PRIZM News / October 3, 2017 / By Bob Vitale

Don’t get too down in this new era of emboldened opponents to our causes. There is still plenty to be optimistic about in our own hometowns.


By Bob Vitale

Was it really just two summers ago that we set down our champagne glasses and headed to our county courthouses to marry the loves of our lives?

Was it really just last year that we celebrated the long-coming realization by national leaders that our gender identity has no effect whatsoever on our ability to serve and defend our country?

The ground feels a little shaky lately here on the right side of history. No matter how much
we remind ourselves about that arc of the moral universe bending toward justice, a lot of powerful and empowered people are straining these days to wrench it back toward intolerance and discrimination.

On one single day in July, President Donald Trump tweeted his intent to kick transgender Americans out of the military, nominated the stridently anti-LGBTQ governor of Kansas to a job as his “religious ambassador” and allowed the Justice Department to fight the idea that bias against sexual orientation is a form of sex discrimination.

“I think that I’m always hopeful. With time and with effort, things change.”

TransOhio Board Member


Two weeks later, white supremacists and neo-Nazis took to the streets of Charlottesville, Va., and an Ohioan among their ranks used his car to kill one counter-protester and injure 19 others.

Now we’re being blamed for hurricanes.

“It’s just bad, bad, bad, bad, bad everywhere,” says Jenn Shepard, a lesbian activist from Columbus.

We won’t shy away from the tough issues in future issues of Prizm. (Can any of you gay meteorologists out there help us debunk the hurricane theory?)

Our mission—our promise—is to report on and reflect all parts of LGBTQ life and culture. Our community lives with great joy but endures much hardship. We’re not naïve about that. We will cover it all.

But we want to start off on a hopeful note. Frankly, we need a little pick-me-up ourselves.

To be honest, we didn’t have to dig too deep to find good things happening in all parts of Ohio. And we can all find something in our own lives that should give us hope as well, right? Maybe you finally have a job where you feel comfortable enough to keep a picture of your significant other on your desk. Maybe you finally have a job. Maybe you finally have a significant other.

“I think that I’m always hopeful,” says Arykah Carter of Cincinnati, a member of the board of directors for TransOhio. “With time and with effort, things change.”

Tom Grote has seen plenty of change over four decades of involvement in LGBTQ causes.

“I grew up on the South Side of Columbus in the 1960s and ’70s,” he says. “Back then, most of the dads in the neighborhood joined the Southeast Lions club. Yes, one of those clubs, where they recite the Pledge of Allegiance and everyone gives a lion roar at the end of the meeting. My dad was a Lion. His friends were Lions. Their dads were Lions. I was a closeted, scared gay kid back then and never would I have thought that I would ever be a Lion. Nor did I want to become one.”

In September, Grote became the first openly gay member of the Southeast Lions. The club is aging, he says, and most members no longer live in the neighborhood. But Grote, his husband and their two daughters do. Members are trying to relaunch the club, and they want its new iteration to reflect the world outside their meeting room.

“At my first meeting, the members uncomfortably asked me what they should call my partner,” Grote says. “They had never had to ask that question before. Not once in 80 years. I proudly stated, ‘You can call him my husband!’”

That’s one reason for hope. Ninety-nine to go…


The number of Ohio businesses that publicly back more inclusive nondiscrimination laws has grown this year from 60 to more than 200. Ohio Business Competes, an organization  started by Equality Ohio, includes big names and big employers such as Abercrombie & Fitch, American Electric Power, Huntington, KeyBank, Procter & Gamble and Sherwin Williams.

Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan signs into law the city’s LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance. (Photo courtesy of the mayor’s office)


Meanwhile, 19 Ohio cities have passed expanded nondiscrimination laws of their own. Added to the list this year: Akron, whose City Council unanimously approved an ordinance on March 27.


Olmsted Falls, a suburb of Cleveland, added sexual orientation and gender identity to its nondiscrimination laws on Feb. 14.


City Council members in Kent unanimously approved an LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance on July 26.


In Toledo, where the local anti-discrimination ordinance covered sexual orientation but not gender identity, City Council members expanded the law on Feb. 7.


