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January 1, 2010


Looking back at an amazing year

Like many years in the past few decades, 2009 had both highs and lows for the LGBT community, victories and defeats, moments of startling violence that shook us to the core and of pure bliss that left us in awe.

In January, President Barack Obama made history in ways beyond the obvious. Not only was he the first black president of the United States, but his inaugural parade was the first to have an LGBT contingent.

Among the 177 queer musicians were representatives from Cincinnati’s Queen City Rainbow Band, Columbus’ Capital Pride Band and Cleveland’s Blazing River Freedom Band.

“The registration and elimination process was like being part of a reality TV show, waiting to see if you were going to be voted off the island,” said Fred Martens of the Queen City band, one of five musicians from Cincinnati who participated in the inaugural festivities. “I was sweating bullets for two days.”

Only half of the 350 LGBT musicians who registered to march were accepted.

Among the 16 families who accompanied the Obamas and the Bidens on their whistle-stop train trip from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. was Lisa Hazirjian and her partner, Michelle Kaiser. Hazirjian was in charge of LGBT organizing efforts in the Cleveland area for Obama’s presidential campaign, but believed that her selection had more to do with having an offer of a university job revoked when she inquired about domestic partner benefits.

“Really, when all that happened to me, I did talk to attorneys and investigated what my options might be, but without employment nondiscrimination legislation, I had no case,” Hazirjian said. It was that desire for a change in the law that helped spur her to work for Obama, who has since taken heat for neglecting to push LGBT issues as much as during the campaign.

A month after the inauguration, a different politician was being feted--Harvey Milk, the subject of the docudrama Milk.

The first openly gay member of San Francisco’s board of supervisors in 1977, Milk became a martyr when former supervisor Dan White shot him and Mayor George Moscone inside City Hall. In 2008, Sean Penn portrayed him in the film, whose screenplay was penned by gay former Mormon Dustin Lance Black.

Both won Academy Awards, Penn for Best Actor and Black for Best Original Screenplay.

Penn poked fun at his own leftist politics and “dangerous” choice of roles in his acceptance speech.

“Thank you, you commie, homo-loving sons-of-guns,” he quipped. “I did not expect this, but I, and I want it to be very clear, that I do know how hard I make it to appreciate me often. But I am touched by the appreciation and I hoped for it enough that I did want to scribble down, so I had the names in case you were commie, homo-loving sons-of-guns.”

He went on to criticize both the Westboro Baptist Church who was protesting outside the Kodak Theater, as well as those who voted for California’s marriage ban amendment just months before.

We will host the Gay Games

The biggest pro-gay news to hit Ohio, though, broke on September 27: Beating out Washington, D.C. and Boston, Cleveland will host the 2014 Gay Games.

An estimated 12,000 athletes and 100,000 spectators will flood into Northeast Ohio in four and a half years to see a major slate of sporting events, ranging from open-water swimming in Lake Erie to rodeo at the Summit County Fairgrounds. Cleveland’s bid was the only one to include rodeo.

A combination of central location and inexpensive accommodations undoubtedly bolstered the Cleveland Synergy Foundation’s bid, which was also helped by a last-minute pledge of $700,000 from the city of Cleveland. The effort was also assisted by Cleveland +, the city’s convention and visitors bureau, as well as that of Akron-Summit County, Mayor Frank Jackson’s office and the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission.

“The city of Cleveland is prepared to roll out the welcome mat to the LGBT athletes, their families and spectators from around the world,” said Jackson. “Fans of the Gay Games will find that Cleveland is a great place to celebrate sports and culture and that we have tremendous assets and amenities for them to enjoy.”

Marriage wins, and a loss

Nationally, it was another year when same-sex marriage was in the spotlight.

Five months after voters in California ended same-sex marriage in the state, the Iowa Supreme Court made their own state the first in the Midwest to allow gay nuptials, ruling that there was no justification in discriminating against the state’s same-sex couples.

