Rick 13 (2)

Picking up the Story in 2010: Coming Out LGBT in Springfield

My own story of engaging Springfield with LGBT concerns begins the same year that you, after years of navigating this town’s prohibitions and silences, started your new life in Florida.  I arrived in Springfield in 2002 when I took a job teaching British Romantic literature at your alma mater, Wittenberg University, but I didn’t get caught up in LGBT activism for some years.  The coincidence of timing—your packing up in 2010 and my stepping out more publicly that same year—makes me wonder if we both hit a similar breaking point from being lesbian and gay in a town that discouraged our visibility, that offered a warm reception and helpful services as long as parts of who we are remained a private matter.

My own breaking point was accelerated when a friend, who teaches in the public school system, shared with me why he chooses to keep his sexuality and his long-time partner concealed from his co-workers.  He said that he had a good working relationship with the principal at his school, but because principals change from time to time, he had no guarantees that his security would continue.  Under those circumstances, the risks of living openly as a gay man weighed more heavily on him than the benefits.  At one level, his life and mine were similar:  We were both educators in Springfield.  But at another level, our lives were very different.  I taught at a school that, besides including “sexual orientation” in its nondiscrimination policy, valued the perspective that my interest in gender and sexuality brought to a literature classroom.  Not only would I not be penalized for being gay, but I also stood a chance of being appreciated for it. What’s more, Wittenberg has been generous enough to provide my spouse with benefits once we could demonstrate—in the absence of a marriage license—that our lives were, in fact, intertwined.  Meanwhile, my friend in the public school lived much of his day managing a careful boundary between his work life and his home life. He also lived with the very reasonable fear that, regardless of how discrete he managed to be, he was always one homophobic parent away from losing a teaching career in this community.

 

A Springfield Coming Out, Part 1:  Putting It in Print

I’d known that conditions like these existed, but my friend’s account made the problem more intensely visible and personal for me in 2010.  Not knowing how to address the problem but nonetheless feeling some compulsion to try something, I wrote an editorial for the Springfield News-Sun with the aim of making the hidden struggles of some friends and neighbors more visible.  Their struggle, so far as I can tell, is very similar to your struggle.  For you, it was the Catholic school, the Catholic Church, and your Springfield community that held your sexuality hostage, sending you the message that acceptance and support was contingent: “You can be loved and nurtured,” Springfield seems to say, “as long as you don’t live your truth as a lesbian woman—or, at the very least, as long as you have the discretion to avoid living that truth so openly that children might see.” 

Of course, there’s no way to live in this arrangement without also validating the sense that we are corrupt in some way.  It’s a self-limiting message that can come from family, from the workplace, and from community groups.  Regrettably, the church or the mosque is almost always the most powerful and the most efficient messenger of such lessons.  Few people utter an anti-gay sentiment in these parts without quoting Paul or Leviticus shortly thereafter.

I wasn’t sure how to push back against these messages, so I started by asking readers of the editorial to reflect on our community by taking stock of the kinds of human diversity they could see in their city as well as the kinds of diversity they could not.  One conclusion was obvious.

Regardless of your chosen avenue, one dimension of Springfield’s diversity is conspicuously hidden, namely the gay, lesbian, and transgender Springfielders.

To get some sense of the peculiar silence of this group, just compare our city to those other urban centers along I-70, Dayton and Columbus, both of which offer annual pride festivals, community centers for sexual minorities, openly gay elected officials and active organizations for gay citizens (as well as their parents and friends).

Yes, we’re a smaller place than those cities, but something is surely amiss when we come up with blanks in all of the above categories.

(“Springfield Gays Shouldn’t Feel that They Need To Hide,” Springfield News Sun 7/10/10)

That editorial may not have changed a lot of minds about public policy, but it certainly brought an end to my own invisibility in Springfield.  Up to that point, I’d shared my sexual orientation with work colleagues but not with everyone in my church or in my community service activities.  That editorial also marked the start of a long and hard education about the potential and limitations of grass roots activism, as well as the possibilities and impediments within more institutional kinds of power in town, be it ecclesiastical, political, municipal, or social.  There have been good lessons, not the least of which being that Springfielders have an itch for community engagement to a degree that other towns do not enjoy.  Friends began sharing with me that the editorial had stirred up conversations at their workplaces and at dinner parties.  Then, a few weeks after that editorial appeared, a second letter found its way into the Springfield News-Sun, this one by the mother of a gay son.

