On October 8, 2019, Ohio State Representative Janine Boyd (D – Cleveland Heights) introduced House Bill 363. The legislation would designate October 11 as “Coming Out Day” in Ohio, mirroring National Coming Out Day. The language of the bill is clear and direct:
The eleventh day of October is designated as “Coming Out Day” to raise awareness of the civil rights of the LGBTQ+ community. The General Assembly recognizes that coming out is one of the most courageous acts any LGBTQ+ person makes and that courage is essential to the continued progress towards full equality.
And yet though HB 363 is only 57 words and is in exactly the same spirit as other special designations routinely passed, this bill has sat in the Ohio State legislature for more than a year, with the Republican majority refusing to move on it.
We spoke with Representative Boyd about HB 363, the Ohio Fairness Act, and the importance of ally-building.
To orient our readers, tell us why you do this work of being a legislator.
Because if we are not engaged and at the table, people who are will make all the rules and likely exclude us. I was raised by parents who participated directly in the Civil Rights movement. They protested, they were there at sit-ins at counters to integrate them. So I learned very early that democracy is a hands-on contact sport and if you step away, you will likely see things happening around you that either shouldn’t or that will adversely affect you or your loved ones.
I don’t know where I go from here. This is my last term. But my mom always taught me—and she was a legislator for 16 years and a mayor—that once you know the truth, it’s impossible to ignore it.
Thank you for asking this question, because I needed to remind myself. This is a very ugly environment that we’re in right now. There have been some really dark days. Racism is a public health crisis. All of our rights are at stake with the Supreme Court. There are people who still support this [President]. And then we have this “Running Around the-Speaker’s Chair” game here in the legislature. Nobody has seen anything like this.
What is the patented Janine Boyd superpower? What is that thing that people in the legislature or your constituents would that say you do so well?
My colleagues would probably say about me that I come off very sweet. And I am a sweet person. [laughs]But as soon as a line is crossed that hurts vulnerable people, my superpower is that I command attention at that point in an unexpected way. They don’t see it coming.
It’s been a year since you introduced this legislation to recognize Coming Out Day here in Ohio. Remind everyone why you brought his forward.
When you have an incredible legislative assistant, you get to have wonderful conversations about policy. Ethan [Goodman] is an incredible assistant. He has often been the one to bring to my attention things that we can do. So he’s the one who said, “What if we do one for the state that parallels National Coming Out Day?” And I said, “Let’s.”
Having a Coming Out Day recognized by the state does several things. It first celebrates what should be celebrated. It’s a human right for people to be who they are and revel in it. So I would like to celebrate that.
The other piece is that the more we talk about things, the more we answer questions, the more we can understand each other more, and accept each other more. The more you can make people aware of something that’s not at the top of their lists or is not on their minds or they don’t see often, then the more educated we. The more educated we are, the less ignorant we are. The less ignorant we are, the less bigoted we are.
HB 363 is only 57 words. Why can’t we get 57 words passed?
Because people haven’t been educated and so they are ignorant and the bigoted attitudes continue. The fact of the matter is that we have a super majority in the Republican caucus and quite a few of them are very extreme.
I remember having a conversation about abortion with a particular legislator—and he and I get along real well—and he said to me, “Even if my wife were raped, we still wouldn’t choose an abortion.” And you’re just thinking, “But that’s you! Why do you have to make it so that everybody is like you? Why does everybody have to do what you do in a crisis? That’s not how the world words.”
So these are the people that won’t pass [HB 363]. If they don’t want to do it, they won’t. If they don’t think it’s Christian, it ain’t. If they don’t think it’s appropriate, it’s not. There’s no in between. That’s it.
I never have a legislator on the phone without asking them for their forecast for the Ohio Fairness Act. Your colleague Representative Galonski definitely gave me a wonderful earful.
<laughs> I would never compete with Sister T. She’s the best.
What’s the prediction? Can we actually pass the Fairness Act?
I don’t know. Every now and then you think [Ohio Republicans] will have an interest in looking like they care. But we’ve never seen a political environment in our lifetime and probably never before in history. There’s all this instantaneous history and interaction, the tweeting and all the stuff we didn’t have during the Civil Rights movement. We’re going into Lame Duck session. What we’re preparing for in the minority, universe willing we [the Presidential election], [Republicans] will be mad and they’ll probably take it out on us. They’re going to be spiteful. If we lose, they’re going to be arrogant. So I don’t know.
[Ohio State Senator] Nickie [Antonio] has been working on this for God knows how long, since before I got there. You would think by now, it would have passed. But [Republicans] want to fight ridiculous gun bills. They want to fight our Director of Health from putting out orders to make Ohio more safe. They want to keep draining public schools completely. And they want to fight for the Speaker seats in the House and Senate. And none of these fights have to do with the people.
Let’s end on a positive note. You got me a little choked up with your comments during the Cleveland Stonewall Democrats 20th Anniversary gala talking about the power of allyship. Leave us with our words of wisdom on allyship.
The fact of the matter is we’re all more alike than we are different. If we are going to create bridges where there aren’t any, if we’re going to restore the ground that’s been lost and move forward and create more ground for my kids and everybody’s kids—whether we’re talking about the LGBTQ+ community or the Black community or any other community—if we’re going to fulfill the mission that is guided by what we say this country was created to do, then we have to do it together. We have to be allies together.
I learned that from my Stonewall Dems. My local leadership, my family at Stonewall Dems have been ride or die. They have taught our community how to be co-allies across communities and neighborhoods. So I give them the credit for teaching me.
We can’t do this work in silos. We have to do be there for each other. We just have to keep going. It’s hard. There are some days I don’t want to do it anymore. I get so angry and so tired. There are days I want to move to New Zealand. But New Zealand won’t let me in because I’m American! [laughs]That’s really where we’re at as a country. But that’s motivation too. We just can’t give up and we have to do it together. A rising tide lifts all boats.