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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
December 29, 2006

Incoming governor appoints states first lesbian

Columbus--When Ted Strickland is sworn in as Ohio�s next governor on January 13, Mary Jo Hudson of Columbus will become the state�s first openly gay cabinet member.

Strickland announced Hudson�s appointment to direct the Department of Insurance on December 21, pending confirmation by the Ohio Senate. Hudson headed Strickland�s transition team evaluating the department she will head. She will leave Columbus City Council and her law practice to take the cabinet position.

Hudson became the first openly gay member of Ohio�s capital city in September, 2004 when she was appointed to fill the unexpired term of the retiring Richard Sensenbrenner.

Prior to that, Hudson was appointed to the city�s Community Relations Commission by Mayor Michael Coleman, who also heads Strickland�s transition team.

The Ohio Department of Insurance employs 270 and is responsible for enforcing regulation of the industry and promotion of its products.

Hudson, 43, began her legal career as a lawyer in the department. In her career as an attorney since then, part of her practice involved insurance issues.

Hudson downplays the historical nature of her appointment, saying, �It�s about what I can do, not who I am,� though she agrees that her success �opens doors for everyone in the state, including LGBT people.�

The appointment marks the next step in a career that knocked down many barriers for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Ohioans, especially in the political arena, but also others.

At the age of 11, Hudson became the first girl to be allowed to join the otherwise all-boys baseball league in her home town of St. Mary�s.

After winning her first election to city council in 2005, Hudson referred to that early experience as she was sworn in.

City council once �felt like the Little League team I wasn�t supposed to be on,� said Hudson, �but then I saw my name on the list.�

Hudson said she does not know what will happen with her council seat when she leaves.

When someone who is the first of a constituency leaves Columbus council, it is a tradition that members appoint another member from that group to fill the open seat.

�I know there are folks in the [LGBT] community who are interested and would be good applicants,� said Hudson, �but I don�t know what council will do.�

Hudson said her appointment reflects the overall commitment of Strickland and Lt. Governor elect Lee Fisher to diversity.

�My appointment is about walking the walk,� said Hudson, �and making sure the administration looks like the state of Ohio.�

�The Department of Insurance position allows me to be part of the team, using my professional experience,� said Hudson.

But Hudson is less confident about the ability the position will afford her to deal directly with issues of inequality LGBT people and their families face in all types of insurance in Ohio.

Hudson said that the policy she will be enforcing comes from the legislature, not her office, and she is not sure how much influence she will have on the process. �It�s too soon to tell,� she said.

Her first commitment will be to the Ohio Healthcare Exchange program Strickland and Fisher campaigned on, which hopes to make health insurance available to more low income Ohioans through redirecting federal Medicaid funds and reallocating some state healthcare resources.

Hudson believes that greater coverage can also be accomplished through economic development, which was a cornerstone of her council tenure.

Hudson has been a leader of the LGBT community since the 1980s, serving on the board of Stonewall Columbus, and as an organizer of Ohioans for Growth and Equality and the Ohio Human Rights Bar Association. She was also one of 12 openly gay delegates to the Democratic National Convention in 2004.

Before taking the council seat, Hudson resigned her positions on the national boards of the Human Rights Campaign and its foundation, and as treasurer of the 2004 campaign to defeat the proposed Ohio constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages.



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