50 Years After Stonewall, Where is Ohio?

In 1971, Ohioans were traveling to New York City by carpool to join the Christopher Street Liberation Day march, which had begun the year before to commemorate the infamous Stonewall riots. The following year, the first All-Ohio Gay Conference took place in Columbus. The first Pride march in Ohio took place in Cincinnati in 1973. The Columbus Pride Parade began with Stonewall Columbus in 1981. Cleveland Pride followed in 1989. And in 2019, we’re still seeing Ohio Pride firsts with cities like Warren and West Liberty.

So how far have we come since Ohio’s first Pride? In 1972, Ohio repealed its sodomy statute, largely decriminalized homosexual activity between consenting adults. Despite that, “offensive soliciting,” which involved expressing romantic or sexual interest in a person of the same gender, remained a misdemeanor offense. In 1979, the law was narrowed to “unwelcome importuning” through the Ohio Supreme Court case State v. Phipps. This law remained on the books until 2003, when the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Law removed the anti-gay language. The same year, Lawrence v. Texas abolished all remaining sodomy laws and statutes nationwide.

In early 2004, the Defense of Marriage Act was signed into law by Governor Taft. The Ohio Constitution was later amended by ballot initiative to define marriage as being between “one man and one woman.” This Amendment was invalidated in 2013 by Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court case which effectively legalized same-gender marriage nationwide. Despite that fact, Article XV, Section 11 of the Ohio Constitution still reads: “Only a union between one man and one woman may be a marriage valid in or recognized by this state and its political subdivisions. This state and its political subdivisions shall not create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance or effect of marriage.” In 2015, Cincinnati became the first city in the United States to ban use of conversion therapy on LGBTQ+ minors. Toledo, Columbus, Dayton, and Athens followed the good example.

Governor John Kasich signed an executive order in 2011 that banned discrimination based on sexual orientation in state employment. In 2018, another executive order expanded protections to cover gender identity or expression. Over the years, 31 cities and 2 counties have passed inclusive, comprehensive nondiscrimination ordinances. An additional 5 counties protect state employees alone. There are still no state-wide protections in Ohio for sexual orientation or gender identity outside of state employment.