Pink, white and light blue striped flag, the trans flag

In light of TransOhio’s recent decision to sever all ties with Stonewall Columbus (SWC), I would like to add a few comments.

And while I was not part of SWC’s executive leadership or a member of their Board... I was obviously close enough to that organization to see very intimately all of the events that happened before and after Pride 2017 and the brutal mistreatment of the Black Pride 4 AND the lack of a meaningful, apologetic response that still, after 2 years, was the impetus for TransOhio’s departure from a relationship with SWC. And kudos to them. It’s about time. And other Columbus LGBTQ organizations should gather up their courage and follow suit and cut off ties with SWC.

There is a very simple reason that SWC has become irrelevant and part of the problem instead of a solution to the intolerable treatment of our trans community and particularly our transPOC community...

Pride. Not the celebration. But the state of being enamored by one’s own opinion of the self/itself. “pride” lowercase.

It is the inability to admit wrong. The lack of capacity to hold one’s self accountable for bad decisions or bad choices. It is holding onto your privilege and belief that you are superior to others. Even members of your own community.

Stonewall Columbus excels at this. And always has.

Karla Rothan set the gold standard for this. While there was indeed some charm there, arrogance, haughtiness and dismissal of those of whom she saw below her station, rendered Stonewall an organization that put up barriers to minority and trans inclusion. And while this may have not been purposely intentional, her disgust with others who were on a spectrum of gender identity other than her own and her general ignorance about issues of race and class packed a powerful punch to shut down diversity within SWC, its programming and the Pride celebration.

And it carries on today. It is an SWC tradition.

In 2016, I was at a “cultural competency” seminar at SWC presented for its own employees. It had happened that some of the staff was still not paying proper attention to the use of proper “pronouns” in regards to the interactions that the staff was having with members of the trans/non-binary community (even in 2016!) There had been complaints. Two of the older staff members refused to attend (actually the two people for which the seminar had been designed). Karla allowed this and did not make the seminar mandatory for staff.

This was 2016.

And so yes.... Pride 2017 happened. And the Black Pride 4 stepped into the street embracing a long history and tradition of protest within our community. And you know what happened then. And I was complicit in this also. And I have made my apologies (and I will continue to do so) and will seek the right path with these issues as I also continue to learn and evolve.

Many people now have moved on. This is ancient history... right?! Forget about it and let’s just go hand-in-hand and proceed forward. That’s the new SWC line. Since then, many queer/trans/non-binary, white and POC people have rushed back to SWC’s side upon announcement of the new Executive Director, AJ Casey.

And indeed, even some of our own trans/queer POC community members, some of the most outspoken against SWC have performed at and even run the stages of SWC Pride for the last two years... being complicit in promoting SWC consequently as a safe, queer community organization and Pride as an inclusive event. Others have participated in art shows and SWC events, never once looking back or truly holding SWC’s new leadership accountable.

And our local, supposedly progressive “reconciling ministry” churches have marched in the last two Pride parades and collaborated with SWC for events without ever a mention publicly of the events of 2017.

And most members of the 2017 Pride Committee that resigned after the event, have returned for the last two years, stating that a change was coming. But again... no demand for accountability for 2017. And a new “trans march” that included Columbus Police Department presence. By its actions, TransOhio has now said that complicity with this organization is no longer acceptable. People, take heed. They are correct.

Now... onto AJ Casey.

I do not know her personally. But during her “100 Days of Listening,” I reached out to get a meeting, so I could better understand her mission for Stonewall and the ways in which she intended to right the wrongs that Stonewall had committed against this community.

I never got a response.

And no doubt, because... in my letter, I stated that I did not approve of her appointment as Executive Director of SWC... but I was so willing to hear her out and change my opinion if her vision for this organization was truly inclusive

No response.

My first encounter with AJ Casey was at the first Black Queer and Intersectional Collective (BQIC) Community Conversation that happened at St. Stephen’s Church after they had shut down the Stonewall Community Conversation that had happened a month before.

After Wriply Bennet had opened the proceedings, AJ Casey stepped up to the public mic. She told the story of how her parents had been civil rights pioneers. And as the moments ticked on, she basically negated the radical way in which the Black Pride 4 had protested and disagreed with their position against Stonewall and how they had handled the situation.

Wripley asked her to stop talking. But she wouldn’t.

Eventually Wripley pulled the mic from her and shut her down. But she wouldn’t leave. She just stood up there while the rest of the conversation continued.

Now I realize, she was campaigning for SWC Executive Director even then.

It was the most disrespectful, tone-deaf performance I have ever seen in local activism. And it was full of... yea... you guessed it... pride. Pride as a weapon. pride as political opportunism.

So after a very non-transparent, NATIONAL search (according to SWC) AJ Casey was chosen as the new SWC Executive Director. With no history of queer activism (as far as her resume stated) or connection with the trans/non-binary community. But her resume did state that she was a successful fundraiser, philanthropist and a certified “life coach” JUST what SWC needed. She was an employee of the “Benefactor Group,” the business that helped SWC raise the money for the new community center. THAT is how she came to Stonewall Columbus.

And more importantly, she is “friends” with many of the people that hope to keep SWC’s status quo... Letha Pugh, Mary B. Relloto and others who find an economic, political and social benefit to keeping Stonewall just as it is. And she would also insure that Karla Rothan and Linda Schuler could still be a very powerful voice within SWC. Another candidate that had come from outside of Columbus might not have had these nepotistic connections and might have insured that Stonewall take a truly new path.

I proposed Dr. Tayo Clyburn (edited from prior misspelling, my apologies) as ED. A trans person of color. Not sure why that didn’t happen. But would like to know why. Maybe Dr. Clyburn didn’t want the appointment. That is understandable. But if the hiring process had been transparent, we, as a community would know the reason.

So yes... life goes on. I, myself have put Stonewall way behind me... but on days like this, where an organization stands up and says... no.... we will not forget. I have to get behind them. True activism is often about... remembering with power and intention.

And it is time for every SWC and Pride sponsor, donor, community collaborator (especially LGBTQ organizations) volunteer and staff members to take another look. TransOhio has set the bar. Complicity is no longer acceptable.

SWC ... all you had to say was, “We’re sorry.”

That shiny new community center where no community now gathers... should be turned into a food bank or a senior center.

Something besides a building the embodies the destructive nature of...pride.

How ironic.

~ Lori Gum

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