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Columbus--For a few hours on December 8, it seemed that Ohio’s entire lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender movement was located in a church on the northern side of town.
Activists from across the state had gathered there for the third Statewide Leadership Summit, an opportunity to meet in person, share expertise and learn skills for running organizations.
“We are making a difference,” Equality Ohio executive director Lynne Bowman told them. “You are making a difference.”
Bowman, whose group organized the all-day event, described some of the changes since the last summit a year ago. Among them was the appointment of Ohio’s first openly lesbian statewide official, Department of Insurance director Mary Jo Hudson, who briefly spoke.
“Be patient, but be persistent” in the quest for civil rights, Hudson said. She stressed the need to become involved, not just in LGBT causes, but openly in mainstream ones as well.
“It is so important that we are there” in the wider community, she said. “Even the Rotary.”
Ohio attorney general Marc Dann also addressed the group, noting his first-year accomplishments, including stepped-up civil rights enforcement. This helps make the state friendlier for fair-minded businesses, he pointed out.
“When the bad people aren’t held accountable, the good people are at a competitive disadvantage,” he said. “We want to make Ohio the kind of state that diverse businesses want to locate in.”
He also said that when his office hires outside law firms, they will look at the firms’ diversity practices.
Asked by an audience member if the Ohio Constitution’s marriage ban amendment also bars domestic partner benefits, Dann responded, “I don’t think it does.” An Ohio Supreme Court ruling last summer held that the measure covers only marriage and civil unions.
Bowman opened the summit by asking each of the 86 participants, seated in a large circle in the First Unitarian Universalist Church’s fellowship room, to briefly describe their group’s activities.
“This is the most exciting thing I get to do all year--more exciting than lobby day,” she said of hearing their responses.
One by one, directors and board members of organizations in all of Ohio’s large cities shared their accomplishments of the past year and goals for the next. They were joined by representatives from smaller towns, including Lima, Centerburg, Delaware, Mount Vernon and New Concord.
Akron Pride Center board member Ken Ditlevson nodded to Sue Doerfer, who directs the Cleveland center. “The Cleveland Pride Center saved my life when I was growing up,” he said.
Central Ohio Stonewall Democrats president Russ Goodwin announced that he had just declared his candidacy for the 12th Congressional District seat, currently held by Pat Tiberi.
Buckeye Region Anti-Violence Organization president emeritus Chris Cozad noted that, “We are this close to adding gender identity” to the Columbus civil rights ordinance.
Later, the group broke into educational sessions on fundraising, organizing on the Internet, and how much political activity the law allows non-profits.
Before they did, Bowman told of Equality Ohio’s gift to state lawmakers three days earlier.
Our Stories, a 54-page book of personal memoirs written by straight family and friends of LGBT Ohioans, was hand-delivered to each legislator’s office on December 5. The volume complements a similar one given to them last year, with accounts by LGBT residents.
“It isn’t just a ‘gay issue,’ ” reads the book’s foreword. “We ask that you remember these stories when you consider new laws or policies.”
Included with it was a table showing the climate in Ohio’s top cities, compared with the state overall. They were ranked by Equality Ohio on their equal rights and hate crime ordinances, employee benefits, couple recognition, out elected officials and even the presence of LGBT organizations.
Toledo came in on top with Cleveland Heights next; then Cincinnati, Cleveland and Dayton tied for third place; followed by Columbus. Seventeen other towns also made the chart.
Ohio ranks fifth in the nation for its number of city equal rights laws, the chart pointed out, but it is 42nd for state-level protection, tied with Mississippi and Arkansas.
Bowman said that Ohio had been 51st on last year’s chart comparing the states and District of Columbia. The new rank is mostly from an executive order protecting LGBT state workers. “Thank you, Governor Strickland,” she exclaimed.
Passing a statewide LGBT equality law would put Ohio among the top states, and one is set to be introduced in the spring.
Equality Ohio’s policy and education director Bo Shuff firmly declared that the “T” will not be taken out of such a bill, as happened with a federal version this fall.
“We have told lawmakers that we will not step away from gender identity,” he told the gathering. “That bill will not go forward if gender ID is removed.”
Shuff also told of a conversation with Ohio House Minority Leader Joyce Beatty of Columbus.
“She said, ‘Find me a gay candidate’ ” to run in a state House or Senate race next year.
“I’ve tried, and failed,” he added. “Know anyone? Please. The Ohio Democratic Party has asked for this.”
Shuff echoed Hudson’s call to get involved, but with political parties. “Either party--we are a non-partisan organization.”
“But,” he added, “One of the parties came to us for a candidate, the other one didn’t.”
In addition to her position with Equality Ohio, Bowman is also board chair of the Equality Federation, a national coalition of statewide LGBT groups. She announced that the federation would hold its annual gathering in Columbus next summer, from August 6 to 10.
She concluded by thanking the leaders for making things happen in all parts of the state.
“They are happening in places like Lima and Mount Vernon, places where people think we don’t live, and you are making them see that we do.”
“Go forth, and change Ohio.”