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January 02, 2009

A mixed bag

2008 had gains and losses for the LGBT community

While 2008 started off like any other year, by the time it ended, there was a mortgage crisis, a credit crunch, an historic election, a crushing recession, an almost unprecedented ebb and flow of LGBT civil rights and �Stonewall 2.0.�

A January 22 �census snapshot� by the Williams Institute of UCLA Law School illustrating the prevalence of same-sex couples across the state showed that even in Ohio�s most sparsely-populated county, Vinton, there were 18 couples who self-identified to census takers.

The county, whose 13,372 residents are fewer than many suburbs, is 40 miles a southeast of Columbus.

The report drew on data from the 2000 Census and from the 2005 American Community Survey, a government study that serves as a mini-census in between the official counts every ten years.

Almost one quarter of the 30,669 Ohio same-sex couples are raising children, although they have less access to economic resources to assist their families than do their heterosexual counterparts.

While just less than one-tenth of heterosexual married couples in the state are non-white, the study found more racial diversity among domestic partners, with 14 percent of same-sex couples being non-white.

The growing visibility of Ohio�s LGBT families was reflected in city councils and county commissions across the state.

Oxford City Council voted unanimously on March 4 to expand the city�s non-discrimination ordinance, less than two months after the idea was first floated in a meeting between Miami students, staff, community members and city manager Douglas R. Elliott, Jr. It became the 15th Ohio city to protect citizens on the basis of sexual orientation, and the fourth to protect against anti-transgender discrimination.

The Franklin County Commissioners on April 1 barred discrimination in county employment based on sexual orientation and gender identity, the first county in the state to cover transgender workers.

On May 6, Lucas County commissioners voted to enact protections for their LGBT employees as well, joining Summit and Cuyahoga counties, who protect on the basis of sexual orientation.

Columbus became the fifth city to protect its transgender residents in a unanimous vote on December 15.

Cleveland is poised to follow suit this month. The city passed a domestic partner registry on December 8, but it was immediately threatened with an referendum if opponents gather enough signatures to put it on the ballot.

The Equal Housing and Employment Act, a statewide LGBT antidiscrimination bill, moved in both the Ohio House and Senate, but was not passed. A shift to the left in the state House of Representatives bodes well for its future in that chamber in the upcoming session, although it will still be a hard sell in the Senate.

The state Next of Kin Registry, which took effect September 8, allows anyone with an Ohio driver�s license or identification card to list two people to be contacted in case of an accident or emergency.

Members of same-sex couples may list their partners as their primary next-of-kin contact in case of emergency, although minors must have at least one of the two contacts be a parent or legal guardian.

The Tenth Ohio District Court of Appeals on June 10 upheld a Franklin County ruling that Ohio�s marriage ban amendment does not affect custody agreements. It was the latest in a series of decisions across the state limiting the scope of the amendment. The Ohio Supreme Court ruled last year that it applies only to marriage and civil union, in a dispute over domestic violence statutes

Students and educators across the state were given a new tool to protect youth: the Northeast Ohio chapter of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network unveiled their 144-page Ohio Educator�s Guide to GLBTQ Resources: A Guide for Creating Safe Schools for All Youth at a February 9 reception in Cleveland. The group mailed copies to the libraries of each high school in the state.

The Brecksville-Broadview Heights City School District included LGBT students in its anti-bullying rules in July. The Cleveland suburban district was following the edicts of the 2006 HB 276, which requires all districts to enact anti-bullying rules.

Despite a great deal of lobbying, HB 276 did not enumerate the groups that should be protected from bullying, leading critics to argue that LGBT students might be left out. School districts, however, are free to spell out what groups are protected.

Brecksville-Broadview Heights acted five months after Lawrence King, a 15-year old gay student in Oxnard, California, was shot in the back of the head by a fellow student.

His murder led to a nationwide call to better protect LGBT youth from violence, and even the generally light-hearted Ellen DeGeneres turned serious on her show to discuss the child�s death.

Two universities in Ohio will offer LGBT scholarships. The College of Wooster introduced a scholarship named for its late openly gay comptroller, John Plummer, and it is intended to make the school more gay friendly.

Meanwhile, Harry Jackson, owner of the Odd Corner near the University of Akron campus, bequeathed one-third of his estate to Kent State University, and gave the school the first $25,000 on April 17.

While he will donate more while he is still alive, the bulk of the endowment will come from his estate posthumously. The overall value was roughly $2 millionin April. The money will benefit LGBT students.

Same-sex marriage was legalized in California and Connecticut, both through state supreme court rulings. California�s high court ruled May 15 that marriage is an inalienable right open to all citizens, and thus to LGBT citizens. Connecticut followed suit on October 10.

California�s marriages, however, were put on hold after the November 4 general election when Proposition 8, defining marriage in the state constitution as being between one man and one woman, was passed by voters.

Supporters of same-sex marriage, promptly sued, arguing, among other things, that the petition process could not be used to remove a fundamental right. Attorney General Jerry Brown, part of whose job is to defend state law in court, filed a brief in the last half of December backing that argument, saying that in examining the whole constitution, he believes the court should back the right to marry against a 52 percent vote of the electorate.

The passage of Prop. 8 so shocked LGBT people and their allies that spontaneous demonstrations formed across California, spreading throughout the country over the following weeks.

In what was called �Stonewall 2.0� by some pundits, national days of protest ensued, with varying degrees of success.

The same general election that saw Californians stripped of their right to marry also saw another openly gay representative elected to office, Colorado�s Jared Polis. It also marked the election of Ohio�s first out LGBT judge, Mary Wiseman, to the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas. She was appointed to the bench last year, and turned back a gay-baiting primary opponent to keep the seat.

In sports news, seven out athletes took medals home from the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. Linda Bresonik of Germany took a bronze medal for soccer, while Lauren Lappin and Vicky Galindo nabbed silver medals with the United States women�s softball team.

Natasha Kai of the U.S. brought home gold in soccer, while Gro Hammerseng and Katya Nyberg, who are a couple, brought gold medals home to Norway in handball.

The big gay story of the Olympics, however, was the 10meter platform diving by Matthew Mitcham of Australia, who garnered four perfect 10s on his last dive to shoot ahead of his Chinese competitor Zhou Luxin, denying a Chinese sweep of diving gold.

Mitcham is now the first openly gay man to win a gold medal at the Olympics.

Closer to home, the Cleveland Synergy Foundation unveiled their efforts to bring the 2014 Gay Games to northeast Ohio. They face competition from Boston, Miami, and Washington, D.C.

All was not sunny in Cleveland, despite massive municipal support for the effort.

Over the course of the year, at least three major attacks on gay men were logged near community bars, leaving one man dead and two injured.

A man and a woman were arrested in the stabbing death of Kelsey Stanford, 31, who was killed on June 16. It is believed that the couple lured him from the Hawk to a nearby apartment and robbed him.

Jon Brittain, whose annual holiday drive brings in literally tons of food for the AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland�s pantry, was the victim of an attempted carjacking near the Shed and Man�s World on August 2. The community immediately rallied behind him and efforts are underway to fix broken street lights throughout Ohio City and install security cameras in the area.

Four weeks later, near Twist, Eddie Makar was mugged and beaten with a baseball bat while waking home from the Hawk.

At last report, police had no suspects in either the Brittain or Makar attacks.

So, while the year presented a typical mixed bag of good and bad, 2009 promises to be even more interesting.

Will Barack Obama make good on his promises to the LGBT community? Will the California Supreme Court again uphold marriage equality? Will someone more interesting than Clay Aiken come out of the closet?

Only time will tell.

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