Will Stonewall Pull Together or Keep Fighting?

Can Stonewall Cincinnati find the stability to effect change in the wake of a second upheaval of its board? At a Sept. 10 meeting, Stonewall members voted 70-29 to remove co-chairs Roy Ford and Hei

Sep 19, 2002 at 2:06 pm

Can Stonewall Cincinnati find the stability to effect change in the wake of a second upheaval of its board?

At a Sept. 10 meeting, Stonewall members voted 70-29 to remove co-chairs Roy Ford and Heidi Bruins and board member Mike McCleese. The three came on board in September 2001 in a contentious shake-up of the Stonewall hierarchy. Their subsequent actions caused strife in the organization (see "Stonewall Decides," issue of Sept. 5-11).

The ousted leaders say their removal will slow efforts to repeal Article 12 of the city charter (better known as Issue 3), which legalizes discrimination against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender (LGBT) persons.

"I think it was a very sad day for the LGBT community," McCleese says. "I think that the people who voted us off the board think it's more important to embrace status quo Cincinnati than it is to work for social justice and especially the appeal of Article 12."

The remaining members of the board appear to be moving toward a more cohesive approach to serving its cause, according to a statement released after the vote.

"The board of Stonewall, with input from our members, will set our own agenda, determine which tactics work best in accordance with our mission and history and act in good faith with other organizations with whom we have built solid relationships over our 20-year history," the statement says.

McCleese says the ouster means Stonewall stands alone.

"I think the people who did this and organized this gang bang, which is really what it felt like — a public tarring and feathering — what they have sent is a clear message that Stonewall Cincinnati is not interested in building bridges within the civil rights movement," McCleese says.

Ford is saddened but not surprised by the outcome.

"Unfortunately the powers-that-be have spoken and they want to lead a quiet campaign to repeal Issue 3," he says.

The change in leadership is a step back, McCleese says.

"For years, Stonewall has had a reputation for striving to be status quo and I think that African-American, Appalachian and working class people have long believed there was no place for them at Stonewall and last Tuesday's vote proved it," he says.

Board member Dianna Brewer opposed the petition calling for removal of Ford, Bruins and McCleese.

"I was against the petition because of the way it was worded," she says. "There needed to be changes on the board. Everybody knew that. To lump three people together was wrong."

Sam Robinson was among Stonewall members pushing for the trio's removal. In addition to a Web site he created criticizing the threesome (which, he says, was intended for Stonewall only), he circulated a petition for their removal.

"I always said that Roy, Heidi and Mike always had the best intentions," Robinson says. "They really did. I believe that. Despite those intentions, their actions weren't reflective of the wishes of the community. That was clear."

Stonewall isn't hurrying to replace Ford and Bruins. At a meeting Tuesday, the board will appoint two interim co-chairs, according to board member Doreen Cudnik.

"The process has begun and I think we'll be fulfilling positions relatively soon," she says. "There's no reason to rush into decisions. You always want to have dialogue with your members and involve them in the decision-making process. We're not in a big rush to put people on board."

But Stonewall is seeking a speedy recovery.

"Whatever side of the issue people found themselves on, it's important for the community to move on and it's important for Stonewall as an organization to move forward," Cudnik says.

Ford plans to keep working with the Coalition for a Just Cincinnati on the civil rights boycott of the city. McCleese, however, is stepping away from activism, at least for now.

"I'm going to take a long vacation," he says. "It's been a very exhausting and humiliating experience."

Bruins could not be reached for comment.

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