Howell recounts history of DC battle over Big Brothers
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Howell recounts history of DC battle over Big Brothers

The Washington Blade
Readers Forum
August 16, 2002

National Big Brothers flap mirrors battle locally

To the Editor:

The Blade story about the religious right's fury against the national non-discrimination policy of the Big Brothers Big Sisters ("Big Brothers denounced for accepting gay mentors," news, July 26) brings back memories of our own community's long and often bitter struggle with the local chapter of Big Brothers over its former policy of excluding gay men as participants. (Our local Big Sisters chapter, in contrast, never had such an obnoxious policy against lesbians.)

The homophobia of the Big Brothers of the National Capital Area (BBNCA) first surfaced in the mid-1970s, when they fired one of their volunteer workers, an openly gay man named Ricky St. Clair, solely and expressly because of his sexual orientation.

A complaint was immediately filed with the D.C. Office of Human Rights as one of the first tests of what was then known as Title 34, now better known as the D.C. Human Rights Act of 1977. To his own discredit and that of his boss, Mayor Walter Washington, then-OHR Director James Baldwin ruled that BBNCA had a right to exclude gay workers who were volunteers.

The case became a cause celebre in our community, with the protests led by what was then known as the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA), today's GLAA. Another 10 years would pass before another complaint was filed, the one that would ultimately lead to a 180-degree reversal by BBNCA.

In 1989, OHR ruled that BBNCA was not exempt from the D.C. Human Rights Law after all. Rather than continue the struggle in court, and realizing the damage their homophobia was doing to their public image, the BBNCA board of directors threw in the towel and instituted the non-discrimination policy that has persisted down to the present day leaving it to the judgment of each parent or guardian whether to accept a gay volunteer as a Big Brother for their boy.

This policy has proven a complete success here and throughout the country, with few if any complaints from parents, Little Brothers, or gay volunteers and workers.

The screams now being engineered by Focus on the Family and similar hate groups against Big Brothers Big Sisters is yet another sign of their diminishing power. Indeed, the New York Times article on the 25th anniversary of Focus on the Family included quotes from founder James Dobson and others that they are losing the Culture Wars. May their tribe decrease!



This article appeared in the issue of:
August 16, 2002
Copyright 2002 The Washington Blade Inc.

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