Facing national criticism about his decision to appoint an anti-gay rights activist as a legal adviser, the president of the NAACP’s Cincinnati chapter issued a warning on his radio show this weekend.
Christopher Smitherman, the local NAACP president, talked about unspecified consequences if the gay and lesbian community continues pushing for the ouster of Chris Finney, who Smitherman recently appointed as the group’s “chair of legal redress.” He made the remarks on Smitherman on the Mic, a show he hosts Saturdays on WDBZ (AM 1230.)
“I think you should be very, very cautious LGBT community,” Smitherman said. “I think you should be very cautious moving forward. I don't think this is a tree you want to bark up. But if you want to go there, if this is what you want to do, we can go there.
“But the bottom line is your community as it deals with racism in the African-American community, you’re not there,” he continued. “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.”
Also, Smitherman challenged local gays and lesbians to participate in the NAACP’s upcoming rally at Cincinnati City Hall to protest the low amount of city contracts that are awarded to minority-owned businesses.
“So we're going to City Hall on April the 8th. We'll see if the LGBT community shows up in masses saying, ‘I'm standing with the Cincinnati NAACP demanding economic justice in this town.’ Or will they be quiet like they always are?” Smitherman said.
Smitherman has faced mounting criticism over his choice of the controversial Finney, who is perhaps best known as the person who wrote Article 12, a charter amendment passed by voters in 1993 that prohibited city officials from passing any laws that included sexual orientation as a protected class. It was repealed in 2004.
Among his past comments about Article 12, Finney once said that landlords shouldn’t be legally required to rent to gay or lesbian tenants if they didn’t want to do so, a remark that some critics compared to people who refused public accommodations or services to African Americans before the 1960s. Further, Finney has said restaurants shouldn’t be required to serve homosexual couples if other customers object.
Smitherman has said Finney shouldn’t be judged on one issue alone. He noted that Finney has been a loyal NAACP ally, and helped the group draft several ballot measures in the last few years.
In the last week, Finney’s appointment has been covered by 365gay.com, the news Web site of the Logo cable TV network, which is owned by CBS; and popular gay blogs like Towle Road, Lavender Newswire and LGBTN.
Critics believe Finney’s appointment is inconsistent with the sentiment expressed by Julian Bond, the national NAACP’s chairman, in a recent letter to California lawmakers urging the repeal of the anti-gay Proposition 8.
Bond wrote, “Proposition 8 subverts … basic and necessary safeguards, unjustly putting all Americans, particularly vulnerable minorities, at risk of discrimination by a majority show of hands.”
During his radio show, Smitherman repeated a sentiment he told CityBeat last week, stating, “Why in their minds do they believe that the Cincinnati NAACP needs to check in with them on an appointment to our board? And what would make them think that I would look out for anybody else's interests other than our membership's interests?”
Black gay men in Cincinnati are generally treated poorly by their white counterparts, Smitherman said.
“Now this doesn't mean that there aren't gay members of the Cincinnati NAACP because I can name some white brothers by the name, i.e. Victor Fabro, white male, gay, he's out, who's very supportive of the NAACP. He stands with us, he comes to marches,” Smitherman said.
“But he's not carrying the banner of the institution. The institution is quiet. And the only time ... and I'm supportive ... I've been supportive of these issues. Matter of fact, not in lock step with the African-American community. Now you write me having been absent and I've sent messages and told you to engage the African-American community differently.”
Cincinnati’s white gay community could begin healing the rift by purchasing a table at the chapter’s annual Freedom Dinner fund-raiser, the president said.
“I've never seen you at a Freedom Fund dinner,” Smitherman said. “We have a fund-raiser, matter of fact, we've had 54 of them. I've never seen you come in and buy a table. And I bet you if you did buy one, you were there because you wanted something. Like your issue was on the ballot and y'all were up against the wall and you wanted something.
“But you don't come and support our Freedom Fund dinner here in Cincinnati,” he added. “I don't know what goes on in New York. I don't know what goes on in Cleveland. I don't know what goes on in Alaska. I don't know what goes on in California … But I don't see the gay community showing up and supporting our institutions. So it's just beyond me that I'm getting all of these e-mails.”
Equality Cincinnati hasn’t yet issued a statement about Finney’s appointment.