CINCINNATI – The election of Cincinnati’s first openly gay councilman represents a shift for an Ohio city that for years had a charter amendment that was unfavorable to gays.
Chris Seelbach’s election last week is a milestone for the area’s gays and lesbians. Seelbach had worked for the successful repeal in 2004 of an 11-year-old city charter amendment that banned local ordinances protecting gay people from discrimination.
“I can’t really describe what I was feeling,” Seelbach, 32, said of his election to council and the big victory celebration that night. “It was just unbelievably amazing.”
The Cincinnati Enquirer reports that Seelbach plans to push for health benefits for same-sex partners of city employees, and that a majority of council likely will support the move.
The president of Citizens for Community Values said the election shows that Cincinnati is becoming more liberal. Phil Burress’ conservative group, based in suburban Sharonville, had supported the charter amendment with the slogan, “Equal rights, not special rights.”
“There is a reason why fewer people live in Cincinnati now,” Burress said. “Cincinnati residents will be in for a rough ride the next two years.”
Having an openly gay person in public office helps other people feel that they can show who they really are and participate in government, said Denis Dison, a spokesman for the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, a Washington-based group that supports lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender political candidates.
“If some gay or lesbian kid in Cincinnati walks into school with their head a little higher after this, that’s the important thing,” Dison said.
Seelbach said he knew of only one offensive comment during the campaign–a man at a polling place told his father: “Your son’s a queer.”
“I have witnessed that people don’t really care,” Seelbach said, adding that he regrets that the one comment was directed to his father. “But it just feels good to know the man who said that woke up the next day and saw my name in the top nine.”