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A Father's Day tale

A Father's Day tale


For years Cincinnati was the one place in the USA where a law expressly prohibited fair employment protection for gays and lesbians. Here's how one straight dad helped change that.

Mark Twain once said, "If the world comes to an end, I hope I'm in Cincinnati because they are always 10 years behind." As a Cincinnati council member, I can vouch for there being some truth to that.Until the 2004 elections Cincinnati had the dubious distinction of being the only place in the nation where a law actually prohibited us from ensuring equal employment protections for our gay citizens.Fighting for the repeal of this law, known as Article 12, was more than just a political issue. For me, it was a family matter; an issue of the heart. I have four children. Two of them are gay. When they first came out to me, I wasn't familiar with all the issues. I needed time to learn and to accept. It was then, at the beginning, that they helped me to understand. Years later my city charter was telling me that two were not as good--not as deserving of protection--as the other two. As a father, as a human being, I could not accept that.Fortunately, I did not stand alone. A few years ago, a group of corporate, religious, and nonprofit leaders quietly set out to discover if Cincinnati was ready to overturn its discriminatory law. After conducting focus groups, we learned the answer was yes.Our first call was to the Human Rights Campaign. HRC could have chosen to sit this one out. Cincinnati doesn't often make national news for the right reasons. We had race riots in 2001. As owner of the Cincinnati Reds, Marge Schott was sanctioned by Major League Baseball for her bigoted statements on African-Americans, gays, and Jews. And today, our U.S. representative Steve Chabot is a leader in the quest to undermine the authority of the judicial branch. Simply put, Cincinnati isn't recognized as a hotbed of progressive values.During the next two years, HRC would provided resources, guidance, and pure dedication to the community's effort to repeal Article 12. Several of the staff members became Cincinnatians in their own right, spending so much time with us over the years.We formed a coalition called the Citizens to Restore Fairness that included prominent leaders in business, religion, and politics. Our strategy was actually pretty straightforward. We estimated that 126,000 Cincinnatians would vote in November 2004, based on voting numbers from the previous election. So we knew it would take 63,000 plus 1 to repeal Article 12.Many gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender leaders have talked for years about the power of the personal connection, of telling your story to your neighbors. That's just what we set out to do. We knocked on doors and had thoughtful, honest conversations about why antigay language had no place in the city charter.It wasn't easy. Some people slammed doors in our faces, but others invited us into their homes. They sat with us, sometimes debating, other times just listening. In the end, many of them came around.This personal approach would turn out to be very effective. Despite the opposition's heavily funded campaign--which actually tried to recast our effort as an assault on marriage--we prevailed with 53% of the vote. Article 12 was repealed.It's amazing how humanizing the issue of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender rights can be such an effective weapon against our enemies. While the entire state of Ohio didn't go the way of equality in the elections, our little red city did. As Father's Day approaches, I think back to November and I'm proud of what we were able to accomplish for our kids.We learned an important lesson from Article 12. Even in the reddest of cities, humanizing an issue can make a bad law go away. While it's a local lesson, it can be applied at the state and even the national level. But it calls for a dedication to honesty no matter how challenging the discussion. It calls for a true commitment. And it calls for patience. As a father of four and as a Cincinnatian, I like to think I know a little something about patience.My family and I have seen our neighbors hold their stubborn convictions close to their hearts. But we've also talked to our neighbors and seen them search their hearts for the meaning of American values. We've seen them conclude that, at their most basic, American values all rest upon fairness. And it all started with a conversation.If you're looking for a gift this Father's Day, try talking. Trust me--it's worth it. For us all.

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