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Tubbs Jones was
“Count on me,” Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones told the Cleveland Human Rights Campaign dinner in May 2003. “I promise that neither your voice nor mine will be silenced, because we’re going to take this to the Capitol, to the White House, and to the streets.”
But Tubbs Jones’ distinctive voice was suddenly silenced August 20 when she died about 24 hours after suffering an aneurysmal subarachnoid hemorrhage while driving in Cleveland Heights. She was 58.
Tubbs Jones was elected to Congress in 1998. She replaced the venerable Louis Stokes representing the district that includes the east side of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County. Prior to that office, Tubbs Jones served as the first African-American and the first female Cuyahoga County prosecutor. She was the first African-American woman to sit on the Common Pleas bench in the State of Ohio and was a Municipal Court Judge in the City of Cleveland.
She was the first African-American woman to chair the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct and the first African-American woman to serve on the powerful Ways and Means Committee. She was an active member of numerous Congressional Caucuses, including the Congressional Black Caucus.
Throughout her life and especially during her tenure in the House, Tubbs Jones was a steadfast supporter of equality, civil rights and the LGBT community.
Tubbs Jones attended Cleveland Pride celebrations and helped raise money for the Cleveland Stonewall Democrats. She was a co-chair of the 2004 Democratic National Platform Committee, which was known as being the most LGBT-affirming major party platform in history until the 2008 edition. She delivered the keynote speech at the National Stonewall Democrats convention in Cleveland in 2002.
Tubbs Jones was one of the first high ranking officials to speak out against the 2004 Ohio constitutional marriage ban amendment, and she actively campaigned for its defeat to conservative black churches. A year earlier, she was one of the first elected officials to endorse the domestic partner registry in Cleveland Heights.
In 2005, Tubbs Jones was honored by the AIDS Taskforce of Cleveland with a Voices Against the Silence Award, and by the Cleveland HRC Committee with its highest honor, the Equality Award. A year later, BlackOut Unlimited presented her with their Black Gay and Proud award.
As a legislator, Tubbs Jones earned an HRC voting score of 100 percent.
She vocally opposed the proposed federal constitutional amendment banning marriage equality and joined the Congressional Black Caucus opposing President Bush’s appointment of the anti-LGBT, anti-choice Samuel Alito to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Tubbs Jones co-sponsored the transgender-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act and the Military Readiness Act to end “don’t ask don’t tell.”
She supported attempts to pass hate crime and immigration bills that would allow unmarried bi-national same-sex couples to live together legally in the U.S. Tubbs Jones rose to national prominence when she led the House floor fight against certification of President Bush’s re-election in 2004 following ballot irregularities in Ohio. It was the strength of Tubbs Jones’ case that convinced California Sen. Barbara Boxer to take that protest to the Senate.
‘I’m just here to see my friends’
Tubbs Jones was charismatic and could command any room she entered, except when she didn’t want to.
Longtime friend and former Cleveland Stonewall Democrats president Patrick Shepherd recalled, “Stephanie was scheduled to headline at a Cleveland Pride but she arrived a little late.”
“Musical performances had already begun on the main stage by that time,” Shepherd said. “I offered to make a request to give her some microphone time at the next intermission. She responded by saying, ‘No, baby, no.’ She always called me ‘baby,’ like she did with many people. ‘I’m just here to see my friends in the gay community.’ ”
“Stephanie excelled at retail politics and loved her constituents, regardless of our sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Shepherd.
One of Tubbs Jones’ closest friends in the House was openly lesbian Rep. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin. The two were first elected to Congress the same year.
“I haven’t yet processed her passing,” Baldwin said from the Democratic National Convention in between hosting the LGBT luncheon and preparing for her Tuesday night floor speech. “This is hard to talk about.”
Baldwin said the first time the two met was at a reception when the two were candidates. Baldwin believes it was an HRC event.
Baldwin said Tubbs Jones asked a reporter in the room “Is that Tammy Baldwin over there?” adding, “She’s running as an out lesbian. I want to meet her.”
“That someone else intensely on the campaign trail embraced my candidacy was meaningful,” Baldwin said. “It’s a special memory to me.”
Baldwin said that within weeks the two were at new member orientation learning about how to be members of Congress.
“You always remain close to the people you came in with,” Baldwin said. “When you don’t want to look like you don’t know what you’re doing or where things are, they are the only people you can confide in.”
The two worked together on many efforts including most recently, the primary presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton.
Tubbs Jones is preceded in death by her husband of 27 years Mervyn L. Jones, and survived by her son Mervyn Jr.
The 11th Congressional District Democratic Executive Committee will choose Tubbs Jones’ replacement on the November ballot.
Shepherd and HRC Director Tim Downing are part of that committee.
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