By Todd A. Heywood
Residents and civil rights advocates are appalled that Asm “Kamal” Rahman, a leading voice in the successful ballot initiative to overturn a local anti-discrimination ordinance last year, is now sitting on the boards of civil rights groups in southeast Michigan.
“Kamal has misled a lot of people in the past year. He has used his people, he has used the Bangladeshi community, and led them down the road of attacking other communities, specifically the LGBT community,” said Gregory Manore, who served as spokesman for Hamtramck United, the group that supported the Wayne County city’s nondiscrimination ordinance.
“That is not leadership. It is cynical exploitation, and now he wants to turn around and pretend it never happened,” said Manore, who is also a member of the Hamtramck Human Relations Commission.
Rahman, a Bangladeshi immigrant, resurrected the Hamtramck branch of the NAACP earlier this year and has also been appointed to the Michigan Coalition for Human Rights.
MCHR is a nonprofit agency with a mission of promoting “awareness of, commitment to, and advocacy for human rights through education, community organization, and action,” according to its mission statement. “MCHR opposes forces that suppress human dignity, freedom, and justice locally and around the world.”
“To seek appointment to the MCHR board of directors simply continues a pattern of behavior by Mr. Rahman of building his profile while denying human rights protections to others,” Manore said.
During the campaign to overturn Hamtramck’s ordinance, Rahman, who lives in and works for the city of Detroit, made a $50 campaign donation to the ballot committee seeking to over turn the ordinance. But his involvement did not stop there. In a July 16 interview on WDET radio, Rahman defended the move to revoke the ordinance.
“This is something we don’t feel is necessary,” Rahman said. “It does go against the family and the natural tendency of the family.”
He also claimed that if passed, the ordinance would create a kind of double jeopardy for persons accused of a crime against LGBT individuals. Rahman claimed that under the ordinance, a simple robbery would also draw a charge of a hate crime against the perpetrator. The ordinance only dealt with discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations.
“He will get risked twice,” he said in an interview, referring to a person accused of a crime.
A July 22 video (on youtube.com) of Rahman can be seen and heard saying such things as:
“The terms sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. Those are the words we are opposing because, sexual orientation, the meaning is limitless. Sexual orientation does not limit…orientation toward whom? It could be animal, it could be children. Not just man-to-man, but man-to-animal…I know it sounds crude, but this is the fact…
“Get rid of it [Human Rights Ordinance] altogether. Get rid of the discussion … this law will discriminate against people who are non-homosexual, heterosexual people, will be discriminated against.”
In an email, Abayomi Azikiwe, who chairs the MCHR, said the organization was unaware of Rahman’s views.
“We stand for full rights for all historically oppressed communities including our fellow citizens in the LGBT community,” said Azikiwe in an email to Michigan Messenger. “We as an organization repudiate such views.”
Azikiwe said the issue of Rahman’s comments would be addressed in an executive board meeting this month.
Rahman declined to comment Last week Monday, saying he was unaware that he had to support LGBT rights to serve on the MCHR board. He said he also needed to verify the statements from Azikiwe.
Alicia Skillman, executive director of Detroit-based Triangle Foundation, an organization which advocates for LGBT equality, served on the MCHR board until other responsibilities led her to resign her board post. But she said Rahman’s service on the board of the organization was “a step backwards for human rights.”
“Certainly, people deserve a voice. However, Mr. Rahman’s voice shows up to oppress and deprive an entire segment of people from the equal rights that belong to them,” she said. “Part of the mission of MCHR states ‘MCHR opposes forces that suppress human dignity, freedom, and justice locally and around the world.’ Mr. Rahman is no supporter of this mission. He has actively worked to squash the human dignity and freedom of LGBT people. If he is not a changed man, Asm ‘Kamal’ should resign from the board of MCHR.”
“While I am happy that MCHR has condemned Mr. Rahman’s activities, looking forward, there ought to be a greater emphasis on LGBT issues and how homophobia and transphobia can ravage communities, can tear communities apart. Which we learned here in Hamtramck,” Manore said.
While MCHR is distancing itself from Rahman and his rhetoric, Michael Nelson, vice president of the Hamtramck NAACP, is not.
“Individuals are free to take up their own views,” said Nelson. Those views, he said, may not reflect the views of the organization.
Julian Bond, chairman of the NAACP’s national organization, addressed the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Creating Change Conference in Detroit in February 2008.
“That’s why when I am asked, ‘Are gay rights civil rights?’ my answer is always, ‘Of course they are,’” Bonds told hundreds of gay rights activists.
Manore expressed concern Rahman would use his position titles with the NAACP and MCHR to further an antigay activities, but Nelson said the local NAACP “wouldn’t allow that” to happen.
But Manore said the local NAACP may need to take stronger action.
“Unless he immediately apologizes to his community, and to the local LGBT community, I do not see how he can remain with NAACP Hamtramck,” said Manore. “What he did goes against the core values Hamtramck is known for — diversity, acceptance, and a community where we celebrate everyone.”
(This article is reprinted with permission from Michigan Messenger, an online independent news agency.)