They join cities whose anti-bias laws already covered sexual orientation and gender identity: Athens, Bexley, Bowling Green, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Cleveland Heights, Columbus, Coshocton, Dayton, Dublin, East Cleveland, Lakewood, Newark, Oxford and Youngstown.

Cincinnati-area residents counter the hateful message of Westboro Baptist Church members. (Photo courtesy of Tri-State Free Thinkers)


Should we ignore Westboro Baptist Church protestors or confront their hate head-on? It’s a debate that takes place every time they slither into a community. Jim G. Helton, president of the Tri-State Free Thinkers in Cincinnati, opted for the latter when Westboro announced plans to picket Oak Hills High School, the University of Cincinnati and other sites on Sept. 6. At least 500 showed up to counter five people from Westboro Baptist.

Nick Komives


Nick Komives, executive director of Equality
Toledo, won a spot on the Nov. 7 ballot for
a seat on the Toledo City Council.


Kerry McCormack


Openly gay Kerry McCormack, who was appointed to the Cleveland City Council in 2016, is running this fall for a four-year term.


Cincinnati City Council member Chris Seelbach (right) with Golf Manor Mayor Ron Hirth (see No. 73). (Photo via Facebook)


Chris Seelbach, Cincinnati’s first openly gay City Council member, is seeking a third term in November. He is joined on the local ballot in Hamilton County by six other openly gay and lesbian candidates: Tamaya Dennard, the Rev. Lesley Jones and Seth Maney, who are running for City Council seats as well; Renee Hevia and Ryan Messer, who are running for the Cincinnati Board of Education; and Darlene Rogers, who is running for Hamilton County Municipal Court. The seven openly gay candidates–the most in the country this year–are featured on the cover of November’s Prizm.


Shannon Hardin (upper left), with Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther, Steve Shellabarger, Linda Schuler and Gloria McCauley.


Columbus City Council member Shannon Hardin, who in 2015 became the city’s first black openly gay elected official, is seeking a full, four-year term.

Jeremy Blake


Jeremy Blake, the first openly gay City Council
member in Newark, a town of about 50,000 that’s
40 miles east of Columbus, is running unopposed
for a second term. He already has announced that
he will run in 2018 for an Ohio House seat in the
71st District, which covers much of Licking



“We had been hearing for years people asking why there wasn’t a Pride event in Athens,” Southeast Ohio LGBTQ+ Center board chairman Mike Straw told The Athens News in June. The first Athens Pride—a drag show, concert, rally and picnic—took place June 9-11.


The Southeast Ohio LGBTQ+ Center is new, too. It met for the first time in January.


Akron had its first Pride on Aug. 26. The headliner was Martha Wash of “It’s Raining Men” fame.


The first Fairfield County LGBT Pride Walk—”Yes! Right here in your hometown, Lancaster, Ohio,” organizers gushed on Facebook—took place on June 10. Lancaster is 40 miles southeast of Columbus.


About 60 people attended Love Is Love, the first Pride event in Gallipolis, a village
of 3,600 on the Ohio River. Here’s what one person posted about the June 26 gathering: “When I came out in high school, it was pretty hard. It took a lot in me just to come to the event today. … But seeing how many people were there and that there was nothing to be afraid of, I am just in awe.”


The Kaleidoscope Youth Center in Columbus counts 82 school-based gay-straight alliances and other groups in its statewide GSA network.

Deena Pfahler (second from right) and friends from Love on a Mission. (Photo courtesy of Deena Pflahler)


Deena Pfahler wasn’t meant to see the coming-out letter addressed to her from her son, Aaron. She prayed about it for three months. She even asked God to change her son’s sexual orientation.

God ended up changing someone. Pfahler started Love on a Mission, a group in Mansfield that offers LGBTQ young people a safe space to feel loved and accepted. The group meets on the third Sunday of every month, and the mom who once prayed for God to change two of her sons—Aaron’s twin, Austin, is gay too—now lovingly accepts her children and others.

“I have a lot of adopted children now,” she says.


In the home state of Leelah Alcorn, the transgender teen who killed herself in 2014 and left behind a plea to “fix society,” four cities this year have banned conversion therapy for minors. (Cincinnati was the second city in the country to enact a ban.) In Athens on Aug. 21, the City Council vote was unanimous.


