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October 22, 2010

Bowling Green laws might win election

But it’s close, and campaign is short on money

Bowling Green--The campaign to preserve Bowling Green’s LGBT-inclusive equality ordinances appears to be winning, but the contest will be close, and additional resources are needed.

How the measures stand with voters won’t be known until Election Day, said campaign director Kim Welter. “There has been no poll, and that’s been because we cannot afford one.”

Welter then explained that, based on the conversations that campaign volunteers are having with voters as they canvass, the ordinances are winning in three of the city’s four wards, and losing slightly in the most conservative one.

The two measures, passed in August 2009, were challenged by a petition campaign that put them on the November 2 ballot. They are the only LGBT issues on any U.S. ballot in this election, so the campaign has drawn attention on both sides.

The campaign to keep the ordinances, called One Bowling Green, is also using data collected in Kalamazoo, Michigan during a similar effort last year. That campaign, which kept that city’s ordinances in place, was similar to Bowling Green’s, but it was larger and was able to conduct polls.

Welter said the data from the voter conversations is being synchronized with the corresponding Kalamazoo polls to gauge the Bowling Green campaign’s progress.

The two ordinances were passed by the Bowling Green City Council last year after heated debate where more than 50 citizens spoke.

They expanded existing measures to prohibit discrimination by sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, pregnancy, marital status, military status, veteran status, genetic information, HIV status and physical characteristics. The original laws already included race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, creed, ancestry, disability, and family status.

The LGBT equality measures are similar to ones in 16 other Ohio cities, including all of the state’s largest, and to laws in 21 other states. (An Ohio law, passed by the House, is now in the state Senate where it has seen no action.)

The new measures also created a complaint and penalty process that emphasizes mediated settlements over court action.

One of them covers housing. It passed unanimously. The second covers public accommodations, education and employment. It passed 6-1.

Shortly thereafter, three activists connected with the Tea Party and anti-gay Christian groups organized and filed enough signatures to put the measure on the ballot.

Their campaign is now called “BG Citizens Voting No to ‘Special Rights’ Discrimination.”

“They’re losing their petition signers,” Welter said, explaining most of the people who signed the petitions have been swayed to support the ordinance because of the conversations with volunteers in the One Bowling Green campaign.

One Bowling Green, which has raised and spent $77,000, employs four people, including Welter.

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is paying another person. NGLTF is also assigning its staff to work in Bowling Green for periods of time on rotation.

The Leadership Mentoring Project of the Los Angeles LGBT Center is also involved, paying one full-time campaign staffer and giving technical support.

The Leadership Mentoring Project was started by former NGLTF staffer David Fleischer, who worked on the 2003 election campaign to pass the Cleveland Heights domestic partner registry.

Fleisher is also affiliated with Ask Cleveland, whose leader David Caldwell is a Mentoring Project staffer and is also working in Bowling Green.

Fleischer and Caldwell are nationally recognized experts in voter-identification campaigns, where volunteers talk to large numbers of voters and note their responses.

Campaign mirrors Kalamazoo

Campaign financial reports are due one day after press time, so currently it is unclear how much money opponents of the ordinances have raised.

Citizens for Community Values of Sharonville, Ohio is active in the anti-LGBT campaign, as is Liberty Alliance Action of Forest, Virginia, which calls itself “the successor to the Moral Majority founded by the late Dr. Jerry Falwell in 1979.”

What is clear, however, is that their tactics mirror those used in Kalamazoo, and against Gainesville, Florida’s gay mayor Craig Lowe earlier this year.

The messages are the same and the mailers are the same, including use of the same photos.

Gary Thompson, the anti-LGBT campaign’s treasurer, sent a letter to voters asking them to vote no on the ordinances.

“We oppose the two ordinances because: They violate religious freedom, They pose a public health risk, They violate privacy rights of women and girls in restrooms, They lay the groundwork for homosexual marriage.”

