When election season rolls around, a slew of candidates suddenly pop up seemingly out of nowhere, courting the LGBTQ+ community with whom they have not previously stood.
Nan Whaley is not one of those candidates.
Whaley—the mayor of Dayton—has a long record of championing LGBTQ+ support, from creating legal protections based on sexual orientation in 2007, to helping to pass Dayton’s domestic partner registry in 2012, to performing same-sex weddings long before marriage equality was legal.
Now Whaley has tossed her hat firmly in the ring to vie for the role of Ohio’s governor, aiming to replace Mike DeWine who last month chose not to veto—and instead enshrined into practice—what advocates call the most homophobic law in the country.
The Buckeye Flame caught up with Whaley to find out what is motivating her run for governor and how she plans on reversing the tide of anti-LGBTQ+ equality coming out of the Columbus statehouse.
Let’s start generally: why governor and why now?
NW: I think the people of Ohio deserve better. We have seen for decades the same elected officials doing the same thing over and over again. We’ve seen communities like mine all across the state get further and further behind, and these officials get their pockets lined because they’re self-interested politicians. We need to have real partners in state government and we can do that by electing someone who has been on the ground getting things done.
You have an unbelievable track record of LGBTQ+ support. Tell us why working with and for the LGBTQ+ community has long been a part of your path.
Back in 2007, Dayton had a terrible track record with regards to the LGBTQ history. Mary Wiseman was the first open lesbian city commissioner and she tried to get an ordinance through that would add sexual as a protected class in housing discrimination. It went down 3-2. She couldn’t get her colleagues to vote for it.
I wasn’t on the commission at the time, but as someone who is an ally of the LGBTQ community, I remember how terrible it felt to watch that. When I decided to run for city commission, it was a key part to run on the idea that if we are going to be serious about growing, we have to be an inclusive community. That’s the kind of community I want to live in.
The first action we actually did when I was on city commission was to lead the effort to add LGBTQ as a protected class in housing. That’s something we’re still fighting for here in Ohio all these years later.
When I became mayor, we had this mantra that no matter who you love, what you believe, or where you come from, you are welcome in Dayton. Inclusivity and diversity are the key to growth and strength, and they are core beliefs to me both as mayor and in this candidacy for governor.
Governor DeWine signing that medical provider conscience clause into the budget was a huge blow to LGBTQ+ Ohioans.
I called on DeWine to line-item-veto that [clause]. This is an example of how he’ll say something like, “I want Ohio to be a progressive, inclusive state” when it’s politically convenient, but when the rubber meets the road, he’s too weak to stand up to the anti-LGBTQ extremists in his own party in the state house. That’s why we need a governor who is tough enough to stand up and make sure that stuff like this is vetoed so that we’re not known with these terrible titles like, “The most corrupt state” or “The worst state for the LGBTQ community.”
And it’s not surprising that we keep on losing congressional seats and losing people in the state generally when this is the kind of backwards policy that’s been going on. Mike DeWine won’t stand up for anybody because he is too afraid to take the political risks with the extremists in his own party.
Along the same lines, we have legislation like the Fairness Act, which has been on the table for so, so long.
Yes, yes! I’ve sent a letter of support every single time it is introduced.
How do we get something like that passed, especially when it is a no-brainer for so many other states?
I think, again, if you have a governor who is making inclusiveness, fairness and growth real priorities, legislation like the Fairness Act can get passed, We’ve not had a governor who has made fairness a priority. Something like 23 states already have equal protections on the books, so this is not a red state or blue state issue. This is just an issue to make sure everyone feels protected and included. If we had a governor who wasn’t afraid, we could get this done.
As someone who is an LGBTQ+ transplant to Ohio, it’s a very weird feeling to know that I left protections behind when I made the drive to Ohio.
I bet, Ken. We have to make sure that that feeling goes away. That’s one of the big reasons I’m running for governor. We have to make sure that we’re a place where people, no matter where they’re coming from, feel welcome in Ohio. And we can’t just say it. We have to make sure we’re actually doing it, protecting people’s rights with laws that ensure people are not being singled out.
This is the key. We know this from how young people—thank god—think. That’s the kind of place they want to live in. We have to invest in that goal. We have to fight for that. We have been doing it city by city for decades, but we really need to do this statewide, and that can only happen if we have a change in governor.
Earlier this year, we covered a story coming out of Dayton that highlighted the six statutes on Ohio’s books that criminalize living with HIV. How can we go about addressing some of the more archaic laws in Ohio?
These laws are discriminatory. I believe many of them are outdated and need to be change. What we’ve done in Dayton is to try to be proactive on making our city a welcoming city, and that’s what we need to do in the state. We need to pull the outdated laws off the books and put in place laws that protect people.
Voter turnout is a real issue in Ohio. How do we get people to turn out for this election, particularly LGBTQ+ Ohioans who don’t feel that our elected officials have our backs?
We’re going to have some really important races in 2022, from the Senate to the governor’s race to the three Supreme Court seats to all the constitutional offices. And we’re going to have new districts.
We have to protect our rights at the ballot box. A lot of these Republicans now know that if we make voting access easy, Democrats and progressives will win. The only way we can protect our rights is to show up and vote.