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November 18, 2011

Seelbach wins Cincinnati council seat

Cincinnati--Chris Seelbach has done many things in his 32 years. He was one of the founders of the Xavier University gay-straight alliance, and he helped lead the fight to repeal Cincinnati’s anti-gay Article 12.

On November 8, he made history, being elected the city’s first openly gay city council member.

“This is an important victory for LGBT people in Cincinnati and for Chris, who will be an outstanding leader on the council,” said Chuck Wolfe, the head of the Victory Fund, an organization that works to elect LGBT candidates nationally. “We were proud to endorse him and support his campaign.”

The Cincinnati council race was one of the organization’s “Ten Races to Watch” in the election, and Seelbach will be one of three freshman councilors when he is sworn in, along with one returning councilor who lost a reelection bid in 2007.

In the election, the top nine candidates go on to City Council; Seelbach came in ninth out of 23 candidates, 1,000 votes ahead of the next-placed hopeful. It is the first time in recent memory that four sitting council members were voted out; three saw defeat in 1985.

Chris Bortz, Amy Murray, Wayne Lippert and Leslie Ghiz were all voted out of office, P.G. Sittenfeld and Yvette Simpson will join Seelbach on council after they are sworn in on December 1. Christopher Smitherman will return to council, elected there in 2003 but failing in his 2007 reelection bid.

The election decimated the conservative voting bloc on council, leaving Mayor Mark Mallory free to pursue a city agenda without opposition to street car proposals and other issues.

Six days after the election, on his 32nd birthday, Seelbach sat down with the Cincinnati Enquirer to talk about his new role in a city where he has been a leader for over a decade.

“If some gay or lesbian kid in Cincinnati walks into school with their head held a little higher after this, that’s the most important thing,” he said.

One of Seelbach’s first legislative priorities will be to propose domestic partner benefits for city employees. Cincinnati’s new council favors them, if their statements on the campaign trail are any indication, and the Ohio Supreme Court has already limited the state’s anti-marriage amendment enough that such benefits withstand court challenges. Additionally, other governmental bodies, including public universities, tend to find that few enough request the benefits that they add little to the human resources budgets.

Cleveland, Columbus, Cleveland Heights, Franklin County and Lucas County already have such measures, and Cuyahoga County is considering them.

In other elections across the nation, LGBT candidates did well, with ground-breaking council members in Indianapolis and Charlotte, N.C. as well as Cincinnati. Virginia saw the first gay person elected to its state senate, while New Jersey elected the first man to its state assembly who ran for the first time as gay. Previously, assembly members have come out while in office and been reelected.

Other LGBT candidates won in Houston, Denver, Tacoma, Missoula, and Alex Morse, at 22 years old became the nation’s youngest gay mayor, of Holyoke, Massachusetts.

In New Jersey, Bruce Harris might now be the first openly gay, African American, Republican mayor after being elected to lead Chatham Borough.

Traverse City, Michigan voters cast their ballots in favor of retaining an LGBT-inclusive antidiscrimination ordinance, and Houston voters reelected Mayor Annise Parker, who will be joined in city government by Mike Laster, the first openly gay Houston city councilor.

New London, Connecticut will have a gay mayor, Daryl Finzio, and the gay intern credited with saving Rep. Gabriel Giffords’ life, Daniel Hernandez Jr., was elected to the Tucson school board.

Iowa also saw marriage equality held safe with a state legislative vote that gave the majority back to Democrats with the election of a pro-marriage candidate.

While Seelbach is Cincinnati’s first out councilor, he is Ohio’s 22nd out elected official. Athens and Portsmouth currently have gay council members, and Cleveland, Columbus, Toledo, Dayton, Akron, Oberlin, Cleveland Heights, University Heights, Lakewood, Bloomdale and Haskins have all had openly gay elected officials in the past.

Ohio’s first out elected officials were Toledo councilor Louis Escobar and Dayton city commissioner Mary Wiseman, both elected at the same time in 1997. Escobar has since left office, and Wiseman is now a Montgomery County judge.

State Rep. Nickie Antonio of Lakewood is the state’s highest-ranking out elected official. Tim Brown is a Wood County commissioner, and Sandra Kurt is a Summit County Council member.

In addition to Wiseman on the Montgomery County Common Pleas bench, Jerry Larson is an Akron municipal court judge. There are also out school board members in Canton, Bexley, Dayton and Medina.

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