People like Phil Burress must live in an alternate reality, full of strange fears and repressed desires, while ignoring the true dangers all around them like soaring unemployment, families that struggle to put food on the table and politicians beholden to corporate interests.
Burress, who is president of the anti-gay, anti-pornography, anti-anything-different Citizens for Community Values (CCV), spent the election season trying to woo voters in Bowling Green, Ohio, to repeal the city’s two human rights ordinances.
His big fear? Men in dresses. I’m not kidding.
CCV waged a campaign that sought to overturn two ordinances approved by Bowling Green City Council in 2009. The ordinances were designed to protect gay, lesbian and transgendered people from discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations and public education based on their sexual orientation or their gender identity.
Incidentally, they also protected people from discrimination based on other factors like military service, pregnancy, HIV status and more.
If you listened to CCV, allowing the laws to remain on the books would lead to a likely apocalypse for the small college town in northwestern Ohio. We’re talking frogs raining from the heavens, dogs and cats sleeping together — or at least awkward moments in the bathroom.
In an “action alert” e-mailed to supporters in October, Burress alleged the laws were the result of “homosexual activists once again wanting SPECIAL RIGHTS” (sic). He then describes an “example of what could happen.”
Burress writes: “You and your young daughter, planning for her first day of school, go to the mall to look for clothes. While there, your daughter leaves you to go to the restroom. After just a few moments, she comes back with a frightened look on her face and wants to leave quickly. It is obvious she is very distressed. As a concerned parent, you try to comfort your child, seeking to calm her distress while trying to learn its cause … you are caught speechless and bewildered by her reply: ‘Mama, there were men in the girls (sic) bathroom wearing dresses!’ ”
Despite the ludicrous example, CCV also mailed pamphlets to residents’ homes wrongfully alleging the ordinances would make it legal for would-be predators to enter women’s bathrooms and prey on women and children. As the ACLU of Ohio noted, criminal laws prohibit such predatory behavior but facts have never mattered much to CCV in the dogged pursuit of its goals.
Although Samuel Johnson famously said in 1775, “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel,” surely that should be changed nowadays to “fear.” Scare tactics were the favored political tactic during the past year.
Thankfully, a grassroots group — ONE Bowling Green — actively campaigned against repeal.
With the final votes now tallied, both ordinances were upheld. The fair housing portion was approved 52.67 percent in favor to 47.33 percent opposed, while the anti-discrimination portion was approved 51.65 percent to 48.35 percent.
“This marks an important victory for Bowling Green, where voters have affirmed that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are part of the fundamental social fabric of the city,” said Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. “In affirming fairness, voters also rejected a reprehensible campaign grounded in lies and fear-mongering.”
CCV’s latest defeat follows an unsuccessful effort in 2006 to revive Article 12 of Cincinnati’s charter. The amendment, approved by voters at CCV’s urging in 1993, prevented city officials from passing any laws aimed at protecting gay and lesbian people from discrimination. It was overturned by voters in 2004 — a true symbol of attitudes changing over time. When CCV tried to put it back on the ballot two years later, they couldn’t even get enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot.
And then there’s the whole question about how the group spends its money.
Last week CCV sent another mass e-mail to supporters, this time asking for donations to avoid a $150,000 deficit next year, which is close to what Burress makes in salary. The e-mail stated the group was ready to “jump into 2011 with both feet!”
It continued, “Of course, we felt the financial strain of 2010, like many of you, and faced the reality of a $150,000 shortfall in our budget.”
The group’s most recent paperwork filed with the Internal Revenue Service to keep its tax-exempt status, filed in 2008, reveals CCV paid $268,181 in salaries and other compensation to its three employees that year. Of that amount, $110,558 was paid in salary to Burress, who also received $7,265 in “other compensation,” which typically means reimbursement for travel expenses or the cost of benefits. That equates to Burress getting $334.72 each day.
Burress continues to get a pay bump from CCV in most years. For example, his 2008 salary is $22,977 more than what he was paid in 2002, $87,581.
By 2006, that had jumped to $107,575; and jumped again to $111,905 in 2007.
Pretty good work, if you can get it.
Also in 2008, David Miller, CCV’s vice president of public policy, got $67,460 in salary and $9,312 in other compensation; Jerry Lyon, vice president of operations, got $65,632 in salary and $7,954 in other compensation.
It was during that same year — 2008 — that CCV paid the Rev. Charlie Winburn to meet with area clergy and businesspeople to garner support for an unsuccessful campaign targeting adult services advertisements in CityBeat’s print edition and on our Web site. As part of the effort, CCV paid Winburn to take a trip to Florida for “research.”
Beginning in December 2009, Miller also works at City Hall as chief of staff for Winburn, who won election that year to Cincinnati City Council.
Besides the compensation for the three employees, CCV also paid $4,800 in rent to Board Member Roger Weaver, who owns the Sharonville office building used by the group.
CCV’s tax documents show the group received $1.4 million in contributions in 2004; $1.2 million in 2005; $1.6 million in 2006; about $745,000 in 2007; and $1.2 million in 2008.
There’s more bad news for CCV. Two groups that it’s affiliated with, the Family Research Council and American Family Association, were just listed as “hate groups” by the Southern Poverty Law Center. That’s the well-respected organization credited with bankrupting the Ku Klux Klan and leading on other landmark civil rights cases.
The designations were based “on their propagation of known falsehoods — claims about LGBT people that have been thoroughly discredited by scientific authorities — and repeated, groundless name-calling,” the center said. “Viewing homosexuality as unbiblical does not qualify organizations for listing as hate groups.”
As CCV has teamed up with both groups in the past, it might not be long before it, too, receives the shameful classification.
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