None of those claims are true, and One Bowling Green takes them on in advertisements that point out that other cities with similar ordinances are not experiencing any of the anti-LGBT threats.

According to Welter, that has been successful.

“They have been told not to run on religion, because it doesn’t play in Bowling Green,” said Welter, explaining that the anti-LGBT group’s spokesperson Crystal Thompson, Gary’s daughter, has admitted that publicly. “So, they talk about religious liberty, keeping government out of people’s lives, and women’s rights, but religion is the issue they want to run on.”

‘Push polls’ used by opponents

The anti-ordinance side also used a tactic developed in the 1980s by Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed, called a push poll.

Push polls are used as a voter identification tool, but they are primarily used to proffer unsavory messages about one’s opponent under the guise of message testing.

In this case, BG Citizens Voting No to ‘Special Rights’ Discrimination made Welter the target. In the push poll, she was called a “radical feminist.”

“Kim Welter, the professional homosexual activist from Columbus running the deceptive campaign supporting these discriminatory ordinances boasted to a ‘gay’ newspaper [Gay People’s Chronicle, July 18] that she intends to use the precinct-level organizing and voter identification she learns from this campaign and apply it to Equality Ohio and its future plans, including repeal of Ohio’s constitutional marriage ban amendment passed in 2004,” reads an anti-LGBT campaign mailer.

The attacks on Welter are having little effect on voters.

However, what is swaying voters against the ordinances is that voters are being told that Bowling Green doesn’t need equal housing ordinances because of the excess of rental property on the market, landlords are hungry for anyone they can get.

Thompson, who owns a number of properties in town, has been organizing the landlord community against the ordinances claiming it takes away their rights.

Also effective is the smear campaign run against transgender people under the cover of restroom privacy rights.

Here again, the mailers are identical, including the photos, to those used in Kalamazoo and Gainesville.

The mailer features photos of four transgender women taken from the internet and is headlined, “Should these men be allowed to discriminate against the privacy rights of women and children?”

The flyer mocks the women, their names, and their stories of discrimination. All of them have been successful litigants against discrimination under similar ordinances. All of the described vignettes are out of context and inaccurately describe the women as men. None are residents of Ohio.

“This man--‘Julie’ Nemecek of Jackson, Michigan--believes Christian bookstores and other BG employers should be forced by law to hire men who wear dresses to work and demand to use the women’s restroom,” the mailer says.

“Don’t let this happen in Bowling Green” says the piece.

“This was expected,” Welter said. “But you would think they would at least use new pictures.”

Hundreds of volunteers

Welter said all One Bowling Green materials feature Bowling Green residents.

“This is a small town, so when people see their neighbors and friends and people they know in our ads, it is very powerful,” Welter said.

It has also been a “big deal,” according to Welter, that the opposition is trying to claim, untruthfully, that Bowling Green Christian Academy, which is supported financially by anti-LGBT petitioner Mary Vollmar, would have to hire men in dresses.

Both ordinances have religious exemptions, which the anti-LGBT campaign chooses to ignore.

Welter said One Bowling Green has hundreds of volunteers, and that most of them are straight allies coming from the university and LGBT-affirming churches.

“When [canvassers] go door-to-door, people assume they are gay, and they are willing to put themselves out there for us,” Welter said.

Welter said that during early voting week at the university, which was the week of September 28, One Bowling Green got 753 students to vote there, which is more than the Obama campaign did during all of 2008.

Welter said the goal by election day is 900 more students.

One Bowling Green has also benefited from a long list of endorsements that are diverse and represent most of the population.

What it lacks is resources. Because the radio market is Toledo, it is relatively expensive. Welter said more radio is needed to saturate the airwaves, and that all money raised by election day would do that.

Welter said the fundraising has been disappointing in many ways, including LGBT people telling the campaign that other races have them tapped out.

One Bowling Green is online at www.onebowlinggreen.org.

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