Prizm News / July 9, 2019 / By Ken Schneck
Medina becomes the 25th Ohio community to pass LGBTQ+ protections
After a 3+ hour meeting on Monday night and in front of an overflowing crowd of hundreds, Medina took a huge step forward in the fight for equality as they became the 25th Ohio community to pass comprehensive protections for the LGBTQ+ community. Prizm spoke with Gwen Stembridge, the Statewide Civic Engagement Director at Equality Ohio, to learn how this community with a conservative reputation passed this important legislation.
Process-wise, how does legislation like this get passed in Medina?
In Medina, it starts with a Special Legislations Committee, and once it passed there, it moved on to the Finance Committee where it passed with a 5-2 vote on June 24. Then it went to the full Council last night, where it also passed. There were actually two pieces of legislation. One was the nondiscrimination ordinance, which passed 5-2, and the other was adding sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression to the existing hate crimes language, which passed 6-1.
How does Equality Ohio get involved in working with local communities on adding these protections?
With any of the municipalities, we have never reached out. It always starts with a city official or a community resident reaching out. In the case of Medina, it started with Sandy Varndell, who founded OutSupport. She approached me at a conference, and asked how Medina could pass nondiscrimination language. My first thought was that people wouldn’t expect this out of Medina, but Sandy had a vision that this could happen in her community. At Equality Ohio, we help with everything from community organizing, to helping people prep testimony, to looking at language through a legal lens to make sure it is fully inclusive.
What was the vibe in the room before the vote?
For sure, nervous. There’s a ton that was at stake. Community members put a lot on the line. These are individuals who are invested in the community, who have been in Medina their whole lives. It was heavy and optimistic at the same time. We knew we had done the education, so there was a sense of confidence present. But you never know how a vote will shake out.
And then what was it like after the language passed?
It was thrilling. Again, people don’t expect this out of Medina. People assume Medina is small and conservative. But hundreds of people came forward to show support—senior citizens with walkers, young people, middle-aged white men in camo—all showed up with their rainbow stickers. It was so empowering and showed how civic engagement is alive and well in Ohio.
What work still needs to be done?
We need these protections statewide. It would be nice if we didn’t have to go city by city. SB 11 (the Ohio Fairness Act) is still in committee and we need to pass it.
To learn more about Equality Ohio’s work across the state and how you can help pass nondiscrimination language in your own community, visit their website at http://www.equalityohio.org.