Dayton banned conversion therapy on July 5.


Columbus City Council members voted unanimously for a conversion therapy ban on March 27.


Toledo’s vote to outlaw conversion therapy was unanimous on Feb. 7.


Rachel Dovel had to take out a loan to pay for her gender confirmation surgery in December because the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County had refused to cover such care for its employees.

In May, she and her employer announced a settlement that includes a new policy. “This makes it worth it,” Dovel told the Cincinnati Enquirer.


Across Ohio, attorneys offer free, one-on-one counseling for transgender people navigating the gender- and name-changing process. So far this year, 16 Name & Gender Change Legal Clinics sponsored by Equitas Health have taken place in Akron, Athens, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Mansfield, Toledo and Youngstown.


TransOhio helps people who can’t afford to pay for these legal matters.

Cleveland’s first Pride is commemorated with an official Ohio historical marker. (Photo courtesy of the LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland)


An official Ohio historical marker unveiled in June at W. 29th Street and Detroit Avenue in Cleveland commemorates the location of the city’s original Lesbian-Gay Community Service Center and its first Pride parade.


Sixteen Ohio companies scored 100 percent ratings from the Human Rights Campaign in its 2017 Corporate Equality Index, a measure of LGBTQ-inclusive policies: Convergys Corp., Fifth Third Bancorp, Frost Brown Todd LLC, Macy’s Inc., and Procter & Gamble Co. of Cincinnati; Eaton Corp., the Federal Reserve Bank, KeyCorp, Squire Patton Boggs and Thompson Hine LLP of Cleveland; Abercrombie & Fitch, American Electric Power, Cardinal Health Inc., Huntington Bancshares Inc. and Nationwide of Columbus; and Owens Corning of Toledo.


Church services and a voguing competition were part of the first Family Black Pride celebration in Akron on Sept. 9-10. Why “family”? “We want our grandmothers, grandfathers, children, cousins to embrace our LGBTQ community,” co-chair Steve Arrington told the Akron Beacon Journal.


They’re doing drag in Findlay. Daisy Dukes, a new nightclub in the city 45 miles south of Toledo on I-75, has hosted several drag nights.

The Diva Den in Fostoria is open for three shows every Saturday night. (Photo via Facebook)


Fifteen miles up State Route 12 in Fostoria, population 13,000, the Diva Den bills itself as “an LGBT safe place to drink, eat, dance and enjoy a show and have some fun.” It’s open every Saturday night inside the Venue 18 Entertainment Complex.


Bowling Green State University, Kent State, Miami, Ohio State, Ohio University, Wright State and Youngstown State allow students who haven’t legally changed their names to get university email addresses with the names they prefer.


John Carroll University near Cleveland, Lourdes University near Toledo, the University of Dayton and Xavier University in Cincinnati are Catholic institutions with LGBTQ student groups on campus.

Kent State President Beverly Warren rings the Pink Bell of Progress during the LGBTQ Student Center’s grand reopening. (Photo for Prizm by Austin Mariasy)


Kent State University’s LGBTQ Student Center christened an expanded space in Sep- tember.


David Borocz-Johnson noticed a lack of services for LGBTQ+ people when he started working in Lorain County three years ago. He started the Lorain County LGBTQ+ and Allies Task Force this year.

“My hope is we can help shape Lorain County’s culture so it is an inclusive and progressive place that supports its LGBTQ+ community members,” he says.


When the Human Rights Campaign releases its 2017 Municipal Equality Index in November, look for two Ohio cities to make big jumps. Toledo scored 89 of 100 possible points and Akron scored 82 points in last year’s ranking. Both cities have expanded nondiscrimination laws and banned conversion therapy this year. [UPDATE: Akron scored 100 points in the report released in November. Toledo remained at 89 points.]


Cities that scored 100 points last year on the annual HRC index of local policies: Cincinnati, Columbus and Dayton.

Ron Hirth
Kevin Wadsworth Johnson


Ohio has an openly gay mayor. Ron Hirth was elected in Golf Manor, a suburb of Cincinnati, in 2015.


