I Still Want LGBTQ+ Ohioans to (Somehow & Safely) Take to the Streets

Inspired, radical activism is (STILL) sorely needed to secure LGBTQ+ equality…so why isn’t it happening?

I woke up this morning to an e-mail that made me simultaneously smile and sigh: a piece I had written for Prizm Magazine was awarded First Place in the “Best Editorial Writing” category in the Ohio’s Best Journalism Awards (sponsored by the Cincinnati, Cleveland and Columbus Society of Professional Journalists).

I smiled because this was some lovely recognition for a piece on which I worked really hard and in which I really believed. Entitled “My New Year’s Wish: LGBTQ+ Ohio Takes to the Streets in 2020,” I wrote it in a flurry on December 31, 2019 in an attempt to spur some tiny bit of action for the LGBTQ+ community here in the Buckeye State to not solely rely on legislators to determine our protections and to actually take some of that power back ourselves.

I sighed because Prizm–Ohio’s LGBTQ+ print magazine–was shut down in March due to Coronavirus-related ripple effects. In a further display of some irony, the entire Prizm site was taken down–literally–10 hours ago.

Thanks to the handy-dandy Internet Archive Wayback Machine, I was able to pull up the text of the editorial to see how many of my words still resonated these epic 10 months later. Some did. Some didn’t.

The world is different now in ways that are far too numerous to list, but certainly a pandemic, ardent cries for racial justice (that were always present, but are somewhat more heard now), and debates-that-aren’t-debates top the list. The Supreme Court’s Bostock decision granted protection for many LGBTQ+ employees, but does not cover the majority of Ohio employees who work in businesses between 4 and 15 employees. And we still lack LGBTQ+ protections in Ohio housing and public accommodations.

But I still stand by the sentiment I expressed: that we do more.

Only a few days after this piece was published in January, my phone rang and an Ohio State Senator’s name popped up on the screen. I knew instantaneously that it was a call related to what I had written, and in three rings, I had a 3-hour debate in my head whether I should answer. Ultimately, I’m not someone who doesn’t answer a call from an Ohio State Senator, so I picked up.

Sure enough, a low-key-taking-Ken-to-task commenced. The pretense of the call was centered on a misunderstanding about the Great March on Washington I referenced (I was referring to an LGBTQ+ one; they thought I was coopting a racial justice one). But after that snafu was cleared up, I was reminded that the path to change is chartered through the Columbus Statehouse.

I still fundamentally disagree. Of course change can come through the legislative process: significant, well-reasoned and lasting change. But it’s not the only path, and our history–both nationally and right here in Ohio–tells us differently.

The Buckeye Flame is not Prizm. The context, platform, and sense of urgency are now different. The way we gather has to change to pandemically be safe. The April 25 date I proposed has passed. The exact demands have to be minimally altered to account for Bostock.

But the inspired and radical activism for LGBTQ+ Ohio is very much still needed.

So I present to you what I penned on December 31, 2019–without revision–in the hopes that some of the words (somehow) inspire you to (safely) take to the streets.

Ken Schneck, Editor

My New Year’s Wish: LGBTQ+ Ohio Takes to the Streets in 2020

Originally published in Prizm (Publisher: Equitas Health) on December 31, 2019

At 7:30 p.m., Hank and I met up at the Twin Peaks bar on the corner of Castro and Market and watched in amazement as hundreds, then thousands of pissed-off protesters streamed into the intersection…The anger in the crowd was intense and the potential for violence was very real.
-Cleve Jones, When We Rise

Picture it: San Francisco. April 25, 1978. A sizable gay community showed up, enraged, ready to protest. And the reason? A limited gay rights bill had been repealed. Not in San Francisco. Not in California. But in St. Paul, Minnesota. 2000 miles away from where the San Franciscan protesters stood.

I have been referencing this action constantly in the past couple of months in lectures, interviews, and casual conversations with anyone foolish enough to not slowly back away once my eyes got wild and my tirade got started. I can’t seem to move past the fact that thousands of LGBTQ+ people mobilized over 40 years ago, activated by a phone tree—no Facebook events, tweets, or group texts at their disposal—to descry an injustice.

They were angry. They were loud. They were disruptive. And the focus of their energy was nowhere near their backyard.

Now flashforward 40 years and here we are as an LGBTQ+ community in Ohio at the end of 2019. We close the year lacking basic protections in housing, employment, and public accommodations. In June, the Ohio Speaker of the House penned a public letter denouncing LGBTQ+ events in libraries across the state. In August, an Ohio State Representative blamed the mass murders in Dayton on various groups, including the LGBTQ+ community. And also, we close the year lacking basic protections in housing, employment, and public accommodations.

