Coloring the state purple

Adam Griffiths

Each time I travel home to Cincinnati, I pass two billboards between Columbus and Xenia. Traveling home, the first reads, “If you died today, where would you spend eternity?” The second: “Hell is real.” Traveling back to Kent, the reverse sides of both lists the Ten Commandments.

There’s this overwhelming idea that Ohio is some conservative bastion of right-wing propriety. You’ve got the aforementioned billboards. In Monroe, the city north of my hometown, there’s a 62-foot King of Kings – read Touchdown Jesus – statue. During spring break, I noticed some group put up a John McCain billboard not too far from Indian Hill, the suburb whose residents single-handedly contributed the most to the Bush campaign in 2004.

Ohio is really a contradiction. We sweat red, but we bleed blue.

We have a Democratic governor, but as a Rolling Stone article highlighted in June 2006, when it comes to the presidential election, “the state has been key to every Republican presidential victory since Abraham Lincoln’s.”

Columbus has Short North, a Midwestern attempt at a replication of New York City’s Chelsea district. Dayton has Masque, one of the best gay bars in the region, and Cincinnati, like other major Ohio cities, has a smattering of clubs serving the gamut of LGBT tastes throughout its metropolitan area. Cleveland has one of the oldest and most popular summer Pride festivals. (This year’s is June 21.)

But then, sitting smugly in Article XV of the state constitution sits a small, 55-word passage that casts a tint of doubt toward, not to mention prejudice against, the thriving LGBT community in our state:

“Only a union between one man and one woman may be a marriage valid in or recognized by this state and its political subdivisions. 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.”

Granted, in 2004, we let ourselves down. There was no vocal “Stop Issue 1 Now!” campaign that ran publicly to counteract the message that the constitutional amendment would both save families and Ohio altogether. But since the adoption of the broad legislation that’s faced very little challenge, organizations such as Equality Ohio have emerged to educate Ohioans on diversity issues and push for the repeal of the amendment.

I told my friend Theresa, one of our campus editors, that The Gay Ohio History Initiative was formed in January 2006 out of a partnership with Outlook Weekly, a Columbus-based LGBT publication, and the Ohio Historical Society. Her reaction was telling as to a general response to the idea of LGBT issues and, simply, people in the state, and I consider her to be pretty open-minded and progressive.

“That’s a strange thing to have in Ohio.”

The truth is – not really. Diversity is everywhere in this state. I’ve met gays and lesbians from every far-out, rural township to the deepest urban nooks of our biggest cities. The first transgender person I met was from Akron.

This is my last time with you until the summer and, for many of you, until the fall. I challenge you to look beyond your comfort zone, beyond what the media are saying and even beyond what your best friends and family are saying – look at your state for what it truly is. If your Ohio is really a Bible-thumping, church-going, Christian state where all families comprise a man, a woman and a smattering of children, look around, and please don’t vote in November.

But there’s definitely more to the Buckeye State than meets the eye. There’s a unique history and culture fostered by our being a swing state. Be the heart of it all this summer. Discover Ohio for what it truly is.

Adam Griffiths is a sophomore information design major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].