Ohio, I’m really starting to think you’re trying to win some sort of most hateful place on Earth award. (Just an FYI: There ain’t no trophies for that.)
Anyway, a bunch of messed up stuff has been going on in my home state, especially revolving hate crimes, racism and suicide, which makes all the other things Ohio tries to do—like passing the heartbeat bill, cutting teacher’s salaries and banning gay marriage for the fourth time—seem almost harmless in comparison. Let’s review some recent events from 2012:
Jan. 16: On Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, arsonists burned down the home of Mohamed Soltan, Ohio State University student and former OSU Muslim Student Association president, while he and his roommate were sleeping. Both people escaped the blaze, but lost everything they own in the fire and were left homeless. Over the course of the months leading up to the arson, Molton endured racist attacks. People wrote on his garage “Fucking terrorists go home,” keying the same message onto Soltan’s car, as well as “terrorists, leave us alone.” The intimidation tactics also included egging his house, smashing his mailbox, and slashing the tires on his car and the cars of his guests.
Jan. 23: The Lantern, OSU’s student newspaper, ran an ad titled ”Former Leaders of the Muslim Student Association (MSA): Where are they now?,” likening Muslims to terrorists and listing the names of several al-Qaida and al-Shabab members who were MSA presidents during their college careers. At the bottom of the ad was the name of the pamphlet, “Muslim Hate Groups on Campus.”
Feb. 19: Clintonville is covered in racist graffiti inlcuding swastikas, the symbol of the Nazi party and white supremacy. A white OSU professor’s car had two swastikas painted on it, and he suspected it was because he has a black son. The message, “Kill all niggers,” was also tagged around the neighborhood, as well as a message written in German that translates to, “Victory to the white race only.”
Mid March: Austin Rodriguez, a 15-year-old openly gay student at Wellsville High School, was put on a ventilator after attempting to take his own life by swallowing over 100 prescription pills. He was bullied at school after coming out as gay.
March 24: Miami University student Michael Bustin and University of Cincinnati student Adam Voegele were attacked in Oxford near Miami’s campus. Four people targeted Bustin and Voegele as they were holding hands while walking home at 2 a.m. from an annual drag show sponsored by Spectrum, Miami’s gay-straight alliance. The attackers screamed derogatory, anti-gay slurs before violently beating the two students. This the second attack at this event in three years.
Early April: As a part of the “NoMorePU” marketing campaign, kitty litter distributor Tidy Cats sponsored a billboard about a mile north of Over-the Rhine that read “You’re so over Over-the-Rhine. Life stinks.” Over-the-Rhine is a predominately black neighborhood in Cincinnati, and the epicenter of the 2001 race riots, poverty and gentrification in the city. The area has also been named the most dangerous neighborhood in the U.S. by the FBI. After public outcry, the billboard was taken down by April 10.
April 2: Xavier University President Fr. Michael Graham announced the Jesuit university’s health insurance policy will “no longer cover sterilizations and contraceptives,” therefore leaving countless faculty and staff unable to access these services under their current insurance plans. Historically, Xavier has covered contraception, despite opposing Catholic doctrine.
April 4: OSU Police detained and drew their weapons on student Mike Newbern for wearing a gun holster to a candlelight vigil for for the racially motivated murders of Trayvon Martin and Shaima Alawadi. Newbern, the president of Buckeyes for Concealed Carry, contends he was demonstrating his support for gun rights by standing at the front of the crowd wearing what turned out to be an empty holster.
April 5: The words, “Long Live Zimmerman” were spray painted on the side of the OSU Hale Black Cultural Center. George Zimmerman is the alleged murderer of Trayvon Martin.
So, things are getting serious at home in Ohio. Very serious. It has become very clear that Ohio is not a safe place for many people, especially people of color and LGBT people. But that’s not really news:
- April 7 marked the 11th anniversary of the 2001 Cincinnati race riots. Police killed 15 black men during the six years leading up to the riots, and when the unarmed Timothy Thomas—a 19-year-old black man who had warrants out for loitering and traffic violations—was gunned down by a white police officer, the city burned for four days straight.
- May 2011: Vandals tagged a gay man’s barn in McConnelsville with “fags are freaks,” before burning it down.
- March 2011: For the first time ever, a fetus testifies in favor of an anti-choice bill before a legislature, as an ultrasound is performed on a pregnant person on the Ohio House floor.
- March 2011: Cleveland Plaindealer columnist Kevin O’Brien bashes OSU for spending tax dollars on queer studies courses, writing “some professor might have to find honest work” if the courses were axed.
- March 2011: A Ghanna-Jefferson elementary school teacher staged a mock slave auction, assigning the 10-year-old students the roles of master or slave, after which, a black student who played a slave was harassed by classmates.
- March 2011: An Akron-area 13-year-old committed suicide after relentless bullying and students spreading rumors that he was gay.
- January 2011: Gov. John Kasich allows LGBT employment non-discrimination protections to expire. By the end of the month, he issued an executive order reinstating the protections based on sexual orientation, omitting previous protections based on gender identity and expression.
- November 2010: Two Bowling Green LGBT non-discrimination ordinances were put on the ballot in a recall initiative. Opponents to the non-discrimination legislation sent the following pamphlets to voters with incorrect and derogatory information:
Essentially, the pamphlets contained examples like the following about transgender women: “A Canadian ‘rights’ tribunal ruled that a women’s rape crisis center violated the provincial ‘gay rights’ law when it refused to let this man—’Kimberly’ Nixon—pretend to be a woman and counsel female rape victims. Don’t let this violation of women’s privacy happen here.”