For anyone who missed his article, Mr. Incorvati spoke of being gay, and, in particular, being gay in Springfield. It was so gratifying to read his courageous article, obviously written for every gay and lesbian person who has wanted to say those same words, but who is unable to come forth with the courage to do so.

(“Mother of Gay Son:  Tolerance the Least We Should Give,” Springfield News Sun, 8/7/10)

The mother who wrote this editorial, along with others interested in organizing, eventually created Equality Springfield, the city’s first LGBT advocacy organization.  In the weeks and months that followed, the group sprung a set of bylaws, elected a raft of officers, earned its non-profit bona fides from the IRS, and set about the work of helping lesbian, gay, and transgender people feel more at home in this part of the state.  Since then, Equality Springfield has become widely known and a regular presence in the city’s cultural life.Rick 1

We co-sponsor the Farmers Market, set up a booth at a City Hall’s Culture Fest, host (along with partner churches) the Dayton Gay Men’s Chorus for an annual holiday concert, and keep an active presence on social media with 1,200 Facebook followers and counting.

 

A Springfield Coming Out, Part 2:  Feeling the Blowback

Not everyone has been thrilled by our presence. Over the past five years, we’ve seen the other side of Springfield.  The narrowness.  The bigotry.  The fear mongering.  LGBT people still leave our town for more affirming communities to call home, more welcoming places where they can devote their talents, time, and energy, and they do this for good reason.  As much as many of us activist types are pleased to see signs of progress, we still get tired of it all and talk about leaving the place behind.  My partner and I are better situated than most LGBT people by far, but we get weary of the bigotry, disgusted with the tactics of conservative clergy, and exasperated by the irrational fears that pass for prophecy in some circles.

We know full well why you left here.  You had good reason.

One of the early indications of inhospitable feelings toward LGBT visibility surfaced, of all days, on Mother’s Day in 2011, when the Springfield News-Sun printed a feature story about a lesbian couple, Becky Hall and Jodi Curnutte, both of whom were softball coaches at Wittenberg.  The article seemed innocent enough, recounting the steps in the couple’s adoption of their daughter, Donyale, who was seven at the time the story appeared.

 A few days later, in June 2009, Hall met Donyale at Chuck E. Cheese’s in Springfield.

“I fell in love with her at first sight,” Hall said. “She was just a lovable, bright-eyed, active, intelligent little girl who would match really well with our family.”

Hall sent Curnutte a photo of Donyale with the message, “By the way, she’s coming to our house tomorrow.” Hall kept telling Curnutte Donyale was a perfect match.

“And when I met her,” Curnutte said, “I couldn’t have agreed more.”

Donyale stayed with them that weekend, and then the next weekend, and the weekend after that, until they had to coach at a softball tournament in Hawaii. When they returned, they brought Donyale into their home for good.

(“Adoption Changes Life for Wittenberg Softball Coach” Springfield News Sun 5/8/11)

The story struck some readers as heart warming.  Others took the story much less favorably. Faithful and long-standing readers of the News-Sun threatened to discontinue subscriptions at a time when print journalism was facing an uncertain future and when the paper’s staff had already been downsized.  Becky, Jodi, and Donyale’s story moved into new territory for this community—and it struck some landmines.

This is not the West Coast or New York. This is Middle America. We do not want to see articles about homosexuals on Mother’s Day or any other day. Keep that trash out of the paper.

What kind of newspaper do we have when on Mother’s Day you have an article on a couple of lesbians. It was a slap to the face of real mothers. You hit a new low.

(Speak Up Editorials, Springfield News Sun 5/11/11)

People that I knew at the newspaper expected some negative response but were surprised by the outrage that flew at them.  For Equality Springfield, the blowback was an indication of developments to come, developments that would emerge when the group began asking questions that had not been asked before.

 

A Springfield Coming Out, Step 3:  Learning about City Hall and Its Ties with the Conservative Church

In 2011, members of the group coordinated a campaign for the inclusion of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” in the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance.  We expected some resistance, but most of us were naïve in assuming that only voices on the fringe of our community would actually defend the right to fire, evict, or deny services to someone on the basis of sexual orientation.  It turned out, in fact, we were the fringe. 

