Ask many LGBT people across the Tristate region about Cincinnati’s reputation as a welcoming place and they likely will say it’s a negative one. That’s partially due to the lingering stigma from Article 12, the anti-gay law passed in 1993 that finally was repealed 11 years later, coupled with unflattering comparisons to more thriving gay communities in cities like Columbus and Indianapolis.
And almost anyone who knows anything about Cincinnati politics can tell you one of the juicier tidbits about City Hall over the years is the number of elected city officials who are gay or bisexual, but remain closeted about their sexuality.
Taken together, the factors aren’t exactly encouraging signs for the Queen City’s level of inclusiveness and acceptance.
Chris Seelbach hopes to break that mold.
Seelbach, 31, is making his first run for Cincinnati City Council this fall after having worked on several political campaigns for candidates and issues. A Democrat, he is an openly gay man who lives in Over-the-Rhine with his partner, Craig.
Although another gay person, conservative John Schlagetter, ran twice unsuccessfully for City Council in 2001 and 2003 as a Charterite, Schlagetter never trumpeted his orientation. By comparison, Seelbach thinks it’s important that he be honest and forthcoming about his personal life when seeking public support.
“I think my (sexual orientation) is going to be a help,” Seelbach says. “I haven’t run into any obstacles because of it.
I bring something different to the table that’s never occurred here before.”
An Xavier University graduate, Seelbach helped lead the successful effort in 2004 to repeal Article 12, the anti-gay law that cost Cincinnati more than $25 million in lost business, according to the Convention and Visitors Bureau. He also worked on the campaigns of the late David Crowley, the ex-vice mayor who was considered the progressive champion on City Council and pushed for Cincinnati’s human rights and environmental justice laws.
“When people say they are frustrated with the status quo, my history of fighting for civil rights shows I won’t go along with the status quo,” Seelbach says. “Most people don’t care if I’m gay or straight, but that’s what makes my sexual orientation relevant.”
A Louisville native, Seelbach works for The Seidewitz Group, a national marketing consulting firm based in Cincinnati, where he holds the titles of chief financial officer and vice president of political consulting. Additionally, he serves as a mentor with the Executive Mentorship program at Xavier, is the former vice president of CincYP PAC and was political co-chair of the Human Rights Campaign Greater Cincinnati steering committee.
If elected, Seelbach says he would focus on supporting “solid, crime-fighting solutions” like the Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence; increasing economic development by supporting new transportation solutions like the proposed streetcar system; and reforming the city’s zoning policies to “create more livable neighborhoods.”
Seelbach doesn’t criticize current and former Cincinnati politicians who are cagey about their orientation with the public, but adds that approach isn’t for him.
“Everyone has their own journey and their own way of coming out,” he says. “In the past, it was hard to get elected if you were openly gay. I think that’s changed. For me, I couldn’t do this without putting my full self out there. That’s my choice.”
He continues, however, noting his belief that “when a person is kind of lukewarm talking about their life outside of City Hall, that makes some people suspicious.”
Seelbach believes his election would signal a positive change for the Queen City’s gay community.
“Compared to Columbus or Indianapolis, we probably are less visible and seem to have a less active gay community,” he says. “There’s always so much talk from officials and corporations about attracting young people and the creative class to the city … and yet none of our officials on council look like those people. I would be a living example of that and push for that.”
It’s important that all progressive voters — not just the LGBT ones — make themselves heard at the polls in November, Seelbach adds.
“I need the support of the progressive community,” he says. “I am not a wishy-washy candidate; I won’t say whatever is needed to get elected. As a result, I need everyone to get on board and support me.”