LGBTQ Ohioans had incredible success at the polls in November. As the new year begins, election winners are taking office.
By Bob Vitale
Tamaya Dennard took her oath as a new member of the Cincinnati City Council on Tuesday with her right hand in the air and her left hand clutching a folding chair.
The first openly gay woman of color elected to public office in the city—the candidate a number of Cincinnati politicos called a surprise winner despite a lengthy political resume—is fond of a quote from the late Shirley Chisholm, who in 1968 became the first African American woman elected to Congress.
“If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”
Dennard and third-term Cincinnati City Council member Chris Seelbach are among 17 gay and lesbian Ohioans who were elected in November to city and village councils, school boards and other local offices. Many are taking their oaths of office this week to start their terms.
In a brief speech at Cincinnati Music Hall, where all nine council members and Mayor John Cranley were sworn in, Dennard called for seats at the table for those often left out of government’s big decisions. People should be invited to help solve problems, she said, instead of asked for feedback after others take actions that affect them.
Seelbach, who in 2011 became the first openly gay council member in Cincinnati when he was elected in 2011.
In addition to calling on the council to address issues of poverty and homelessness in Cincinnati, Seelbach said Tuesday that he would continue efforts to address civil rights and safety issues for LGBTQ people in Cincinnati. He sponsored legislation in 2015 that made Cincinnati the first city in Ohio to ban the dangerous and discredited practice of “conversion therapy” for children.
“If you are different, not only are you safe in our city but you are valued,” Seelbach said.
In his speech, Seelbach also said he will work this year to “ensure that Donald Trump and … those like him in Cincinnati and Ohio don’t succeed.”
Sitting a few feet away from Seelbach was fellow council member Amy Murray, recently chosen as the running mate of Republican gubernatorial candidate Jim Renacci.
Renacci, a U.S. representative from Wadsworth in Northeast Ohio, touts his early and unwavering support for President Donald Trump and has modified Trump’s “America First” refrain for his campaign slogan: “Ohio First.”
On Tuesday, it was the seconds that marked a milestone in Ohio. As Dennard took office in Cincinnati and newly elected City Council member Sean Fennell was sworn in in Newark, those cities joined the Columbus suburb of Minerva Park as the only Ohio municipalities with more than one openly gay council member.
Fennell, manager of emerging technology for the Muskingum County library system, was sworn in for his first City Council term in Newark as incumbent Jeremy Blake was sworn in for his second.
For Fennell, who comes from a politically active family, it’s a step out from behind the scenes, where he once thought he was relegated as an openly gay man.
“If you had asked me when I was in high school…,” he said. Fennell said his own experiences with discrimination and marginalization will make him a more effective representative.
Blake said voters have never seen his sexual orientation as an issue, but he added that their support for two openly gay elected officials reflects positively on Newark.
In Toledo on Tuesday, newly elected City Council member Nick Komives took his oath along with six others. Komives is the executive director of Equality Toledo, the city’s LGBTQ civil rights organization.
Olmsted Falls City Council member Ed Gorski also took the oath to begin a new term.
And in Columbus, City Council members selected openly gay Democrat Shannon Hardin as council president on Tuesday. The council president controls the legislative agenda in Columbus.
Hardin was re-elected in November and took his oath over the weekend.