Who 'Evoked' First?

Apr 1, 2009 at 4:22 pm

In defending his selection of an anti-gay rights activist to become the Cincinnati NAACP’s legal advisor, Christopher Smitherman scolded critics for daring to invoke the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.—-

Speaking on his WDBZ (AM 1230) radio show last weekend, Smitherman addressed the local LGBT community. He criticized them for mentioning King when discussing their own civil rights struggles.

“But the bottom line is your community as it deals with racism in the African-American community, you’re not there,” Smitherman said. “You're absent. And then when it's convenient for you, you start evoking (sic) Dr. Martin Luther King. Proposition 8 lost in California because the (gay) community isn't properly engaging the African-American community. And you're showin' up at the last minute trying to build bridges and have relationships, and it doesn't work that way.”

A few Smitherman supporters also have rallied to his defense, stating it’s not fair or appropriate to compare the African-American community’s struggle for civil rights with the struggle by the LGBT community.


It was Smitherman himself who first mentioned King’s name and legacy in connection with gay rights.

When a coalition formed to repeal the anti-gay Article 12 in 2004, some conservative groups circulated campaign literature in the black community that implied King didn’t support gay rights and would have urged that Article 12 stay on the books. The tactic drew an angry rebuke from the King Center and the late Coretta Scott King, the reverend’s widow, who said that she and her husband supported gay rights.

Around the same time, on Oct. 24, 2004, then-Cincinnati City Councilman Christopher Smitherman had a letter to the editor published in The Cincinnati Enquirer. His letter quoted Mrs. King, then he personally urged the passage of Issue 3, which would overturn Article 12.

The letter stated: “Those who oppose the repeal have used Dr. King’s image to promote discrimination. Their actions are shameful and disrespect the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. On Nov. 2, we should all keep in mind the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mrs. Coretta Scott King, and vote ‘yes’ on 3.”

In 2004, at least, Smitherman believed it was acceptable to “keep in mind” King’s statements when thinking about gay rights. That was one year before his unsuccessful re-election bid to City Council, when he was courting gay and lesbian votes.

Less than five years later, Smitherman apparently has had a change of heart.

Smitherman has been embroiled in controversy since his selection of Christopher Finney as the local NAACP’s “chair of legal redress.” Finney wrote Article 12, a charter amendment passed by voters in 1993 that prohibited city officials from passing any laws that protected gays and lesbians from discrimination or hate crimes. It was repealed in 2004.

Some local LGBT activists have written and called the NAACP’s national office, asking leaders there to overturn Smitherman’s appointment.

Meanwhile, the dispute continues to garner national coverage. It was included in Tuesday’s “10 Random Thoughts,” by James Withers, a contributing editor, at the 365Gay Blog, which is operated by the Logo cable TV network.

Smitherman ranked number eight on the list.

Withers wrote, “Christopher Smitherman, the Cincinnati NAACP chapter president, warned gays and lesbians about consequences if people kept giving him grief about picking homophobe Chris Finney to be his group's legal advisor. Smitherman, you are no Michael Corleone. Keep the empty threats to yourself. Really.”