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

2006: The year it came together

Advocates made great strides in Ohio, while the status quo shifted to the left - a little

�When spiders unite, they can tie down a lion�

--Ethiopian proverb

The most compelling story of 2006 is the progression of what turned out to be the most compelling story of 2005--that organizing Ohio�s LGBT community has brought about opportunities and benefits not previously imaginable in this state, starting with the onset of respect.

There were two areas where that was most evident.

Equality Ohio�s May lobby day at the statehouse drew hundreds of LGBT and allied activists, making it one of the biggest of any statehouse efforts all year. That a new organization pulled it off was not lost on lawmakers and their staffs, who were both impressed and surprised. What advocates were not, however, was speechless.

Due to meticulous preparation and outreach, LGBT people had more opportunity to tell legislators their personal stories, introduce them to their children, and get instant feedback.

Nearly every legislative office was visited, and even those hostile to LGBT people in the past were generous and welcoming. It was the most empowering single event of the year.

Next, the LGBT community had more influence over election results in Ohio than ever before, again due to organizing.

It is no accident that the incoming governor finds it politically safe enough to appoint an openly gay person to his cabinet. Such an appointment would have been impossible even two years ago.

Because of LGBT political efforts, money and talent, Ohio�s executive branch will be the most friendly ever.

Because of organization, the judicial branch is also hearing about the lives of LGBT people like never before, and in some cases, coming to realize that queer families need the same protections �traditional� ones do.

Going forward, the weak branch is still the legislature, despite improvements. But it should be possible in the immediate years to defend LGBT people from attack, even if it is not yet possible to pass pro-gay laws.

In 2005, LGBT people had Phil Burress of Citizens for Community Values to thank for making us grow up with passage of the 2004 marriage amendment. In 2006, Burress still loomed, but we learned the value of organization and of supporting our own causes. That support allows organizations like Equality Ohio and the queer community centers to look, for the first time, past playing defense, to a time when LGBT quality of life in Ohio may improve.

For the first time in a long time, there is optimism among LGBT leadership that the amendment may some day go away, and that the LGBT community is earning a more favorable position with policy makers and the public at large.

All this happened in 2006 because the LGBT community continued to organize and financially support its interests.

Ohio cities looked forward

Canton, the smallest of Ohio�s major cities, passed an employment non-discrimination ordinance. The big news there was that it was not big news. There was no opposition to it.

Cincinnati restored its LGBT-affirming human rights ordinance, also without much opposition. Then, because the LGBT community was organized and had a war chest, those seeking to repeal it began collecting petition signatures, but were forced to back down knowing they were not going to win.

What a change from 13 years earlier! In Toledo, the only city in Ohio to once have a gay council president, Lourdes Santiago, a lesbian was appointed to city council to fill a vacancy. She could not hold the seat in a close election, but proved, with the five gay and lesbian officials elected in 2005, that being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender no longer disqualifies one from public office in Ohio. Neither Santiago nor her opponent Dave Schulz, who is also gay, had the issue raised against them during their campaigns.

Marriage amendment has teeth dulled

In 2006, five of Ohio�s state universities, Ohio State University, Cleveland State, Youngstown State, Ohio University and Miami University continued to offer domestic partner benefits to same-sex couples, in what could be defiance of Ohio�s constitutional amendment. Miami University successfully defended a suit challenging its benefits. A sixth school, the University of Toledo, started offering the benefits as part of collective bargaining with its unions. The University of Cincinnati is also considering the benefits.

This is a huge victory for the Ohio LGBT community in that passage of the marriage amendment could have ended them all.

The amendment has also been ruled to have no effect on a Franklin County lesbian�s right to see her child.

The Ohio Supreme Court is currently deciding the amendment�s affect on domestic violence laws when the partners are unmarried.

Those who passed the amendment have so far been unsuccessful making it the weapon against unmarried couples they intended.

Ohio LGBT activists celebrated in 2006 that the bill introduced in the Ohio House to ban gay adoptions was a �non-starter.�

However, this was because the bill was so draconian that even reliably anti-LGBT members could not support some of its provisions, not because the legislature is supportive of LGBT people adopting children.

Portions of the bill are expected to make their way back in more palatable bills or as amendments in 2007.

Ohio is still ranked 51 of the 50 states and District of Columbia for LGBT livability as 2006 draws to a close.

Violence: A fact of Ohio LGBT life?

Gunshots and vandalism were used to try to intimidate a gay Toledo man, accompanied by a sign saying �No Faggots Allowed� taped to his apartment door.

Two more black gay youths were shot and killed on Cleveland streets, their deaths added to a third which occurred at the end of 2005.

Men answering hook up ads were robbed in Columbus.

Amnesty International released a report titled �Stonewalled--Still Demanding Respect� which concludes �persistent discriminatory attitudes have created a situation in which abuse of LGBT people is frequently dismissed as �normal�� in America�s major cities.

The Ohio legislature again let down LGBT public school students by refusing to add language to a safe schools bill that would protect LGBT students from harassment and bullying. Nevertheless, Dayton schools adopted their own protective policy. Dayton is the only school system in Ohio with a gay school board member.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2006 that the 1964 Civil Rights Act can be applied to protect transsexuals from sex-stereotyping in the workplace, but not gays.

In 2006, LGBT activist John Zeh of Cincinnati died.

Make no mistake, the lions who seek to harm the LGBT community are still alive and well in Ohio. But because of unity, organization, and continued commitment, 2006 was a watershed year, and may later be seen as the beginning of a new era.



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