Witt Students and Surrounding Residents Pressure City Commission for LGBTQ Protection

Local LGBTQ activists urged commissioners to revisit a failed non-discrimination ordinance at last Tuesday’s Springfield City Commission meeting.

Fourteen people, consisting of Springfield, Wittenberg and Yellow Springs residents, spoke in favor of the gender identity and sexual orientation non-discrimination ordinance that was voted down three years ago this March. The ordinance would have amended the city’s human rights code to prohibit employers and property owners from firing employees, denying services to consumers or evicting renters because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Last Tuesday’s demonstration was organized by Equality Springfield, the local LGBTQ advocacy group who spearheaded the campaign to pass the ordinance in 2011.

Rick Incorvati, the organization’s president and associate English professor at Wittenberg, told commissioners that the lack of protection makes Springfield an unwelcoming community.

“[Springfield] has yet to deal with [its] diversity problems [ . . . ] our policies are not inviting to all,” Incorvati said, adding that this compels people to leave the city.

In addition to those who spoke, about 30 people attended in support. No one spoke against the ordinance.

The city’s current non-discrimination ordinance protects workers, residents and consumers based on race, religion, ancestry, sex, national origin, age and disability. Some Springfield citizens said the lack of protection afforded to LGBTQ people does not make sense.

“I stand before you and say not only that black lives matter, but also that LGBT lives matter,” said Linda Stampley, Springfield resident and president of The Groovy Grannies, a racial justice advocacy group.

Other residents said this issue also hurts the local economy, causing fewer people to live, work, shop and buy land in Springfield.

The commission meeting also drew a handful of Wittenberg students, including members from the Gender and Sexual Diversity Alliance (GSDA), formerly known as GSA.

“By voting against the ordinance, you are affirming the negative things people say [about LGBTQ people],” Kyle Logan, sophomore and president of GSDA, told the commissioners. Logan added that this issue might affect where he decides to live after he graduates. “I would love to live [in Springfield] someday, but I don’t want to live in fear.”

Karen Duncan and Mayor Warren Copeland were the two commissioners who voted in favor of the ordinance; commissioners Joyce Chilton, Kevin O’Neill and Dan Martin voted against it. None responded to comments last Tuesday.

Duncan, however, has remained outspoken on the issue. She appeared on one of the five billboards that Equality Springfield rented in the city for an awareness campaign last June during Pride Month. The billboard was situated above the Spring Street bridge and read: “You can be fired for being gay in Springfield. Help us change that.”

Martin, in the past, has told the News-Sun that Springfield does not have a problem with discrimination against LGBTQ people. Martin has also told the News-Sun that he supports a statewide anti-discrimination initiative, and that if residents are not content with the way the commission has voted, they should put the issue on the ballot.

Alongside Wittenberg and Springfield residents, members from surrounding communities also spoke on the ordinance last Tuesday, saying this issue has significantly affected their decision to not live in Springfield.

“We [LGBTQ people] are here, and if you don’t see us in Springfield, it’s because we don’t feel safe being ourselves here,” said MJ Gentile of Yellow Springs.

Gentile’s partner, Erin Rodgers, said she would like to seek employment, education and land ownership in Springfield, but does not feel safe doing so. Yellow Springs has language protecting LGBTQ people in its non-discrimination ordinance.

Though the Springfield commissioners did not say they would revisit the ordinance, activists said they will continue the pressure.

“None of us are going away,” Stampley said. “We are in this for life.”

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