Steve Newsome is a Walnut Hills resident and a member of the Human Rights Campaign's board of governors.
Recently, the GOP in Hamilton County endorsed an openly gay man for Cincinnati City Council. For many of us who have been working to advance LGBTQ equality, this was to be a full-circle moment. The potential of a Republican who could represent our issues to a constituency that has traditionally been averse to LGBTQ equality, to put it mild terms, is big.
Instead, this candidate, through hubris or inexperience, proclaimed a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” approach going as far to say his sexuality, implying anyone’s sexuality, doesn’t matter to their particular job. There are three main problems with this glib statement.
First, in Ohio and twelve other states, people can be fired, discriminated against and denied housing because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. While one’s orientation or gender identity may not affect one’s ability to perform the tasks of a job necessarily, it absolutely affects one’s ability to work a job. That may be as simple as answering a question from a co-worker about what they did the previous weekend or speaking to photos they saw on Facebook.
We need politicians who understand that workers bring their identity to work. As businesses who understand can attest, when an employee brings their full self to work, they are a happier, more productive employee. Furthermore, we need politicians with the emotional intelligence to understand their own personal experiences influence their decisions and thus influence the lives of those they represent. As an LGBTQ candidate, official or leader, we do not simply speak for ourselves. We speak for those among us, our friends, our neighbors, and those most without a voice in our community.
The second problem related to denying identity matters in politics and life, is that the entire civil rights movement is based on our personal stories. Any politician would tell you it is easy to say no to an issue, but it is much harder to say no to a person. It was not long ago in Cincinnati that the LGBTQ community was not welcome. Article XII not only was discriminatory, but it was economically damaging to our city, costing us billions in revenue from conventions, business and citizens.
The effort put forward to repeal such a discriminatory and damaging law, was not complex. Nor was the road to marriage equality, frankly. These efforts, the efforts of the LGBTQ movement, are to explain to people that while we may live our lives with a person of the same gender, or identify as a gender not assigned to us at birth, our outwardly by society, that we are people with rights and dreams nonetheless. We do not want to, nor should we, hide the fact that we are now engaged, married, having children or simply living our truth in a free society. Stories like friends who were booted from the military, gay-bashed on the street, or a love story where a spouse simply wanted to be listed as a spouse on a death certificate brought us to where we are today. Anyone who denies that these stories matter is sorely mistaken and has not been with our community doing the work.
Finally, the most perplexing problem in this story is the messenger himself. Here was a golden opportunity to truly be a leader, not only in the LGBTQ community, but in the Republican Party. Someone on the inside, who could champion conservative values within the lens of supporting equality along the way would no doubt impact creating a more diverse and inclusive city in a monumental way. The LGBTQ community needs support from Republicans. On the national level we have some great partners in the GOP from Sen. Susan Collins to Sen. Lisa Murkowski and locally there are Republicans like Judge Lisa Allen who have been endorsed by LGBTQ groups. Framing our community’s issues, however, in a conservative lens does not include forsaking our identity or boiling it down to being inconsequential.
It would seem the GOP’s own LGBT candidate for City Council is perpetuating the bigoted lie that our issues are about what happens in the privacy of our own lives. Nothing could be further from the truth.