Bo Shuff

A Conversation with the Chair: Seeking Quality Part 3

Filed By Bo Shuff | May 21, 2009 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: Democratic Party, Equality Ohio, ODP, Ohio, Redfern, state-wide organizations

This is an ongoing series that began at Bears Left. This is part three and was originally published on May 18th. Further posts will be simultaneous.

Today I sat down with Chris Redfern, Chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party to talk about the party's commitment to LGBT issues, and the involvement of the LGBT community in the party. It's plainly clear to me that Chairman Redfern has built on his 100% voting record when he was in the Legislature and carried those policies and beliefs to the party.

This conversation was prompted by an event held over the weekend to raise money from the LGBT Community for the re-election of Governor Strickland. Promoted by the Equality Ohio Campaign Fund, and called, "Making History, Ohio's LGBT Community Unites," the invitation to this high dollar event laid forth a seven point legislative agenda that re-electing Gov. Strickland would help accomplish. The idea that the LGBT community "Unites" at a cocktail party for one candidate for office that costs $250 at the minimum is naive at best and downright offensive at worst.

I'll hold commentary on that and why the idea of re-electing Gov. Strickland doesn't impact legislation, for another time. Let's focus on the seven issues and my conversation about them with Chris Redfern:

1. Passing Ohio's Equal Housing & Employment Act (EHEA)
2. A law allowing two-parent adoption for same-sex couples
3. Instituting a statewide Domestic Partnership Registry
4. Inclusion of sexual orientation into Ohio hate crimes law
5. Allowing transgender Ohioans to change the gender marker on their birth certificates
6. Redistricting the state to give LGBT candidates a better shot at winning elective offices
7. Domestic partner benefits for state employees

I began the conversation with Chairman Redfern by asking about this agenda. The party, he said, takes its lead on policy initiatives from Governor Strickland, and he hasn't sat down to talk about some of these ideas with the Governor. I asked if he had sat down with Equality Ohio and he informed me that, "I haven't spoken to Lynne Bowman or their Republican Lobbyist since I left the Legislature." Chairman Redfern has an open door, and I found it very easy to get time to discuss these policy initiatives with him. Why has Equality Ohio not engaged the leader of the party on their legislative agenda?

We did talk in depth about some of the legislative items. On passing EHEA, Chairman Redfern speculated that there are about 40 votes in the Ohio House that are for sure. There are 13 remaining Democrats that will need support. Presently there are 25 Democratic and 2 Republican Co-Sponsors. So, if the vote were held today, we can count on a loss with only 42 votes.

Even so, if Equality Ohio were to engage in the grass-roots work needed - knocking the doors, making the phone calls and providing real support - and it passed the house, it would not get out of the Republican controlled Senate and would never make it to the Governor's desk. "No doubt that it will sit in the Senate and die," Redfern said.

The problem here is that Equality Ohio doesn't engage in grassroots work any more than they appear to be engaging the party. We know from 2008 that volunteer and fund raising support is minimal at best. In a email to state leaders about Lobby Day and EHEA, Equality Ohio said, "We will need your assistance, I'm sure, with some of the folks who could be sway-able. We'd really like to see this pass out of committee with bipartisan support and more than just seven yeses."

No call to action, no directed efforts, no plan.

I asked about the party's involvement with the present effort to pass EHEA. Rep. Dan Stewart (D-Columbus) has been instrumental in building support for the bill. When pressed about the party itself Chairman Redfern explained that the party is committed to the passage of EHEA, but is not a lobbying or legislative body. While the LGBT Outreach Director had been working with Rep. Stewart, "James has too much work to do to be an unpaid lobbyist for Equality Ohio," Redfern said.

He's right. That's not the role of the party. That's the role of Equality Ohio and their staff, volunteers and supporters. That's the purpose of Lobby Day. It is the responsibility of grass-roots advocacy organizations like Equality Ohio to deliver legislative victories.

It is the party's responsibility to elect its members to office and to hold those members to the platform - one that includes LGBT Equality. In 2008 the ODP delivered in backing Ray Pryor when he was attacked with anti-gay mailers. The party, especially under the direction of Chairman Redfern has pulled their weight.

We talked about adoption, an issue that the Governor has made statements about, and Redfern reemphasized the party and the Governor's commitment to not eroding the rights of anyone any further. He did not speculate on the two-parent adoption legislation, again because he hasn't been approached on it.

Moving forward, in order to pass the state-wide Domestic Partner Registry, it would be necessary to repeal the Constitutional Amendment passed in 2004. "I don't see it as pragmatic in the foreseeable future to repeal the amendment, given the feelings in the state," said Redfern. He did add that the Democratic Party is supportive of a repeal, however.

I personally do not understand why Equality Ohio would spend a minute on a state level Domestic Partner registry. The second sentence of the constitutional provision reads, "This state and its political subdivisions shall not create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance or effect of marriage." A DP Registry most certainly would approximate the design of marriage. First step - gather 418,408 valid signatures from 44 of the 88 counties to put the repeal on the ballot. Then, mount a grass roots campaign to pass it. Yes, back to grassroots again. Once that is won, Equality Ohio seeks to pass a DP registry - a measure that has no teeth, no outcome, and certainly no where near equal.

Did you miss that part of the year when four states picked up marriage equality, including Iowa? Why would the LGBT community work so hard for the crumbs of cake being cut in five other states?

Tomorrow I'll go through the rest of the interview with Chairman Redfern, a bit more about the weekend fundraiser, and why equal rights are not, "a great gift...from the Committee to the pro-equality community."

