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May 20, 2011

Lawmakers meet with hundreds of volunteers

Columbus--Over two hundred people were expected to turn out for Equality Ohio’s sixth annual Lobby Day on May 18, with the opportunity to speak with 40 freshman lawmakers in the Ohio legislature.

According to Equality Ohio executive director Ed Mullen, 215 people had registered to attend Lobby Day this year, and over 50 had participated in the trainings, held in several cities in the last few weeks.

“What I do know this year is we have a lot of people who have been doing this for three or four years, so they registered but they didn’t come to trainings,” he said.

He also noted that last year’s Lobby Day had 280 people registered, although only 230 or so attended.

“We’ve heard from people who are not attending two main reasons,” he said in a May 17 email to the Gay People’s Chronicle. “One, they are fatigued, and two, they are pessimistic about this legislature.”

Last year, Democrats controlled the Ohio House of Representatives and most statewide offices. This year, however, the Republicans hold majorities in both houses of the legislature and most of the statewide offices.

“I think that is all the more reason for people to show the strength of our community, particularly with 40 new legislators in office,” Mullen noted. “We strongly believe that significant progress can be made on pro-equality legislation.”

“To compensate for the reduced numbers in Columbus, we are going to make a concerted effort to do in-district lobbying in the fall,” he continued.

Lobby Day itself is presenting attendees with some heavy hitters. “Representative Nickie Antonio, former Rep. Dan Stewart, Senator Sherrod Brown’s LGBT outreach coordinator Max Blachman, and high school student Matt Gilbert” were set to speak in the morning.

After the lobbying, a reception was slated with 77 attendees, plus 50 legislators or aides.

“That is 50 more total than last year. Ohio Supreme Court Justice Yvette McGee Brown will be delivering remarks,” Mullen said.

Volunteer lobbyists planned to discuss an anti-bullying bill and an LGBT anti-discrimination measure with lawmakers.

The first bill, introduced in March by Antonio and Michael Stinziano, would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s anti-bullying law, along with other categories.

The second is the Equal Housing and Employment Act, which passed the Ohio House only to die in the Senate last year. It was thought that it might be reintroduced in time for Lobby Day, but that is not the case.

EHEA will be co-sponsored by Republican Rep. Ross McGregor and Democratic Rep. Nickie Antonio, Ohio’s first out legislator. Mullen and his organization have been working with the lawmakers to push for the bill’s success this year.

“Nickie Antonio and Ross McGregor, to my understanding, have made some minor changes to it and are ready to [introduce the bill], but Rep. McGregor thinks it will get more traction if it’s after the budget is passed,” Mullen said.

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