Yes, of course I know I’m repeating myself; it really is just a measure of my disbelief. I relocated to Ohio from Vermont in 2013, and though I moved here for a job, that simple act of driving eight hours west cost me a host of rights and protections. And I want to yell, scream, and shout about that loss.

I am admittedly in a restless place these days. I blame that state on much of my 2019 reading material. When We Rise got me riled up. The Journalist of Castro Street showed me how a pen can make a difference. White Fragility reminded me I’m not doing nearly enough to use my ridiculous amounts of privilege. Heck, even my fiction selection of The Immortalists presented a tapestry where fighting for our very LGBTQ+ existence is intertwined with the institutions of society and family.

Then, making me even more restless, my work of compiling the LGBTQ+ histories of Ohio cities has introduced me to our state’s rich history of protest to achieve the same rights as our straight siblings:

  • In 1989, Ohio State Senator Gary Suhadolnik, a Republican from Parma Heights, tried to shut down the Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Student Services office at Ohio State University. A year earlier, he threatened to introduce legislation to ban lesbian and gay people from adopting or serving as foster parents. The LGBTQ+ community’s response?: “Picket the Bigot,” an action with over a hundred marchers making their voices heard through signs and presence as they made their way to Senator Suhadolnik’s house.
  • In August of 1989, there was a report in Columbus that two gay men had been forced out of their neighborhood because of antigay harassment. Columbus had just passed a city ordinance that extended residential discrimination protection to include homosexuals, but this was the first instance of a case possibly being covered by this new inclusion. The LGBTQ+ community’s response?: protesters gathered outside the City Municipal building with signs in hand and voices ready to be heard demanding the justice owed to them under the law.
  • On September 3, 1991, Steven O’Banion was arrested for jaywalking and disorderly conduct. He was charged with attempted murder and felonious assault (carrying a sentence of up to 125 years in prison) after he was punched four times in the face by officers as they hurled antigay words at him, and his assaulters came into contact with his HIV+ blood after he was beat up. The LGBTQ+ community’s response?: rally to have the charges dropped and to demand the resignation of an antigay sheriff.

The list goes on and on. A protest outside a Cleveland bar in response to a bar owner’s discriminatory dress code aimed at excluding lesbians. A joint rally of University of Cincinnati and Miami University in response to a brutal antigay hate crime. A march just two months ago in Columbus to cry out for justice for black trans women who lost their lives this year.

We do this. We rise up for very specific reasons. We insist that our voice be heard.

But we don’t seem to do it as an entire state of Ohio. What I want, what I’m not seeing, and what we desperately need is a statewide action. Something that ties together Akron to Zanesville and the whole alphabet of cities in between.

Right now, there seems to only be only one type of statewide activism happening and it is legislative. Let me very clear here: I respect Equality Ohio enormously, I have served on their Board, and I truly believe that many of the advances in LGBTQ equality simply would not have happened without their heroic efforts.

Theirs is an approach that requests that we thank Republicans who deign to support us and prepares our testimony within a specific structure. It is all very palatable, and in many corridors—particularly those in the State House—palatable works and works wonders.

But legislative activism is only one tactic in our arsenal, and I want us to use others. I want us to be distinctly less palatable and infinitely more disruptive, not just as individuals in specific cities, but as a whole state.

For 2020, I want to see a large-scale action happen. I want a simultaneous rally in (at least!) the big “C” cities, all of us marching on the same day—maybe Saturday, April 25, the anniversary of the Great March on Washington?—to demand the equality that we actually do not have. There’s so much we need, all of which is at our disposal:

  • We need our clever signs and we need our powerful voices.
  • We need to engage like the NAACP and we need to disrupt like ACT UP.
  • We need be unrelentingly queer and we need to be unabashedly angry.
  • We need to confront the fact that we are not equal and we need to ditch our complacency. Marriage equality wasn’t the ultimate victory, and just because your municipality might have nondiscrimination protections, the vast majority of your LGBTQ+ siblings in Ohio do not.
  • But above all else, we need to do more, because I can’t help feeling like—as a statewide community—we’re not doing enough.

I’m not sure if you remember, but LGBTQ+ Ohio is closing 2019 lacking basic protections in housing, employment, and public accommodations. By not using all the tools of activism at our disposal, we are allowing that to happen.

And we can no longer allow that to happen. 🔥

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