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Antonio elected Ohio’s first out lawmaker
Cleveland--Nickie Antonio is “the first out lesbian legislator elected to the Ohio General Assembly,” to use her own phrase, running unopposed in the general election for the 13th District Ohio House seat vacated by Mike Skindell, who was term-limited out.
Antonio and Skindell both followed similar trajectories in their elected careers, going from Lakewood City Council to the Ohio House. Skindell, who championed Lakewood’s gay-inclusive antidiscrimination ordinance, was successful in his November 2 bid for the Ohio Senate’s 23rd District seat, beating out Republican Dave Morris with three-fifths of the vote.
Antonio earned 14,696 votes in the district, which includes all of Lakewood and the part of Cleveland to its east, including the Edgewater and Detroit-Shoreway neighborhoods, and most of Ohio City.
While lacking an opponent in the general election, Antonio faced a brutal primary against Tom Bullock in which he accused her of standing with Democratic Party machinery against the Cuyahoga County government reforms, a claim he was called on by local newspapers.
Antonio was to face independent Jeremy Caldwell, but he dropped out of the election on May 11.
Antonio, who was an aide to former Lakewood Mayor Madeline Cain, now has her work cut out for her.
“One of the things I was thinking about was how the whole campaign was really about jobs and education and healthy communities, and those were the things I talked to everyone in the district about,” she said. “Those are the issues that I’m going to be working on.”
“At the same time,” she continued, “because my family is not completely recognized under the constitution of the state of Ohio, it gives me pause, and I think it will be an interesting time to be able to talk about it with my colleagues, the other legislators.”
While her first priority once she takes office will be the state’s budget woes, “I bring a perspective as someone who has not had full representation, who has been disenfranchised, walking into this situation. Being mindful of the fact that there are a lot of people who are left out of the discussion.”
In her exclusive Election Day interview with the Gay People’s Chronicle, she summed up the realization that she was now Representative-elect Nickie Antonio in one word: “Daunting.”
“I feel a sense of responsibility and that’s daunting, but this is my path in life. I say, I can do that, and then I get taken up on it, so I’ll rise to the occasion,” she laughed. “It’s going to be real different, obviously, but I am looking forward to the opportunity to be a full-time policymaker, and I know that it’s going to be the good, the bad and the ugly.”
One of the issues that came up in the interview, and was reflected later in her election-night speech, was the subject of bullying, teen suicides and the “It Gets Better” video campaign. Antonio turned part of her speech into an “It Gets Better” video.
Before that, however, she said, “It’s so important for me that young people know that they can do anything, including kids in our LGBTQ community.”
She specified the Q as questioning, a reference to the fact that anti-gay bullying can target heterosexual youth who are perceived as gay, or whom bullies call anti-gay epithets because their tormentors lack the imagination to come up with another line of attack.
“It’s really important to me that young people understand, I have this wonderful family, I have a partner, we’ve been together for 16 years, we have two beautiful daughters,” she continued. “Family of our choice, family of our hearts, it’s important for young people to understand that it’s all there for them.”
“At the times when it is hardest, it gets better,” she said. A “working-class, first-time [in her family] college graduate from the West Side of Cleveland, who is also a lesbian, is elected a state legislator. It gets better and I really want young people to know that.”
While the work ahead may be “daunting,” there was a sense of exultation in her voice as well.
“I’m excited and it’s an honor to be the first from the community and it also comes with some real serious challenges, and I take a sense of how tall the order is and how hard the work is that we’re going to have to do,” Antonio noted. “I’m also excited to be able to work on issues of fairness and equality across the board.”
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