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A Few Minutes With LGBTQ+ Ally and Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown

A Few Minutes With LGBTQ+ Ally and Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown

Sen. Sherrod Brown making a speech
Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

He’s supported our community for decades, he's the only Democratic statewide official left in Ohio, and he's happy about the state having the first drag queen food truck.

Growing up in southwestern Pennsylvania, near the state of Ohio, it could be a rough-and-tumble world. When I worked on the Hill for my congressman from that area, we had the entire bottom left-hand corner of the state. It was during a time when steel mills and coal mines still mattered, so it was a hardscrabble, blue-collar constituency.

Often, your elected representatives reflect their districts. My boss certainly did. He wore cheap suits and bought 25-cent rounds for workers at the gritty bars throughout Washington, Greene, and Fayette counties. He even went almost a mile underground and worked in a coal mine for a day. I was with him, and that was an awful day. I still say that is the toughest job in the world.

Today, you really don’t see that type of elected official anymore. You could say that things are more refined, at least for the Democrats, or outrageously criminal, at least for some of the Republicans. Sure, there are some outliers, and you do have the Blue-Collar Caucus in the House, but overall, they don’t make them like they used to.

Then there is U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio. He can relate to the working man just as easily as he can connect with white-collar professionals. He is the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, after all. Yet Sen. Brown really defies being defined, and that’s why, I for one, have an eye on him if our wonderful president, Joe Biden, decides not to seek reelection. And I’m not the only one who feels that way.

Before we get ahead of ourselves, and before we get into my conversation with Sen. Brown, let's note that he is adamant that the only thing he is concentrating on right now is Ohio and his reelection in 2024 to the Senate. It might be a tough race for him because he is the last Democrat standing statewide in Ohio, which is turning red in a hurry.

Last week, his first Republican challenger entered the race, State Sen. Matt Dolan, whose family owns the Cleveland Guardians. Dolan has positioned himself as a post-Trump Republican, primarily so that he can take on Brown, who’s popular in Ohio and has a no-nonsense approach to politics and government.

Brown has an honest, wide-range appeal, and that includes all his work and support for our community.

Brown introduced the first-ever Senate Pride Month Resolution in June of 2017, after our dear friend (joking of course!) Donald Trump broke the eight-year tradition of offering an official presidential proclamation recognizing June as Pride Month. Last year was the sixth year in a row that Brown has introduced the resolution in the Senate.

His support has been long and consistent. As a member of the House, he voted against the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, one of the few red or swing state representatives to do so. And each year Brown and some of his Senate colleagues reintroduce legislation to expand federal civil rights laws – the Equality Act -- to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

If you looked LGBTQ+ ally up in the dictionary, there would surely be a picture of Sen. Sherrod Brown.

I had the opportunity to catch up with him, and the first thing I wanted to know was if the Equality Act would ever get passed. “The chances in the Senate exist. Most of the Democrats are committed to making this happen, just like we did for marriage equality,” Brown said.

“In 1996, I was one of the few to vote against the Defense of Marriage Act," Brown said, noting there were only 65 Democrats who voted against it along with one Independent and one Republican. "And, as you mentioned, for the last six years, I’ve sponsored the bill that designates June as LGBTQ Pride Month, and I’ll do it again this year, so my commitment to the LGBTQ community hasn’t wavered.”

“It’s so important that we keep fighting for individual rights,” Brown continued. “Not just for LGBTQ folks, but also for other marginalized communities. I think there’s a great chance that the Equality Act passes the Senate, but I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that Speaker McCarthy won’t let it see the light of day in the House, so we just have to keep the pressure on and keep trying.”

I wondered what he thought about the race of some states in hurriedly introducing anti-trans bills and legislation that would, ridiculously, restrict drag performances. I told Brown that I know Ohio rejected an anti-trans sports bill last year and that I saw that the first-ever drag queen food truck popped up in Cincinnati.

“Oh, that’s terrific news,” Brown interjected. “Well, about these laws, I think all this shows is that there’s still so much hate in this country, and by extension hate in politics. Politicians who introduce and support these prohibitive bills should be ashamed of themselves, and it’s my hope that their constituents see through these ugly efforts and push back on them. I don’t think these laws speak for the majority of this country and that most people understand how introducing these laws is just Republicans seeking to spread hate and divide us.”

Speaking of Republicans, I asked Brown why the party is so bad at recruiting LGBTQ+ candidates to run. Is George Santos the best they it do? I told him I’ve talked with former Republican Congressman Steve Gunderson and the late Jim Kolbe, but they served years ago.

“To me, it’s that the political base of the party still engages in 19th-century thinking, and they're willing to play the hate card,” he surmised. “Unfortunately, it’s not just LGBTQ+ candidates they are denying and anti-LGBTQ laws that they are supporting. The party is also doing a bad job with race, the poor, and other equality issues. It doesn’t surprise me that there are not more LGBTQ+ candidates. Frankly, this country would be better served if there were more LGBTQ+ Republican officeholders, but the Republican Party doesn’t see it that way. They’re just doing a bad job with morality issues overall."

As the chairman of the Banking Committee, Brown doesn’t have any direct oversight of raising the debt ceiling, however, since it’s always about the money, I asked him to explain, in layman’s terms – which he excels at – what it would mean if Congress refused to act.

“The debt ceiling is no more and no less about this country paying its debt," he said. "That’s as simple as it can be. It’s no more and no less about paying our bills. If we don’t pay our bills – which is really what this should be called, paying our bills, instead of the debt ceiling. But if we don’t pay, that destroys the credit of the United States, just like it would destroy the credit of anyone else who doesn’t pay their bills."

Brown also said doing nothing would undermine the global leadership of the United States. “Not paying our bills will have an adverse effect on Ohio workers, veterans, those on Social Security, SNAP, anyone who relies on the government for help. And let me point out that while he was president, Trump ran up our bills higher than anyone else, much higher than President Biden, for example. Now, having said that, this should not be and can’t be a partisan issue. We need to pay our bills and keep this country moving forward.”

Finally, I wanted to know why Sen. Brown remains the lone statewide Democratic official in Ohio, and if his message and campaign might help prepare other Democrats running in tough districts and states in 2024.

“it’s a very simple appeal to folks like your relatives you told me about who live in Ohio," he said. "It’s treating people with dignity whether they swipe a card under a clock or work in office and management jobs. It’s recognizing the side of workers that get up every morning and want to make decent wages to support and fight for their families. It’s just having sound principles and working toward a government that works for its people, regardless of their background.”

John Casey is editor at large for The Advocate.

Views expressed in The Advocate’s opinion articles are those of the writers and do not necessarily represent the views of The Advocate or our parent company, equalpride.

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John Casey

John Casey is a senior editor of The Advocate, writing columns about political, societal, and topical issues with leading newsmakers of the day. John spent 30 years working as a PR professional on Capitol Hill, Hollywood, the United Nations and with four large U.S. retailers.
John Casey is a senior editor of The Advocate, writing columns about political, societal, and topical issues with leading newsmakers of the day. John spent 30 years working as a PR professional on Capitol Hill, Hollywood, the United Nations and with four large U.S. retailers.