Friday, May 27

Checking in with Reggie Harris, Cincinnati’s 1st out Black male city council person

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The queer community has seen huge leaps in advancements since I came out in 1975.

Out gay politicians were extremely rare back then and Black, gay politicians even more so.  Barbara Jordan, who never actually came out, is recorded as the 1st LGBTQ+ woman to serve in Congress. She was also Black.

50 years later and the political landscape has changed dramatically. More and more queer politicians are winning races all over the country.

Here in Cincinnati last November, in keeping with what hopefully is an upswing nationally, we elected Reggie Harris, our first out Black individual to City Council, Reggie Harris. A dancer, teacher, social worker and activist, Harris has parlayed his extensive experience into an electoral win, in the hopes of continuing the forward momentum the city has experienced over the past 15 years.

I had the opportunity to sit with Harris to talk about the vision he has for his position as a council member and the future of Cincinnati.

CORRIE SCHAFFELD : CBC

Thank you for agreeing to meet and talk with me this morning
Absolutely.

Was politics always an aspiration for you or is this a new thing?
No, My passion and my love is dance. I trained as a dancer starting at age 3. As a dancer, I have to be comfortable in front of people.  Politics requires the same. Social work placed me in a position to see how lives are impacted by  policies around housing, education, and health. That is what started me thinking about running for public office.

A former council member, Yvette Simpson, talked to me about the possibility of running. After much consideration and prep, I made my decision to run. It was a slow, thoughtful process that got me here.

So, you’re a dancer, you’re a social worker — both case management and clinical work — and you’re a politician.  What is the through line connecting all of those things?
The through line is the power of observation and the power of honest communication. As a politician, social worker and dancer, it is important to be honest about what you can and cannot do. When you’re dealing with clients or constituents and looking at a system, [you have to]ask yourself what are the things in play, what are you seeing, what is happening that you’re not seeing and [then be]honest about what you can influence and your scope of work.  Also, how are your biases influencing how you view your clients or constituents? The key is figuring out how you balance the expressed desire of constituents vs. personal beliefs.

You’ve been in office for a couple of weeks now. How do you plan to move things forward in terms of building those relationships to get closer to the goals?
I have regular check in’s with other council members, with the mayor. and with city administration, both formal and informal, to keep the lines of communication open between us and, ideally, to understand each other in a deeper way. A fundamental belief of mine is that relationships are what moves things.

As the first out Black gay man on Council , how will you leverage the expectations of those two groups vs the general population. Think Barack Obama, Sidney Poitier, all the other firsts.
From my experience , the expectations of the LGBTQ+ [community]and those of the Black community tend to overlap. To me the things that I hear and the expectations of me from all of those communities are to be competent, be ethical, and be responsive to the needs of the community. Additionally, to center inclusivity, equity — particularly racial equity — and make sure lived experiences match the legal experiences that are on the books.

To me, my intersectional identity of being Black and LGBTQ+ means I have a more comprehensive view of what equity and racial equity look like. All of those experiences help me to be able to inform policy decisions.  So, I don’t feel a torn allegiance and I don’t feel a conflict between any of those ideals. . My power is in being who I am authentically.

What will a successful first year look like for you?
I have a real focus on our housing: lack of housing, affordable housing, a housing strategy. I say housing strategy because affordable housing is what we need to do to move the needle on housing. Housing is also zoning reform and streamlining the bureaucratic process.  We will be introducing an ordinance that will do just that. It will streamline the process of obtain a low income housing tax credit. Right now, it’s a paperwork heavy, two-step process that we can streamlined down to one.  As well as money, there’s also a need for zoning, have a spectrum of housing stock that includes homeownership to free up existing units.

One final question, is there anything you want your constituents or folx in the state to know about Reggie Harris?
I’m really about how we create conditions for people to be able to thrive, for businesses to thrive, and for things to change. The success of cities and communities is when the people in the communities feel empowered, to be able to build and maintain their own communities. What cities and states can do is to create conditions for that by removing barriers and creating processes that allow folx to shape and determine their own lives. 🔥

About Author

Ron Clemons is a retired Social Worker, Educator and long time community activist based in CIncinnati. His passions are Photography, Writing and Story Telling. He considers himself a Grio.

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