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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
December 30, 2005

The dragon awakens

2005 was a big year for Ohio LGBT activism

�Come not between the dragon and his wrath�
--William Shakespeare, King Lear

According to Chinese proverbs, the energy of the sleeping dragon lies within us all. If awakened in the proper manner, the dragon bestows unfathomable powers.

The compelling story of 2005 began in 2004, as the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community came under attack both in Ohio and the nation, as part of larger, more insidious political agendas.

Suddenly, the community finds itself in sort of a debt to the anti-gay enterprises, including those led by Phil Burress in Ohio, for causing it to finally do what it had been unable or unwilling to do before--organize. The dragon has been awakened, forever altering social and political landscapes in Ohio, setting a course which, if stayed, will turn the tide of anti-gay aggression and possibly move us closer to equality.

The two eyelids of the dragon are the formation of Equality Ohio and the election of five openly gay and lesbian city officials.

After more than a decade of failed attempts to build a credible GLBT statewide organization, the 2004 passage of Ohio�s marriage ban constitutional amendment spawned the formation of Equality Ohio.

Unlike its predecessors, Equality Ohio has what it takes to become a formidable force in Ohio. It is organized around the diverse regions of the state instead of the capital. It has substantial �buy in� by other GLBT institutions. And it has money, which has provided a great information management system and a paid executive director, both Ohio firsts.

What Equality Ohio is bringing about here, the national organizations are duplicating. The year just passed saw the hiring of the first director of the national Equality Federation and the creation of a real �gay agenda� with eight goals, including employment equality, marriage equality and safe schools.

A winning year

City council members Nickie Antonio of Lakewood, Mary Jo Hudson of Columbus, Joe Santiago of Cleveland, and Mark Tumeo of Cleveland Heights, and school board member Joe Lacey of Dayton were elected in 2005 in what a Cleveland weekly magazine called �The Year of the Homo.�

Gay candidates not elected, but still formidable, were Thomas Meinecke and Dave Schulz of Toledo and Tristan Hand of Warren.

Never have so many GLBT candidates been on ballots in Ohio in a single year, and never have so many won.

These were great candidates--folks worthy of support even if they weren�t gay. Still, we saw for the first time what can happen when we back our own and invest in our own success.

Credit again the anti-gay establishment which, a year before, brought our lives and our families into the public�s political consciousness.

During the subsequent year, fair-minded people evaluated their relationship to GLBT people as a result of the attacks on us in 2004.

The five candidates were openly gay on the hustings, but their opponents did not make their sexual orientation an issue--an Ohio first. However, Tumeo�s victory had an additional ring to it because of the man he ousted in the four-out-of-five race--anti-gay council member Jimmie Hicks, Jr.

On the offensive

For the first time, the Ohio GLBT community began fighting the anti-gay enterprises in a bona fide way.

After an abortive attempt that ended early in the year, Equality Cincinnati found committed plaintiffs and enough money to challenge the financing method used for the ban amendment campaign and an unsuccessful one to keep Cincinnati�s anti-gay charter amendment.

This legal action will not change any election results, but it could severely cripple the anti-gay side�s ability to raise money, and possibly bring about criminal prosecutions.

The Ohio GLBT community�s new visible political posture was apparent to lawmakers, too.

Despite well-publicized attempts, no additional anti-GLBT legislation was passed in 2005. This included a proposed adoption ban, which no legislator came forward to sponsor.

However, there is still a lot of work to do to correct GLBT inequality. An employment non-discrimination bill has not moved in the Ohio House, and legislation to protect school children from harassment and bullying is moving with no provision to protect GLBT kids.

Marriage and equal rights laws

Same-sex marriage continues to be a hot topic around the world.

In 2005, Canada and Spain became the fourth and fifth nations to honor same-sex couples with full marriage equality. South Africa�s high court said that nation must join them next December.

Britain and Germany began treating same-sex marriages nearly equally to opposite-sex ones, and in the U.S., Connecticut joined Vermont in offering civil unions.

Nebraska�s constitutional marriage ban amendment, which was similar to Ohio�s, was ruled unconstitutional, while Kansas and Texas added themselves to the list of states with amendments.

A New York court ruled that its ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, but the decision was overturned by an appeals court in a case that will ultimately be decided by the state�s highest court. Oregon nullified 3,000 marriages performed less than a year earlier.

California lawmakers became the first in the nation to pass a bill allowing same-sex marriage, but Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed it. In a flip of the �activist courts� rhetoric, he said the courts should decide the issue. They are, in a case that began with a San Francisco ruling that banning same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. Meanwhile, two groups are circulating petitions for a pair of constitutional marriage ban amendments that would also cancel the state�s broad domestic partner law.

