Former Ohio deputy sheriff Charmaine McGuffey is running to be the first female and first out LGBTQ sheriff in her state and one of only a handful ever elected in the nation.
Making the race even more exciting, she is running in the Democratic primary against the man who she says fired her from the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office because she was a lesbian, Sheriff Jim Neil. The primary was to be held today but has now been postponed to June 2 because of the COVID-19 crisis.
A 33-year veteran of the sheriff’s office, McGuffey was promoted to major in command of jail and court services in 2013, becoming the highest-ranking woman in the office’s history. Then in 2015, she was named local and regional Law Enforcement Officer of the Year. The following year, the Ohio House of Representatives named her Public Citizen of the Year.
“[My election] would mean that our country is moving forward,” McGuffey said to LGBTQ Nation, “that we really have moved away from the 1950s model of law enforcement, where not just women are embraced in the law enforcement world, but also LGBTQ members of the community can wear a uniform and be quite successful.”
She added, “Quite frankly, my opponent has pretended to be a Democrat for many years now, when he’s actually much more aligned with the Tea Party Republicans. He tells people what they want to hear and then doesn’t follow through.”
According to a 2016 Cincinnati Enquirer story reporting on McGuffey's firing, Neil said he fired her after an investigation allegedly concluded that she created a hostile work environment for employees. Reportedly, that investigation was set forth after a deputy filed a complaint claiming that McGuffey “screamed at employees, cursed at them, and engaged in favoritism,” notes LGBTQ Nation.
McGuffey has denied these allegations. She’s since filed a lawsuit maintaining that she was fired for being gay and for speaking out against the office’s alleged toxic male culture.
“I was told to sit down and be quiet,” McGuffey told LGBTQ Nation. “I was the major of that jail, so my name’s on that, if you guys are going to shove the use of force under the rug. … I came up against internal affairs. I filed a lawsuit. The fact I was a woman was an issue with some of the men in the upper echelon. The fact I was gay was an issue [too].”
McGuffey recalled a moment when a staff member waved a Trump hat in her face during a staff meeting, explaining that “everybody burst out laughing. It made me feel targeted, made me feel alone. I didn’t like it but I was getting things done and I just continued to work.”
Neil himself has had a sticky past. According to the Enquirer, the supposed Democrat apologized after attending a Trump rally in 2016. He also has a history of allegedly failing to discipline officers who’ve inappropriately used force on citizens.
“Overall, the officers that work in that sheriff’s department that wear that black and gold are exemplary,” she said of making accountability a priority if she gets elected. “They’re wonderful, they’re excellent officers and their reputation is tarnished when we have officers that are bad actors and not held accountable.”
Clearly, she’s vying to get the last laugh. As sheriff, McGuffey is promising a sweeping change in criminal justice reform. That is certainly not new to her.
According to LGBTQ Nation, under McGuffey's leadership, the Hamilton County Justice Center went from being the worst-ranked large jail in Ohio to the best — in only three years. In fact, while at the jail she created a weekly committee meeting called Working to Refer Appropriate Placement, which connects inmate to social service programs. The program was successful at preparing inmates with the skills necessary for success upon their release.
“There are people who quite frankly need to be incarcerated to keep society safe and I’m a law and order candidate as well, but I also understand there are people sitting in our jails and prisons who really have embraced reform and can return to their families and communities,” she said.
McGuffey has been endorsed by the Hamilton County Democratic Party, the LGBTQ Victory Fund, Hamilton County Young Democrats, and former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords.
“I’ve been gay my entire life,” she added, “and what I learned as early as 11 years old was this: If you don’t stand up to bullies, they run you and they cause you to fail and a whole lot of negative things happen to you. You have to stand up to them, but when you do stand up to them, there are consequences. It’s not easy, so it’s what I’ve done my whole life, and I have tremendously great people surrounding me who helped me through those rough times.”