Commentary

01.14.15

LGBT in O-H-I-O

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Ohio is a great place to be gay—well, almost.

Despite sleepy rust-belt stereotypes,Ohio has become a center for LGBT life and culture.  People may assume big cities on the coasts are the places to go for inclusive policies and vibrant social scenes, but LGBT and allied communities have claimed space and recognition in the heart of the Midwest.

There is a lot to be proud of, but some big caveats are still holding Ohio back.

Ohio Pride

Ohio has become a state with progressive cities that embrace LGBT people.

Each year the Human Rights Campaign releases their Municipal Equality Index (MEI), which scores major U.S.cities on measures of inclusion.  Both Columbus and Cincinnati earned perfect scores on the 2014 Municipal Equality Index. Dayton just missed a perfect mark, with 95 out of 100 points.

Few people outside Ohio would think of Dayton as a destination for LGBT people.  But this southwest Ohio city just topped a list by The Advocate of the Queerest Cities in America 2015.  Citing a vibrant night life and robust art scene, Dayton has become an unexpected attraction for people seeking an inclusive city.

And this past summer, Cleveland and Akron hosted the 2014 Gay Games. This eight-day event brought thousands of participants to Northeast Ohio, where they were able to compete and celebrate in a diverse and welcoming setting. As Ohio’s capital, Columbus is the home to the largest Pride parade in the Midwest, with more than 300,000 people attending.

But that’s the good news.

The Out Crowd

Seven in 10 Americans now live in a state with marriage equality.

While people across the United States are saying “I do,” Ohio remains one of 14 states that still fails to recognize marriages by same-sex partners.  Some cities in the Buckeye State have domestic partnership ordinances or inclusive benefit policies, but the state legislature and courts continue to deny the full recognition of legal marriage to LGBT couples.

The U.S. Supreme Court may soon take on this question and make equal marriage the law in Ohio and the rest of the country.  But for LGBT Ohioans, your first day of marriage could also be your last day at your job.

Read more about work by the ACLU to advance LGBT rights in Ohio.

This is because Ohio has no employment or housing protections for LGBT people.  Your wedding invitation or honeymoon pictures are grounds for your boss to fire you, or your landlord to throw you out.  And some businesses are using claims of “religious freedom” as code to discriminate against LGBT people.

The national spotlight also came to southwest Ohio with the suicide of Leelah Alcorn.  The outpouring of support locally and across the state contrast sharply with the struggles of trans youth.  Her death served as a harsh reminder of the work left to be done to make Ohio a truly accepting place to live.

Ohio is moving in the right direction, but has some tall hurdles to clear on its way.

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