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Hamilton County auditor stirs social media fury with 'transphobic' tweet

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Posted at 4:11 PM, Jan 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-22 21:18:08-05

CINCINNATI — What some are describing as a transphobic tweet from Hamilton County's auditor has renewed sentiment he should resign from the office Friday and has Democratic Party leadership questioning their affiliation.

In the hours following his tweet, dozens of Twitter users had responded to Dusty Rhodes' tweet that he "want(s) to be there when the first 'suburban Republican woman' who wouldn't vote for President (Donald) Trump learns her teenage daughter will now have to share her locker room with biological males."

One response called the tweet "transphobic as sh*t" and retorted that "trans women are not biological males(;) they're women."

Another reply said, "Congrats, your career is over."

Despite his Democratic Party affiliation, Rhodes has built a reputation for his conservative viewpoints and his support of the former president, whom many in the LGBTQ community criticized for discriminatory policies against people who are transgender.

The responses to Rhodes' tweet were a blend of support and condemnation, with a large majority criticizing the remarks, calling on him to resign or tagging the Hamilton County Democratic Party seeking a response.

Rhodes is up for re-election in 2022.

WCPO spoke with him by phone Friday afternoon, and he characterized the calls for his resignation as "ridiculous."

"The tweet has been misinterpreted as anti-transgender people, which it is not. I was disagreeing with biological males using women’s locker rooms, particularly girls’ locker rooms," he said. "I am not going to respond to the lack of civility. Do I not have First Amendment protections, too?"

Gwen McFarlin chairs the Hamilton County Democratic Party committee and said she interpreted the tweet as an "attack on the LGBTQ community," and that the party is reconsidering its relationship with Rhodes.

"Obviously, we can't remove him from office, as you know," McFarlin told WCPO Friday afternoon. "We are continuing to meet and discuss what his relationship is going to be with the Hamilton County Democratic Party. His comments do not reflect in any way a person who is trying to unite our country or the values of our party."

McFarlin said she hoped her committee would have a statement on the party's affiliation with Rhodes by its next executive committee meeting in March.

Friday's tweet was not the first of Rhodes' to draw McFarlin's and Democrats' attention. Last year, Rhodes caught flack when he suggested a more appropriate place than outside City Hall for a Black Lives Matter mural would have been outside Planned Parenthood's Auburn Avenue surgical center, "where they terminate black lives and white ones, too, almost every day of the week."

Among those who condemned Rhodes' tweet Friday was a fellow Democrat, Cincinnati City Councilman and mayoral hopeful Chris Seelbach, who called the auditor a "bigoted piece of trash" and said "F*ck off."

Seelbach was the city's first openly gay man elected to City Council and has led campaigns for LGBTQ issues throughout his near-decade in office.

McFarlin stopped short of defending Seelbach's response but said, "It sounds to me that Chris’ thoughts were similar to my thoughts, that it was directed at the LGBTQ community. I think if (Rhodes') comment had not been made, I don’t think Chris would have responded in the way that he did."

Jessica Cicchinelli founded the Living With Change Foundation, dedicated to outreach to people -- especially young people -- grappling with their sexuality and gender identities.

In a statement to WCPO Friday afternoon, she called for empathy.

"We are asking for all people to practice empathy, equality and non-discrimination towards the transgender community," she said. "The mission at Living With Change is to offer support and education for trans youth. We want these children to feel safe 100 percent of the time."

Cicchinelli launched the foundation with her husband, Chris, who is CEO for Cincinnati-based Pure Romance, after their daughter came out as transgender.

After seeing Rhodes' tweet, Cicchinelli said, "I call on our politicians and changemakers to push for anti-transphobia education and for active acceptance for this community. This is a time to set a positive example and move forward with compassion and respect.”