LGBT Democrats criticize Cleveland Heights mayoral candidate over comments

Cleveland Heights mayoral candidate Barbara Danforth.
[Friends of Barbara Danforth]
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Cleveland Heights mayoral candidate Barbara Danforth is facing criticism from an LGBT organization for statements she made during an endorsement interview.

Members of the Cleveland Stonewall Democrats’ interview board found Danforth’s answers to questions about LGBTQIA+ issues to be evasive, said President Dara Adkison. They were particularly concerned with Danforth’s answers to questions about transgender people’s access to the proper bathrooms, Adkison said.

“There is a big difference between candidates who speak to us saying, ‘I need to learn more about this, can you help me get more resources?’ and candidates who say, ‘I have no opinion about that,’” Adkison said. “Providing that education is actually a really important part of that process for us. It’s how we move the needle forward, it’s how we build new allies, it’s how we make stronger allies. She just was adamantly not open to education.”

The interviews are not recorded, Adkison said, so they do not have direct quotes of Danforth's comments. But, Adkison said, the eight panelists conferred on how they remembered the interview before issuing a statement.

“We were very confident in her having made a statement about needing to ask the, quote-unquote, Jews, if it was okay for trans people to use the correct bathroom because she saw that as a more important demographic in the community,” Adkison said. “I was aghast, as a queer, Jewish person. And I was not the only Jewish person asking her for follow-up information on, ‘What exactly do you mean?’”

The organization issued a statement this week explaining its decision not to endorse Danforth. It’s the first time they’ve ever done that, Adkison said. The statement was a result not only of Danforth’s initial statements, Adkison said, but also because she had been misrepresenting to the public how the interview had gone.

“She’s not the only person that we’ve had very contentious interview with even just this year, but because of her need to make it seem like her interview was that of a great ally, we felt like we had to say something,” Adkison said. “It’s okay to have said things that are wrong if you publicly talk about how you are going to grow about them. But misrepresenting that we had seen her allyship and ignored it was, amongst many other things, insulting.”

A spokesperson for Danforth’s campaign told Ideastream Public Media in an email the Cleveland Stonewall Democrats’ statements did not fairly represent the incident.

In a written statement, Danforth said she has met with another community leader who was recommended to her to get additional input on the subject. After that conversation, she said, she has come to support equal access to restrooms for transgender and non-conforming people.

“As a Black woman I have dealt with the battle for equality and equal rights my entire life. It is core to my beliefs. At the interview, I acknowledged that I needed more information to form a position,” Danforth said. “To those upset that I did not respond as they had hoped or that I did not examine the issue in a timelier way, I apologize. I certainly understand your disappointment and anger.”

It is the mayor’s responsibility to ensure equal access to housing, employment, health care and other amenities, Danforth said. If elected, she will create an initiative to bring together a diverse group of Cleveland Heights residents to develop perspective and understanding.

“Gender identity issues are rapidly evolving and like other complex human matters, there is an urgent need for more education and greater understanding,” Danforth said.

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