The liberty to discriminate against LGBT people was a right that a good many Springfielders had no inclination to part with.  Perhaps these anti-gay voices don’t accurately represent the community as a whole.  It’s tough to say with certainty.  What is certain is that these voices represented many of the people who were willing to make a trip to City Hall, to send furious emails and make multiple phone calls to their commissioners, and to write indignant letters to the paper.  In my better moods, I tell myself that more moderate, more thoughtful, and more progressive Springfielders were interested in the community conversation as well, but were just more apt to go out for Indian food than to participate.  In any case, we learned a tough lesson about the motivational power of outrage.  We also had one of our strong suspicions confirmed: We should not consider the option of a popular vote to secure rights for LGBT people in the city.Rick 2

There were also some hard lessons in that first year of work about the way local politicians would deal with upstart advocacy organizations like ours, organizations that had little history in the town and even less clout.  It wasn’t too long before we had a good fix on where our City Commissioners stood on LGBT matters.  We knew that if the votes were there to make any change in current policy, the issue would have made its way onto City Hall’s agenda.  It neverRick 3 did.  Two of the Commission’s five members stated their support for including “sexual orientation” in the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance:  They were Mayor Warren Copeland and Commissioner Karen Duncan. The remaining three commissioners did what many politicians do in an election year:  They refused to move the issue forward while relying publicly on expressions like “I’m still thinking about this very important issue.” 

Meanwhile, we knew from scuttle in the community that Joyce Chilton wasn’t thinking it over (“Not in a million years,” was her private comment that made its way to us); we suspected from party affiliation that Dan Martin, the sole Republican on the Commission, would not have an easy time being a deciding vote; and we received word from many sources not to trust Kevin O’Neill, a commissioner with a reputation for being a power broker and a manipulator, a guy who takes his lead from the Greek heroic code, who likes to cultivate alliances and dispense with those who cannot be of use to him.  LGBT advocates fall to the latter category, and in the buildup to his re-election, his tack was to keep his enemies happy with encouraging but hollow commitments.

It is important that we add to the ordinance protection for the GLBT community, not only in the workplace & with housing, but also within other areas of our community. It must go further. I can’t emphasize enough my position on bullying of our kids, physically & online. That is paramount to me & certainly to Joyce. I know it’s easy to say,”Patience is a virtue,” & “Good things come to he who waits,” but I have seen those old cliches proven to be true time & again. Let’s continue the dialog. As long as we keep talking, good things will happen.

(Kevin O’Neill email correspondence, 5/3/11)

O’Neill eventually voted against the inclusion of LGBT people in the city’s nondiscrimination policy.  By the time the commissioners finally voted on inclusion of “sexual orientation” on Feburary 28th, 2012, his opposition was no surprise.  At an earlier City Commission meeting in September of 2011, when Commissioner Martin moved to send the issue to committee for six months, we recognized the intent to delay the vote until after the election, when O’Neill would be safe from any fallout we could create.

What we didn’t anticipate was the extent to which O’Neill was courting the conservative churches in town, leading up to his election, spreading word that he would send the gays packing if they voted for him.

What we also didn’t anticipate—it’s safe to say we were blindsided—was the extent to which some of the largest churches in Springfield, white and black churches, would coordinate their opposition to rights for LGBT people.

That capacity, the willingness of clergy to don their clerical collars and reverend titles while playing power politics has been the hardest development for me personally to accept.  Commissioner O’Neill manipulates and works situations to his personal advantage, but because he is a politician, I’m inclined to give him a pass.  No one likes being burned, but then we also come to expect, and maybe event accept, doublespeak from politicians. Call me naïve, but I’m less prepared to excuse clergy who go to work in the same fashion, smiling and speaking of God’s love while they stir their congregations with misbegotten fears about gay men coming after their children.  This is the sort of ugliness in Springfield that makes it difficult for some of us to use expressions like “hometown” with the unambiguous affection that we would like to feel.

