Sunday, March 22, 2009

On Chris Finney

The Beacon has posted a bit on the Cincinnati NAACP's recent decision to hire Chris Finney as the Chair of Legal Redress. It's an interesting read, even if you aren't familiar with Chris Finney. And, truth be told, I had no idea who he was until yesterday when someone mentioned him in passing in conversation.

Update: the Cincinnati Blog also calls out the move as the "they [the NAACP] must believe Civil Rights no longer matter."

It's amazing how things like this come together.

There are two central points to the Beacon article:

1) Chris Finney has a long history of being a conservative activist and attempted to make sure that hate crime laws in Cincinnati did not cover sexual orientation. More importantly, he was one of the authors and main supporters of Issue 3 here in town -- "Issue 3," btw, became the infamous Article XII that specifically barred protections for LGBT Cincinnatians.

2) The NAACP, though the national organization's board is support of the LGBT community, and the local President (Chris Smitherman) has been supportive in the past, is making a very strange decision here.

And it is a strange choice.

Mr. Finney is no stranger to the news, though, a simple Google search brings up a host of news articles and blog postings -- everything to coverage of an outburst Finney had during a Pepper news conference to a Business Courier article on his mean-spirited tactics in campaigns to not supporting the repeal of Article XII in 2004 to his involvement in banning red light cameras in both Toledo and Cincinnati (and, in his defense, his defense of a woman who was trying to seek visitation rights from her ex-husband). In short, the man is a conservative firebrand, it seems, who does not shy away from the public spotlight. (Not unlike us bloggers, sometimes :-) -- I'll own up to it, at least.)

So, why would the NAACP -- a more progressive organization -- hire Finney to represent them? Finney just led the NAACP lawsuit against the City of Cincinnati over the powers of the City Manager. The relationship appears to have begun over the red light camera bits, with Finney working with COAST (Coalition to Oppose Additional Spending and Taxes), which is the earliest connection I could find.

I mean, I think there is a valid point that Smitherman brought up after his failed re-election bid:

That leads him to the biggest disappointment of his re-election campaign: the failure of the gay white community to return the favor. Smitherman says he traded a lot of political capital to support the repeal of Article 12, an unpopular issue with his African-American base.

But he hasn’t seen the gay community support Roger Owensby Sr.’s campaign to get justice for his son, an unarmed man who died in police custody in 2000. Nor did they lend meaningful support to his re-election campaign, Smitherman says.

“When the repeal of Article 12 happened (they said) ‘We need to be on the Buzz (WDBZ, 1230 AM), we need to be on WCIN, we need to be on 1320, we need to be at every church everywhere,’ so we know that you know where the churches are, we know that you know where the radio stations are,” Smitherman says. “But when one of their biggest advocates is up for re-election and then they’re reading The Enquirer—that maligned their community, that doesn’t support them—and then you believe what you read in The Enquirer about me, there’s something sick about you.”

He says the gay community must address racism within its ranks, which contributes to a rift with the African-American community.

“They, meaning the gay community, take no responsibility for that disconnection,” Smitherman says. “They just say, ‘The black community is homophobic,’ not ‘We’re just adding to the broken relationship by taking and not giving.’ “

He concedes that racism can flow both—many—ways.
True -- racism within the gay community is something that I think we should look at very specifically. And, yes, I think there is some valid point to be made that, though we ask for a lot of support for gay issues, we don't necessarily step up for them when they need it.

However, with the national NAACP, there is a growing support of LGBT issues, as evidenced by this video by Chairman Julian Bond supporting the NO on 8 movement:

And this even more recent message to the HRC stating that gay rights are civil rights:

Appropriately, it would be good to remember that it works the other way (gay rights are civil rights; but, perhaps as importantly, civil rights include gay rights).


Back to Chris Finney.

I think this is turning out to be one of those, "I'm not sayin' anything, I'm just sayin'" posts. Except for two points for me:

1) Why Chris Finney? Though the thought seems to be that a) he's won some court cases for them (and may, in fact, be a good lawyer... and some indications sound like he watches politics pretty closely), and b) it appeals to the conservative nature of the city and the body politic. But, considering his history and the overwhleming progressive nature of the national organization, it seems like a surprising move.

2) We, as the homosexuals of the world, should start addressing some of our own issues. This includes racism, but also includes transphobia, sexism, classism, our own health, and a multitude of other issues. Smitherman was not wrong to point it out. (But the reverse is not wrong, either... that there is homophobia in the black community... but that's not my issue to deal with internally except with the love and tolerance it takes to open someone's mind.)

Anyways, that's all I'm sayin'. But who knows, I'm rarely right about these things.

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