of boycott demands, according to Cudnik. But Stonewall board members said the group stood "in solidarity" with the CJC, causing a serious backlash within Stonewall (See Boycotting the Closet, issue of Feb. 28-March 6, 2002).

The group's current newsletter says Stonewall had hoped the show of solidarity would build bridges with African-American organizations.

"Stonewall had the best of intentions when it became associated with the boycott in February of 2002," the newsletter says. "At no time, though, did Stonewall intend or expect to be perceived as one of the chief proponents of the boycott, or to convey that we were in full agreement on all of the boycott demands."

The biggest reason for standing with the CJC leaders was to thank them for including GLBT issues in their demands, according to Cudnik. But that stance has cost Stonewall some of its political clout.

"The Stonewall PAC endorsement had diminished value in the eyes of candidates who would not or could not align themselves with the boycott," Cudnik says.

But perhaps even more painful has been the homophobic behavior of some boycott activists.

"Things happened that were very destructive and disturbing — flat-out, blatant gay-bashing that was happening on (the radio) and other public forums," Cudnik says.

Stonewall members were discouraged when some former boycott partners opposed including sexual orientation in the hate crimes ordinance recently passed by Cincinnati City Council, Cudnik says.

"To me, if you're about human rights, that seems like a no-brainer — it includes everyone," she says. "At what point do you say these aren't true allies?"

She refuses to name the individuals she accuses of homophobia. But a bulletin board on the CJC's Web site often includes anti-gay slurs.

Some people in the GLBT community support the boycott, but Stonewall has decided to use its limited resources on its main goal, Cudnik says.

"Nineteen months later, the focus on the boycott distracts Stonewall from achieving its primary mission — GLBT equality and inclusion through education, advocacy and outreach," the Stonewall newsletter says. "Further, our association with individuals or groups who are associated with dividing the city hurts the GLBT community's ability to repeal Cincinnati's anti-gay charter amendment, Article 12."

Repeal and rebuild
Stonewall is still a flagship advocacy group, according to John Schlagetter, an architect and Charterite candidate for city council. Recently elected to Stonewall's board, Schlagetter opposes further involvement in the boycott.

"I think we just need to go back to first principles," he says.

Schlagetter is looking at the group's by-laws in an effort to make Stonewall a high-performing organization.

"So we're focused on outcome and not procedures," he says.

Now 21 years old, Stonewall has had a significant impact in the past.

It was Stonewall that worked actively to get a human rights ordinance passed in Cincinnati in 1992.

"What Covington just passed, for instance, that got such fanfare and deservedly so, Cincinnati had in 1992," Cudnik says.

Of course, Stonewall's victory lasted only a year. Calling the new ordinance "special rights" for gays and lesbians, conservative groups convinced voters to pass a charter amendment barring ordinances that protect gays and lesbians from discrimination.

Now, 10 years later, Citizens to Restore Fairness is circulating petitions to put repeal of Article 12 of the city charter on the ballot. Why has it taken so long?

Cudnik says there was never any reluctance to put a repeal measure on the ballot, but rather a desire to examine the issue completely before taking that step.

"A lot of time, money and research went into when is the best time to have this on the ballot," she says.

Citizens to Restore Fairness spun off from the Stonewall Political Action Committee, according to Cudnik.

"It's an inevitability it will be on the ballot, and it may be on the ballot sooner than people expect it to be," she says.

Working for repeal could help revive Stonewall's political viability. Board member Victor P. Fabro says Stonewall has approximately 280 household and individual members and membership is on the rise. ©