- October 2010: Students chanted “powder blue faggots” at a Cleveland-area high school football game between rivals Eastlake North High School and Willoughby South High School to taunt the opposing team.
- May 2010: Citizens for Community Values, a Cincinnati-area conservative activist group affiliated with Focus on the Family, issued an action alert asking Pride sponsors to pull their funding.
- April 2010: Two Miami University students were assaulted at the annual Spectrum drag show in Oxford after hate slurs were shouted at them.
- January 2010: John Carroll University, a Jesuit school near Cleveland, refuses to add sexual orientation and gender identity and expression to the non-discrimination policy.
- November 2009: At a Cincinnati Guerrilla Queer Bar event at Million’s bar, two gay men refuse to leave a dance platform in protest of the bar’s policy of only allowing women to dance on the stage, and they are violently removed by a bouncer.
- May 2009: A gay man was attacked at Tabby’s, a straight bar in the Cincinnati suburbs, because he is gay.
- March 2009: A UC student was attacked on campus when a visiting student found out he is gay.
- January 2009: A gay man was attacked outside of Masque, a gay bar in Dayton, while anti-gay slurs were shouted at him.
- 2005 to 2008: Five bullied Mentor High School students committed suicide.
- December 2004: An appellate court upheld an earlier ruling that a post-operative female-to-male transgender man, whose birth certificate was amended to male, could not marry a cisgender female because of the state’s same-sex marriage ban. The court dismissed his amended birth certificate, ruling he was not a legally a man because Webster’s New College Dictionary defines male as “the sex that has organs to produce spermatozoa for fertilizing ova,” so “it cannot be argued that the term ‘male’ … includes a female-to-male post-operative transsexual.”
- November 2004: Ohio voters approved a constitutional amendment banning not only gay marriage but also barring state and local governments from recognizing anything resembling gay marriage, like domestic partnerships. This is the third legislative ban on same-sex marriage in the state.
- 2003: The Ohio Legislature finally ratifies the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution—which overruled the Dred Scott v. Sandford precedent that blacks could not be citizens of the United States and contains the equal protection clause—nearly 150 years after it was enacted into law.
- May 2002: The Ohio Supreme Court rules that the state’s importuning law, banning flirting between same-sex couples, is unconstitutional.
- 1993: Cincinnati voters ratify Article XII, an amendment to the city charter banning any sort of legal protections for LGBT people in the city. After several unsuccessful campaigns to recall the measure, Article XII was finally repealed in 2004.
And if we look at the general Tri-State area, the corners of the three states Greater Cincinnati encompasses, there’s more:
- April 2011: Kevin Pennington of Harlan County, Ky., was kidnapped and assaulted because he is gay. Two men enlisted the help of two women to trick Pennington into getting into a truck, so they could drive him to a state park and assault him
- March 2011: Kentucky Rep. Mike Harmon filed an amendment to a proposed anti-bullying bill that would allow students to condemn other students’ sexualities based on expression of freedom of religion, as long as that expression does not include physical harm or damaging property.
- February 2011: The Indiana House of Representatives approved a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, which was already outlawed in the state.
- April 2010: A Lexington, Ky., high school student was kidnapped, taken to a remote wooded area, beaten and almost pushed off a cliff because she is a lesbian.
- August 2010: Two lesbians were beaten after leaving Yadda Club, a gay bar in Northern Kentucky; the attacker also stabbed two people who intervened.
- September 2010: A 15-year-old student in Greensburg, Ind., hanged himself after other students continually bullied him because they thought he was gay.
- And let’s not forget this charming poster that was plastered all over Covington, Ky., in August 2010:
Highlights from the flier, titled “Are the homos really harmless????,” include “The promotion of homosexuality and of its acceptance by decent people has been promoted by the destructive forces in this country as another way to remove any semblance of order, of right and wrong, in our society,” and “Their sordid lifestyle deserves nothing but shame and disgust from all normal people and special treatment for perverts will not be tolerated.” It also describes Cincinnati Guerrilla Queer Bar, a group I organized with at home, as:
“a group of local perverts … which purposely flaunt their perversion, filth, and mental disorder on normal people by PURPOSELY targeting normal bars for faggot get-togethers … They seek to ‘queer’ the ‘straight’ bars and clubs according to their mission statement. So is anyone to blame but themselves when a normal person is fed up with this perversion being thrust upon them in such a blatantly offensive way? Sure assault is illegal, but it is safe to say that most normal people are happy to see that some among us will put these social rejects in their place when there [sic] excesses become to [sic] much to tolerate.”
And most of this is just since I started blogging Jan. 14, 2009, or something I learned about while blogging. I’m sure there’s been so many more incidents that have gone unreported, that I didn’t hear about (most of these stories received little to no coverage in mainstream news) and/or happened before then. And that’s not even including the people who suffer from or have died from other issues, like no access to health care, or adults who committed suicide.
This is where I come from. These are people I know. These are places I’ve been. We all have stories of being brutalized, attempting suicide, experiencing homelessness or being shipped off to ex-gay therapy. This is the reality. And it’s just jaw-dropping to see it all laid out like that at once.
And thank all things that are good for our community’s responses that look like this:
All of these incidents cannot be separated. They are an overall reflection on our culture, of our attitudes, our laws and what we teach each other. And we have to work together to change it.
Oppression isn’t perpetuated by bad people. That’s the problem. I’d be hard pressed to even find a truly bad person. It’s not a few bad apples ruining the entire bunch. It’s the people we interact with everyday. The people we work with, we go to school with, we organize with, we live with, we love with. It’s our communities. It’s the choices we make. It’s us.Follow @QueerKnowledge