As it looks for new leadership, the organization should look to its founding principles
Karla Rothan recently said she would retire as executive director of Stonewall Columbus, the announcement coming amid a tumultuous year for the organization, highlighted by the ongoing controversy surrounding a group of protesters who have come to be known as the Black Pride 4.
In some sense, this is a win for everyone who has been calling for some kind of accountability from the organization. It’s also sparked a discussion about what the actual purpose of an organization like Stonewall should be.
There is an overall feeling of hurt in the community stemming from the stance that the organization has taken as the BP4 case has developed. Stonewall is an organization founded on the resistance of police violence against queer bodies. As a community, we expect organizations such as Stonewall to step up to bat when queer people experience any kind of mistreatment — systemic or situational — and to stand with the individuals that are affected. We expect these organizations to be intersectional. We also expect them to be sensitive to the needs of our communities through advocacy and representation, as well as being the torchbearers leading the way toward understanding and justice for our communities.
If the overall position that Stonewall has taken in regards to the case doesn't uphold the expectations of the community it serves, one could ask if the organization is still viable. And does Stonewall need to re-evaluate its mission?
We have come to a point in queer history where we have to re-evaluate what it is that we stand for. In the 1980s and ’90s, the main focus was on AIDS treatment and prevention, as thousands of gay men died while government agencies refused to offer any kind help. In the 2000s, the main battles have been advocating for gay marriage and fighting laws that discriminate against LGBTQI people.
In this era, as it stands, we still have work to do on many fronts, and if we are not careful organizations such as Stonewall Columbus could become aging relics, or shadows of their former selves. We need organizations that are not afraid to stand strong in solidarity with the LGBTQI community in times of need. When these organizations do not show up for us, it is a slap in the face to the many people who see these places as catalysts for change.
We have to hold Stonewall accountable. As an organization with such a long history, it might need to revisit its original mission statement from time to time — especially with the fight for equality constantly changing.
As the search for the next executive director begins, Stonewall should keep this in mind. Otherwise it could risk becoming obsolete, or, worse yet, unworthy of our community’s support.