Last edited: February 13, 2005

Community Leaders Upset with Columbus Officials

Bathhouse controversy revealed city’s ‘false promises,’ says Stonewall’s Anderson

Gay People’s Chronicle, May 16, 2003
P.O. Box 5426, Cleveland, Ohio 44101
Fax 216-631-1052

By Eric Resnick

COLUMBUS—In the wake of a controversy over a gay bathhouse, the city’s gay, lesbian bisexual and transgender leaders say they are displeased with Columbus elected officials, and are organizing to deal with accumulating grievances.

According to Stonewall Columbus director Kate Anderson, the city mishandled the new Flex bathhouse’s dispute with Driving Park neighborhood groups. She said this is the most recent in a long line of “false promises” from city officials, who she said have taken GLBT campaign contributions, then done little in support.

The bathhouse reopened May 7 after closing voluntarily for a month so the city could help resolve the dispute with the groups, which wanted it closed permanently. Flex management said they saw no activity on the city’s part.

Anderson also cited the passing over of openly lesbian attorney Mary Jo Hudson for appointment to a vacant city council seat in December, 2002. Hudson had not been promised the seat, but openly gay attorney Elliott Fishman and openly lesbian community activist Lynn Greer had earlier been passed over for vacant seats that were promised to them.

After the 1998 repeal of a two-month-old ordinance giving health coverage to the same-sex domestic partners of city employees, the city agreed to educate the general public on the issue.

Anderson said the city has failed to do that, and has acted too slowly on its new proposal to provide coverage to all members of employees’ households, including same-sex domestic partners.

The household benefits proposal came about in spring 2002, following a Community Relations Commission ruling that the city violated its own non-discrimination law by not offering health coverage “to domestic partners of homosexuals.”

That ruling came from a 1997 complaint filed by James Hartman. The city is appealing that ruling, according to Anderson, “as a political maneuver to slow down the process long enough to see what happens to the household benefits.”

Anderson said the city has also not made good on a $600,000 operations grant made to Stonewall in 2000.

“We were supposed to get $100,000 a year for six years,” said Anderson. “So far, we have gotten a total of $80,000.”

“No minority community gives more,” said Anderson, “but we are the last ones to get our needs met.”

Anderson said elected city officials interpret the 2002 Democratic primary loss of openly gay Ohio House candidate Chad Foust as a sign that the GLBT community cannot get the vote out.

Foust lost the race to Dan Stewart, who went on to represent the 25th District, which includes the gay Short North neighborhood.

“But the piece that has energized the community is the public contempt by council members who say that our issues will not be pushed forward unless we make them do it,” said Anderson.

Anderson said there have been some openly gay appointments to commissions, and attorney Brian Shinn serves as the GLBT liason to Mayor Michael Coleman and his staff.

“But they are few in comparison to other minorities.”

Anderson also expressed concern that GLBT city employees are fearful to be out at work, and do not feel protected by the city’s non-discrimination ordinance.

Anderson, Shinn, and Stonewall board chair Rob Berger met with Coleman May 8 to discuss these matters.

Anderson said Coleman understood the issues, but “found our complaints personally offensive and said so many times, because we said GLBT momentum has stalled under his administration.”

Coleman spokesperson Mike Brown said the three presented the city with a list of 16 items they were displeased about.

“The mayor was taken aback by the rhetoric and the lack of respect for the history of our record on the issues,” said Brown. “And some of the issues we are already working on.”

Shinn said the biggest problems he sees are the communication gaps between the GLBT community and city government.

“There are perceptions that the city is not following through,” said Shinn, “but there is follow-through.”

Shinn added, “I walk the line between advocating for my community and being a productive member of the mayor’s administration.”

“They [Stonewall] have high expectations,” said Brown, “and we continue to embrace that. Even though they don’t feel like we’re out fighting for them every day doesn’t mean that we aren’t doing inside fighting.”

A dozen GLBT leaders met May 10 to discuss political strategy.

“We discussed short, medium, and long-term goals,” said Anderson.

Strategies discussed include managing GLBT political contributions in such a way that the candidates know how much more they would have gotten had they pushed harder on GLBT issues.

Anderson said candidates often do not know how much of their campaign contributions came from GLBT community members.

“We are also recruiting openly gay candidates to run for city seats in 2005, and we are targeting a candidate to take out,” said Anderson.

Anderson said they are also considering a ballot initiative to amend the city’s charter to a city council elected by ward, instead of at large.

“We might get better representation that way,” said Anderson.

The household benefits committee is expected to make its recommendations public in late May.

Stonewall’s May 21 board meeting will be devoted to a town hall for the purpose of discussing issues of concern and beginning the process of ranking them in order of priority.

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