About 100 people filed into the Medina City Hall to discuss discrimination policies in our local community. Sexual orientation and gender identity are not protected classes in Medina, meaning that LGBTQ people can still be fired by employers or denied housing. A new ordinance has not been passed yet, and so the Special Legislation Committee heard statements from the community to decide the best course of action.
The event took place last Thursday, November 1st, from about 7:00 to 9:20 in the evening. Ward 3 Council Person Jim Shields, Councilperson -At-Large Bill Lamb, and Councilperson-At-Large Paul Rose conducted the meeting. Mayor Dennis Hanwell, Law Director Greg Huber, and more administrators also attended.
“Our meeting tonight is to learn about the issues encountered by LGBTQ members of our community, to better enable City Council and the administration to discuss and draft a comprehensive ordinance that will codify protections broadly banning discriminatory practices in our community,” Lamb presented. He then emphasized that the issue was not a partisan political issue, and that “it won’t be treated as [such].”
City Council plans to draft a new ordinance from two that were proposed: one from the community, and the other from the administration. Support rang out as the community group in support of making sexual orientation and gender identity protected classes spoke first. Gwen Stembridge, the Northeast Ohio Coordinator from Equality Ohio, commented on Medina’s importance on this matter. “The state legislature has not made progress for almost a decade and it becomes up to local communities to take this on, so Medina will hopefully take that step,” she said. “When communities take the steps to be inclusive and to pass laws that reflect their values, then it makes the world better for all of us.”
Former Councilperson Pam Miller was the first speaker, and listed the other Ohio counties that have non-discrimination laws. Miller implored,“Let’s lead the way in Medina, and become the 22nd jurisdiction in Ohio to stand up for its residents and declare, ‘There are no second class citizens in our community.’”
Next, Aaron Demlow and Alan Parkhurst told the audience of their struggles in Medina with gender and sexuality.
“[I] came out to [my general manager] as transgender. Soon after, rumors around work started to circulate and she told all the other managers that I am trans, who then proceeded to tell their employee friends. Everyone suddenly knew I am transgender and it makes me feel unsafe,” Demlow recalled. “I still work there today, and every time I go into work, I fear of what may happen.”
Parkhurst listed various hate crimes he was the victim of in the mid-1990s while living and working in Medina. “After repeatedly replacing my bashed and broken mailbox, I created one with a cement liner. The response was that the new mailbox was bombed, with the local police saying it was enough explosive to blow up a 2-ton automobile…I woke up one night with red target lasers from a gun being shot into the master bedroom. Through the house’s large windows, this was very scary and intimidating.”
Sue Hudson explained the pressures society put on her and her wife, Diane Heck. She then spoke of the struggles that other LGBTQ people have in our current society. “Did you know that since the passage of the marriage rights decision by the SCOTUS, there are still 42 percent of LGBTQ workers experiencing discrimination?” Hudson said. “A full 90 percent of transgender workers experiencing discrimination?”
Joe Matuszewski enlightened the audience on the organization, Ohio Business Competes, of which over 500 different businesses are a part of. All of these groups have agreed to the need for non-discrimination policies for LGBTQ workers. “I’ve heard from time to time that businesses don’t want this, or that businesses don’t see the need to pass this fully inclusive non-discrimination protection,” he stated. “Members of Council, this could not be further from the truth.”
Sandy Varndell spoke alongside her husband, Eric, and her daughter, Clara. “By passing a non-discrimination ordinance, Medina will be a role model to other cities of this size, and will make Medina even more attractive to those considering moving here, living here, living their lives here, as full contributing members of society.”
Kurtis Hoffman, Amy Demlow, Chad Eggspuehler, Lauren Greenhall, the Reverend Luke Lindon, and our own Mrs. Jennifer Oehler, as well as the writer of this article, also spoke for further action. Stembridge was “exhilarated” after the community had finished, stating that, “Everyone who spoke was so powerful, and so focused and clear in their message, and so authentic and heartfelt, but it was also very professionally put-together and just well-organized.”
The Council thanked everyone for openly speaking to them, and the administration and other council members followed up with a few comments.
“The best we can do is try to come to a resolve where we meet as many of your needs and as many of the needs of the businesses to ensure that we aren’t correcting one thing and creating a harm with another,” Mayor Hanwell said. “That’s what my interest is.”
“The differences in people become opportunities,” Council President John Coin said, regarding how far America has come in inclusion and diversity.
The floor opened to other attendees who wanted to have a voice in the discussion. Many of these people were business owners and people a part of LGBTQ-centered organizations.
For further interest in the matter, Medina TV streamed the two hour event, and the video can be found on their Facebook page. The Gazette has also published an article detailing the discussion as well.
“It was amazing,” Stembridge said. “And I think [Medina is] one of the best cities, or at least [this is] one of the best presentations from our end, out of all the cities that we’ve worked with.”
If you would like to be involved with progressing LGBTQ rights here in Ohio, visit the Equality Ohio website or contact Gwen Stembridge at her email [email protected].
Edit: Added a photo of Kurtis Hoffman speaking.