As an LGBTQ+ ally, Nina Turner is not afraid to admit she has a lot to learn.
“I don’t tend to walk into a space thinking I know it all,” said Turner, a candidate for the United States House of Representatives to represent Ohio’s 11th District. “When it comes to the LGBTQ+ community, I am here to listen and to understand.”
As a former Cleveland City Councilperson and and as the first Black woman to serve as a state senator in Ohio’s 25th District, Turner is well-used to building bridges and advocating for community’s whose voices are not being heard.
With the recent endorsement by the Cleveland Stonewall Democrats in hand, Turner is eager to continue to apply those skills to amplifying LGBTQ+ Ohioans, particularly at a time when the legislative attacks against them are coming fast and furious.
The Buckeye Flame spoke with Turner to find out about her electoral path forward and how she thinks her voice can help herald a positive future for LGBTQ+ Ohioans.
Nina Turner, didn’t we just do this election thing?
<laughs> Yes, Ken, we did just do it. But we’re doing it again. There was a special election less than a year ago triggered by the appointment of Congresswoman Marcia Fudge to HUD Secretary.
The beautiful thing about having another opportunity is that we have a new district, new people, and all during a new time. 30% of this district will be new and that will give people a chance to vote who didn’t get a chance to weigh in during the special election.
With the new time, everyone’s awareness is peaked about what they deserve. They deserve more than what they’re getting. I will have a better opportunity to talk about these issues. Primaries are about the debate of ideas and I’ll have a bigger swath of Democratic voters to talk to. So we’re doing it again.
Jumping right into the LGBTQ+ arena, Senator, it’s not great here in Ohio right now. From the most general vantage point in speaking with the LGBTQ+ community that very much feels under attack, what is your initial message?
We’re going to keep fighting. The LGBTQ+ is under assault and attack in this country. Historically this community and allies understand what Stonewall was all about. At that moment it was fighting against police brutality, but that was symbolic to a greater brutality that is happening even now—not just in the state of Ohio, but all over the country—in ways that put the community in jeopardy.
We have to draw upon our collective humanity, and that is why it is important to have allies and co-conspirators when we are fighting for justice. Bills like the SAFE Act that is percolating through the Ohio General Assembly make me angry. And it’s not just Ohio. We know what they’re doing in Texas, in Florida.
Ken, now we’re not talking about people’s individual beliefs. We’re talking about elected officials all over this country putting forth public policy that puts our collective community at risk. When that happens to anybody, that happens to all of us. So we have to fight on.
The Equality Act that keeps stalling out on the federal level. When you think about the Equality Act, is that something that we should be spending our time on? Or is that a boulder that we keep pushing up the hill.
Partly yes. Policy is personal and we can’t take our eye off of that. I had a chance to be with some of our siblings at the Trans Day of Visibility at Cleveland State University. One of the things I said is that we have to get collective understanding.
Steven Covey has a quote that I love. “Seek first to understand and then to be understood.” When we’re fighting to make sure that our communities are safe—like the LGBTQ+ community—public policy is one part of the puzzle. The other part of the work is to get into communities that are maybe one or two people removed from the LGBTQ+ community and get understanding as to what allyship looks like
When we have the Republicans trying to other the LGBTQ+ community, we need people like me and others to be able to go into the larger community and talk about the struggles of the LGBTQ+ community and why we all should care.
There’s a policy fix no doubt. And yes, we have to keep pushing that boulder. Justice is not a destination. Justice is a journey. It can be daunting, but part of our work is to go into our communities. When you have rotten politicians throughout the country trying to drive a wedge between the LGBTQ+ community and other communities, we need to make it harder for them to do that. The way to make it harder drive that wedge is to have these collective conversations with one to another so that we seek first to understand, and then to be understood.
You are running for the U.S. House, not the Senate. But what does it mean to be running in a state where there are Republican Senate candidates saying horrible racist, antigay, and antitrans things and actually getting some traction with Ohio voters?
We need marginalized communities to be in the electoral fight. In a representative democracy, we can’t sit on the sidelines because we will get people in office who do not represent our collective humanity, We have people right now in elected office that would push policies and even kill us.
By way of example, we know that Black trans women are being killed. Very few people are screaming from the mountaintops that this is happening because it’s the trans community. If you are Black, you are already in a different level of hell all the way around. And so there are throwaway populations to these elected leaders who don’t represent them.
And I can’t imagine we will be able to get these elected leaders to care.
And that’s why we have got to continue to push.
At a certain point, it has nothing to do with identity as it much as it has to do with humanity. Threats against the LGBTQ+ community are threats against humanity. Whether it’s higher rates of suicide because they don’t have the larger communal safety net, or how these crazy-ass bills are exacerbating the suffering of LGBTQ+ youth, there is a callous indifference to this suffering. That says to me that we have to elect different types of politicians and we have to have a collective conversation about everybody’s lives and the their intersectionality.
So one could argue that voting matters?
Voting matters. Pushing public policy matters. Having robust conversations matter. But it also matters that we talk about matters of the heart.
Matters of the heart say that because you exist, I must recognize that your humanity. And what happens to you directly happens to me indirectly, to quote the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. It’s not just about public policy. It’s about the collective human part of this fight that we’re in.
There’s that poem in reference to the Holocaust. They came for the teachers. They came for the preachers. And I didn’t speak up. I didn’t speak up. I didn’t speak up. Then they came for me. And there was nobody left to speak for me.
These cultural wars that the Republicans are propagating are resonating with certain groups of people and we can’t let that stand. We have to stand up on the electoral side and the heart side.
I’m getting that on a t-shirt. I’ll tell you that right now.
<laughs> You do that! 🔥