The Louisville Fairness Campaign is joining a group of African-American LGBT residents in protesting a gay bar owner who compared President Obama to a chimpanzee.
Small businessman Michael Flatt owns Tryangles and Teddy Bears, two gay bars in the city. Last week, he posted a picture to his Facebook page that showed former President Ronald Reagan feeding a chimp. The caption said it was a photograph of Reagan babysitting Mr. Obama in the early 1960s.
Since then, several black LGBT residents and activists have voiced outrage at the incident and the group Kentuckiana Black-Gay Pride has organized a demonstration outside Tryangles for this Friday.
“For me and my community it’s deeper than a picture. Even if you take Obama out of the situation, what is funny about the picture? It was created for racial humor only because when you question them what’s funny they can’t answer,” says Tanya Couch, founder of Kentuckiana Black-Gay Pride. “It is a lot of outrage for me. You are depicting our whole community as chimps and that’s not funny.”
Flatt did not respond to a request for comment and several supporters have backed his posting, calling it a satire. However, a Flatt spokesperson says the bar owner has apologized for the incident and has spoken with leaders of the Fairness Campaign about reconciliation.
Fairness Campaign Director Chris Hartman says Flatt told him he wasn’t aware of the historical connotation between African-Americans and lower primates. But Hartman says his group still supports the protest and will join Kentuckiana Black-Gay Pride to hold him accountable.
In a statement sent to gay rights leaders, Flatt says he made a mistake and that he is not a racist despite how people may react to the picture.
“I believe in humanity. I believe in my community. I have devoted my entire life to trying to bring happiness and show kindness and the same respect that I would want to be shown,” he says. “But I do understand respect is earned. I want you all to know, I understand the picture was racist. I did not understand that at the time. I too grow, make mistakes and learn something every day.”
Black LGBT activists, however, have said they don’t believe Flatt’s explanation that he didn’t know about the history of comparing minorities to animals. And others have compared the controversy to a 2008 incident at Woody’s Tavern, when a gay bar owner used racial epithets against patrons.
During that situation, bar owner David Norton accosted a group of black customers out of the bar calling them “cunts,” “bitches,” “niggers” and other slurs. Almost a year after the incident Norton apologized, but later recanted and a boycott was called until the bar was closed down.
Fairness board member Jaison Gardner was one of the patrons involved. He says the two situations are different, but that it speaks to a climate of racism in the city’s LGBT community.
“We need to make it clear there are black LGBT people who are just as part of this community as a white gay club owner and a white lesbian who goes to nightclubs owner and it’s not okay to mock any segment of our community,” he says.
Hartman concurs there is a pattern of gay white club owners clashing with black LGBT customers and Fairness needs to call attention to those concerns.
“This has become a problem associated with white gay males sort of a certain financial affluence who are prominent members of the community. And it just elucidates how deep-rooted and systemic racism is in America and that white privilege is in every single community,” he says.