Queen City: musings on gay Cincinnati

Gay people are fine.

I’m going to keep reiterating that until it sticks.

This seems a strange case to have to make in 2009. Iowa and Vermont have recently legalized gay marriage, joining the ranks of Massachusetts and Connecticut. California’s fate on the issue could be decided any day. Milk, the biopic about the first openly gay man elected to public office, won Oscars this year for Best Screenplay and Best Actor, and Entertainment Tonight's fashion guru, Cojo, still has a job.

Gay, once again, is the new black.

But here in Cincinnati, despite a significant, albeit quiet gay population, progress on LGBT issues, much less general awareness, comes slowly. Citizens of our great American city are still largely polarized on the issue of homosexuality. It seems we exist just below the surface with our straight and gay denizens living largely separate lives in the same Cincinnati neighborhoods.

One of the reasons for this lies in the fact that my gay and lesbian compatriots aren’t exactly clamoring to help stir the pot. Cincinnati is home to a number of banner events per year that help remind us that there is, in fact, a consistent gay movement here. These include the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, Queer Youth Summit, the Pride Alive Weekend, the GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network) and Gay Day at King’s Island.

Conversations are changing within the community, and the realization is growing that more can, and should, be done beyond parties and parades. Drag queens are fun and all (really, they are), but the community must also provide a cohesive voice to speak to key issues happening around the country and in our own backyard. Thanks to the Internet, some voices rise to the top. Specifically, Cincinnati is home to blogs such as QueerCincinnati.com where many such issues are brought to light. But where are my other gay brothers and sisters willing to stand up and address nascent, backward homophobia?

Consider, for example, policies put in place and still on the books at Butler County Children’s Services Agency, which encourages case workers to give preference to legally married, opposite sex couples. Although the executive responsible for enacting the policy has since resigned, the legacy, as well as the bad press, still remains.

Is our indignation gone? Is the fight out of us? Has the Cincinnati Gay Movement ground to a complete halt?

No. It hasn’t.

To paint a portrait that casts Cincinnati as a city without a rainbow would be disingenuous. There exists a groundswell of new energy in the LGBT corners of the city. There is new blood, new energy and a renewed sense of purpose that is beginning to take shape.

This was evidenced by the mass rally that occurred on March 19 near the University of Cincinnati Law School. Brandishing signs that declared “I am Gay,” or “I am a Lesbian,” queers young and old rallied to protest the felonious assault of a gay student on campus a few nights earlier. The protest was largely organized on Facebook only a day earlier by the groups IMPACT Cincinnati, the Cincinnati Guerilla Queer Bar and Equality Cincinnati, all local LGBT organizations that have an active organizational presence on the web and in the community.

This is exactly the kind of verve required by Cincinnati's GLBT organizations to invoke change. It’s representative of what the community can do in record time with the aid of social networking groups and a little moxie. The hope is that this spirit will continue to build in order to take on the issues that affect gays and lesbians daily.

Other cities that we look to as models of strong urban development with diversified economic engines -- cities that have proven success in retaining and attracting talent -- all possess an organized and vibrant gay population. This suggests that a key indicator of a region's health and viability lies in the diversity of its thoughts and ideas. Suddenly the question of how welcoming Cincinnati is to the GLBT community isn't just on the shoulders of the GLBT community, but rather anyone who wants to continue to grow our population or build on the momentum the city has gained over the last few years. There is work to be done, by all of us. Apathy and lethargy stand in the way of social change and should be rejected by those wanting a strong Cincinnati.

We have seen from recent events that being seen and heard is far more effective than merely complaining about injustice.

Many have stepped up to the plate, including IMPACT Cincinnati, the Cincinnati Guerilla Queer Bar and Equality Cincinnati. But there's plenty of room for more.

Interested in living a marginal, yet comfortable life in the shadows of non-confrontation? Get out of the way.

GLBT Cincinnati’s prerogative is the same as my own, and nothing should keep us from letting the rest of the city know what we  -- above all else -- really understand:

Gay people are fine.

Ryan McLendon graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2008 with degrees in Journalism and English. He is a National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association scholarship winner, a Fulbright scholar, and a gay enthusiast. He is currently a graduate student in Journalism at NYU.

Lead Photo by Joe Lamb - Proposition 8 rally, Cincinnati City Hall
Photography by Scott Beseler

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