When Representative Tavia Galonski (D-Akron) introduced House Bill 729 last month to permanently designate June as Pride Month in Ohio, she did so with a healthy amount of determination, but also with a slight bit of surprise.
“I couldn’t believe this hadn’t been done already!” Galonski remembers thinking.
Galonski chatted with The Buckeye Flame editor Ken Schneck to talk about the significance of Pride Month, the importance of intersectionality, and how we all can more effectively use our voice to make a difference…even with Republicans!
Why HB 729 and why now?
I consider myself to be an ally of the community. I used to be on the Board of Equality Ohio, and really enjoyed working on their education piece. Here in the 35th District, these are hard-working folks, and they really want to see that somebody is fighting for them. I was blown away when when [Executive Director of Equality Ohio] Alana Jochum proposed [HB 729] to me. Why isn’t June already designated Pride Month? How is it we haven’t already done this? Here in the 35th and here on the west side, we’ve just been living it up for all of these years. So how lucky am I that I get to now carry this?
What was the response like from your colleagues?
Overwhelmingly great. Sometimes even Democrats are reluctant to put their names on a bill, because you’re never sure what it’s going to morph into, especially when you work with Republicans. But here, I love being able to say that my Democrat colleagues rushed right to it and even afterwards, people were like, Did I get on? Am I on? I can’t wait to be on.
Actually, I did reach out to try to get some Republicans to carry it with me, and I was disappointed by their response. I represent Republicans and I represent gay Republicans. It was shameful of [Republican representatives] not to immediately grab this win for Ohio. So, I feel like it’s their loss. But if they want to come on later, I’m not going to stay mad at them.
What happens next?
I’m going to be pulling for some hearings. A lot of people are saying, We’re just going to do lame duck. But, no, we can go to work for the people right now. And I’m going to be pushing for this. I’m going to rally the troops—either virtually or otherwise—to say that this should have been done a long time ago. Right now when people are looking at us and thinking that we [are not great]in the House, we want to be able to say that Ohio is going in the right direction and that’s what this bill would do.
You’re known for doing so much great intersectional work, particularly when it comes to race, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression. Talk a little bit about the importance of working intersectionally.
Amen. I have to tell you, some of my own background is that when we found out four years ago that we were going to welcome our first grandchild, what came with that new family member was our own trans member of our family. My eyes have been opened to a number of things, so that informs my work: that we’re all in this together, and we’re all family.
I’m no walk in the park. I’m not easy to deal with. <laughs> But people keep accepting me. All people need from us is our love and acceptance. I used that same approach when I was on the bench as a magistrate: that these are hurt families and hurt people needing resolutions in their lives. So I’m going to listen to everybody. I’m going to listen to the racists. I’m going to listen to grandmas. I’m going to listen to the moms, the dads, the kids. I’m willing to listen to the voices of everyone and find that commonality. I’m not talented in every area, but I do believe I have that listening talent. That’s the kind of the work we need to be doing.
Can you give us an update on the Ohio Fairness Act?
<sighs> Oh my goodness. I hate to always be trashing my Republican colleagues and their FBI problems. But the thing that concerns me is that when I go out into the community, people literally are just regular folks who want their shot in life. [The Fairness Act] is a long overdue section of civil rights that we haven’t pursued. We’re not all equal until we’re all equal. I know in my heart that Ohioans, Bob and Betty Buckeye, they just want domestic tranquility. They want to live the Ohio promise: to safely work, worship, live, and retire in security.
This bill is a no brainer. And I’m not afraid to say it: [The Fairness Act] is business friendly. Why wouldn’t we want more businesses to come here and settle in Ohio? I have the Goodyear World Headquarters in the 35th [District], and nondiscrimination is on the mission statement of any Fortune 500 or Fortune 200 company. So let’s go here, Ohio.
The legislative process is one way of creating change in society. But in some of these areas where the LGBTQ+ community is not seeing the equality and protections we want to see, what advice can you offer to find other paths to change?
Not that I’m any kind of expert, but let’s tell the truth. Even in these communities that seem like they don’t accept folks, no gay person arriving in that neighborhood today would be the first. I’m all for yelling and screaming and I love a good gay parade. But sometimes it’s a quiet conversation. Hey, you know your accountant? He’s been living with his partner and best friend for 40 years. It’s that type of conversation that can be so helpful. I loved when Equality Ohio did [a series of]videos, and that was a genius way of saying, Hey, These are our neighbors. These are our church members. It’s my doctor. It’s my dentist. It’s the guy doing the lawn. These are regular Ohioans who just want to live their best life.
But I believe in all forms of advocacy. Different people listen to different messages. Maybe we put on our rainbow mask and show up somehow somewhere, but then we layer it. We need a good decorating scheme—and I am not a good decorator so I don’t know why I say that but they’re always talking about layers on HGTV—but we need layers. Maybe the first time I come at you, I’m a little forceful. But maybe the next time, it’s just us talking on a park bench. Or maybe it’s sharing a meal. Heck, if I can do it in the Ohio House to build bridges across the aisle with some of these people, we can all do it. <laughs> It’s just the truth.