Rick 4The church opposition to workplace and housing protections had four components leading up to the City Commission’s vote.  The first step was to bring in a strategist.  The expert of choice in Ohio is Phil Burress of Citizens for Community Values, the largest anti-LGBT organization in the state, and his arriving in town to meet with City Commissioners and with the conservative church community stirred up interest.  Excited by a scheduled visit from the preeminent tactician of anti-gay politics, the Clark County Tea Party got on board and shared word with people on its roster.

On October 31, 2011 at 6:30 p.m., I ask that you join us with Mr. Phil 
Burress, who is from Cincinnati. He is the president of CCV (Citizens for
 Community Values). He will be coming to our church (Springfield Church
 of Christ) to help us organize to help us defeat this immoral ordinance. At the last meeting we were out numbered three to one. So
 Christians, Men of Faith, and Women of Faith, it is time for us to be COURAGEOUS, and stand against evil, we can be silent no more. Please pray about your decision. Our city depends on it.

(Email correspondence for the Clark County Tea Party, 10/15/11).

Despite his celebrity status, Burress belongs to that ever-growing list of conservative Christian ironies.  At one level, his disgust with LGBT people is couched within the language of preserving the family.  Here’s how the Citizens for Community Values puts it on their website.

[W]e believe that the campaign, the militant agenda, of homosexual activist organizations threatens the emotional and physical health, indeed, the very life, of those trapped in such behavior. That agenda also represents one of the greatest threats to our traditional Judeo-Christian family values, and to societal stability as a whole, of our generation.

(“Where We Stand,” www.ccv.org)

But, lo and behold, this great defender of the family is also a recovering porn addict, who is now into his third marriage.  (My partner and I, together for 21 years, do enjoy the irony of Burress labeling us “the greatest threat to traditional Judeo-Christian family values.”)  None of the staunch “defenders of family” in Springfield or in any other community has, to my knowledge, raised questions about Burress’s credibility as a guardian of the family.  Questionable credentials notwithstanding, he remains the unquestioned leader of Ohio’s Christian conservatives interested in docking the value of LGBT people. 

His record is impressive.  In addition to serving on the board of Exodus International (the now defunct reparative therapy outfit), Burress was the strategist, who added a marriage inequality amendment to the state constitution, and he iss the mind behind the repeal of nondiscrimination policies in Cincinnati.  No wonder, then, that his dance card is filled with visits to conservative congregations ready to absorb what he has to offer, congregations like those he found in Springfield.

Around the same time as Burress came to Springfield, a number of churches got involved in our municipal election.  In 2011, Commissioner O’Neill was in a contest against another Democratic candidate, Richard Spangler, who openly supported an LGBT nondiscrimination policy.  In some communities, churches may be cautious about non-profit guidelines that prohibit involvement in politics, but in Springfield, the local election, the homosexual agenda, and “the greatest threat to our traditional Judeo-Christian family values” became the stuff of Sunday sermons.  At Springfield’s largest church, First Christian Church, Rev. Craig Grammer spoke in plain terms.

I’ve researched this issue with our five city commissioners.  There are two who want to adopt this special language.  There are three who do not want to adopt this special language.  Of the three who do not want to adopt this special language, there is one running for re-election, Kevin O’Neill. Kevin O’Neill is running against a guy by the name of Richard Spangler [. . . .] I called them both and said I’ve got hundreds, I’ve got thousands, a couple thousand people.  We’ve got pastors all over the community who are interested in this.  What say you? [. . .] 

I’ve had three conversations with Kevin O’Neill as we’ve navigated in this dialogue.  I’ve probably spent a good hour and a half on the phone with him.  There is nothing that he has told me that leads me to believe that he would vote for changing this ordinance.  Everything that he said to me, man, leads me to believe . . . Now could he change his mind?  He could, and I will hold him personally responsible if he does.  But the bottom line is that everything he told me leads me to believe that he would not adopt this special language.

                        (“Watchman at the Gate,” Sermon on 10/30/11)

This is the word of God in some congregations in Springfield.  Yes, there is good reason why a lot of LGBT people keep a safe distance between themselves and anything that looks like a pulpit.

Rev. Grammer’s reference to “pastors all over the community who are interested” may have been a reference to yet another show of opposition in the works:  Right about the same time as this pre-election day sermon, twenty-five area clergy signed a petition asking city leaders not to protect LGBT people from firing and eviction.

