Prizm News / November 1, 2018 / By Bob Vitale
State Rep. Nickie Antonio, Equality Ohio’s Siobhan Boyd-Nelson, Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin and HRC Columbus Co-Chair Michael Smithson took part in an October news conference at the Statehouse on efforts to encourage LGBTQ turnout in this month’s elections. (Prizm photo by Bob Vitale)

‘There’s one place where you can stand tall and you can come out. In the privacy of the voting booth.’

 

By Bob Vitale

At a Statehouse news conference last month, the first out Ohioan elected to the General Assembly had a special message for Ohioans who aren’t out as bi, trans, lesbian or gay.

“There’s one place where you can stand tall and you can come out,” state Rep. Nickie Antonio said. “In the privacy of the voting booth.”

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It was an unlikely group to address at an event about efforts by LGBTQ groups in Ohio to encourage turnout by LGBTQ voters in Tuesday’s election. The Human Rights Campaign, Equality Ohio and other organizations have been working for months to register voters, tell them who supports equality and get them vote accordingly on Tuesday, Nov. 6.

Those of us who are open about our sexual orientation or gender identity feel the impact every day of government policies and political rhetoric. The Trump-Pence administration’s ruling that allows doctors to refuse care for those who offend their religious beliefs means the sick child of gay parents can be turned away. Gov. John Kasich’s refusal to acknowledge the reality of anti-LGBTQ discrimination means Ohio law continues to sanction such bias.

On the other hand, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown’s refusal to support judicial nominees who oppose marriage equality tells LGBTQ Ohioans they have a powerful ally in Congress. Mayor Frank Jackson’s push to improve Cleveland’s standing in an annual HRC survey of local governments tells queer kids that their city government supports them—even if their parents might not

Antonio’s appeal to LGBTQ Ohioans who aren’t out about their orientation or identity sends an important message as well.

You are part of our family.

I didn’t feel comfortable coming out to the world until I was 33 years old. One of my brothers told me once that it took courage. I told him it was really just a matter of preserving my own comfort; I stayed in the closet until the closet wasn’t comfortable any longer.

But during all that time, when June was just another month and I didn’t snap a photo every time I saw a rainbow, I still watched from the sidelines of our community. And LGBTQ media were my window in.

Coming out isn’t an option for all of us. Some of us fear for our safety. Some of us fear for our jobs. Some of us fear losing our kids, families and friends. Some of us just fear.

If you’re out, you’ve been there.

Sex researcher Alfred Kinsey’s estimate 70 years ago that 10 percent of adults identify as homosexual has long been considered wildly inaccurate. More recent polls put the number—along with those who identify as bi and trans—at closer to 4 percent.

But among millennials, LGBTQ identity over the last few years is about 7 percent. It’s not that the generation born between 1981 and 1997 is gayer, bi-er or transier than those of us born earlier. They’re just more likely— because they’re more comfortable—to be out about it.

If you assume LGBTQ identity, whether one is in or out of the closet, is fairly consistent among generations and that a decent percentage of millennials aren’t open, either, maybe Kinsey’s 10 percent estimate isn’t so far off.

There’s strength in our numbers. And our numbers include those who, for whatever reason, decide they can’t identify publicly as part of our community.

Whether you’re editing this magazine like I am now or whether you stuffed it quickly into your bag like I did 20 years ago, you are part of this community.

And whether you’re the first out Ohioan in the General Assembly or a not-out Ohioan voting for the people to represent you there, we’re all in this together.

bobvitale@prizmnews.com

Bob Vitale
Bob Vitale is the editor of Prizm. A Toledo native and graduate of Toledo Public Schools, he has worked as a local government and politics reporter for The Columbus Dispatch, as a Washington correspondent for Thomson Newspapers and as editor-in-chief for Outlook Ohio. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism and political science from Ball State University and a master's degree in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield. Contact: BobVitale@prizmnews.com