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Cleveland--Finding someone to fill the House of Representatives seat formerly held by LGBT ally Stephanie Tubbs Jones has been difficult and divisive for the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party.
Much is at stake for LGBT people, and much is being done. The community’s influence with the political machinery is growing.
The 11th Congressional District, which includes the diverse east side of Cleveland and many eastern suburbs, has had pro-LGBT representation for decades.
Tubbs Jones, who died August 20 of a brain aneurysm, had a 100 percent favorable voting record for her entire tenure, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Her predecessor Louis Stokes cast votes for equality most of the time, and during his last three terms, was also a 100 percent HRC voter.
A candidate for the November 4 ballot was to be selected September 11 by about 330 members of the county Democratic executive committee who live in the district.
Former Cleveland Stonewall Democrats president Patrick Shepherd is one of four gay and lesbian committee members; the others are Tim Downing, David Posterero and Kate Kennedy. A fifth member, Nancy Thrams, is out of town and will not be voting, said Shepherd.
The process is complex and moving quickly.
Six names are under consideration: Warrensville Heights mayor and Tubbs Jones’ former chief of staff Marcia Fudge; former state senator Jeffrey Johnson; Rev. Marvin McMickle; former Cleveland city councilor Bill Patmon; former Ohio senate minority leader C.J. Prentiss, who is now education liason to Governor Strickland; and Cleveland Municipal Judge Michael Ryan.
Eighth District Court of Appeals Judge Melody Stewart told the Gay People’s Chronicle Tuesday night that she was withdrawing her name from consideration.
Two special elections, a primary and a general one, will also be held to fill the seat until the old term ends January 3.
While Congress will do little in that time, this will be done to give the new representative more seniority, which will be helpful for getting good committee assignments.
Thirteen people are running in the October 14 primary, including five of the six above. As a judge, Ryan would be required to step off the bench if he takes out a petition to run for another office.
The rest are lesser-known individuals, not likely to garner much support. So, because the district is not likely to elect a Republican, the person named to replace Tubbs Jones on the ballot will almost certainly be her successor.
At press time, momentum was building behind Fudge. She was recommended this week by a small, private group assembled by Stokes and Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson.
Of the six under consideration, Prentiss has far and away the deepest record as an LGBT ally. The rest have had less time to be tested.
Shepherd said he sent each candidate an informal survey on LGBT issues for his own use, and said he was able to get a question about civil marriage into the general party survey.
Fudge, McMickle and Prentiss responded to questions by the Chronicle.
Ryan could not be contacted.
The Warrensville Heights mayor speaks openly of her two gay first cousins and college roommate.
She admits she’s not as well versed in the terminology used to discuss LGBT equality, but was a quick study during her conversation with a reporter.
Fudge supports marriage equality, legislation guaranteeing employment non-discrimination, immigration equality, and protection for LGBT students. She also supports eliminating the tax on domestic partner benefits.
“I’d like to get to know you,” Fudge said she wanted to say to the LGBT community. “And I’d like you to get to know me and what I stand for.”
Fudge said she has contributed to the HRC and attended the group’s dinners and a gay wedding.
Fudge said she would vote to repeal the 1996 federal defense of marriage act and to boost funding for comprehensive sex education, including HIV and AIDS prevention.
Fudge said she believes U.S. foreign policy should address discrimination, torture, and executions of gay, lesbian, and transgender people in countries where it occurs.
“If we believe what we say [as Americans], we would have that discussion with the world,” Fudge said.
“Don’t judge me by members of my profession,” McMickle, a Baptist minister asks of the LGBT community.
During his U.S. Senate race in 2000, McMickle quoted scripture during a television interview, which some interpreted as anti-gay.
McMickle said he was pointing out the two biblical passages used to discriminate against LGBT people, but not adopting the views as his own.
McMickle recently published a book titled Time to Speak, which criticizes African-American pastors who pick and choose verses to support their political agenda.
Where McMickle admits he has a hang-up is around marriage.
“I have no problem with the rights and benefits of marriage [for same-sex couples],” McMickle said. “I just get a little stuck on the word ‘marriage.’ ”
“To me, marriage means the relationship between a man and a woman,” McMickle said. “It has to do with children. There’s no third party necessary. It just flows naturally.”
McMickle, however, is fiercely in favor of all the benefits married couples have for same-sex partners, as long as it’s called something else.
“As a Baptist minister, I am for traditional marriage,” McMickle said, “but on everything else, we line up pretty closely.”
McMickle said he supports employment non-discrimination legislation and immigration equality for same-sex partners. He also supports a requirement that schools protect LGBT students in order to receive federal funds.
He said the LGBT community should support his selection because he’s reasonable, not because of disagreements on the single issue of marriage.
McMickle opposes amending constitutions, both state and federal, to ban same-sex marriage. He opposed and voted against Ohio’s amendment in 2004.
Antioch Baptist, McMickle’s church, has sponsored a faith-based AIDS prevention and care program called Agape since 1999. The program has grown to include outreach into area high schools and nail salons and other points of influence. It is an LGBT-affirming program.
In 2005, Senate Minority Leader Prentiss quit her position on the Capitol Square Advisory and Review Board because the board wouldn’t add sexual orientation to the non-discrimination clauses in two contracts it awarded.
Also, as the state’s top Democrat, Prentiss led the Senate opposition to the “defense of marriage act.” Though the measure passed, Prentiss got a party line vote, and made one of the most moving speeches in favor of marriage equality ever heard in the Statehouse while wearing a rainbow ribbon.
Standing behind Prentiss were other Democratic senators and staffers, also wearing rainbow ribbons in support of LGBT equality.
Prentiss has a relationship with Equality Ohio, and helped launch the group’s first lobby day.
As minority leader, Prentiss visited county Democratic parties throughout Ohio, speaking on issues including LGBT equality.
Prentiss unequivocally supports marriage equality as well as full rights and protections across the board for LGBT people in the U.S. and internationally.
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