MEDINA — No ordinances were drafted Thursday night, but the LGBTQ community and its allies spoke loud and clear.
Almost 100 people crammed into the Council rotunda at city hall for the Special Legislation Committee, a subcommittee made up of Council members Bill Lamb, at-large; Jim Shields, Ward 3; and Paul Rose, at-large.
It was strictly a discussion to learn about the issues encountered by LGBTQ members in the community. Fourteen speakers talked about issues in their life, some almost bringing the audience to tears.
Alan Parkhurst told the overflow crowd neighbors would open their windows and yell anti-gay slurs.
When he lived in Medina Township, his mailbox was bombed with an explosive so strong, it could have blown up a two-ton automobile. Parkhurst, who said he was a merchant on Public Square for 23 years, had windows broken and garbage thrown in his yard. When he woke up to a laser shining in his window in the middle of the night, he finally moved.
“I haven’t cried since my parents died,” said Lamb, chair of the committee. “I thought I might cry (when Parkhurst spoke).”
Concerned citizens and members of the LGBTQ community first approached Council’s Finance Committee about the issue June 25. Lamb said he since received about 80 letters on the topic. Only two of them were against the issue.
“The rest were supportive,” he said. “I read every one of those letters.”
He said they were heartwarming and sometimes heartbreaking, many from victims of abuse.”
“I thought a lot about this,” Lamb said. “At every meeting, we say the ‘Pledge of Allegiance.’ The last six words are ‘with liberty and justice for all.’ Protection from discrimination is a cornerstone of our country.
“This issue is about us, our community.”
The plan is for the Special Legislation Committee to have a work session at a yet-to-be-scheduled meeting to craft the wording on the non-discrimination ordinance. From there, it would go to City Council for possible approval.
“(It would be) a comprehensive ordinance that will codify protections broadly banning discriminatory practices in our community,” said Lamb, chair of the committee. “All of us in city government recognize the issue and concern and are committed to working together for a successful resolution.
“This is not a partisan political issue and will not be treated as such.”
The committee has received two drafts of the ordinance — one from the administration, including Law Director Greg Huber, and one from community members. Lamb said the committee will create a singular ordinance and present it to full council.
Shields indicated that he would do what’s best for the community. Rose said he would study all the facts before he makes his decision.
Pam Miller, a former council member and co-chair of the Medina Diversity Project, said Ohio is one of 28 states in which landlords can deny someone housing because they are gay. She said she hopes Medina can be the 22nd community in Ohio to create a non-discrimination ordinance.
“Let’s lead the way,” she said. (So) everyone can have equal rights. Codify that commitment.
“Having a law in place will ensure no one is discriminated against. Adopting an ordinance just makes sense.”
Aaron Demlow, a 20-year-old transgender man from Medina, said he experiences much discrimination at his job.
“Every time I go into work, I’m afraid of what’s going to happen,” he said.
He’s afraid he’ll be fired for being transgender.
“There are millions of people like me that have the same fears that I do,” he said.
Joe Matuszewski of Medina said it pains him to know that he can be denied service at a restaurant because he is gay.
He advocates for Ohio Business Competes, which is a nonpartisan coalition of businesses committed to achieving nondiscrimination policies at the state level in order to attract the best talent.
“Most of the companies have LGBTQ policies of their own,” he said. “This is about equal rights, not special rights.”
Eric and Sandy Varndell of Medina said They have two children that are members of the LBGTQ community. Ross is transgender and Clara is bisexual.
“Bravery takes many forms in our community,” Eric Varndell said.
Kurtis Hoffman of Medina said he hopes to marry his partner in the near future.
“Marry, we can,” Hoffman said. “But we don’t always feel safe.”
He stressed that his hometown must catch up to diversity standards.
Sue Hudson said she married her partner, Diane Heck, in 2015.
“(Before that), we didn’t have the luxury of expressing our love from the mountaintops like so many of you,” she said.
Jennifer Oehler, a teacher at Medina High School for 16 years, said she proud to be the adviser to the school’s Gay Straight Alliance.
“It’s a welcoming place for LGBTQ students,” Oehler said. “They can be themselves.”
She said many of them are harassed in class, walking the halls or using the restroom.
As treasurer of the GSA, Sarah Hoag said discrimination rampant at the high school. One student was harassed recently while giving a speech while on the homecoming court.
“I have gay friends who are being threatened to be kicked out of their homes,” she said.
“Our students want acceptance.”
Others who spoke were Amy Demlow, Chad Eggspuehler and the Rev. Luke Lindon of United Church of Christ, Congregational, on Public Square. He said he was not speaking on behalf of his church, just for what is right.
“We were all educated tonight,” Medina Mayor Dennis Hanwell said. “We have a better understanding of what some of you are experiencing. My hope and prayer is that we can work together to create an ordinance that is acceptable to you, council and our businesses.”