The Dye Has Been Cast

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Like many others today, I made my way to the polls to make sure my voice was a part of the cacophony we call democracy. Many view it as a chore but it is also our given right. It’s the chance for us to be a part of a larger collective, to show the government we will be heard and we do matter. This was also my first time voting in Ohio, so there was that added stress. Apparently, not all of Ohio uses the same means for residents to vote, it is county specific. Take Cuyahoga County for instance, we use a scantron method for our votes to be taken. That created its on moment of high school examination dread, when I opened the folder for my ballot.

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Queue the flashback sequence, a la Wayne’s World (party on Garth, Party on Wayne). It would be more apt to say… Pictures it Montgomery County, Virginia November 1992, a small town gay boy makes his way for his first time of entering the booth. Now before you get all pervy on me, I am recalling my first time voting in an election, not a video booth. Sheesh, maybe if you are good we can recount that story, spoiler alert I have never been in one of those booths. Anyway, back to the young boy, going through high school civics/government class we all had training to help man the polls and learn how to use the machines. At that time, Virginia was still using the punch ballot. You essentially would put your card in this machine, line it up, choose your candidates and using a pin push through the paper, and when you were done you would pull a lever to cast your ballot. The machine would reset for the next person. Think slot machine without the payout.

That was nerve-wracking back then, thankfully Virginia now uses an electronic system. Being a Gen X-er, we grew up watching technology evolve, so merging into that type of system wasn’t a hard migration. Moving to Ohio I was unsure what to expect and they didn’t let me down. I decided to vote before work and managed to get there about an hour after the polls opened and took my roommate along for the ride. Of course I grilled him about how it would work, since I hadn’t used a paper ballot since high school. I was expecting a large turn out and it wasn’t bad. The lines moved very quickly and since I screwed up one of my forms I was even able to retrieve a new one and recast in fairly quick time.

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What’s that you say? How could I have screwed up my vote? Well I did mention earlier the flashback to high school examinations with scantron sheets. Early in the morning my eyes haven’t adjusted and have a bit of double vision, combined with this season’s allergies. So, like a good child is known for, I colored outside of the lines. Apparently more than the machine would tolerate. I could joke about an attempt but saying that could be misconstrued and I wouldn’t want Big Brother showing up at home this afternoon.

All in all, we were in and out quickly. Nice to see that things were under control enough to make them move that effortlessly and thank you for the patient people that had to endure me not understanding the intricacies of Cuyahoga County Voting. I just hope that it wasn’t an indication of low voter turnout. I haven’t checked any information for Ohio, as of today, about early turnout versus showing up on Election Day. As of now at 10 am, it’s a bit too early to see any kind of results as to what may be happening. The fate of the country rests firmly in our hands and it’s time to remember that the government should fear its people and not the people who should fear the government. If you haven’t yet, get out there and vote, no matter who or how you choose to vote. Make your voice be heard.

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Voices Carry, Make Sure Your’s Does As Well.

Our current administration has been in office two years and this November 6th marks the midterm elections. This is an important time for each and every one of us. In that two years we have watch LGBTQ legislation that was put into place by Obama be changed and often times repealed. Our voices rise to the very heavens in protest, but are they enough?

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In the last couple months there have been talks coming from DC on how Trump wants to change how transgender people are viewed under our current laws. In short, he is wanting to take away protections based on gender identity and put into place the means to have healthcare, protective status, jobs, public service access, and a host of other services based upon the gender you were born with. With more and more states passing legislation for protective status to LGBTQ people, this will be in direct conflict and allow business and groups who don’t want to support that a mean to circumvent state laws.

The Washington Post posted and article on how Trump wants to redefine how transgender status is interpreted. He says he wants his administration to “seriously” consider changing the way it treats transgender people under the current law, confirming his debate about whether someone’s sex is a biological fact determined at birth. The Health and Human Services Department has also been pushing for a change to the law. Wanting a “fresh and direct aim at transgender rights,” though what is unclear is if they are in support of the alleged Trump reform or for transgender rights. Previous changes made by the Department of Health and Human Services would point to the former.

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These kind of changes as to whether gender identity is the same as biological gender will allow much debate on the protection status of transgender people under current laws. This would allow the government to decide our gender identities, rather than how we view our bodies and ourselves. It is clear that many people feel that the Obama administration overstepped their bounds when they enacted laws to offer protection stations to LGBTQ people. These same people are in support of the Trump administration systematically rolling back these efforts.

Here are just a few of the changes this administration has been making to laws that are already in place.

September 7, 2017 the Department of Justice filed a brief on behalf of the United States arguing for the constitutional right for business to discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

October 5, 2017 the Department of Justice release a memo giving DOJ attorneys legal position to not protect transgender workers from discrimination.

October 6, 2017 the Justice Department released a “license to discriminate” that would allow federal agencies, government contractors, and even private businesses to engage in illegal discrimination based on citing religious reasons.