“We are firmly convinced the exclusion of gay and lesbian people from the institution of civil marriage does not substantially further any important governmental objective,” Justice Mark Cady wrote in the April 3 opinion. “A statute inconsistent with the Iowa Constitution must be declared void, even though it may be supported by strong and deep-seated traditional beliefs and popular opinion.

It was also the first time in United States history that a state supreme court issued a unanimous ruling in favor of same-sex marriage.

A month later, Gov. John Baldacci of Maine signed a law allowing same-sex marriage in his state, despite earlier reticence on whether or not he would veto the legislation.

Unfortunately, in the general election six months later, voters in Maine issued a “people’s veto,” halting the law before it could take effect.

New Hampshire lawmakers passed a marriage bill in early June. That law takes effect on January 1, bringing to five the number of states with full marriage--plus the District of Columbia law passed in December.

Equality laws cover over half the nation

Also in June, Delaware became the 21st state to pass a sexual orientation antidiscrimination law. It only took an hour between the time it passed the state House of Representatives and the Senate’s approval. In earlier sessions, the Senate had killed the bill.

Of those 21 states, 14 also protect for gender identity, although Delaware’s new law does not. Washington, D.C. also protects its citizens from discrimination by sexual orientation or gender identity.

Ohio has no law in place, but a bill to enact one passed the House in September, going farther than any similar one has before. It now awaits Senate action.

Over half of the people in the U.S. now live in a state, county or city with sexual orientation protections, and over a third live in an area with gender identity ones. This includes a fifth of Ohioans covered by local laws in 17 cities, including the Akron and Bowling Green ones passed in 2009.

Attacks on the community

In addition to the repeal of Maine’s marriage law, there were other attacks on the LGBT community, some of them much closer to home, others farther away, but also much more literal.

On March 6, two young men returning to the University of Cincinnati when they ran into three high school friends of one of the two youths. The trio attacked the men when they found out that the other one was gay, even beating their old classmate, who tried to protect his friend.

A protest against the attacks and the university’s slow response to them drew 150 people on March 19. It took the school 12 days to issue a campus alert; by then, police had already arrested two suspects in the assault.

In July, three gay men were attacked in related assaults in Columbus, believed to have been carried out by the same group of toughs.

As Red, White and Boom, the city’s Independence Day celebration, was letting out, two men walking alone and another who lagged behind his friends as he was texting on his cell phone were attacked in the space of an hour and a half.

Descriptions of the group of attackers matched in all three instances, and anti-gay epithets were used. All three survivors of the attacks required medical attention.

“These assailants are cowards,” said Gloria McCauley, executive director of the Buckeye Region Anti-Violence Organization. “They’re going to go for somebody they perceive to be an easy victim.”

As reprehensible as the attacks in Cincinnati and Columbus were, however, it was nothing compared to what happened in at an LGBT youth center in Tel Aviv, Israel on August 1.

A masked gunman entered the center and opened fire, killing two people and injuring ten more before fleeing through the city’s crowded streets.

Even the country’s right-wing government harshly condemned the attack, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the center five days later.

Israel is the most gay-friendly nation in the Middle East, and gay and lesbian servicemembers serve openly in the military. The only real opposition to LGBT equality in the nation comes from ultra-Orthodox Jewish factions. However, even the political party Shas, which represents that viewpoint, issued a statement condemning the attack.

The attack brought out 70,000 protesters from across the nation to decry the violence.

“The gunshots that hit the community earlier this week hit us all. As people. As Jews. As Israelis,” said Israeli president Shimon Peres. “The person who pointed the gun at Nir Katz and Liz Trubeshi pointed it at all of you as well, at all of us, at you, at me.”

Vocal allies

Despite this array of foes at home and abroad, however, the LGBT community also had its vocal allies.

Closer to home than Sean Penn and his acceptance speech at the Oscars, Cleveland NAACP president George Forbes came out against efforts to repeal Cleveland’s domestic partner registry, and his position was backed up by an editorial in the Call and Post, the city’s African American newspaper.

