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February 11, 2011

New Equality Ohio head is ready for the challenge

Columbus--Equality Ohio has a new hand at the tiller, three months after Sue Doerfer left the position.

The statewide LGBT equal rights group announced January 31 that Ed Mullen will be its executive director, after a national search.

A Chicago attorney, Mullen handled civil rights cases for Access Living, a disabled-advocacy organization. He also handled several LGBT cases pro bono, including harassment in a high school and a man’s dispute with his deceased partner's family over ownership of his home.

Mullen was a candidate in last year’s primary for the 11th District Illinois House seat, for which he received endorsements from the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund and the Equality Illinois Political Action Committee.

“Ed brings with him a proven track record of leadership in GLBT activism and advocacy,” said Equality Ohio board president Rev. Mike Castle in a statement. “His extensive experience in lobbying and civil rights law will be a valuable asset to Equality Ohio. He is an extremely smart, engaging, energetic and an all-around delightful person.”

After attending the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s annual Creating Change conference in Minneapolis last weekend, Mullen’s first day at Equality Ohio’s Columbus office was February 9. He will be moving from Chicago to Columbus this month.

Mullen looks at the differences between Illinois and Ohio with both realism and optimism.

“I think Illinois has a greater level of legal protections. We don’t have a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and other relationships, and I think that is emblematic of the difference between the states,” he said. “Ohio hasn’t passed a lot of the laws that Illinois has passed, so there is a lot of work to be done here.”

However, when asked if he found the road ahead daunting, he replied, “I don’t think daunting is the word. It’s certainly a challenge, but what we’ve seen in other states and in other countries around the world is that there is a forward march to equality. There are steps forward and retreats.”

Instead of viewing setbacks in last November’s elections as a major obstacle, he simply views it as an opportunity to “frame our issues so they can resonate with the people who are in office now.”

He also believes that, as a new generation comes into power, the messages put forward by the LGBT community will spread further.

Mullen believes that being at Equality Ohio puts him in the perfect position to help make change in the state.

He described Equality Ohio as having “a very dedicated staff and a very dedicated and engaged board. I think there is a lot of opportunity to reach out to people across the state and bring more people in, the transgender community, youth activists, senior activists. I think there is a lot of room to grow.”

One of the organization’s imminent steps is coming up with a strategic plan for the next few years.

“We’re starting to go through a strategic planning process, and I’m actually meeting in a few minutes with a woman who is guiding us through that process,” he said, noting that the organization will soon have a list of priorities, and will be asking groups around the state what issues are important to them, and what assistance they would find beneficial.

One of the most immediate concerns will be the reintroduction of the Equal Housing and Employment Act in the legislature. Springfield Republican Rep. Ross McGregor plans to put the LGBT anti-discrimination bill forward again, and will get across-the-aisle assistance from freshman Rep. Nickie Antonio of Lakewood, the first out legislator in Ohio history.

EHEA passed the Ohio House of Representatives in 2009, supported by five Republicans. It then languished in the Ohio Senate before dying in December with the end of the legislative session. When it passed, the Ohio House was majority Democrats. Now, Republicans control both chambers and the governor’s office.

The two lawmakers point to the need for economic development in the state, and argue that employment non-discrimination measures are strong recruiting tools for employers.

“The jobs of the 21st century are going to be jobs that require creativity,” McGregor told the Dayton Daily News.

“If we’re trying to really attract companies that are on the edge of technology and everything else, they’re going to be progressive,” Antonio noted. “The majority of them are trying to attract the best and the brightest. They want their employees to be in an inclusive atmosphere.”

Mullen said that EHEA is still at the top of his organization’s list.

“EHEA remains the number one legislative priority, and we anticipate that we will give a lot of support to the legislators that are trying to get that bill passed,” he said. “We certainly understand the challenges given the makeup of the current legislature, but we’ve already started meeting with lawmakers.”

Mullen is Equality Ohio’s third executive director. Lynne Bowman ran the organization from its founding in 2005 until 2009, and former Cleveland LGBT Center director Doerfer took over in January 2010.

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