On Monday, for the first time, gay couples will be able to get marriage licenses in the state of New York. The political atmosphere in Ohio is very different. Though Northeast Ohio is set to host the international Gay Games just three years from now, the state constitution has one of the strictest prohibitions against gay marriage in the country. In the second of a three-part series, we look into the political and legal factors that affect how gay-friendly our region is.
Councilman Joe Cimperman, sponsor of the bill to bring the Gay Games to Cleveland, says, “Hate is expensive” .
And Cleveland can’t afford it.
“In a time, in a town when we need all economic factors working collaboratively together, and whether that goes for people in the LGBT community or civil rights community, whether it’s civil rights or human rights, hate is expensive. We can't afford to hate.”
In strong agreement with Cimperman is the LGBT community… the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgenderedresidents of Northeast Ohio, many of whom are eagerly looking forward to participating in the Gay Games.
Many also look forward to the expected 60 million dollar benefit of the 2014 Gay Games to the region’s economy.
But when Councilman Cimperman last year visited Germany, where the torch was passed to Cleveland for the next quadrennial gay games , he heard serious concerns about Ohio law.
“Y’know Cleveland’s in a funny place called Ohio where we not only legislate, but we constitutionalize hatred. And I mean that when we say that two people don’t have the right to get married to each other, it’s ridiculous.”
Ohio is one of 31 states that make same-sex marriage unconstitutional. All but one of Ohio’s 88 counties , Athens, passed the constitutional amendment in a voter referendum in 2004.
The atmosphere in Northeast Ohio, three years ahead of the Gay Games, is also tainted by a lawsuit. The local gay group originally awarded the contract to operate the games lost it, and cites discrimination in a legal fight to get it back.
Local tensions raised concern that the Federation of Gay Games would move the 2014 games to a more gay-friendly city. Councilman Cimperman applauds the international group for sticking with Northeast Ohio despite the challenges.
“There is an active lawsuit and I am very cognizant that I can’t comment. What I can comment on is that for our nation, for human rights, the biggest domino happens when it happens in Cleveland successfully, because it’s no big deal if it happens in Washington or Boston. It’s just not. (But) if the 2014 gay games lead to us undoing the gay marriage amendment and that makes Ohio one of the first Midwestern states to undo it, the domino effect across this nation will be deafening.”
OPENLY GAY LAWMAKER
Among those working for change in Columbus is the state’s first openly gay legislator, Democratic State Representative Nickie Antonio of Lakewood.
“As far as openly gay, there’s not a lot in our area. We have Mark Toomio on city council in Cleveland Heights, who has been very supportive. I have very many straight allies, supporters in Cleveland City Council as well as Lakewood City Council and on a broader basis statewide as well.”
During the Cleveland Gay Pride parade, Antonio was confronted by a constituent who wants to live in Cleveland to take care of her elderly mother, but feels she has to live half a world away.
“ New Zealand will allow me in as a full partner. America will not allow her in. New Zealand’s a good example, and you also do health care. Absolutely. She is fully covered now by the health care system. And you know if we’re smart. We talk about it’s the right thing to do but it’s also really good economic policy. And you’re a good example ‘cause we lost you, that’s right, to another country. Our small South Pacific nation of four million people could teach a lot. Absolutely. Please do something. I’ll do my best.”
Another measure of Northeast Ohio’s inclusiveness, or lack thereof, was feedback from listeners when radio talk show host Mike Trivisonno’s first raised the topic of the Gay Games:
“ Some wanted to make jokes . Some were very serious and to be truthful with you, some were against because of singling out , uh, y’know gay games itself rather than just games.
When Trivisonno got that feedback from his listeners, he was right there with them.
“Well, yeah, I was definitely with them on singling out things. Y’know I just think we’d be so much better off if we just became one, just became Americans and quit pointing out that you’re white , he’s black, she’s gay, I mean y’know that’s …who cares?”
Trivisonno says he has nothing against gays, just what he calls, “labels”.
“When you keep pounding what you are into other people’s heads, I think you do more damage than you do good. Just go about your business and quit trying to pound into somebody else’s way of life.”
The North Coast Softball League plays every Sunday at Cleveland’s Gordon Park.
Rob Gallagher is the commissioner.
“ We have Twisted Sisters which is my team, Twisted Revenge, Demolition Divas, Pistol Whips, Johnny Malloys , and we have the Lefties…”
Gallagher says anyone can play.
“ We do have a rule that at least three members of your team have to be gay, which kind of keeps the league in its purpose.”
Carly Meznick plays outfield on an all-lesbian team.
“ Personally I’ve never encountered any homophobia or anything like that. I would just say that this is just a little more comfortable. You feel more comfortable in your own skin I guess. I’m sure for other players, that it’s more comfortable for them who’ve played in straight leagues and maybe received some negative reactions from the community and things like that.”
Once a year on Pride Day, Jayson Wilson of Cleveland can be himself without fear of the kind of abuse he’s suffered.
“Faggot. It’s like saying the n-word to a black person. Spitting on you, y’know.”
He just wishes every day was Pride Day.
“Like you can walk in Columbus, you can walk down the street and hold hands. San Diego you can do the same. San Francisco you can do the same. Why can’t you do the same here in Cleveland? “
That’s why author Judah Leblang doesn’t live here anymore. He’s a die-hard Indians fan who grew up gay in Beachwood.
“ Y’know my life in Boston at this point I’m pretty rooted there, but I had thought of potentially moving back here. And then when the state passed a, quote, ‘defense of marriage’ law, to me the message is, ‘Well you can live here, but you’re gonna live here as a second class citizen.’ It just discourages people, not only gay people but people who are somewhat progressive and creative from thinking about being here. I mean I would not want to live in a place where I’m being told I can’t have the same rights as everybody else, y’know .”
Pride Day is one day of sheer exuberance. Most other days the executive director of the Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, Transgender Community of Greater Cleveland, Jan Cline, does what the Boy Scouts taught him to do: fight for the underdog.
“And to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent, and in spite of how that national organization does not accept gay men, it really is a basis for who I am. I’ll raise my voice for, in, support of everybody else’s right to be who they are.”
And he says Ohio’s law against gay marriage won’t stop athletes from all over the world from coming to Cleveland and Akron for the 2014 gay games.
“ Aside from what laws exist in the state, Northeast Ohio, Cleveland, Akron is really supportive and an openly gay area and why shouldn’t they come here? Make a statement that says we’re gonna be here anyway. You making it law, putting it into the Constitution to outlaw who we are is not gonna stop us, y’know? You put up a big sign that says you and your kind are not wanted here and that never stopped us before .”
As many as 50,000 participants are expected at the 2014 Gay Games.
Tomorrow, in the concluding segment of our series, we look at the contrasting picture of gay life that they might see in Northeast Ohio.