County Human Rights Council gets asked out of regional coalition

"The Kitsap County Council on Human Rights now has something in common with the Aryan Nations – they are the only two organizations denied membership in the Northwest Coalition Against Malicious Harassment.In a letter dated Oct. 10, Northwest Coalition Executive Director Bill Wassmuth returned the council’s $30 check and questioned its commitment to gay rights. The rebuke comes after board member Jim Craswell’s campaign to sever ties with the regional human rights organization, and the Human Rights Council’s May decision to renew its membership anyway. The Human Rights Council’s September vote of no confidence in board member Jim Craswell, which failed 5-4, was at the heart of Wassmuth’s concerns.“The decision of most concern is the recent vote of confidence regarding Mr. Jim Creswell (sic) and his ongoing membership with the Council. Mr. Creswell is leading an effort to crowd gays/lesbians out of the political life of Kitsap County and to continue to deny that group full constitutional rights,” Wassmuth wrote in the letter.In order to regain membership in the Northwest Coalition, the Human Rights Council must sign a statement “saying that their principles and practices are compatible with the purposes of the NWC” and submit an explanation of the vote on Craswell’s membership.Wassmuth was not available for comment, but Northwest Coalition Regional Coordinator Eric Ward said Craswell is only a symptom of the council’s deeper problems. “It’s not that Jim would attack the Northwest Coalition – as someone who holds different ideological beliefs, of course he would. What surprises us and concerns us is the allowance of the council to give him a platform,” Ward said.Human Rights Council Chairwoman Tamra Ingwaldson said she has not witnessed an anti-gay/lesbian perspective in Craswell. She said news coverage of Craswell’s Religious Freedom Alert campaign against the Northwest Coalition created the perception of an anti-gay agenda.In the alerts, Craswell accused the Northwest Coalition of an anti-faith bias because it criticized national Christian organizations like Focus on the Family and the Promisekeepers for condemning homosexuality. “It was perceived in the media because of the way he chose to disagree with the council ... his concern was for people he sees as faith leaders and ... what he perceived was (the Northwest Coalition) lumping them in with other types of groups who were very extreme in their bigotry against other people.“When everything got printed in the paper, it went into certain avenues that made it seem that we weren’t a safe place to people,” Ingwaldson said.Further fanning the flames were letters to the editor and public comment at recent Human Rights Council meetings where homosexuals said they found the council hostile, Ingwaldson said. But she contends all of the comment came out after media reports, not before.Craswell could not be reached for comment. Ward admitted the Northwest Coalition rejection amounts to a de facto Craswell victory. “In many ways ... Jim Craswell succeeded in what he wanted to do,” Ward said. “But it wasn’t due to his own work, but rather the inability of the Human Rights Council to effectively debate and decide on human rights issues.“It has become more of a personal counseling situation than a commission for human rights sad that they are using county taxpayer money to deal on a personal level” with people instead of addressing human rights, he said.Ingwaldson said the board does not plan on addressing the letter from Wassmuth until the first of the year.The Human Rights Council was a member of the Northwest Coalition from 1995-1998. The relationship between the two organizations is much older, however; Wassmuth supported and guided the creation of the council in 1989, and at least three Northwest Coalition board members also served terms on the Human Rights Council. The Northwest Coalition has 250 member organizations and 500 individual members in six states."

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