Rick 5

Rick 6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The fact that many of these congregations were large and influential was noteworthy, but the most dispiriting aspect of this petition was seeing the clergy stoop to the point where the itch for power overwhelmed any misgivings they might have about bearing false witness.

City Commission of Springfield, Ohio

The pastors who have signed this letter would ask the City Commission to not adopt the discrimination policy that is now in committee that expands the city’s discrimination policy to protect those of any “sexual orientation.”

We believe the city’s current policy is more than adequate for protection of all citizens against discrimination.  We also want to affirm that this “pending change” is not state or national policy and that there have been no cases of discrimination because of “sexual orientation” known in Springfield, Ohio.

(Letter dated 11/11/11)

There have been a number of moments across five years of LGBT advocacy that have the power to twist up my stomach, but none match this one.  All the invisibility of my lesbian and gay friends, all their hiding, all their personal risks, their fears in the workplace, all their self-doubt and self-loathing, all the imbibed signs of illegitimacy that Springfield offered its LGBT citizens was being taken advantage of by religious leaders, leaders who could have no reasonable conviction that what they signed their names to was actually true.  No cases of LGBT discrimination in Springfield?  Really? 

How about the minister who put his name to this petition, but who is also on record at City Hall saying that he did not want to rent his property to gay people because of what they would do in the bedroom?  Did he believe the statement about no cases of discrimination?  So far, I only have one explanation for this kind of misrepresentation, and it’s not a pretty one:  The degree of truth in this statement was less relevant to these ministers than their realization that no one of any importance in Springfield was likely to call them on their shoddy reasoning.  True, some LGBT advocates might make a stink about baseless claims, but the probability of their objections leading to any consequence in Springfield was nil.

These are tough memories to process, but there’s one more point to make before setting this ugly petition aside.  It’s an obvious point.

Before being convinced that “there have been no cases of discrimination,” these ministers didn’t look anywhere for evidence.  If these clergy, these members of the body of Christ, these representatives of the Kingdom of God, did have a single living concern for anyone LGBT, if any of them had bothered to ask the Springfield Police Department to provide them with reports of anti-gay activity in the last ten years, then these stories would have surfaced.

On September 17, 2000, a 47-year-old man was assaulted near a Kroger store on Derr Road. Two suspects “pulled up in a dark car, got out yelling ‘faggot,’ and began beating him with their fists.” The two suspects drove away, and the complainant was taken to Mercy Hospital for treatment.

On September 21, 2000, a 28-year-old man was walking down W. Main St. when a suspect drove by, called the man’s name, and offered to give him a ride. After the complainant got into the car, the suspect drove to Memorial Dr. where he stopped. “The suspect got out, pulled the complainant out of the car, tearing his clothes. The suspect then grabbed the complainant by the throat and threw him to the ground. The suspect said, ‘I’m not through with you, faggot,’ and drove away.”

On June 24, 2008, a 39-year-old woman was assaulted while walking to her home from the Night Gallery Lounge on Mitchell Blvd. The complainant reports hearing a “female voice say  ‘Lesbian,’ and then she was struck from behind.” She fell down an embankment and was partially submerged in water. She was unable to free herself but was able to contact two friends with her cell phone. When these friends arrived, they “found her on the east side of [Buck Creek] just south of Mitchell on her side and face partially submerged.” They were unable to free her. A medic unit arrived, removed her from the bank, and took her to Mercy Hospital. The woman reported that “she could not feel her legs and that her head was hurting.”

On the morning of October 11, 2008, a homecoming parade float prepared by the Wittenberg University Gay/Straight Alliance was set on fire. The fire was set around 1:30 a.m. and was eventually extinguished by the Fire Rescue Department. The GSA president reported that the group’s banner was saved from the fire but that the rest of the vehicle was lost resulting in a reported $1,200 in damage.

On March 1, 2009, a 14-year-old was assaulted at a party that took place on Lincoln Park Circle. A witness confirmed that 5 teenage males attending the party hit and kicked the victim. The witness reported that “they were accusing him of being homosexual throughout the night, and she thought that might be why they were assaulting him.”

