Prizm News / September 21, 2018 / By Bob Vitale
Rick Neal of Columbus, who would be Ohio’s first openly gay member of Congress if he wins in the state’s 15th Congressional District, fires up the crowd in June at a dance party/protest to mark a visit to Columbus by Vice President Mike Pence. (Prizm photo by Staley Munroe)


HRC and other groups are working to harness the power of LGBTQ and allied voters. There are a lot of us.


By Bob Vitale

We’ve given the world music and art and artificial intelligence, “Leaves of Grass,” “The Matrix” and “Orange Is the New Black.” And you’ve seen what we can do when we fill a dance floor.


So just imagine the impact that the LGBTQ community could have on an election.

Efforts to mobilize so-called equality voters—not just those who identify as LGBTQ but all who place a priority on nondiscrimination laws and other pro-LGBTQ measures—are kicking into gear as the Nov. 6 election draws nearer and the stakes get higher.

In Ohio, voters will choose a new governor and attorney general, a U.S. senator, 16 U.S. House members, 17 state senators, 99 state representatives, and scores of judges, county commissioners and other government officers.

Nationally, control of the U.S. House and U.S. Senate are up for grabs, along with the power to shape and pass legislation, oversee federal agencies and provide a powerful check on President Donald Trump.

More than 1.5 million Ohioans fall into that equality voter category, according to the Human Rights Campaign, which is leading efforts in the state to get them to the polls on or before Election Day. It’s a number that can sway close races like the contest for governor between pro-equality Democrat Richard Cordray and a longtime LGBTQ nemesis, Republican Mike DeWine. September polls showed DeWine with narrow leads that, when applied to turnout for the 2014 governor’s race, would translate to advantages of 30,000 to 150,000 votes.

Shawn Copeland

“That number (1.5 million equality voters) can make a big difference,” says Shawn Copeland, Ohio’s state director for HRC Rising, as the get-out-the-vote effort is called. “We are a massive voting bloc in any election.”

Make that: We can be a massive voting bloc. Copeland says we’re not always a reliable group for candidates who share our desire for LGBTQ equality. We don’t trust the system for the most part, he says. We sometimes tune out of politics, especially in years like this when we’re not picking a president.

But it appears that might be changing in 2018. HRC has hired three regional organizers in Ohio this year to coordinate with local LGBTQ organizations, recruit volunteers for political campaigns and its own efforts, register voters, and encourage people to vote.

It’s a battle-tested strategy that already has scored victories. In 2016, a concentrated HRC effort in North Carolina brought down Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, who had signed legislation wiping out local nondiscrimination laws and regulating restroom use in the state by transgender people.

HRC mobilized LGBTQ voters in Alabama for last year’s special U.S. Senate election in which pro-equality Democrat Doug Jones defeated the notorious homophobe, Republican Roy Moore.

Betsy Rader at Cleveland Pride on June 2. “I was so overcome with emotion the day of the (Supreme Court’s 2015 marriage-equality) ruling because I felt that the decision meant my kids were safer,” she told Prizm for a story coming in our October issue. (Prizm photo by Bob Vitale)

And here in Ohio, HRC supporters made 10,000 calls this spring for Lakewood Democrat Nickie Antonio in her primary bid to become the first LGBTQ member of the Ohio Senate. The four-term state representative, a lesbian, was snubbed by Cuyahoga County’s Democratic machine, but she won her primary by 10 percentage points.

Candidates—those on this side of history, anyway—are courting the LGBTQ vote.

Betsy Rader, a Geauga County lawyer who’s running for the U.S. House in Northeast Ohio’s 14th Congressional District, wore a rainbow-colored fedora to Cleveland Pride in June and carried a sign that said, “Proud Mom.”

Rader, who has two gay sons (and will be featured in the October issue of Prizm), got a boost in August when HRC President Chad Griffin rounded up volunteers to knock on doors for the Democrat in Mayfield Village.

“Sherrod Pride” is a group of U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown’s LGBTQ supporters. (Prizm photo by Bob Vitale)

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, a two-term Democrat who’s running for re-election this fall, lauched “Sherrod Pride” in June for his LGBTQ supporters.

Gone are the days when LGBTQ Americans were the foil for candidates to gin up their base, Copeland says. Surveys by the Public Religion Research Institute in 2017 found 69 percent of Ohioans want to make discrimination against LGBTQ people illegal. Sixty-one percent favor marriage equality, and 60 percent oppose making religious beliefs a legal reason to discriminate against LGBTQ people.

“The country has reached a milestone moment in the debate over LGBT rights,” said Dan Cox, research director at the institute. “At a time when Americans are more divided than ever…LGBT rights are becoming one of the few areas of public agreement.”

“It’s an old playbook,” Copeland says of politicians still trying to demonize queer people. “It ends up backfiring.”

For the fall, HRC has endorsed nearly two dozen Ohio candidates:

Cordray and running mate Betty Sutton for governor and lieutenant governor.

• Statewide candidates Steve Dettelbach for attorney general, Kathleen Clyde for secretary of state, Rob Richardson for state treasurer and Zack Space for state auditor.

Brown, Rader and U.S. House candidates Aftab Pureval of Cincinnati (1st District), Joyce Beatty of Columbus (3rd District), Marcy Kaptur of Toledo (9th District), Danny O’Connor of Columbus (12th District), Tim Ryan of Niles (13th District) and Rick Neal of Columbus (15th District).

Ohio General Assembly candidates Antonio, Louise Valentine of Westerville (19th Senate District), Mary Lightbody of Westerville (19th House District), Beth Liston of Dublin (21st House District), Allison Russo of Columbus (24th House District), Casey Weinstein of Hudson (37th House District), Jeremy Blake of Newark (71st House District) and Taylor Sappington of Nelsonville (94th House District).

LGBTQ organizations throughout Ohio also are about to start an effort using social media, celebrities and celebrations to hype up participation in the Nov. 6 elections.

On Thursday, Oct. 11, an outdoor Come Out to Vote Party at the Franklin County Board of Elections early voting center from 3 p.m.-6 p.m. will feature LGBTQ artists Anne E. DeChant, Trey Pearson and Jo’el Monroe, the Columbus Gay Men’s Chorus, performers from Evolution Theatre, drag performers and DJ Brad Henry.

It’s taking place on National Coming Out Day, which also is the second day of voting in Ohio for the Nov. 6 election.

Events are in the works in Cleveland, Toledo and other cities. Visit or follow us on Facebook for all the details when they’re finalized. You can also visit our Facebook page to download “Come Out to Vote” frames and graphics for your social media pages.
Twitter: @Bob_Vitale