Forbes was part of two meetings with LGBT leaders, the first on January 7 with the Call and Post’s editorial board, the next eight days later with the NAACP board and top staff.

Attorney Leslye Huff, journalist Sherry Bowman and PACT-Cleveland co-chair Kevin Calhoun, all representing the Ae in Our Hands Coalition, were joined by Cleveland LGBT Center executive director Sue Doerfer and Cleveland City Councilor Joe Cimperman at the meetings. Cimperman was a champion of the registry on council.

Doerfer was honored at Community Shares’ annual awards luncheon for her efforts on behalf of the registry; the awards are given to staff and volunteers of Community Shares and its member agencies, of which the LGBT Center is one.

She brought Huff, Cimperman and Forbes up on stage as well, and Forbes told the assemblage about having his eyes opened to the basic nature of the LGBT civil rights struggle.

That struggle took center stage in the nation’s capital on Sunday, October 11 as an estimated 150,000 people thronged the West Lawn of the Capitol for the National Equality March, urging President Obama to make good on his campaign promises to the LGBT community.

One of the speakers, NAACP chairman Julian Bond, echoed Forbes’ earlier sentiments on a national stage.

“Black people of all should not oppose equality, and that is what marriage is all about,” Bond said. “We have a lot of real and serious problems in this country, and same-sex marriage is not one of them.”

Growing in Pride

Pride events across Ohio helped stoke the flames that later spread to D.C., and lighting that fire was far easier in a year when most the events weren’t faced with torrential downpours, as was the case in 2008.

Cleveland and Columbus were put in the unenviable position of “competing” with each other because of construction in Bicentennial Park in Columbus and another event in Voinovich Park in Cleveland on a weekend that would have allowed the two to simply switch days. Organizers of the two festivals, however, viewed each other as complementing those efforts instead of detracting from them, and both events had admirable attendance.

Interest was also high at the inaugural Youngstown Pride Festival on June 6, which drew around 1,000 people out for a day of entertainment on Phelps Street.

This was double the organizers’ most generous projection before the event.

“Carlos Rivera, one of the other organizers, said before the event that he would be happy if we had 50 people show up,” organizer Anita Davis recalled. “Kim Akins, the third organizer, though we would get a couple hundred. I thought we’d get about 500.”

“We were all pleased to have guessed wrong,” she said.

Cleveland Black Pride’s 12th annual weekend of festivities was scaled back this year, but still had its traditional White Party, two church services and the annual Family Picnic, which returned to Edgewater Park on August 9.

While Black Pride was not lacking in enthusiasm or even attendance, what it needs is new blood, according to committee member Lena Roberts.

“The committee is open for new members,” she noted. “Next year, as we say every year, is going to be bigger and better.”

“Or at least better,” Roberts laughed. “Unless a big donor comes through, or numerous medium-sized donors.”

Later in the month, Dancin’ in the Streets celebrated its 25th anniversary with a return to its original prices, and increased attendance proved that to be a good move for the AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland benefit.

John Katsaros, owner of Twist nightclub and one of the organizers of the event, estimated attendance at 3,500 people over the course of the day, which more than made up for lowering the cost to $5 in advance or $10 at the gate.

“Because of that price, it’s a volume-predicated event now,” he said. “Because it’s the 25th anniversary, we wanted to bring it back to 1984.”

The last big event of the year was the Cleveland LGBT Center’s Winter Party on December 11, which was immediately preceded by a VIP reception to bid farewell to Sue Doerfer, who is leaving the center to take the helm of Equality Ohio, the statewide LGBT advocacy organization. Lynne Bowman, Equality Ohio’s current executive director, is moving to the national Equality Federation as its director of programs and services.

“Sue brings knowledge of Ohio, executive director experience, including fundraising, and she is well versed in the equality movement,” Equality Ohio board president Rev. Mike Castle said.

“In a way I'm not leaving the center, because now the entire LGBT population of Ohio is my center. I'll continue to work with Cleveland, and now include the rest of the state in my work,” Doerfer said.




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