Radical Street Fairies

Buy Michael McCleese, Roy Ford and Heidi Bruins a drink this weekend if you see them joined together in a chorus of "I Will Survive" at The Dock. The Stonewall Cincinnati board members have informed

Jul 11, 2002 at 2:06 pm

Buy Michael McCleese, Roy Ford and Heidi Bruins a drink this weekend if you see them joined together in a chorus of "I Will Survive" at The Dock. The Stonewall Cincinnati board members have informed the organization that, in action and deed, its mission is off-track, dated and divisive.

They've been picketing, circulating e-mails to Cincinnati City Council members and screaming and yelling under the auspices of Stonewall, a 20-year-old human rights organization whose work is couched in gay and lesbian issues and rights such as the repeal of Article 12.

Now the trio will more than likely be ousted via petitions supported by Doreen Cudnik, Stonewall's once-beleaguered executive director and now disgruntled board member. Cudnik and others think the three's actions do more harm than good.

McCleese and co-chairs Ford and Bruins broke ranks with the Stonewall board to out themselves as supporters of the civil rights boycott of Cincinnati, which has earned them scarlet letters. By the time you read this, they might be nothing but memories.

Stonewall is as splintered as the city that bore it. Within its ranks are conservative, privileged and high-post white men; politically correct white lesbians; a sprinkling of loud-mouthed and perennially disenfranchised black lesbians; and a host of miscellaneous hardcore activists.

Its mission says it's a human rights organization.

Well, then, be about it. The infighting that's reached outdoor proportions keeps Stonewall from some of the most significant work this city has to do.

First, put your collective shoulders toward repealing Article 12 of the city's charter, which bans laws that would protect folks from being discriminated against based on their sexual orientation. Nine years ago, when Article 12 appeared on the city ballot as Issue 3, Stonewall and like-minded supporters were everywhere. Except for petty character assassinations against one another, we've not heard much from Stonewall since.

Secondly, as a board, get on board in support of the boycott. Endorsing it when things in Cincinnati are at their toughest makes the sacrifice — and any victories — greater. Several Stonewall members are directly affiliated with some of the largest corporations in this area, and the boycott threatens to thin their pockets.

So how can you be a dues-paying member of a group working for human rights while separating yourself from fundamental human rights? I'll tell you how.

Your (in)fight is about class, not humanity. Change your mission or change your ways.

Lastly, mend fences. I know how Negroes can be. I know there are black activists — like the Cincinnati Black United Front — who want nothing to do with you or your "causes." Some people think they can become gay by association and that homosexuality is an abomination trumping human rights. That might not be a group worth aligning with.

Citizens for a Just Cincinnati, however, might be. Oops! They've been instrumental in the boycott, so you'd have to get your hands dirty with a human rights issue.

In turn, they'll probably return the favor and help you repeal Article 12. See how that works?

Many gay and lesbian groups share schizophrenia with society-at-large. They demand exclusion through separate but equal flamboyance, yet they crave inclusion once they've acquired hetero keepsakes (i.e., property, portfolios, big-money jobs and, yes, kids). In the realm of grassroots activism, though, there's little room for such schizophrenia.

Don't believe the hype! You can't have it all, especially when, within your own ranks, you can't wrestle solidarity to the ground.

It's a political ploy to think that Stonewall's loud-mouthed rebels leveled irreparable damage and alienated the group from City Hall by attaching Stonewall's name to actions not fully board-sanctioned. It's both sides against the middle playing on the already fragile and fractured self-image of gays and lesbians in a city that's intolerant and homophobic.

The straight suits are counting on your implosion, so drop the melodrama. Truth is, Stonewall Cincinnati was fledgling, indecisive and in financial straits before McCleese, Bruins and Ford decided to out the board as activists.

Ironically, during her tenure Cudnik was criticized for her lack of leadership and lackluster fund-raising. She was removed as director after her paid staff position was eliminated last August, so she knows how it feels to be man-handled and is now the head man-handler.

Hopefully in all this Stonewall will see itself for what it is — a bickering, intolerant and class-conscious group immune and abrasive to criticism, change and dissention. On second thought, they fit right in here in Cincinnati.

Hear Kathy's commentaries on National Public Radio's All Things Considered.