Working Together, We Shall Overcome

Have you ever stopped to notice that Cincinnati seems to grab the national spotlight for all the worst reasons? The Who tragedy, Dennis Barry and the Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit at the Contemporary

May 3, 2001 at 2:06 pm

Have you ever stopped to notice that Cincinnati seems to grab the national spotlight for all the worst reasons? The Who tragedy, Dennis Barry and the Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit at the Contemporary Arts Center, the national scandal over the performance of the play Poor Superman at Ensemble Theater, the ongoing fight to remove Issue 3 from the city's books and teen drug use depicted in the Academy Award-winning film Traffic.

The list received its latest addition with the shooting of Timothy Thomas and ensuing riots and protests. As a city with a reputation for being an extremely conservative, family town, you'd think that, like a dysfunctional family, the city would be especially good at keeping its secrets hidden within its beautifully manicured suburbs. And at times it is.

But then there are the completely unacceptable moments — moments that make you wonder if you're living in 2001 or 1961 — which remind us that the narrow-minded, bigoted, hateful underside of the city regularly rears its ugly head. Though I consider myself to be a news hound, it's at times like these that I find it most difficult to follow the news from my hometown.

In June, it will have been three years since I moved from Cincinnati to New York City. And even now, though it outrages me, I'm not surprised when I hear that Cincinnati's small-town values are grabbing headlines again.

In a story from April 25, Cincinnati Enquirer reporter Andrea Tortora said, "Cincinnati has been sort of a city in denial about race relations. It's very proud of its conservative Midwest values, but it was always on the dividing line.

In the days of segregation, if a black person went to the train station and went south, he had to sit in a black-only car. If he was headed north, he could sit anywhere he wanted." When the reporter asked Tortora how bad the rioting was in terms of the city's history, she replied, "It's pretty bad, the worst it's been since the race riots in 1968 after Martin Luther King was here."

An April 19 editorial in The Enquirer proclaimed, "Most of all, that shot sounded a wake-up alarm that warned it is time for Cincinnati to change."

How many more incidents like this will it take for the city's leaders and mainstream media to stop kidding themselves? The call for change has been ringing in Cincinnati for as long as I can remember. Unfortunately, those of us who have been answering have been met with incredible resistance when trying to effect change. Thankfully, unlike some of us who got fed up and left, there are still plenty of dedicated folks who remain.

A group of individuals from Cincinnati's gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, including representatives from organizations such as People of All Colors Together, Stonewall Cincinnati, Queen City Careers Association, Crossport and GLSEN, among others, came together to issue a joint statement. The statement expresses pain and outrage over the events surrounding Thomas' death and the systemic racism in city that led to these events.

According to the coalition, the impetus for this statement was a meeting of the group working to bring the Out & Equal Workplace Issues Conference, the preeminent national conference on workplace issues for the LGBT community, to Cincinnati in October. In conjunction with bringing the conference to the region, the local Out & Equal organizing committee, together with the National Association of Black and White Men Together (NABWMT), will host a workshop at Mt. Auburn Presbyterian Church on May 5 entitled "Intersection of Racism and Homophobia" (see "CityLights" on page 16 for details).

Nat Martin, one of the workshop's co-facilitators, summarized the workshop by stating, "In the NABWMT we believe that all forms of social injustice are linked. Like bricks in a wall, they serve to hold each other in place. Rather than attempting to remove one brick alone, we advocate work that ultimately seeks to deconstruct the entire wall. This workshop is designed to empower us to do that kind of work."

Martin Luther King Jr. said, not so long ago, "Our freedom was not won a century ago, it is not won today, but some small part of it is in our hands, and we are marching no longer by ones and twos but in legions of thousands, convinced now it cannot be denied by any human force."

Though I am no longer physically there, I am with you in spirit and word, fighting for our rights. And as the song goes, we shall overcome.

contact ERIC HUNTER: [email protected]