Elliot Forhan remembers his moms Linn and Pattie sitting he and his sister down when they were kids. It was the 1990s, and news reports of teachers around the country being fired for coming out had struck fear in Linn and Pattie – both teachers – that they could be terminated too if their schools found out.
“They told us to lie,” he says. “I will never forget it. No one should ever have to lie about who they are to keep their job.”
While much progress has been made in the decades since then, LGBTQ+ Ohioans still do not have full employment protections outside of a (growing) number of municipalities that have enacted such legislation.
That was a big part of Forhan’s decision late last year to launch a campaign to represent a still-to-be-finalized Ohio state house district that will span parts of the Cleveland metro area formerly covered by District 8 – including South Euclid, where Forhan lives – once Republican leaders on the state Redistricting Commission can draw up a new map that the state Supreme Court will approve.
“Though confusing and a bit frustrating, it’s actually a good thing for democracy. The court is doing its job to ensure the redistricted map is constitutional,” Forhan adds.
In addition to passing the Equality Act and extending employment protections to the LGBTQ+ community statewide, if elected to the Statehouse, the Democratic candidate plans to focus on improving infrastructure, as well as increasing the affordability of education and healthcare.
The Buckeye Flame chatted with Forhan about his run and how being the son of gay parents has shaped his political perspective.
First, why run for office now?
My parents, Linn and Pattie, were always very interested and engaged in politics, and were a major influence on my decision to run. After spending about a decade on the East Coast attending law school and working in law firms, I decided to move back to Ohio in 2018 – a town away from where one of my mothers had grown up, outside of Cleveland. The election of Donald Trump made me rethink what I wanted to do with my life, and I became more politically active, working as a staffer for the Biden campaign in 2020 before getting involved with a number of state and local races, including Justin Bibb’s (successful) campaign for Cleveland mayor. Shortly after that, I decided to launch my own campaign for Ohio House.
How does being the child of gay parents give you a different perspective? How will that perspective serve you in the Statehouse?
My parents have been together since 1977 (we’re about to celebrate their forty-fifth anniversary) and were married in October 2015 – shortly after the Obergefell victory in the Supreme Court. I was honored beyond words to officiate their wedding ceremony. But, I can remember when my sister and I were pre-adolescent, 8 or 9 years old, and my parents, who are both teachers, sat us down. At the time, there were news items across the country about public school teachers who had gotten fired for coming out as gay, and my moms were frightened. They told us to lie if anyone asked about our family situation, because we as a family couldn’t risk one of them losing their jobs. I’ll never forget it. No one should ever have to lie about who they are to keep their job.
Thankfully, we’ve made a lot of progress since then. But what does it mean to you to potentially hold office in a state where your own parents and other LGBTQ+ people are still not fully protected under the law?
We need to enact the Fairness Act as soon as possible, which I will work to do if I am elected with every fiber of my being. This is the type of protection that every person deserves to have. The law should reflect that no one should be treated differently for who they are or who they love.
In addition to passing the Fairness Act, what else can the state legislature do to make Ohio more welcoming to the LGBTQ+ community?
The state legislature can and should enact the Designate Pride Month and the Protecting Youth from Conversion “Therapy” legislation. It should not enact the Banning Critical Race Theory (H.B. 322 & H.B. 327), Banning Affirming Care (H.B. 454) and the Transgender Athlete Ban. We must ensure that everyone is treated equally under the law. My parents taught me that by the example of their lives and relationship and our family.
What will be your other policy priorities if elected?
My top priority is to get some of the federal resources becoming available from the American Rescue Plan and infrastructure bill to put to use here in the east side of Cuyahoga County – not just for roads and highways, but also sewer, water, power, internet, clean energy, public transportation. Creating more economic opportunities is also very important to me, not just by providing more better paying jobs, but also by investing in education to equip our workers for jobs in the modern economy.
Bringing the cost of education across our state as close to zero as possible is another major priority. We must also do everything we can to support our labor unions and raise the minimum wage. The AFL-CIO says minimum wage should be $24 an hour right now, and I agree with that wholeheartedly. I also think we must have a big conversation about healthcare. If folks in other states can have a conversation about a public option, there’s no reason we can’t have that conversation in Ohio as well. 🔥