A look at concrete institutional change toward racial justice at Equality Ohio

In the last few weeks, a few people have privately emailed us asking about what work we have done to change Equality Ohio as an institution to be more focused on racial justice. In the interest of transparency––and to collaborate with our sibling LGBTQ-serving organizations––we are posting that response publicly.

Equality Ohio has been doing deep, internal and organizational work to center racial equity as part of our work for the past several years, with specific emphasis over the past two years as we have engaged in strategic planning through a race equity lens. 

What we mean by that is that we did our strategic planning process—looking at our history, our work, our vision, our mission, our values, our desired work going forward—through a racial equity framework to ensure that anti-racism is reflected across our work, vision, and values. We’re one of a few LGBTQ state equality organizations to use this method of strategic planning, with the hope that this method is adopted more universally within the movement.

After more than 18 months working on this process, our Board approved our final Strategic Plan in May 2020. We have initially updated our website to reflect this work here, and more resources about our Strategic Plan and focus on anti-racism will soon be available on our website.

We have named equity and racial justice as one of our core organizational values. From our new strategic framework:

Equity and Racial Justice. Racism is unique, systemic, and persistent; addressing it within ourselves, communities, policies, laws, systems and institutions is vital for the transformation we seek and need. We believe diverse leadership and meaningful engagement from across our LGBTQ+ and allied communities, most especially in communities of color, results in better solutions for everyone. We will fight such that those experiencing multiple forms of oppression are specifically addressed in policy and nobody is left behind.

Equality Ohio Strategic Framework

And even though the strategic plan was just recently adopted by the full Board, technical aspects of implementation of this work have been ongoing for the past two years. Our work has included and continues to include:

  • Racial equity training for all staff
    • Two days, outside consultants, including white staff and POC staff caucusing 
  • Racial equity training for all Board members 
    • Two days, outside consultants, including white board member and POC board member caucusing 
  • Internal policy assessment and adjustment for equity and racial justice
    • Developed and continually improved upon a hiring practice that ensures racially diverse candidates are encouraged to apply and rise to the top by eliminating barriers to accessing our positions
      • We have a much more diversified staff stemming from this change in practice––we have 8 staff/contractors of color (Black, Latinx, & mixed-race) out of 17 
    • Revamped our intern policies to support equity, paid positions, and encourage racially diverse candidates to be able to access internships
    • Comparison of our pay “bands” to ensure we are paying equitable compensation compared to similarly sized organizations in LGBTQ advocacy workspaces. Adjustments and pay raises at numerous levels have already occurred, even during the pandemic’s economic challenges
    • Account for “Racial Justice” advocacy work on our timesheets in order to ensure this time is seen, valued, and accounted for as part and parcel of our work
    • Ongoing policy review and changes with a paid consultant to support us in this work.
  • Reflecting race equity considerations as part of our advancement work by ensuring that we are recognizing the work and contributions of LGBTQ and ally people of color through our Allies & Advocates event series and prioritizing supporting Black, POC, and LGBTQ-owned vendors and spaces
  • Continuing, ongoing, deep racial equity work focused on our Board by Board members, with specific learning focused on white Board members to ensure our Board culture has a strong, shared race equity lens
    • Cohort learning with white Board members caucussing monthly focused on learning of the habits of and tenacity of white supremacy at an individual and systemic level 
    • Activating our Racial Justice committee as a stand alone committee and centering race equity into all Equality Ohio Board committees
    • Focused recruitment to ensure racial, LGBTQ-identity, and geographic diversity
  • Continuing training over the next two years, focused on implementing our strategic plan and anti-racism work into the framework of our organization
    • We are finalizing the format that we will be using for this, but it will either be by having Board and staff as part of Race Forward or through a combination of race equity expert trainers
    • Staff and Board will continue receiving this training separately and together as appropriate

We have been living these values in this particular moment in numerous ways:

  • We have been actively lifting up protests all across the state and encouraging those who follow us to get involved, including by sharing protesting safety guidelines and resources from Movement for Black Lives and Black Lives Matter, by emails and on social media.
  • Staff time has focused on supporting protests, providing civil legal support to protesters via our Legal Clinic, supporting other organizations in understanding the importance of this moment and how to respond supportively, and having difficult conversations with LGBTQ community members struggling to understand how anti-racism is part and parcel to LGBTQ liberation. 
  • We were part of issuing one of the first statements condemning the killing of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbury, and Breonna Taylor and supporting the uprisings in Minnesota and across the country along with 75 other LGBTQ equality organizations. The letter has since been joined by hundreds of additional LGBTQ organizations.
  • We have amplified the demands of the Queer Partnership for Black Liberation, which includes the work of our fellow staff member Siobhan Boyd-Nelson. You can find their full letter here, and we created a series of tweets to ensure the various demands were highlighted online.
  • We joined in a call from the Columbus Urban League for an economic boycott on June 1st and encouraged our staff to not come to work in solidarity. 
  • We have donated organizational funds to Black-led organizations and bail funds in Ohio.
  • We have made Juneteenth an Equality Ohio holiday as our nation considers making it a federal holiday. Because it fell this year right before our Summit when several staff had external obligations, we’ve made it a “floating” holiday in order to ensure all staff can actually take time off.
  • Our Statewide Summit, which took place in June 2020, was built with a race equity lens. Our kickoff session centered the conversation about racism and how we as LGBTQ Ohioans can (and must) do the internal and organizational work necessary to be anti-racist. This training was recorded, and we are working to share it even more widely and live on our website as a starting point for white and white-socialized LGBTQ Ohioans and allies. All sessions incorporated a race equity component. Friday’s #EqualityWins public event celebrating our 15 year anniversary commenced with a powerful panel discussion with Black LGBTQ & Ally Elected Leaders focusing on policy considerations around police. You can access a recording of the FB Live stream here, with the panel starting just a few minutes into the stream.
  • We are serving as a co-facilitator of a group of LGBTQ Clevelanders for Black Lives. Please email gwen@equalityohio.org for more information.
  • We submitted testimony in support of SCR 14, a Senate Resolution that would declare racism to be a public health crisis. You can read it here.
  • We submitted testimony in support of Columbus City Council demilitarizing the Columbus Police Department both as an organization and via staff member Siobhan Boyd-Nelson, a Columbus-area resident.

These are some tangible steps, among others, that we are actively engaging in to live out our values of anti-racism. But I think the important thing to convey to you is this: We understand that being anti-racist is not a “check-list.” It is an everyday practice; a state of mind. We have and are continuing to embed these values into the very fabric of our organization. They include actively using equitable hiring practices; supporting our staff of color in a variety of ways, including taking labor off our Black and POC staff at this emotionally difficult time to support their full selves; ensuring our internal culture recognizes and actively works to not perpetuate the habits of white supremacy; and onboarding staff and Board members to understand, agree to, and exemplify this culture.

We’re in this for the long haul. Thank you for caring and being part of this work.