By Bob Vitale
LGBTQ Democrats in Northeast Ohio are backing Nickie Antonio in her race for the Ohio Senate, rejecting the party-endorsed primary candidate who championed a 2009 Cleveland law that allowed businesses and building owners to choose the restrooms used by transgender people.
Cleveland Stonewall Democrats have given Antonio their endorsement in the May 8 primary for the Democratic nomination in Ohio Senate’s 23rd District, which covers Lakewood and areas of Cleveland’s West Side, Parma, Middleburg Heights and other parts of western Cuyahoga County.
Antonio, who has been a state representative since 2011, was the first—and currently is the only—out LGBTQ Ohioan to serve in the General Assembly. Term limits mean she can’t seek re-election to the state House of Representatives, and she is running this year for a seat in the Ohio Senate.
Although she has been elected to four House terms and served in the Democrats’ House leadership, leaders of the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party decided in January to endorse state Rep. Martin Sweeney for the party’s Senate nomination in the 23rd District.
As president of the Cleveland City Council, Sweeney won passage of an anti-transgender provision in a 2009 nondiscrimination ordinance. The Sweeney amendment required trans people in Cleveland to use the public restrooms that employers, businesses and building owners deemed appropriate. It finally was rescinded in 2016, after the Democrat was elected to the Ohio House.
Antonio, meanwhile, has introduced a statewide nondiscrimination law during every General Assembly session while she has served in the Ohio House. She also has sponsored legislation to expand Ohio’s hate-crimes law to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
“Nickie Antonio has been a passionate, visible and strong champion for LGBT equality and progressive causes in the Ohio House of Representatives, and ensuring her voice is amplified in the Ohio Senate is the top election priority for Cleveland Stonewall Democrats in the May 8 primary election,” said Rob Rivera, president of the group.
The Victory Fund, a national organization that works to elect LGBTQ people to local, state and federal office, has identified Antonio as a “spotlight candidate,” and the Human Rights Campaign has taken the rare step of issuing an endorsement in a state legislative primary.
The local endorsement will mean direct financial support—Cleveland Stonewall Democrats operate the Freedom Fund Political Action Committee—as well as volunteers and fundraising help for Antonio.
Rivera said the group is finalizing details of events and fundraisers in support of Antonio’s campaign.
Antonio also received the endorsement this week of the Cuyahoga Democratic Women’s Caucus, which represents women in the Cuyahoga County party.