Marriage Equality Is Great And All, But...

Cleveland's LGBT Community Is Focused On More Important Things Right Now

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The approach to LGBT rights in Ohio involves a disconnect between public perception and public reality. "What we're trying to do is change hearts and minds," Nash says. "Even that one conversation can then lead to somebody else having a conversation, saying, 'Hey, you know what I just found out...'"


In 2004, Ohio voters took up the mantle of then-Secretary of State Ken Blackwell and human thumb Karl Rove, and certified a statewide ban on gay marriage. The ban passed with 62 percent of the vote.

A recent opinion poll cites support for marriage equality at 54 percent (compared to 40 percent opposed). That's the most visible sign of the shift in consciousness from the general public. But it touches on just one issue.

In the wake of Issue 1's passage, an organization based around statewide LGBT rights formed. Elyzabeth Holford, the current and fourth executive director of Equality Ohio, is certainly hopeful that the ban will one day be reversed in this state. But she and her organization are tailoring their efforts elsewhere now. Equality Ohio is, in fact, not outright supporting the current signature-gathering effort aimed at a 2014 referendum. Rather, the group has been lobbying state legislators to move forward with EHEA.

Ian James, meanwhile, heads up FreedomOhio. That's the group currently gathering 385,253 signatures in support of a referendum issue shooting down the marriage equality ban.

He sent out a press release June 5 jarringly announcing  a run at the ballot in November 2014. It was jarring because there's actually no consensus backing the news. Holford's organization and others in Ohio have steadfastly kept FreedomOhio at arm's length. In fact, the national Freedom to Marry Coalition hasn't even come out to support James's push.

The head-butting does little more than obscure the more practical issues faced by gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Ohioans. It also maintains the legacy emblazoned across the state when Issue 1 was thrust into Ohio's constitution. It's a struggle, and it's never been anything but.

"There is really not one face [of the LGBT community]," Holford says, chatting with Scene after one of her frequent stops in Cleveland. "There are so many strata of what issues are impactful that we need to always be inclusive. There are so many different needs across the state."

With a cohesive plan and an ongoing openness to all ideas, Holford adds, all of those needs can be addressed. They're complex, they're multifaceted, they're often obscured from the public eye. But attentive action can improve society.

Several illustrations: It is 100-percent legal to fire someone because he or she is gay, leading to abrupt unemployment and all the problems that come with that. A person transitioning genders cannot change his or her birth certificate information, leading to a contradiction in legal identity. At nearly every point of professional interaction an LGBT person must confront the question of coming out or not, leading to an immediate shift in response from the people around them.

Legal and social realities often don't become apparent to the afflicted until moments of direct confrontation. It's typically not until a young woman is trying to get a job and being outright denied on the basis of her lesbianism, for instance, that she'll even learn of this matter.

"They're more likely to know what's going on around marriage equality than they are to know that they could be fired because of their sexual orientation—or that they could be denied housing because of their sexual orientation. Many LGBT people don't know that," Harris says. She adds that conversations do blossom in the wake of a friend or a family member being fired or being evicted. But it takes multifaceted devastation to get to that point, often enough.

Currently, 29 states legally allow private employers to fire an employee based on sexual orientation. In 24 states, gender identity is a valid reason for termination. And federally, there is no protection of any of the above.

About The Author

Eric Sandy

Eric Sandy is an award-winning Cleveland-based journalist. For a while, he was the managing editor of Scene. He now contributes jam band features every now and then.
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