CINCINNATI — As Councilmember Chris Seelbach wraps up his 10 years at City Hall, he says a lot has changed when it comes to equality in Cincinnati.
“I don’t think it’s a big deal anymore, in most communities, that you’re LGBTQ,” said Seelbach.
Seelbach was elected and sworn into council in 2011, becoming the first openly-gay person to serve on city council.
“To elect an openly LGBTQ person 10 years ago was a major deal,” he said. “Cincinnati had been losing population for 65 years and I think one of the reasons is because of a lack of effort on race and LGBTQ equality. People want a city that values people regardless of their differences.”
Tuesday, Seelbach chaired his final Equity, Inclusion, Youth & The Arts Committee, presenting about the progress made on LGBTQ issues over the last decade.
Under his leadership, the City of Cincinnati began including transgender inclusive health care coverage. And in 2015, council passed an ordinance that banned gay conversion therapy for children. Seelbach proposed that ordinance after a local transgender teenager committed suicide following conversion therapy.
“I know how harmful it is and I understand how it could lead to suicide,” said Seelbach.
In 2019 the City of Cincinnati raised a pride flag for the first time ever.
“For a community that is historically demonized and fired and harassed and beaten just because of who you love and who you are, to see your government proudly displaying the flag that represents you, it means something to people,” said the councilmember.
“I’ll say in the time I’ve been back in the city, we’ve seen some pretty drastic changes,” said Andrew Bare, National Board of governor with the Human Rights Campaign. “And I think what is important to recognize is change isn’t always in the legislation, but what we see in the community.”
Bare points to the honorary street naming at Seventh and Plum, which is now called Cincinnati Pride Way, as a big step in inclusivity. So is the rainbow crosswalk in Over-the-Rhine and the requirement of gender-neutral bathrooms for single-use restrooms in the city.
Plus, Cincinnati received a perfect score of 100 on the Municipal Equality Index scorecard prepared by the Human Rights Campaign.
However, Bare said there is more work that needs to be done.
“We need to continue to be a city that represents what is important to not only our small community of Cincinnati, but what should be important to Ohioans,” he said, pointing specifically at the need to expand LGBTQ rights statewide.
“Currently living in Cincinnati, I cannot be fired from my job (for being gay),” said Bare. “But, if I visit family in West Union, say, the laws are all different.”
Bare is hopeful the incoming leadership at City Hall will continue representing the LGBTQ community.
So does Seelbach.
“I think it matters that you have representation in government, because the votes for what I’ve done, they were always there. They were there before I was elected. No one made it a priority to introduce the legislation. That’s why representation is so important to government,” said Seelbach.
“It took courage, it took mean tweets, it took a lot to get where we are today, where we are leading the country on LGBTQ plus equality,” he said.