Nick Komives has helped usher in a ton of change in Toledo and he has no plans on stopping anytime soon.
In his former role as Executive Director of EqualityToledo and his current post as a Council Member on the Toledo City Council, Nick’s advocacy for the LGBTQ+ community has made a real and true difference in Ohio’s fourth largest city.
He successfully protected the right of a same gender couple denied of their right to marry shortly after marriage quality became the law of the land. The city’s MEI Score by the Human Rights Campaign increased from 53 to 103 under his leadership. Nick stood at the forefront in passing the country’s most comprehensive ban on conversion therapy. He also added protections in housing, employment, and public accommodations for transgender folks in Toledo, passed a city policy ensuring healthcare for transgender employees or family members, and unveiled the new Pride Way along Adams Street.
First elected in November 2017, Komives is seeking another term on city council to continue sharing his passion and activism with not only the LGBTQ+ community, but with the Toledo community as a whole.
The Buckeye Flame spoke with Komives to learn more about his accomplishments and aspirations for another term.
What are some of your accomplishments from your previous term that you’re most proud of?
I’m most proud of working on the environment and water. I’ve really been focused on protecting Lake Erie and cleaning it up, and also making sure that people have fresh, clean water that is also affordable. I created a consumer protection board for our water department that’s made up of community members from all across Toledo who have valuable input in the policies and management of the department of public utilities, which I think is more of a voice to people. I think that was really important for our city as we continue to move forward. I’m also really proud of my work on affordable housing issues, ensuring access to housing, and passing a number of ordinances that address tenants’ rights, in particular.
I worked really hard at the beginning to add healthcare benefits for trans individuals who worked for the city, or for family members of employees who identify as trans, [since]we didn’t have healthcare benefits that covered trans-specific healthcare. Also, we finally got a rainbow crosswalk. We did a wonderful dedication to our first openly gay member of city council, who was also our first Latino member of city council. We continue to improve on a number of policies that are outlined by the Human Rights Campaign, taking our municipal equality index score from a 96 the year before I started on council to a 103. That number was actually a 53 when I started as the Executive Director of Equality of Toledo in 2015, so steadily for six years I’ve been working on improving that score here in Toledo.
What are some of your goals for this term if you are elected?
I want to continue focusing on water and the environment. I’ve been looking to regionalize our stormwater [and]water reclamation systems, and get us all working together. And then I’ll continue to focus on affordable housing, because I know it certainly helps to impact those who are the hardest hit, especially in light of what’s been happening with COVID. And next, I want to start really looking into policies around contracting, so who ends up getting the work that the city pays for. The city spends millions of dollars every year, and I want to make sure that we are not just utilizing the same contractors that we always do, because they tend to be specifically cishet, white, male-dominated contractors. [We need to make sure] that women-owned businesses, minority-owned businesses, [and]LGBTQ+- owned businesses also get an opportunity to get some of that work. I also want to make sure that within those contracts, we are only contracting with companies that have protections for LGBTQ+ people.
What is LGBTQ+ life like in Toledo? What changes have you witnessed, and what changes do you hope to see going forward?
I think Toledo overall is a very welcoming city. There’s lots of room for improvement, like everywhere, but I think overall Toledo is accepting and welcoming of folks of all types. But I will say that some of the changes that I’ve witnessed in recent years are a staggering number of our LGBTQ+ bars closing, and limiting the number of spaces that queer people have to come together and express themselves freely and openly in a safe space. That’s quite concerning to me, because [while]I don’t necessarily believe that we need to have more bars, per se, we definitely need more spaces. It’s also one of the reasons I really love that we have a new gay-owned, lesbian-owned coffee shop downtown, and I know people have been flocking there because we’re all looking for an outlet.
I would also say our community does a good job of coming together for Pride and other events, like when we honored Louis Escobar, who was on council. I’d love to see even more opportunities, so I want to work harder with our local LGBTQ+ organizations to ramp up the number of events that happen throughout the community, so that way there’s more opportunities for folks. There’s a real need for more access to healthcare for folks and services for seniors and youth that identify as LGBTQ+, as well.
What does it mean for you to be one of the few out LGBTQ+ elected officials in Ohio?
When I was younger, I remember really only having an opportunity to see one or two [LGBTQ+] folks across the country that were out in elected office, and I never really necessarily thought that I would be an elected official myself. When the opportunity came, it wasn’t really something that was necessarily on the forefront of my mind. I ran because I really care about issues that I think matter to all of us, and I think that’s why all of us do what we do.
I remember the day that I was sworn in, there was a young man who was in high school. He approached me after and asked to get a picture with me in front of my sign, and he said, “You represent the hope that I can someday run for office like I want to.” And it really struck me in that moment because I obviously think that representation matters, but that moment really solidified how meaningful it was for me to be out and proud.
It’s why when I run for office, we make these shirts that say, “Make Toledo Gay Again,” and it gets a lot of attention [when]people see it. There are people that claim that I am just running because I’m gay, and it’s kind of funny to me in a lot of ways. I think it’s obvious that young people see it, and when I was young we needed to see people that are like us in all positions to understand that we can be in these positions. It’s not uncommon to see cishet men in any position anywhere, but you don’t think about necessarily what it means for other minorities to be in those spots until you actually get to see it and experience it. I understand the brevity of it and I take it quite seriously, and I just hope that young people see myself and others like me as a doorway that they can then walk through, and it gets easier every time.
What challenges have you experienced in your previous term, and what challenges do you anticipate in your next term?
I think the biggest challenge for me honestly was just the learning curve. I went from doing a lot of social justice activism to having to go in a sewer and understand what happens when we flush our toilets. There’s so much to learn and there’s so much to digest. I don’t think that we all really realize how much goes into running a city, and so my biggest challenge was just learning every aspect of what my job was. I think that I was already pretty good at connecting with folks and connecting folks to other folks, so those things come pretty easy for me, but the knowledge base is what I needed.
In my second term, I think the trick is building upon the work that I started. I really learned in this first term who to listen to, what is important, and [how to decipher]where I belong and what [my lane is]. Now that I think I’ve carved some of those things out, I’m looking forward to being more aggressive policy-wise. Which also means that there will be more people who are vocal against what I’m doing, so I really have to learn how to navigate those waters. 🔥