On October 19, 2010, a 16-year-old woman was assaulted by 19-year-old male who knew that the woman was a lesbian and who found her sexual orientation offensive. She reported that, while at a Sunset Ave. location, he “forcibly grabbled her around her throat and began choking her as he ‘slammed her onto the stairs.’” A witness to these events also attributed the violence to the suspect’s disgust with the victim’s sexual orientation.

While I would like to think that reading these accounts would have had some impact on the clergy, I have my doubts.  After all, Commissioners Chilton, Martin, and O’Neill had this information, and they found it easy enough to vote against protecting LGBT people in their city.  Members of the Springfield NAACP are also familiar with this history of cases, but the organization refuses to advocate for LGBT rights.  Ministers who were key in kick starting our local NAACP chapter, by the way, also signed the letter.

Lastly, many of us looked on as pastors motivated their followers with fear tactics and misrepresentation.  The notable among these ministers is Rev. Bill Warax at Springfield Church of Christ, a man who can use the slippery slope logic to bring down the apocalypse from the slightest act of tolerance.

I believe that LBGT behaviors . . . are destructive to the dual base of our community: the family and the individual. . . . Wise discrimination in personal association based on legitimate beliefs is a virtue, not a hate crime. A hate crime is exposing my children to sexual behaviors that are unrestrained and openly approved. . . . Special status for choice and behavior actually opens a Pandora’s box for legalization of all manner of aberrant personal behaviors: pedophilia, incest, public transgender activity, etc. . . . I, as a parent of one elementary school and one high school child, do NOT want homosexual behaviors or the choice of same sex liaisons held out as acceptable and healthy options. . . . We wouldn’t tolerate any other approach that puts our children at high risk of disease, death, or psychological trauma—why would we do so in this matter? . . . Approval of the choice to be LBGT would also grant special rights to those practicing apotemnophilia, cropophilia, exhibitionism, frotteurism, gerontosexuality, incest, kleptophilia, klismaphilia, necrophilia, pedophilia, prostitution, sexual masochism, toucherism, voyeurism, and bestiality.”

(Written correspondence to the City Commission, 11/14/)

But Rev. Warrax is, for all of his ungrounded claims, one of the most likeable warriors in the conservative ranks, in part because (I think) he is sincere about all that he says.  I cannot say the same thing for his colleague Rev. Grammer.  When he told an audience that the addition of “sexual orientation” to the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance could lead to men in dresses teaching third graders and taking them to the bathroom, he knew what he was up to.  He knew he could play on trans-phobia, homophobia, and fear of pedophilia to create a strong reaction—and he did it, pleased with his effectiveness and apparently unconcerned about the consequences of validating disgust in fellow human beings.  If rhetorical techniques gave a few more people license to express their own disgust more passionately and directly, well perhaps that’s just a consequence of doing the Lord’s work in this fallen world.

And there were times during public debate at City Hall when those in attendance took their cues from their pastors and let the venom flow freely.  If the good pastor said it, they seemed to believe, then it must be true, and if the pastor shows that it’s valid to show disgust, then it must be a righteous moment when others give vent to the same impulse.  Here’s the experience of sitting in City Hall captured by an audience member, who sent her account to the Commissioners.

While taking notes on the proceedings of Monday night’s meeting, my attention was consistently drawn (diverted really) to the family sitting in the row behind me. Their casual comments to each other were so venomous, and so loudly shared, that I found myself transcribing more of their words than those issued from the podium . . . [They laughed] as a young teacher (also a lesbian), tears dripping down her face, stated that she has been made to feel like a ‘second-class citizen.’ ‘Good,’ one in the row behind me answered. On more than one occasion, when a speaker would claim that they have had to leave or are trying to leave Springfield because of the intolerance and discrimination they faced or are facing, the crowd behind me would answer ‘good riddance.’ Any speaker that would identify him or herself as a homosexual would immediately elicit groans of ‘disgusting,’ and ‘it’s a sin, it’s a sin.”

(Written correspondence to the Springfield City Commission from 11/17/11)

 

A Springfield Coming Out, Step 4:  Remedying Stagnant Policies with Social Change

Since you’ve left Springfield, we’ve seen very little by way of encouraging policy developments. On February 28th, 2012, the City Commission voted predictably in a 2-3 split to deny workplace and housing protection to LGBT people.  More positively, the Springfield Fire Rescue, of its own accord just this past year, made “sexual orientation” a protected category in its nondiscrimination policy.  The Police and the teachers still do not have such protection, though there are gay and lesbian people serving our community in those departments.