Illinois and Maine became the 15th and 16th states to pass sexual orientation anti-discrimination laws, and the fifth and sixth to cover transgender people. Opponents of the Maine measure forced it to go before voters as they have twice before. But this time, the voters allowed it to become law.

At year�s end, just under half of the nation�s population is covered by a state or local sexual orientation anti-bias law--47.8% to be exact. But 19 states have marriage ban amendments, with another four headed for elections in 2006.

The military�s ban on openly GLBT servicemembers continued to come under assault in 2005 from lawsuits, from the military�s �stop loss� policy, and from gay servicemembers like Ohio�s Robert Stout, who returned from Iraq after receiving a Purple Heart to tell his story.

After sodomy laws were ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court, however, the Bush administration criminalized same-gender sex under a broad section of the Uniform Code of Military Justice called �good order and discipline.� Gay and lesbian servicemembers can be prosecuted for �unnatural acts,� under this measure.

Varied results in court

The year was a mixed bag for court activity in Ohio and around the nation.

Cleveland Heights� domestic partner registry--the only one in the state--was upheld by the courts. But judges trying to determine the effect of the marriage ban amendment on domestic violence laws have had mixed opinions.

Miami University is being sued for offering its employees domestic partner benefits, which the plaintiffs claim is against the state�s new marriage ban amendment. Courts are sorting out the amendment�s effect on shared parenting agreements, creating the possibility that 2006 will be a busy year for the Ohio Supreme Court.

In 2005, Florida�s ban on gay adoption was allowed to stand, while the Kansas �Romeo and Juliet� law that lowered the penalties for underage sex only for heterosexuals, was not.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed its landmark Smith v. Salem decision extending the 1964 Civil Rights Act to transsexuals in another case, Barnes v. Cincinnati, which the U.S. Supreme Court thought was fine. They are currently considering a similar case that could protect gays and lesbians.

Youth made news in Ohio in 2005, whether it was protesting the military�s anti-gay discrimination at Walnut Hills High School in Cincinnati, wearing �I support gay marriage� T-shirts at Jerome High School in Dublin, or through increased visibility and organization at GLBT centers.

A courageous teen in Tennessee blogged about his experience with an �ex-gay� ministry, causing a national outcry over the tactics of such groups and �reparative therapy,� and leading to state investigation of programs that claim to make people �straight.�

Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio, jailed two gay students who protested the anti-gay content of an approved student program after fights broke out among the audience of 500. Non-gay students, whose acts of violence were videotaped, were not arrested.

Cleveland area GLBT youth mourned the loss of Donathyn Rodgers, age 19, who was murdered on the city�s west side November 14.

McDonald�s lawyers win

Canton�s historic 540 Club, the second oldest GLBT bar in Ohio, was destroyed by fire. The cause remains unknown.

An anti-gay activist�s attempt to keep the Gay People�s Chronicle and Outlook Weekly out of the Upper Arlington public library failed, while in Kettering, Labor Day parade organizers succeeded in prohibiting participation by the GLBT group Diversity Dayton.

The McDonald�s fast-food chain, which once boasted about its inclusive non-discrimination policies, used its immense corporate resources to deny a former manager with AIDS his jury verdict of $5 million to pay for medication.

In more than four years of litigation, the hamburger giant was found unequivocally guilty of the discrimination by two juries, and was discovered to have hidden evidence from the court.

But after a controversial new trial, Russell Rich was awarded $490,000, leaving him a ward of the state for the rest of his life, while the balance of the original verdict likely went to McDonalds� high-powered legal team.

The number of large corporations offering domestic partner benefits rose in 2005, with Ohio�s plumbing giant Moen one of the most recent additions. According to the Human Rights Campaign, 101 major employers now score perfectly on their Corporate Equality Index examining corporate non- discrimination and benefits, representing an 80 percent increase over two years ago.

But there were some missteps. Ford decided to stop advertising in GLBT publications after meeting with anti -gay activists who threatened to boycott the automaker. After subsequent negotiations with GLBT activists, Ford reversed its position, but will advertise less than in the past.

On November 20, 2005, the Columbus Dispatch reported that the 2004 �Issue 1� campaign for the Ohio marriage ban amendment was connected to the Bush Cheney re-election campaign.

This publication broke that story with the analysis of the connection and the players on September 24, 2004, settling, at least in Ohio, the relevance of GLBT weekly publications in the context of our community�s increased exposure throughout the culture as a whole.

With all that happened in 2005, the dragon is just starting to stand up, and not yet breathing fire. But the foundation is finally in place.

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