Prizm News / November 1, 2018 / By Bob Vitale
Ohio had more cities at the top of the latest HRC ratings of local government policies than any state other than California.
By Bob Vitale
Like exasperated Browns fans, LGBTQ Clevelanders just kind of got used to their city’s poor performance in an annual Human Rights Campaign survey of local government policies across the nation.
But last year’s tallies—Cincinnati, 100; Columbus, 100; Akron, 100; Dayton, 100; Toledo, 89; Cleveland, 81—stirred LGBTQ community leaders and city officials to action. And when HRC released its 2018 Municipal Equality Index in early October, Cleveland was at the top of the list with the others.
They were joined for the first time by Toledo, which moved up as well. Ohio had more of its cities at the top of the 2018 survey than any other state except California.
In all of the cities, advocates say the scores are more than just something to brag about. While 100 points doesn’t represent perfection— HRC gives bonus points that can disguise shortcomings in other areas—each represents a tangible policy that affects the lives of LGBTQ people.
In Cleveland, the city added LGBTQ liaisons Dierdre Jones and Kevin Schmotzer in the Division of Police and mayor’s office, respectively, and appointed LGBTQ activist Sherry Bowman to the Community Relations Board.
In Toledo, the City Council banned so-called “conversion therapy” against LGBTQ children and added transition-related care to its employees’ health coverage..
“Every time you achieve progress on LGBTQ issues, it’s a great opportunity for conversations to be had,” says Nick Komives, who identified improvement on Toledo’s annual HRC report as a priority when he became executive director of Equality Toledo in 2015.
He’s still working on LGBTQ issues since being elected to the Toledo City Council in November 2017.
Toledo’s 100-point rating is a dramatic improvement from the 58 points the city earned in 2014. Cleveland’s score over that time remained in the 70- and 80-point range even as Columbus, Cincinnati, Dayton and Akron made improvements.
In both Cleveland and Toledo, officials say HRC researchers had been glossing over some policies that already were in place to support the LGBTQ community. But advocates and city officials also say addressing other areas of concern simply wasn’t high on many people’s radar in and out of city governments.
Cleveland finally added gender identity and expression to its local nondiscrimination laws in 2016. Suzanne Hamilton, a member of HRC boards in Cleveland and nationally, says that effort, marked by huge turnout at City Council meetings when the issue was on the agenda, became a platform for work that followed.
By the time Cuyahoga County took up a nondiscrimination ordinance in late September, more than 200 people showed up for the final County Council vote. Public comments for and against took nearly four hours.
Mayor Frank Jackson says the LGBTQ community has been “polite but intense” about improving Cleveland’s ranking. It’s an effort he has supported, and in his State of the City address in October said addressing further inequities and disparities among city residents will be a priority over the coming year as well.
“We tell people, ‘We want you to come to Cleveland.’ Why would we condition that on anything?” Jackson told Prizm in an interview during the city’s LGBTQ Heritage Day ceremony at City Hall last month. “It’s like inviting people to your home. Why would you invite someone into your home and be rude to them?”
Meanwhile, the newly designated LGBTQ liaisons already are paying dividends. Latin leaders in Northeast Ohio recently reached out to Bowman, she says, because they want to step up support for LGBTQ people within their own community. Efforts are under way to designate gender-neutral restrooms in city buildings. Jones, who also is in charge of the police division’s Bureau of Support Services, already has boosted recruitment of new LGBTQ officers.
“I never thought we’d get to this point,” says Jones, who has been with the city since 1986. “I’m proud that I’m part of this change.”
Among Bowman’s priorities is an effort to address the safety of transgender people in Cleveland. Two trans women—45-year-old Phylicia Mitchell and 54-year-old Keisha Wells— have been murdered this year in the city. Six transgender women in Cleveland—five of them women of color—have been killed since late 2013.