Tuesday, November 29

An Ode to Ohio LGBTQ+ Community Organizing…and a Call for More

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by Gwen Stembridge, Statewide Civic Engagement Director, Equality Ohio

Last week, the Ohio House of Representatives held a hearing on the Ohio Fairness Act, a bill that has been around in the Ohio Statehouse for over a decade. In case you’re not familiar, the Fairness Act is the bill that will add sexual orientation and gender identity to Ohio’s nondiscrimination code, finally fixing the issue that it’s still generally legal to fire someone, deny them housing or access to public goods and services simply because of who they are or whom they love. Ohio is 1 of 29 states lacking these basic protections.

By now, most folks in the circles of LGBTQ+ advocacy in Ohio are weary of hearing about the Fairness Act. “Hasn’t that passed by now?” “Oh, I thought we already had those protections.” And here at Equality Ohio: “When can we pass the Ohio Fairness Act so we can move on to other pressing issues impacting the LGBTQ+ community?!”

It’s exhausting to sit through hearing after hearing at the Statehouse and in local city and village councils where, at the very least, our authentic identities are questioned. Far too often, opposition will even claim that if the LGBTQ+ community has equal rights, somehow more people will commit violent sexual assault on children.

WOAH! You have to be pretty limber to go through the mental gymnastics on that one!

The hearing last week brought forth the same arguments over and over: mostly quotes from the Bible shared in a context many of us would not associate with love of God or neighbor. If anyone is hearing these voices louder than the millions of Ohioans who support basic rights for LGBTQ+ Americans, that means it’s time to organize!

The Akron United steering committee that worked to pass the Akron nondiscrimination ordinance.

As easy as it is to focus on the awful things that were said by groups opposing the Fairness Act at the hearing last week, the thing that keeps me in this work on the hardest of days is the incredible community organizers in Ohio.

Fred Rogers famously said he was comforted by something his mother would tell him during times of disaster: “Look for the helpers. You can always find people who are helping.”  In what has been a disaster of a political moment/year/years for so many, I’m looking for the organizers, and not just those who have that title on a business card. I’m looking to those who are actually:

Organizers celebrating after the Cuyahoga County nondiscrimination ordinance passed.

Organizers are the backbone of this movement, and we honor these organizers.  Community organizing is not just done by folks with those words in their job title. It is most often done by those who are angry enough to take action.

It is organizers who got us to that hearing last week and will continue to push this movement forward. I’m calling on my fellow Ohioans to continue to organize in whatever ways you can. This work is most certainly not over after the election. In the words of my friend and colleague Siobhan Boyd-Nelson, we must not only strike while the iron is hot but we must keep the iron hot.

If you’re organizing around LGBTQ+ issues in Ohio, I’d love to share a virtual coffee with you and talk about how we can organize together to build on the momentum of last week’s hearing and grow the impact of LGBTQ+ voices in our great state. 🔥

Gwen Stembridge is the Statewide Civic Engagement Director at Equality Ohio. Follow them on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.


About Author

The Buckeye Flame welcomes guest commentary from LGBTQ+ Ohioans in support of our mission to support community and civic empowerment through the creation of engaging LGBTQ+ Ohio content that chronicles our triumphs, struggles, and lived experiences. The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in these pieces belong solely to the author of that individual piece, and not necessarily to the The Buckeye Flame.

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