Tuesday, November 29

How 4 Republican anti-protest bills could affect LGBTQ+ rights & Pride celebrations in Ohio

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Following the lead of Republicans in 20 other states, Republican lawmakers in Ohio have introduced four anti-protest bills that could have serious consequences for the LGBTQ+ community.

1991 protest outside Columbus statehouse

Created in response to last year’s anti-racist protests against police brutality, House Bill 22, House Bill 109, Senate Bill 16, and Senate Bill 41, would expand what constitutes an arrestable offense and would increase fines at protest events that officials define as a “riot.”

Ohio’s broad definition of “riot” is left widely open to interpretation by law enforcement, an ambiguity that opponents of these bills say could lead to more arrests at otherwise peaceful protests and events.

“This is yet another attempt to silence the thousands of Ohioans who have taken to the streets to peacefully call for change,” said Rep. Thomas West (D-Canton), President of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus. “[This legislation] shows a total lack of willingness to listen to what these folks have had to say, particularly communities of color. Instead, proponents of this legislation prefer to ignore and punish them for exercising their First Amendment rights in a peaceful manner.”

Like so many other overlapping social justice movements, many LGBTQ+ rights have historically been gained as a result of protests like the 1969 Stonewall Uprising, an action led by a group of largely Black and trans individuals in response to homophobic and transphobic police raids and anti-obscenity laws. The passionate protests and riots that followed set the stage for the modern Gay Rights Movement and the protections that exist today.

To better understand these proposed pieces of legislation, we spoke with some prominent Ohio voices working towards LGBTQ+ rights to have them expound on how these bills could hamper the rights and ability of LGBTQ+ Ohioans to celebrate Pride, to organize and carry out protests, and to generally attempt to affect change.

Kathryn Poe, Policy Organizer for Equality Ohio

The main purpose of the anti-protest bills are to chill freedom of speech and expression in Ohio by targeting movement leaders and peaceful protestors. We know that these bills will further marginalize our communities, especially LGBTQ+ people of color, who already experience police violence at alarming rates.

[The legislation] is written so broadly that festivities like Pride events could be affected if a large event or small group of LGBTQ+ people were labeled as causing a disruption by police officers. One of the bills would even allow civil lawsuits from police officers or first responders against peaceful protestors and the organizations that support them, threatening smaller organizations who might support protestors.

Pride is a protest, first and foremost. Historically, our movement has relied on protest to make our voices heard and bring attention to important topics like discrimination, HIV stigma, and violence against trans women of color. Targeting protest movements is a direct attack on our ability to speak at pivotal movements.

We saw the emergence of a lot of new Prides all around Ohio in more rural districts in 2021. This is an exciting development for our community! But they need protection.

These bills would not just affect the big Pride parades in Columbus, Cincinnati, and Cleveland, but could also really harm new Pride organizers all over Ohio. It’s important to protect free speech everywhere, especially in red districts.

Lena Tenney, TransOhio Board of Directors

These laws will increase the incarceration of LGBTQ+ people—who are already disproportionately targeted by police stops and police violence and subsequently overrepresented in prisons—by turning basic civic engagement into misdemeanors and felonies. LGBTQ+ advocates will be punished for addressing injustices and trying to make our society a better place. Even as a queer and trans person who is already experienced with protesting as a form of advocacy, I will know that my safety and rights will be in even greater jeopardy than they already are on a daily basis. That can have a chilling effect on progressive voices, especially the most vulnerable among us.

These attempts to suppress free speech will further limit avenues through which the LGBTQ+ community can pursue increased equity. Historically speaking, mass action and direct action are at the root of how all marginalized peoples in this country have gained any freedoms. The LGBTQ+ community has only gained any rights precisely because of protests and riots. The riots at both the Stonewall Inn and Compton’s Cafeteria—where the most oppressed of us, primarily People of Color, physically fought for their lives and human rights—paved the way for LGBTQ+ people to become more socially accepted. Our options to make change are already extremely limited and this kind of legislation would further narrow how LGBTQ+ people can advocate for themselves and others.”

1989 protest outside of U4IA bar in Cleveland

The disturbing reality that many do not want to recognize is that out-of-control police have always criminalized protestors seeking real liberation, no matter what their form of expression. I personally experienced and witnessed dozens of blatant violations of not only free speech but also human rights during the protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. All were perpetuated by police under the guise of “law and order,” even when no one was breaking any existing laws. A disproportionate number of those violences were directed at LGBTQ+ people, including putting transgender people in jails that are in no way culturally competent and only exacerbated the trauma of a violent arrest.

To further codify this suppression of speaking up for justice goes completely against everything this country claims to be about while also clearly showing who really gets to have free speech since police do not intervene in or make mass arrests at right-wing protests or riots after a sports win. 🔥

Ignite Action:

  • Contact your Ohio State Representatives to make your voice heard about these anti-protest bills. You can go here and enter in your info to find out “Who represents me?” 
  • Share this article and talk about these bills with one other person you know. Odds are, they haven’t heard about this legislation. 

(This piece appears as part of Amplify Ohio, a collaborative with The Buckeye FlameBlack Girl Media, and ColumbusBlack.com, and sponsored by Local Media Association.)

About Author

Ilona Westfall is a Cleveland-based freelance writer. When she’s not penning articles for a variety of northeast Ohio publications, she’s roller skating with Burning River Roller Derby, rolling d20s with her D&D group, or getting muddy in the woods.

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