January 18th and 26th the Department of Health and Human Services started putting into place proposals that would allow healthcare workers to discriminate based on religious or moral reasons. In a sense, being able to turn away someone who was LGBTQ simply because their religion doesn’t accept them. So much for the Hippocratic oath governing how doctors are to treat patience.

February 18, 2018 the Department of Education announced it would dismiss any complaints from transgender students that involved exclusion from school facilities. It would also dismiss any claim based solely on gender identity discrimination.

March 23, 2018 the Trump administration implemented a discriminatory plan that would ban transgender people from serving in the military

May 11, 2018 the Bureau of Prison in the Department of Justice adopted an illegal policy of almost entirely housing all transgender gender in prisons that match their assigned birth. This changed existing protections already put into place.

August 10, 2018 the Department of Labor released a directive for the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs that would encourage them to grant sweeping religious exemptions to federal contractors with religious based objections to nondiscrimination laws.

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The point of all of this is to state that this administration is working tirelessly to remove any protections that were put into place by the previous administration. This midterm election will have an ability to change the balance of power so that further stripping of protection status and non-discrimination laws will be harder to remove. Every vote matters, your status as a voter matters. Ensure you are registered to vote and then get out there and do it. Get a group together and go vote, take someone with you who may not be able to make it. Ensure that every vote is taken and counted.

 

Celebrating the Victories

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With this being National LGBTQ History Month, I also think it is important to celebrate the present. Our city, Cleveland, has had a few victories this year that definitely need celebrating. While we still have a fight ahead of us, acknowledging where we have made advances gives us strength to fight on. Share with me in this and know that each of you are a part of this.

Fighting is hard, especially in the instances of civil and social justices. We get focused on the need to push forward and what the next battle is going to be that we often forget to take a moment out to celebrate what we have gained. That doesn’t mean we should not stay focused, but we need to recognize victories that have been gained. Currently, Ohio and Cleveland are both a battle ground for getting protection status for LGBTQ people in the work place. When only 20 states have any form of protection status, every additional state added to that list is very important.

Again, victories are important and something I think we should take a moment to celebrate. Mayor Jackson has made appointments recently that are leaps for our community. Sherry Bowman was appointed as LGBTQ+ Representative to Cleveland’s Community Relations Board. She is both a native Clevelander and a long time activist in the LGBTQ+ and African American community. In 2006 she created a website called feelgoode.com to provide information and access to people to get involved in local activism. When the site closed in 2012 it was receiving 300,000 hits per day. She went on to become actively involved in local advocacy groups and was instrumental in helping shape Cleveland’s nondiscrimination ordinances. This year the mayor appointed her, to serve as a LGBTQ+ representative on the Cleveland’s Community Relations Board. This position is responsibility to help build positive relationships between City Hall and the LGBTQ+ community at large. Sherry’s goals include more economic opportunities for the LGBTQ+ community, reducing violence against the transgender community, and to maximize collaboration between the various organizations that serve the LGBTQ+ community.

We also saw the appointment of Commander Deidre Jones as a LGBTQ Liaison to the Department of Safety. Deidre has long been out in her 30 years service with the city. Her role as LGBTQ liaison will be to build on and strengthen relationships between the Police and the LGBTQ+ community. Part of her means to accomplish this is to work on increasing recruiting from the LGBTQ+ community, to meet with and examining other Police leaders to bring back best practices to Cleveland, provide ongoing training to officers, and to meets with business owners of the LGBTQ+ community to ensure their public safety needs are being met. She is also working directly with officers on cases involving the LGBTQ+ community on how to respectfully write reports, behave on scene, and interact with the media. “I want to improve the basic interaction,” Jones says, “to make sure that LGTQ+ people are afforded the same dignity and respect from officers that everyone else would get.” Commander Jones wants to increase visibility of Police and Public Safety as allies and to keep the tradition of police participation at Cleveland’s annual Pride in the CLE celebration.

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Kevin Schmotzer was appointed as the first LGBTQ+ liaison to Mayor Frank G. Jackson, this year. His position is to address the needs of the LGBTQ+ community with the internal departments, social service organizations and coalitions and as an adviser to the mayor. Mayor Frank Jackson was quoted saying, “Mr. Schmotzer will helps us expand and advance nondiscriminatory policies that move our entire community forward.” Kevin has been working with the city of Cleveland for two decades and served as the Executive of Small Business Development for attracting entrepreneurship, creating and administering programs, and financial incentives for economic development in Cleveland. Mr. Schmotzer also served on the 2014 board for the Cleveland held Gay Games.

We also have the recent passing of the Cuyahoga County Non-Discrimination Ordinance. This ordinance gave equal protection and access employment, housing, accommodations, including public bathrooms and locker rooms. This allowed Cuyahoga to fall in line with most of its localities that already had these types of protections in place and a further step to ensure that all of Ohio has them, as well.

We still have a way to go in our fight and the forward momentum needs to be carried along. Whether you are out, have plans to come out, or not we need to rally together to ensure that all people are equally accessed to services. None of us should ever feel that we are not a part of the global collective. Find your means to fight and speak out. Civil disobedience or full on activism, all aspects are needed to make a change.

 

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