Monday night, South Euclid’s city council unanimously passed Ordinance 12-17, outlawing discrimination in a broad sector of categories including sexual orientation and gender identity. The law replaces South Euclid’s previous anti-discrimination ordinances, which were scattered, piecemeal, and inconsistent. As indicated by the last two digits of the ordinance, it had been under consideration since 2017 – June to be precise. Passage of this ordinance makes South Euclid the 20th of Ohio’s 938 municipalities to have a law that specifically protects our city’s LGBT persons. I have never been prouder to be a South Euclid resident than I was when this ordinance was passed. For a city council and mayor who have taken brick-bats from the extreme right and extreme left, I can only say: Bravo and well done.
The ordinance has been described in the media as controversial. It was only controversial based on the shouting of a few people, many of whom are not residents of South Euclid, and nearly every one of whom is a member of South Euclid’s Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic church or the Lyceum school – which is located on church grounds. At four separate council meetings, I saw the same people rise in opposition to the bill, often raising arbitrary points about bathroom usage by transgender people and the hypothetical bakery. I saw these opponents for what they were: a well-organized flash mob orchestrated by Sacred Heart, Lyceum, and Cleveland Right to Life (which separated from National Right to Life due to the Cleveland group’s extremism).
Addressing the December 11, 2017 council meeting.
By January, Sacred Heart and Lyceum saw the handwriting on the wall and appeared to assent to passage if a religious exemption was added. (The Lyceum school did not help their case when it became known in December that an email was sent to a city council person threatening to sue the city if the ordinance was passed. Even some of those who had reservations about the ordinance thought it was heavy handed for a tax-exempt organization to threaten to sue over legislation put into place by a council elected by South Euclid taxpayers.) The language in the proposed exemption was so broad that one could stretch the ordinance from South Euclid to the Vatican without technically breaking it. Councilpersons Ruth Gray and Jason Russell were the first to point this out in January. The exemption was discussed for almost the entirely of Monday’s Committee of the Whole meeting before council decided to remove it from the legislation by a vote of 5-2.
Following that vote, the ordinance’s opponents went ballistic. Father Dave Ireland of Sacred Heart (the same Father Ireland who tried to smooth talk his way past the incidents at the Sacred Heart of Jesus festival in 2014) intoned that he’d been “a proud member of the community for the past 13 years, up until now". The terms “pontificating” and “pompous” were created for men just like him. The director of the Lyceum School, Luke Macik, who’d previously tried to couch his opposition in pseudo-intellectual claptrap (e.g., being LGBT is entirely subjective, as if belief in a religious doctrine and a supernatural creator who cannot be seen is anything other than subjective), stated that “marriage is sacred” and pronounced the proceedings “shameful” – forgetting that marriage, which the Supreme Court has already stated is a Constitutional right, had nothing to do with the ordinance.
As I pointed out in my remarks to the Council, Ordinance 12-17 already has a reasonable exemption for religious institutions and adheres to the exemptions provided for in the Ohio Revised Code. I reminded Council and the audience that without compromise, Social Security would not have been signed into law. Compromise helped our country to endure the Great Depression, obliterate Fascism, defeat Communism, and land a man on the Moon. Many people of faith, including two members of Clergy who spoke, were in favor of the ordinance. Indeed, numerous Catholics I spoke to were also in favor – indicating that the Catholic Church is not entirely undivided in this matter. These people recognize that America was intended to be neutral in terms of religion, neither endorsing nor rejecting any particular religion, as evidenced in the First Amendment – and that our country does not need to be run by Taliban, either Christian or otherwise. And we would be well to remember that religion, including Christianity, has been been used to justify some of the most egregious monstrosities in human history. In many nations, religion is still a call to violence, not love.
I have no desire to prevent Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Jews, or members of any other faith from practicing their religion. Passage of Ordinance 12-17 does not mean religions are required to “approve” of LGBT people. It merely means that prejudicial treatment against LGBT people in terms of housing, public accommodations, and employment, is against the law.
I don’t particularly care whether a religious representative approves of me. What I demand as a taxpaying American is equality before the law, and Ordinance 12-17 moves our region closer to that ideal.
Recently a film was released which dealt with a young man’s coming out: Love, Simon. Even for contemporary teens with supportive families and communities, coming out can be traumatic. The film brought back unpleasant memories of the isolation I felt as I began to realize that I was gay, and the lies I told as I tried to conceal it. The worry about being discovered as gay was much worse than coming out – which was relatively liberating. As I heard the comments from those in opposition to the ordinance, including one comment from a Lyceum student, I thought “Thank God I went to Brush.” Even though the Brush High School of 1985 didn’t have the Gay-Straight Alliance it has today, it was a relatively accepting place. I can only imagine what a student attending the Lyceum school or a similar institution would encounter, even in today’s “woke” era.
I am 51 years old. Statistically, my life is more than half over. My husband and I were together for over four years before we decided to travel to Vermont to get married – because we couldn’t marry in Ohio. And it was another five years before that marriage was nationally recognized. We both have good jobs at great companies that are both LGBT friendly. Although Ordinance 12-17 applies to us, I don’t think of it as being for us. It’s for the young person who knows he or she is “different” and is considering coming out – or for the person who has come out, and is looking for an apartment, a job, or shopping for a service from a local company. Passing Ordinance 12-17 has been a long and emotionally difficult slog, but if this law helps one person, it has been worth it.