'Welcome back to Ohio'
Event celebrates the election of LGBT-friendly state executives
Columbus--�Welcome, after 16 years, back to the state of Ohio. We have some catching up to do,� said Ohio Democratic Party chair Chris Redfern to 450 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and allied people gathered in the Ohio Statehouse atrium on January 14.
The event, called Equality Wins, capped off the weekend of activities inaugurating Governor Ted Strickland and Lt. Governor Lee Fisher. It was a celebration of success, a chance to thank volunteers and contributors, and a vow never to return to the time when the rights of LGBT citizens were a political punching bag.
Both Strickland and Fisher attended the LGBT brunch, as did Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, Attorney General Marc Dann and Treasurer Richard Cordray. It was sponsored by Equality Ohio, the National Stonewall Democrats and the Human Rights Campaign. All three groups worked to organize the Ohio LGBT community into a major player in the elections for the first time ever.
Redfern noted the right�s attacks on LGBT citizens of Ohio, which culminated in the 2004 passage of a constitutional amendment barring marriage equality.
Since the executive branch is now controlled by LGBT-affirming officials, those attacks are expected to stop.
Equality Ohio director Lynne Bowman said that over $1 million in contributions from LGBT people can be identified in support of affirming candidates--considerably more than ever before.
That, said Bowman, plus the number of identified LGBT campaign workers, means that the community will no longer be dismissed as insignificant.
Bowman said that Equality Ohio targeted 233 precincts throughout the state that voted against the 2004 amendment and had lower than average voter turnout. Those efforts, she said, raised turnout in those areas by an average of four percent, and pushed them over the state average.
�There is no looking back,� said Bowman. �This is the new future standard to measure ourselves by, not 2004.�
�We are a powerful coalition to be reckoned with,� Bowman said. �There is no question anymore.�
The event completely filled the columned atrium, which is the largest room in the Statehouse other than the House chamber. But it was not the first time an LGBT group had an event inside the center of Ohio�s government. The first, according to Jay Dascenzo of Columbus, was a 1998 reception in the atrium, organized by an earlier statewide LGBT group in which he was involved, Ohioans Against Discrimination.
Dascenzo said that unlike in 1998, the LGBT community has now moved to the inner circle of state government, something OAD never achieved.
�It�s nice to be in the Statehouse and not be pissed off,� noted Karen Andermills of Columbus.
Gov. Strickland surprised the crowd with an unscheduled appearance, shaking hands, recognizing the community�s effort in his campaign, and his promise to sign executive orders banning discrimination by sexual orientation and gender identity in state employment.
Strickland also recognized his new cabinet member, former Columbus city council member Mary Jo Hudson, who is lesbian. Hudson heads the Department of Insurance.
Hudson quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: �Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.�
Comparing the 2004 election results to those of 2006, Hudson said, �Instead of silence, we roared back.�
Hudson also made fun of Fred Phelps, the Kansas preacher whose family shows up to picket events with their �God Hates Fags� message whenever someone does something showing decency to LGBT people.
Phelps said he would show up in Columbus to protest Hudson�s appointment, insisting that a lesbian cabinet official would damn Ohio to hell.
�That�s a lot of responsibility on me as well,� joked Hudson.
As is often the case, the Phelps group never appeared.
HRC political director Samantha Smoot told the celebrants, �You did more than just send Ken Blackwell back under the rock he came from. You elected allies, turned a red state blue, and turned bigotry to common sense and hope.�
Blackwell was arguably the most anti-LGBT candidate ever to seek statewide office in Ohio. During the campaign, he said gays and lesbians were like arsonists and kleptomaniacs, and tried to gay-bait Strickland.
To which Smoot commented, �Strickland didn�t flinch, and neither did the voters of Ohio.�
Fisher said having the event inside the Statehouse was doubly symbolic.
�This is where history has been made and unmade for centuries,� Fisher said, standing about 25 feet from a plaque noting that Abraham Lincoln spoke there. �But also the echo in here sends a ripple effect to all 88 counties that we�re back.�
Lincoln�s 1859 speech at the Statehouse put him squarely in favor of human rights and against slavery and government oppression of its citizens. It turned the northern states in his favor, making him president a year later.
Attorney General Marc Dann said, �I know it takes more than legislation to bring about equality in Ohio. That�s one of the reasons I ran for attorney general.�
Dann announced that his office will have an employment non-discrimination policy that includes sexual orientation and gender identity.
�I would not be standing here if not for the LGBT community,� said Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner.
Brunner�s campaign was run by three former Stonewall Columbus staffers. Two, Patrick Galloway and Kellye Pinkleton, are now employees of her office. Brian Shinn, a gay attorney, has become her assistant legal counsel.
Treasurer Richard Cordray said, �We stand against those who unable to live their lives without asserting superiority over others.�
�We have no patience for those who make others small by enshrining it into the statute books and the constitution,� said Cordray.
Cordray also announced that his office will include sexual orientation and gender identity in its non-discrimination policy.
�No one could have imagined this two years ago,� said Mike Schuenemeyer of Cleveland of the appearances by state officials.
�I haven�t cried this hard at a political event since Bill Clinton�s election,� said Vince Morvatz of Akron.
�I think it took a man of faith to show Ohio�s true spirit,� Morvatz added.
Strickland is an ordained Methodist minister.
Steve Shellabarger of Columbus put some historical perspective to the event, noting that gains had been made in the 1980s by Ohio�s LGBT community before the backlash of recent years.
�In four years, things could turn around again,� Shellabarger said.
Entertainment was provided by a special Ohio Gala Chorus convened for the event, with members of nine men�s and women�s choruses from Athens, Cincinnati, Columbus, Dayton, Cleveland and Oxford.
Other elected officials in attendance included State Sen. Shirley Smith and State Reps. Barbara Boyd, Dan Stewart, Kenny Yuko, Peter Ujvagi, Ted Celeste, and Mike Skindell.
Gay Cleveland city council member Joe Santiago attended, as did gay Dayton school board member Joe Lacey.
Also joining the festivities were Franklin County Commissioner Marylin Brown, outgoing Columbus city council president Matt Habash, Cleveland Heights council member Phyllis Evans, and Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Eric Brown.