There really is life outside of the three Big C Ohio hubs. Just ask #4.
Sure, Toledo may be Ohio’s fourth largest city and yes, it starts with an entirely different letter of the alphabet as the top three. But make no mistake about it: Toledo is not lacking in amazing attractions and whole lot of LGBTQ+ vibrancy. Even in these pandemic times, Equality Toledo stands at the forefront of making the Glass City as welcoming as it can possibly be.
Formed in 2004 as a response to the passage of Ohio’s Issue One amendment that made it unconstitutional for the state to perform or recognize same-sex marriages or civil unions, Equality Toledo is now in their second decade of LGBTQ+ education, activism, and other anti-defamation efforts in the northwest corner of the state.
The Buckeye Flame caught up with Sheena Barnes, Executive Director of Equality Toledo, to talk about how they have pivoted their work during the pandemic and all the amazingness Toledo has to offer.
How is Equality Ohio Toledo holding up during these nutty times?
We’re actually doing pretty well during the pandemic. We definitely had to take some different steps in how we do our ally training, but the number of trainings has actually increased right now. Our community pantry is being utilized at a much higher rate than we anticipated, but we’re getting a lot of love from our community with donations.
For people in the state who have not experienced Toledo, how would you describe Toledo to members of the LGBTQ+ community who have yet to visit?
Right now Toledo is a pretty booming area for the LGBTQ community. We have increased our HRC score. We are looking at our senior population and increasing the safety with that community as there are a lot of seniors moving here. And we’re getting more agencies and organizations who understand the need to be more affirming. All in all, I think we’re going in the right direction.
What are some of the biggest challenges Equality Toledo is running into these days?
Access to reaching more agencies and orgs right now is a real challenge, particularly with setting up ally trainings. We have a program that we started where you can “research your space.” Agencies have us go in as secret people—like posing as a patient or a client—and unbeknownst to them, we look at things like gender neutral services, paperwork for hiring, and overall vibe for LGBTQ clients. So far we have done this for two agencies, a healthcare and a legal service. There are other orgs that want to do it, but because they’re closed due to the pandemic, they can’t.
How are we doing in Toledo with regards to racial justice in the LGBTQ community?
We had our uprising event on the anniversary of Stonewall, and that went really well. I think that conversation has started. As a director, I want to focus on the marginalized community within the LGBTQ community—our seniors, our international friends and family, our young friends and families—and reach everyone so they can see that Equality Toledo is for them.
As a queer person myself, I don’t always see me when I looked around. Usually when you see LGBTQ folks, it’s a 20-40 year-old, white, cisgender gay couple. There’s no representation of the fluffy folks, or the older folks, or the younger folks. I wanted to change that.