MEDINA — A pop-up rally and march Sunday proclaimed its support for Medina City Council’s potential passage of two ordinances that would protect the rights of members of the LGBTQ community.
Marchers made their way around Public Square multiple times after comments by Sandy Varndell, president of local advocacy group OutSupport, Councilman At-large Bill Lamb and Ward 3 Councilman Eric Heffinger.
When asked what they were marching for, participants loudly proclaimed, “Equal rights and nothing more.”
Ordinance 541.08 would amend the city’s codified ordinance to outlaw intimidation based on sex, gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation.
Ordinance 717 would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.
The Council is scheduled to vote on the ordinances during today’s 7:30 p.m. meeting.
“I’m the mother of two LGBTQ children and my oldest came out as transgender six years ago, and that’s when I decided to get started with OutSupport,” said Varndell, who co-founded the organization. “There have been (sexual orientation and gender identity) resolutions passed in Medina’s history, which are nice, but they’re not legally binding.”
Cuyahoga and Summit counties have passed legislation prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. They have been joined by more than 20 Ohio communities including Akron, Canton, Oberlin, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus, Kent, Lakewood, Olmsted Falls, Toledo and Youngstown.
Two measures put forth by the Ohio General Assembly that would create similar statewide protections, Senate Bill 11 and House Bill 160, also known as The Fairness Act, have been introduced but not passed.
According to a recent poll by the nonprofit research firm American Values Atlas, roughly 62 percent of Ohioans support same-sex marriage, a nearly 10 percent jump from 53 percent in 2014.
At Sunday’s rally, more than 100 people of all ages arrived waving rainbow flags and holding signs that urged Medina to “Bee Inclusive.”
“This is really, really important,” Lamb said. “In 26 or 27 hours, this legislation is going to pass. When you think about it, I’m a white, straight man. Standing here tonight, I have more rights and more protections than some of you in the audience. When you think about how very simple that is and how very wrong that is, you know that City Council passing this can be summed up as just the right thing to do.”
Varndell said the experience of her son Ross, a 25-year-old Medina High School graduate, transitioning from female to male gender identification provided the initial spark for her advocacy and made her want to provide an easier path on that journey for future students.
“At OutSupport, we try to educate different organizations, churches and businesses on what it means to be LGBTQ and how difficult it can be,” she said. “He’s at Kent State now working on his master’s degree, and I hope our support helped at least a little bit with that.”
According to the National Health LGBT Health Education Center, suicide risk in LGBTQ people peaks during their teens and early 20s. In 2015, nearly five times as many LGBTQ-identified high school students reported an attempted suicide over the previous year as opposed to non-LGBTQ students. More than 40 percent of LGBTQ-identified teens reported having suicidal thoughts.
The same research found those feelings for many were alleviated by having a reliable support structure such as accepting friends and family.
“LGBTQ protections shouldn’t be based solely on one ZIP code,” Varndell told the crowd Sunday. “Our friends at Equality Ohio have worked tirelessly for years to help make that a reality. Tonight, we’re calling on our representatives in the Ohio Statehouse to support Senate Bill 11, the Ohio Fairness Act. Please contact Medina’s (state) Senate representative, Larry Obhof, to ask for his support.”
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