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LGBT Ohio
Rebounds From the 2004 Marriage Amendment

LGBT Ohio
Rebounds From the 2004 Marriage Amendment

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LGBT people in Ohio suffered a stinging blow when the state's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage passed in 2004, but the episode also served as a call to action to activists across the state.

As the executive director of Equality Ohio, I am so proud of my community and our pro-equality activists. When people are committed and working together, a lot can happen in four years. Ohio is proof of that.

On November 2, 2004, LGBT people in Ohio were sent a message by our fellow Buckeyes. Contrary to what many may assume, the message wasn't that our neighbors didn't support our right to marry the person we love -- although that was certainly clear from the vote. No, the message was that if we wanted to see change in our state, we needed to get organized and start actively working for what we know is right.

One month after the 2004 election a group of activists and LGBT leaders from across Ohio got together and made a commitment to turn our defeat at the polls into a win for the statewide community. Six months later, the vision of Equality Ohio was created by over 60 people from across Ohio and the nation: a true grassroots commitment to secure statewide change.

Today, the staff and board of Equality Ohio are proud to serve as the caretakers of the statewide community's organization. For the first time, pro-equality Ohioans have a daily voice for our issues. That's a wonderful and necessary thing, but that's not the reason I'm proud of my community and our activists.

Across Ohio we have experienced a surge in local activism. Take Toledo, the city in Ohio with the most laws protecting and recognizing LGBT people and our families. That's right -- not Cleveland or Columbus -- Toledo. There the city council just passed the first council-initiated domestic-partner registry in the state. This is all due to the work of Equality Toledo, a local organization formed in early 2005.

Or look at Cincinnati. In 2004 activists there pulled off a repeal of the long-standing ordinance that was keeping the city from enacting a nondiscrimination law. They did this even as voters statewide were passing Ohio's antigay constitutional amendment. Those activists have continued their local work, and now Cincinnati ranks second in the state for protecting and recognizing LGBT people and families.

The list of local groups and their successes could go on and on. Suffice it to say that incredible things are happening, and it is because of organized local activists making their communities a place where everyone can feel at home.

One of the shining moments for the statewide pro-equality community came in 2006. Together we worked in targeted areas across the state and moved turnout in those districts from 9% below the statewide average in 2004 to 6% above statewide average by 2006. Our work helped secure an executive branch in Ohio that supports equality for everyone. And on May 17, 2007, our new governor signed an executive order banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity for state workers -- the first pro-equality action at the state level in Ohio in 16 years.

We've also learned we have the power to stand up for ourselves when politicians and political parties use us to try to win an election. Recently, flyers using "gay adoption" as a scare tactic were distributed in a contested Ohio house race. Our community responded with nearly 1,000 e-mails to the chairman of the Ohio Republican Party, the organization that paid for the piece. The number of e-mails exceeded the number of donors who contributed to the campaign to fight the anti-gay marriage amendment in 2004. That's progress.

And as I write this piece, I'm sitting in the middle of Ohio's largest single-weekend LGBT canvass ever -- over 7,000 doors knocked on over a two-day period across the state for our endorsed presidential candidate. We will continue to work until the polls close on Election Day. If we lose Ohio this year, LGBT people and allies across the state will be able to hold our heads up knowing we did everything we could to try to keep that from happening.

Yes, we heard the message from 2004 loud and clear. We're organized locally and statewide. We are effecting change that benefits ourselves and our families. We will not be used again politically without holding the people who do it accountable for their actions. We know that by harnessing all of our energy across the state, we are closer to our shared vision of an Ohio where everyone can feel at home. And that is why I'm proud of my community and our pro-equality activists.

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Lynne Bowman