News: Stonewall Decides

Tuesday vote to decide fate of new leadership

 
Jymi Bolden


Mike McCleese and Heidi Bruins are among the new leaders working to expand Stonewall'smission.



Stonewall Cincinnati votes Tuesday on whether to oust three of its most active leaders.

The decision on whether to dump two co-chairs and one board member could rest on two questions: Is Stonewall a gay rights organization — or a human rights organization? Does change come from agitation — or from peacefully building consensus?

Inspired by the streets
Stonewall co-chairs Heidi Bruins and Roy Ford and board member Mike McCleese won election in September 2001 as part of a slate of 10 new board members. Stonewall consistently had openings on its 12-seat board and lacked younger, diverse leaders.

More so than the other new board members, Ford, McCleese and Bruins were energized by the social movement that followed the April 2001 uprising in Over-the-Rhine. From the rebellion emerged two new groups — the Coalition for a Just Cincinnati and Citizens Concerned for Justice — that joined the Black United Front in a boycott of downtown businesses.

McCleese, Ford and Bruins joined the board because they saw Stonewall as an organization that could bring gay people into the movement for social justice in Cincinnati.

They see a connection between the hate and oppression of gay people and other minorities and the wealth and power of Cincinnati's businesses and elite.

In the past year McCleese, Ford and Bruins have pushed Stonewall toward a more confrontational campaign for human rights, not just for the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people, Stonewall's traditional mission (see

 
Jymi Bolden


Mike McCleese and Heidi Bruins are among the new leaders working to expand Stonewall'smission.



Stonewall Cincinnati votes Tuesday on whether to oust three of its most active leaders.

The decision on whether to dump two co-chairs and one board member could rest on two questions: Is Stonewall a gay rights organization — or a human rights organization? Does change come from agitation — or from peacefully building consensus?

Inspired by the streets
Stonewall co-chairs Heidi Bruins and Roy Ford and board member Mike McCleese won election in September 2001 as part of a slate of 10 new board members. Stonewall consistently had openings on its 12-seat board and lacked younger, diverse leaders.

More so than the other new board members, Ford, McCleese and Bruins were energized by the social movement that followed the April 2001 uprising in Over-the-Rhine. From the rebellion emerged two new groups — the Coalition for a Just Cincinnati and Citizens Concerned for Justice — that joined the Black United Front in a boycott of downtown businesses.

McCleese, Ford and Bruins joined the board because they saw Stonewall as an organization that could bring gay people into the movement for social justice in Cincinnati.

They see a connection between the hate and oppression of gay people and other minorities and the wealth and power of Cincinnati's businesses and elite.

In the past year McCleese, Ford and Bruins have pushed Stonewall toward a more confrontational campaign for human rights, not just for the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people, Stonewall's traditional mission (see issue of Feb. 28-March 6).

Stonewall's 12-seat board endorsed some of the boycott's goals in March, but the trio pushed further, sometimes without the consent of the rest of the board:

· Ford spoke April 7 at the second March for Justice.

· McCleese and Ford distributed boycott leaflets bearing Stonewall's name during a July show by the MUSE Cincinnati Women's Choir at the Aronoff Center.

· Ford e-mailed Mayor Charlie Luken asking him to speak at the annual Gay Pride Weekend in July. Ford didn't notify the event organizer beforehand but did send copies of the e-mail, signed "a fucking concerned citizen," to other council members.

"I thought he handled that badly," says Bruins, a human resources manager for Procter and Gamble. "But he's an independent person and it's not up to me to censor or control him."

Ford and McCleese say Stonewall has already been boycotting the Cincinnati Convention Center for eight years because of Article 12 — the voter-approved city charter amendment keeping city council from passing laws to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination. So the leap to a downtown boycott is a short one and one that should apply to all groups, even gay and lesbian ones such as MUSE, they argue.

But other Stonewall members, such as attorney Scott Knox, say the trio has their history wrong. The purpose of the eight-year-old Stonewall campaign was to educate convention visitors about Article 12 — not to tell people to avoid Cincinnati.

Chris Seelbach, a board member who quit a few weeks ago, agrees.

"They have no clue about what the actual position was when it was established," says Seelbach, a University of Dayton law student.

McCleese, who owns a one-man landscaping business, and Ford, a briefs deputy at the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, don't apologize for their actions, including the leafleting at the MUSE event.

"I'm proud of that and would do it again," McCleese says.

This attitude as much as anything is driving some members to demand the trio's removal. A few months ago member Sam Robinson put up a Web page and began circulating a petition to remove McCleese, Ford and Bruins.

Stonewall bylaws allow a vote to remove a board member if 10 percent of members sign a recall petition. If two-thirds vote yes, the board members are gone. Robinson, Seelbach and others submitted a petition at a contentious July 9 board meeting. The recall vote is from 6:30-7 p.m. Tuesday at St. John's Unitarian Church in Clifton.

Politeness instead of justice
Robinson's Web site, which began anonymously, now includes his name and testimonials from people criticizing Bruins, Ford and McCleese. The Web site says Stonewall membership had decreased by May to about half of the 250 members it had in November and the organization's treasury had dropped from $27,000 to $6,000 in one year.

But an individual former member contributed most of the $27,000 Stonewall used to have, Bruins says.

The organization's troubles began before McCleese, Ford and Bruins joined the board. Stonewall cut its two paid positions, executive director and assistant director, in summer 2001 after years of lackluster fund raising.

The petitioners blame the trio for a continuing decline in the organization and for damaging relationships with other GLBT groups, such as MUSE. The Web site blames Bruins for not controlling the behavior of Ford and McCleese.

"I think there are a lot of people in the Cincinnati community who believe that politeness is more important than justice," Bruins says.

McCleese says the petitioners' Web site is full of false and exaggerated statements. It's a hateful attempt to silence alternative viewpoints and grassroots activism, he says.

"And I mean a hateful attempt," McCleese says.

The petitioners are part of Stonewall's old guard of white males who really don't want things to change in Cincinnati, according to Ford. He refuses to respond to the seven complaints lodged against him by the petitioners.

"If there's people who have nothing better to do than something like this, I'm sorry," he says.

Some of the petitioners say they aren't necessarily against broader civil rights work. But, they argue, first Stonewall needs to take care of its basic mission — GLBT rights.

"The gay community is saying, 'Hello! We were never asked if we wanted to join the boycott,' " Seelbach says.

Seelbach agrees change is needed, but not the way it has happened.

"Stonewall has some big issues to deal with," he says. "They were perceived as being the white male club. We went from 0 to 100. We need to find some middle ground where everyone feels welcome."

Jan Scholler, a computer operator for a local bank, describes himself as the most neutral board member. Since joining the board in April 2001 he has watched the disputes unfold. Scholler says he'll wait for the Sept. 10 vote and work with whoever is left. The trio did overstep their authority in some areas, he says.

"They're pressing their agenda very strongly," Scholler says.

Scholler says he thinks the disputes are mostly ideological but also that some of the people don't like each other.

The contentious Ford offers an observation with which all Stonewall members can probably agree.

"As long as we're fighting among ourselves, the status quo continues," he says. ©

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