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News: Signatures of the Times

The slow, methodical fight against Article 12

By Brandon Brady · June 25th, 2003 · News
  The number and the enthusiasm of volunteers bodes well for repealing legal discrimination against gays and lesbians, according to Gary Wright (right) of Citizens to Restore Fairness.
Jymi Bolden

The number and the enthusiasm of volunteers bodes well for repealing legal discrimination against gays and lesbians, according to Gary Wright (right) of Citizens to Restore Fairness.

Fairness is coming to Cincinnati, but it will take more than a year to become part of the city charter.

Citizens to Restore Fairness (CRF) is collecting signatures for a ballot initiative for repeal of Article 12 of the city charter. Approved by voters in 1993 as Issue 3, the charter amendment prevents city council from passing any law forbidding discrimination because of sexual orientation.

The repeal campaign has already received the endorsement of the Cincinnati AFL-CIO Labor Council and the Charter Committee. Volunteers have been collecting signatures for six weeks. But CRF won't try for a vote this year. It's aiming for November 2004.

What many might consider a delay in pushing for repeal of Article 12 is devised to capitalize on greater voter turnout because of the presidential election. It's also recognition of the time-consuming task involved in building support for a hotly debated topic.

Calls for repeal have come from such groups as Stonewall Cincinnati and the Coalition for a Just Cincinnati. But even though Mayor Charlie Luken and most members of city council say they support repeal, they haven't placed it on the ballot.

A petition campaign is the only way to eliminate Article 12, according to Gary Wright, co-chair of CRF.

"Well, it's really clearly been the only way to do this," he says. "The campaign itself has to be a grassroots campaign. That is, the only way to win this campaign is to talk to people one on one."

CRF's formulized approach involves volunteers canvassing neighborhoods for signatures while educating the public on Cincinnati's brand of legal discrimination. Key target points are parts of town such as Madisonville, with a large African-American population. The idea is to sway the opinion of those who helped pass Issue 3 in 1993.

Collecting signatures door-to-door, Wright explains the impact Article 12 has not only on the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered (GLBT) community but also on the city as a whole.

"What you find is that the majority of people will say that that doesn't seem right," he says.

CRF's goal is to speak to 63,000 people and collect 18,000 signatures by February 2004. As of mid-June, 3,500 signatures had been collected.

During Gay Pride Weekend June 6-8, CRF signed up 505 volunteers to help with canvassing, office work, phone calls and fund-raising, bringing the organization's total to more than 700 volunteers.

"I think it's clear that people are thinking through this," Wright says. "We got people all across the community saying, 'Count us in. How can we help?' "

The repeal effort is well planned, according to Alyson Steele, spokeswoman for the AFL-CIO.

"I think that this effort is a really well-organized one and so we felt pretty confident in coming forward on it," she says.

Steele admits that the immense work necessary for repealing Article 12 factored into the AFL-CIO's early endorsement.

"I think that there is an intense public education effort that needs to happen before this goes on the ballot," she says. "We just felt that it was important to get our stance on the record as soon as possible."

But the AFL-CIO is doing more than just endorsing repeal.

"We are in the process of meeting with the Citizens to Restore Fairness to determine what the best way is for us to be helpful," Steele says.

The Charter Committee also plans on becoming more actively involved, according to Marilyn Ormsbee, the organization's vice president of finance and its former executive director.

"Well, Cincinnati's going through what I consider to be a crisis," she says. "I think anything we can do to move the city forward is important."

The city of Covington approved a human rights ordinance April 29 that forbids discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations based on sexual orientation. Covington's action points to how crucial the repeal of Article 12 is, Wright says.

"Cincinnati is falling further and further behind," he says. "We're increasingly isolated here."

Wright says the success of the human rights ordinance in Covington will be repeated in Cincinnati, but it takes time. The turnout of volunteers during a gloomy special election last month gives him hope. To collect signatures during a school tax vote, 90 volunteers worked polling places.

"People were willing to stay out in the rain," Wright says. "I think that's a testament to how committed people are to seeing this through and getting it done."

He's not counting victory yet. CRF has a lot of work to do between now and Election Day in November 2004.

"Everyone who has the heart and soul to free Cincinnati from Article 12 is a part of the campaign," Wright says. "We're going to be doing a lot more outreach. There's so much energy and good will that we have yet to bring into the campaign."

To volunteer for Citizens to Restore Fairness or sign the petition to repeal Article 12, call 513-675-7892 or visit www.CitizensToRestoreFairness.org.


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