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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
January 20, 2006

Democratic leadership changes open opportunity for Ohio gays

Columbus--Leadership changes among Ohio�s Democrats are creating opportunities for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender activists, according to the party�s new chair Chris Redfern.

�But there�s an expectation [of Stonewall Democrats] to help build a strong party,� Redfern said. �The Stonewall Democrats have not raised the kinds of money [possible] and it has weakened their position in the past.�

Redfern�s remarks follow the Ohio House Democrats� January 11 vote naming the gay-affirming Columbus Rep. Joyce Beatty to the position of minority leader, replacing Redfern of Catawba Island, who resigned to take the state party helm.

Beatty, who has longstanding relationships with the GLBT community, became the first woman to hold the post.

The vote was important to GLBT Democrats as well as socially progressive interests because all signals beforehand showed �defense of marriage act� supporter Todd Book of Portsmouth leading Beatty.

Beatty opposed the anti-gay DOMA on the House floor in 2004 and voted against it. She was also the lead sponsor of attempts to add sexual orientation to Ohio�s existing ethnic intimidation law.

Behind closed doors, the Democratic caucus, led by Dale Miller of Cleveland and Sylvester Patton of Youngstown, agreed that Beatty would hold the top spot, and Book would become the assistant minority leader.

Mike Skindell of Lakewood, who also has a strong relationship with GLBT constituents, had a prior deal with Beatty for the number two spot. He was not elevated to leadership.

�This is good for the party and good for Ohio,� said Don Geiner, who is the vice president of political strategy of the Stonewall Democrats of Central Ohio. �Joyce is one of the best we could have.�

�Book is a good Democrat and a good fundraiser,� said Geiner. �He didn�t vote with us, but he seems to be open to education.�

Beatty was not available for comment for this report.

Geiner said that in meetings he has had with Redfern, plans have been made to set up a GLBT caucus, and to find opportunities to make officials like Book into better GLBT supporters.

�The House represents the diversity of the state,� said Geiner, �so we have to respect representatives voting the conscience of their community. And that means we have to educate those communities, too.�

But some of those votes have irked Stonewall Democrats in the past, including the DOMA vote, where 12 of 37 Democrats joined all Republicans except one in favor.

Redfern opposed DOMA, but was widely criticized for not delivering a unanimous vote in opposition.

Redfern described the process he used to determine whether or not votes like DOMA would be unanimous �caucus� votes.

�A straw vote was taken beforehand as a barometer,� said Redfern. �If three fourths of the caucus was voting a certain way already, then I would decide whether or not it should be a caucus vote.�

It is not yet evident what process Beatty will use.

Redfern differentiates between same-sex marriage and other GLBT concerns.

Asked which issues he would have held the caucus to, and will encourage party votes on as its chair, Redfern listed Miller�s employment non-discrimination bill, matters of equality in probate courts, hate crime and the protection of adoption rights.

�But this state is not ready for marriage,� said Redfern. �And you don�t have to support gay marriage to be a good Democrat.�

Redfern added that he has been hearing Republicans discuss a constitutional amendment banning gay adoption and foster parenting.

�If placed on the ballot, I will lead the opposition to that,� said Redfern.

Redfern also spoke to the need to elect an openly gay or lesbian member of the General Assembly or to a statewide office, and said that will be a marker that Ohio is ready to discuss marriage.

Redfern said GLBT Democrats could be influential during his tenure as party chair, �but everyone will have responsibilities, too.�

In addition to recruiting openly gay candidates for office, Redfern said he hopes the Stonewall Democrats will help with party fundraising, recruiting candidates, and registering voters.

�I have heard for seven years that the party is not as inclusive as it should be,� said Redfern, adding that his responsibility is to make people feel welcome in the party, even when they don�t agree on single issues, and �to give folks responsibility and ownership of the progress.�

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