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October 22, 2010

U.S. Attorney pledges attention to anti-gay hate crime

Five honored at LGBT Heritage Day in City Hall

Cleveland--“If I have to leave you with one message about civil rights,” declared Steven M. Dettelbach, the U.S. Attorney for northeastern Ohio, “it is this: We are open for business.”

Dettelbach said this especially about the Matthew Shepard-James Byrd Hate Crimes Act, passed earlier this year, which federalizes anti-gay hate crime.

He addressed about 75 people gathered at Cleveland City Hall for LGBT Heritage Day on October 12.

"We know this is an urgent and important matter, and we are committed to getting it right," Dettlebach continued. "We are going to do our best to see that the rights in the law books are turned into enforcement."

Dettelbach then introduced the head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez.

Perez applauded the current focus on anti-gay bullying in schools for reaching the problem early, because “Today’s bully is tomorrow’s civil rights defendant.”

He also stressed the importance of “civil rights redundancy: Strong protections at the local level, strong protections at the state level, and strong protections at the federal level . . . for those times in our nation’s history when one level of government lacks the political will to enforce civil rights.”

The second annual LGBT Heritage Day marked a week of events celebrating LGBT History Month, National Coming Out Day and the 35th anniversary of the Cleveland LGBT Center, one of the oldest in the nation.

Sponsored by the City of Cleveland Community Relations Board, the Cleveland LGBT Center and the LGBT Heritage Day Planning Committee, the event was held in the rotunda of City Hall, with the rainbow flag flying outside, above the stately Beaux-Arts edifice.

Among the politicians attending the event were Joe Cimperman, Matt Zone and Brian Cummins of Cleveland City Council, Mark Tumeo of Cleveland Heights City Council, and Lakewood Councilor Nickie Antonio, who is very likely to become the first openly gay or lesbian member of the Ohio House of Representatives in January.

Cimperman noted that, in addition to offering a domestic partner registry--with 212 couples on its rolls--and having added transgender people to its antidiscrimination ordinances, the city will soon begin work on extending domestic partner benefits to city employees.

He recounted a story told to him by Jan Cline, the executive director of the LGBT center. Cline was called by the FBI last spring, and returned the call with trepidation. It was, after all, the Federal Bureau of Investigation. However, they wanted to partner with the LGBT center to find hate crimes to prosecute.

Later, Cline introduced the recipients of this year’s LGBT heritage awards: attorney Leslye Huff for advocacy; CWRU Counseling Services director and P-FLAG Cleveland vice-president Jes Sellers for education; MetroHealth System vice president of government relations and community affairs John Corlett for health care; and Rev. Don King of Hope Lutheran Church for faith-based outreach.

Jeff Ramsey, executive director of the Detroit Shoreway Community Development Corporation, received an award for neighborhood leadership, but he was ill and unable to attend. Ward 14 councilor Brian Cummins accepted on his behalf.

“Religion has the power to bring life or bring death,” noted King, pointing out that it is at its noblest when it brings life.

Corlett quoted Sen. Sherrod Brown, urging, “Don’t tell me what you believe. Show me what you do, and I’ll tell you what you believe.”

Sue Doerfer, executive director of Equality Ohio and former LGBT center head, credited Cimperman with coming up with the idea for LGBT Heritage Day last year as they were going over their “gay agenda.” He told her, “If my daughter grows up to be like you, I would be very proud.”

The Cleveland LGBT Center marked its 35th year with several events last week. The organization began in 1975 as the Gay Education and Awareness Resources Foundation, although it did not open a community center until May of 1977. The first center was at the corner of Euclid Heights Blvd. and Coventry Road in Cleveland Heights, in a third-floor space above the present Inn on Coventry that was destroyed in a 1978 fire.

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