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christophe | May 21, 2009 12:30 PM

I don't know why you find it offensive that the unite over a $250 plate dinner, at least they are trying. Even if they were to do as you propose and knock on doors, etc, etc. I doubt they would be able to find unified support. Many of the people in the gay community would probably be too afraid to come right out in public and support gay causes, I feel this to be a major problem in all states of these United States. While there does seem to be a very effective gay force in some of the most obscure states imaginable, it seems very isolated. I don't live in Ohio and from what you say, your state is much farther ahead than my state of GA. Atlanta is the gay mecca of the south (NOT counting FL) and there is no real action at all on Equality Georgia. I myself would love to get involved in our states LGBT affairs but there isn't anything to involve myself in. (There was a dinner I found out about, on the day it was happening, being held at the Hyatt Downtown, and even though I could afford to go, GA equality didn't even send out an email to people on their list, much less go around making cold calls. It seems OH Equality is doing the same things. IS there a CENTRAL organization for each of these states EQUALITY???? If there isn't, there should be as then maybe the varrying state agencies could be more effective. The way they stand now it seems as if little gets done in most states.

Okay. I'm writing this after reading your last three posts on this topic.

You've taken the time to write a lot about what's wrong with Equality Ohio. What have you done to try to change what they're doing? There are things they do that I disagree with as well. And their website really needs to be updated. Etc. But have you written them an e-mail? Have you talked to any staff members? What have you done besides complain on the Internet? I want to know not only because I'd think they'd listen, but also because I really want to know if they *don't* listen.

From talking to multiple people at Equality Ohio at the CAUSE conference, at Lobby Day training in Columbus, at the OSU Lobby Day training and at the OSU Equality Rally, I have gotten the impression that the support for EHEA in the legislature is much greater than what you quoted. It's Equality Ohio's belief that it WILL pass in the Senate, and before Lobby Day, the quote of House reps that they needed to give a yes commitment instead of being noncommittal or change their mind was six. Six votes away. Are they just making stuff up? Part of the purpose of Lobby Day this year was to have individual people talk to representatives and clarify where they stood. Of course Redfern is familiar with our elected officials. But it's Equality Ohio's responsibility to know where each one stands on EHEA, and they do.

Also, a comment on a previous post: I think there were over 400 people at Lobby Day.

Brain fart. the votes we need to pass that were ~6 were for the senate, not the house. and it's more like 4 or 5.

I'd like to add a few things. Equality Ohio's website isn't always up to date, which I think is a serious problem. But their e-mails are relatively frequent and always up-to-date. Are you on their e-mail list? Here is an e-mail from today.

1. Reintroduction of EHEA - On Tuesday, May 12, 2009, House Bill 176 was introduced into the Ohio House by Representatives Dan Stewart (D, Columbus) and Ross McGregor (R, Springfield). Twenty-four Democratics and one Republican joined as cosponsors. [snip] That is over 25% of the House of Representatives! Much of this success is due to your efforts calling your Representatives asking them to cosponsor. They say they heard from you and it made a difference.

Sounds like direct grassroots action affecting representatives to me.

2. Lobby Day for Equality 2009 - [snip] Our Representatives and Senators need to hear from people in their district who support fairness in Ohio. This is where you come in. As the EHEA makes its way through the legislature, watch for Action Alerts asking you and ALL your friends to write your Representative or Senator. They need to hear from Ohioans who believe in equality for everyone - an Ohio where everyone feels at home.

...Sounds like a call for direct grassroots action to me.

5. Events in Your Area - Equality Happy Hour and Pride in Columbus.
Come and enjoy Equality Happy Hour
Where: Union Cafe, 782 N. High St., Columbus
When: Begins Friday, May 29, 2009. Every Friday from 4:00 pm - 7:00 pm, Union Cafe will offer Equality Happy Hour featuring premium $4.00 martinis. $1.00 of each martini will help fund Equality Ohio, Stonewall Democrats and HRC.

Well, I'll be. A fundraiser that doesn't cost $250, that happens every week, that a bunch of people are probably going to attend anyway, that benefits Equality Ohio and engages Democrats through fundraising and mutual benefit.
Now, I'd rather go to a fundraiser that's not at Union, and I think I'd rather my money were going to just Equality Ohio, not the rest. But it's something.

Regarding this:
The idea that the LGBT community "Unites" at a cocktail party for one candidate for office that costs $250 at the minimum is naive at best and downright offensive at worst.
I just want to respond:
EOCF is the PAC and electoral wing of Equality Ohio and was "established in May of 2006 with the sole purpose of electing fair-minded candidates to office in Ohio." That's a quote from one of your previous posts.
The event was sponsored by EOCF to benefit a fair-minded candidate. Are there other fair-minded candidates in the running for governor? (I'm not being sarcastic, I'm genuinely wondering - I haven't been paying much attention). Yeah, they probably could have used a different term besides "unite," but on the other hand, language is powerful.
I can't wait to read your post on how re-electing Strickland doesn't affect legislation. We do sometimes need the governor to do governor-y things, like... I don't know... sign legislation. That might "impact legislation," you know? Also, let's not forget Strickland's executive order protecting LGBT state employees.

Please correct me if I've gotten any of this wrong or missed anything - I haven't yet had my daily coffee. Many of your criticisms are very valid and there is much room for improvement when it comes to Equality Ohio. I just don't think they suck as much as you seem to, and it doesn't seem like you know all the facts. The organization is pretty focused on family and I've heard from former workers that they have, on occasion, tried to avoid events in our community that were not "normal" enough. But they also do a lot of good things. And I'd like to add that I've never once heard them use non-inclusive language, which is absolutely NOT true for some of the other organizations in the Equality Federation (Equality California, anyone?). As a bisexual genderqueer person who is a strong trans ally, it's incredibly important that my state organization always remembers the "bacon and tomato." Every single time.