In addition to the openly gay city council members seeking re-election in

Anita Davis
Richard Trojanski

November, three more are in the middle of terms. Kevin Wadsworth Johnson has been
a City Council member in Portsmouth since 2009. Anita Davis was elected in Youngstown in 2015. Richard Trojanski was elected as City Council president in the Cleveland suburb of Maple Heights in 2015.


State Rep. Nickie Antonio (center) was the first openly gay Ohioan elected to the state’s General Assembly. (Photo via Facebook)


State Rep. Nickie Antonio of Lakewood was the first openly gay Ohioan elected to the state’s General Assembly. She is serving in her fourth and final term.

(Photo via Facebook)


Antonio lives on a street in Lakewood where someone painted swastikas on two driveways in August. According to The Plain Dealer of Cleveland, she led a group of chalk-wielding children to create loving messages on the sidewalks of Belle Avenue.


Jenn and Jerra Shepard (Photo courtesy Jenn Shepard)


Jenn Shepard, the Columbus activist who admits to feeling discouraged this year, decided with her wife, Jerra, to do something about it this spring.

“I see people come together to do terrible things,” she says. “Why not come together
to do something good?” Every Friday and Saturday night now, she and Jerra Shepard give supplies to the homeless people they encounter in Columbus’ Short North.



A new honor society and scholarship program at the University of Cincinnati is named for Bayard Rustin, the openly gay civil rights icon. The Bayard Rustin Honor Society honors LGBTQIA+ students and allies who have at least a 3.25 grade average.


Black, Out and Proud is a new group in Columbus that’s focused on education, social opportunities and social justice. “We envision a place where black LGBTQ+ people are thriving, valued and celebrated by ourselves and others,” organizers say.


In just eight months, Black Queer & Intersectional Columbus has pushed conversations about racism, violence and the inclusion of people of color within LGBTQ organizations to a more urgent space on the agenda. The group is discussing an alternative Pride in 2018.


Two health systems in Northeast Ohio have expanded services for LGBTQ patients. MetroHealth, which opened its Pride Clinic 10 years ago in Cleveland’s Ohio City neighborhood, now has LGBTQ-competent physicians in Brecksville, Middleburg Heights and Rocky River. The Cleveland Clinic has added LGBTQ-competent providers in Lakewood and Chagrin Falls.


In the 18 months since it added LGBTQ-focused primary care to its mission, Equitas Health medical centers in Dayton and Columbus have welcomed more than 400 new transgender and gender-nonconforming patients from all over Ohio.


Nineteen hospitals, medical centers and VA facilities in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Euclid, Garfield Heights, Medina, Toledo and Warrensville Heights received 100-point scores in this year’s Human Rights Campaign Healthcare Equality Index. The index takes into account visitation policies, cultural competency training and other factors.


The Cleveland Transgender Choir made its debut performance on July 29 at Youngstown Pride.

Lexi Staples, executive director of Toledo Pride, was a panelist on the Toledo public-television program, “Let’s Talk About LGBTQIA,” which aired locally in August.


WGTE-TV in Toledo aired a live half-hour program in August called, “Let’s Talk About LGBTQIA.” Members of the community discussed local and national issues facing LGBTQ people and shared information on resources available in Northwest Ohio.

Whitnee Russell’s daughter liked this shirt more than all others in her back-to-school wardrobe. (Photo courtesy of Whitnee Russell)


Whitnee Russell’s daughter had a lot of choices when she went shopping for school clothes with her mom back in August. The T-shirt she liked best at JCPenney had a message that made the Gallipolis resident proud of her little girl. Inside a big peace sign, it says, “Love Wins.”

“If we start with our youth, maybe we can change the world,” Russell says.


The University of Cincinnati’s LGBTQ Center has begun collecting gently used clothing, shoes and accessories to ease the financial burden of outward transition faced by trans* students.



Hugs—and pizza—can sooth a lot of ills. After Westboro Baptist Church members came to town on Sept. 5, Cincinnati’s Heartland Trans* Wellness Center invited everyone in “to come together, share dinner and enjoy the company of our incredible and resilient community.”

Bob Vitale is the editor of Prizm.

(CORRECTION: Plymouth City Council member Paul Wadsworth Johnson, listed in this article as in the middle of his latest term, actually is a candidate for re-election in November. He finished first in a three-person primary in May.)