Monday, October 3

Ohio’s First Out LGBTQ+ Elected Judge Poised for Reelection

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Ohio’s first out elected judge is poised for reelection this year.

Mary Wiseman is running unopposed to serve a fourth term on the Court of Common Pleas in Montgomery County, home of Dayton.

“Being unopposed means that others within the community have recognized the dedication and the hard work of my staff and myself in terms of making our court a good one, a fair one –  one where people know they are treated with dignity, respect, and reason,” she says.

It’s also another sign of how far the state has come on LGBTQ+ acceptance.

Initially appointed to the bench in 2007, Wiseman was the state’s only out judge until 2020, when Franklin County voters changed that uninspiring statistic. Still, LGBTQ+ representation remains lacking in the judiciary, says Wiseman.

“It’s like the song from Hamilton: I want to be in the room where it’s happening. We change conversations just by virtue of being in the room. We change perspectives because we are in the room.”

The Buckeye Flame spoke with the trailblazing candidate about her upcoming reelection and why more out candidates should run for public office.

You’ve been elected judge three times since your initial appointment in 2007, and are running for another term. What sustains your passion for this position?
The thing that keeps me buoyed and engaged is the ability to serve my community. I’m sure it’s a lot like you in journalism – that sense of internal fulfillment. Knowing you’re doing something good for your community drives you every day to bring your A-game and do the best you can for the stakeholders who are invested in the system. Whether you’re working with someone struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues, or the lawyers involved with cases, you want to make sure you’re fully engaged in making the system fulfill its potential.

How is this run different from previous campaigns?
I’m thrilled to be unopposed for reelection. The reason I think that I’m unopposed is because I act every day like I am up for reelection. I truly love my job. I love what I do, and I work really hard at it, so when people look at my court, they say that’s how a justice system ought to operate; those are the things that judges ought to do.

How has your relationship to your community has evolved through your role as judge?
As a judge, you become both deeper and more distant. More distant, because you’re required to be impartial. The duty of judicial independence, for example, prevents me from being active in the local political party.

On the other hand, I am much more deeply involved than I ever was before in the issues themselves – finding effective ways for the system to address substance use issues, mental health issues, systemic racism issues. I know a lot more about the community from those aspects than I ever dreamed I would, and I have met so many cool people from different agencies and community groups that are working so hard to solve these difficult problems, and that is really rewarding. 

As the state’s first out elected judge, what does it mean to you that we’re seeing more LGBTQ+ representation in the judiciary in recent years?
I think it’s fantastic and long overdue. When I first started practicing law in the late 1980s, it seemed impossible that there would ever be an openly gay judge. I was overjoyed to be the first in the state, but to imagine that my appointment in 2007 marked the first out elected judge in Ohio is just a flooring statistic.

And then such a long time before another was elected!
Yes, just in the past couple of years! The judiciary is the one governmental system where representation of the LGBTQ+ community is just so far behind, so I think [these recent elections are]a great development. The system relies on diverse perspectives of those in power for improvement, so the more LGBTQ+ judges there are, the more perspectives can be placed on the table when things are being discussed. It’s like the song from Hamilton: I want to be in the room where it’s happening. We change conversations just by virtue of being in the room. We change perspectives because we are in the room. That’s why it’s so vital we have more of the great people from our community run for public service.

What advice do you have for other LGBTQ+ candidates who are thinking about running for office?
Be as active in your community as you can be. Find something that lights your passion, so that people can see how driven, creative, innovative, and hardworking you can be for something that you have a passion for, because that will translate into how you’re going to be as a public servant, as well. 

Though we’ve made major strides, there remain so many obstacles to full equality in Ohio – like the recently introduced HB 616, our state’s version of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law. How can you use your role as judge to further support and empower the LGBTQ+ Ohioans?
As a judge, I am able to say that there are circumstances where some of our laws are improvident. I am able to explain to other judges as well as to legislators through the opportunities I have to speak with them that a law might have unintended bad consequences. Because I am often speaking from firsthand observation as a judge, it can carry more weight when I speak on these matters than perhaps when others do.

Of course, I’m always circumscribed by my judicial oath to apply a law whether I agree with it or not. But I don’t have to sit back and not say anything about it. So, when such opportunities arise, I make an effort to point out circumstances where a law that’s been passed is unjust and try to show that perhaps there is a better path to make Ohio a state where everyone feels welcomed and valued. 🔥

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About Author

Peter Kusnic is a writer and editor based in Cleveland, OH.

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