In the least welcome development, Kyle Koehler, a local business owner who strongly opposes protections for “sexual orientation,” has moved into a new role.  Koehler first came to many of our attentions when, as the first to speak at a public forum, he explained his desire to keep gay people and their sexual practices, as he puts it, away from his family-owned business, K and K Tool.  Since that day in 2011, he earned the Republican nomination for State Representative, received an endorsement from Phil Burress’s Citizens for Community Values, and went on to win the general election.  He now works in the Ohio Statehouse where he has made headlines for expressing his support for the sort of religious liberty legislation that got Indiana’s statehouse in hot water not long ago.

But all is not dire and dreadful.  If you’ll let us just bracket for a moment the mixed bag of policy inaction and anti-gay political office holders, we can show you changes outside of City Hall worthy of celebration.  A youth group called SAY IT now meets once a week in town to give community and encouragement to gender nonconforming teens and their friends, the list of welcoming churches grows a little more each year (I’d put the current tally somewhere between eight and ten congregations), and Equality Springfield continues to go about its work of establishing a positive visible presence for LGBT people in this area.  Some efforts have had a modest impact—the LGBT Documentary Film Series had great screenings with mediocre audiences—but we’ve also dreamed up some winning events. 

In 2014, Equality Springfield recognized Pride Month with five billboards around in the downtown area, each one drawing attention to the LGBT presence in Springfield as well as to the city’s policy shortcomings, and all Rick 7of them were made possible by the support of Diesel, a local nightclub, and their drag performers, who donated time to some successful fundraisers.  One billboard, with Commissioner Karen Duncan calling for an expanded nondiscrimination policy, received loads of feedback (positive and negative) as well as welcomed newspaper coverage.

 

Rick 8This year, the billboard campaign returned with five new designs, and, in what is probably Equality Springfield’s proudest moment, we’ve gone and pulled off Springfield’s first Pride Celebration at City Hall Plaza with the help of Diesel and JR’s Why Not III, another watering hole in town.  Maybe the day felt so good because it all came together despite four years of disappointment leading up to the day.  Whatever the cause, a warm sun shined its light on Springfield when June 13th, 2015, came—and it did the heart great good to see drag performers pulling in an audience a few yards from where, a few years earlier, an ugly and unconscionable vote degraded a lot of people.

Rick 10More than a few of us are still feeling the excitement of a Springfield Pride Festival, which went so well in a community that has shown its ambivalence—and occasionally, its hostility—to LGBT residents.  Protests?  We didn’t have any.  Someone put bubbles in a fountain at City Hall the night before the festival, but no one suspects a bad element behind that gesture. 

I’m taking the lack of protest as a sign of Springfield’s better nature.  Yes, the people who oppose expanded rights for LGBT people—or who even disapprove of those who identify as LGBT in the first place—are capable of manipulation and fear                                                            mongering.  But the city has shown that there’s space, even in the heart of downtown, for all kinds of celebrations.  Rick 11That’s a gain of decent sorts.

And, yes, we’ve reserved City Hall Plaza for 2016, 2017 and 2018.  We invite you to visit at some point when Pride is in full bloom.  For the time being, we’re still working toward a day when we can also say to our relocated LGBT friends, “We hope you’ll move back,” but we’re not that community yet.  We’re a good place to visit, but, if you’re gay, lesbian, or transgender, there are still some better places to put down your roots.

 

 

 

 

 

Rick 12Rick Incorvati is Associate Professor of English at Wittenberg University where he teaches courses in British Romanticism, sexuality, and writing for social justice.  His academic publications have addressed women’s romantic friendships in 18th century-poetry, Thomas Holcroft, and and Walter Scott, and his LGBT advocacy writing has appeared in the Springfield News Sun and the Dayton Daily News.  He is currently serving as president of Equality Springfield and has served on the Board of Directors of Equality Ohio.  He lives in Springfield with his partner of 21 years, Kent Brooks.

*All photo contributions by Rick Incorvati

Share this WritingShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on Google+Email this to someone

Leave a Comment