It’s not like I didn’t know what was coming.
When I nestled into the love seat in my home office on that unseasonably warm morning in late November, I knew I would be staring at a screen for hours. I knew my back would soon cramp up, as I hunched over my laptop in a space that was not ergonomically approved for long stretches of time. I knew my one-eyed pirate cat would be asleep on her perch before me, obscuring my view out the back window. And I knew I was about to hear some hateful words come out of some strangers’ mouths.
Still, as much as I knew, I ultimately found myself ill-prepared for how watching opponent testimony to the Ohio Fairness Act would affect so many parts of my life: my mental health, my sense of the world, and, yes, my faith.
Catching up everyone: the Ohio Fairness Act is a piece of legislation sitting in the Ohio State Legislature that, if passed, would grant nondiscrimination protections to the LGBTQ+ community in the areas of housing, employment and public accommodations.
This bill has proven to be a veritable boulder of Sisyphus, with various lawmakers – though largely Sen. Nickie Antonio, D-Lakewood – trying to push it uphill for well over a decade, only to have it roll right back down to where it started. This annual lack of progress leaves Ohio as one of 27 states where individuals can be legally evicted from their apartments, fired from their jobs, or even kicked out of restaurants, all for being LGBTQ+.
I am one of those individuals.
I have tried to make my peace with my lack of equality here in Ohio. When I moved here in 2013 from the LGBTQ+ mecca of Vermont, I could almost see the legal protections fading away in my rearview mirror. Yet, as a white, male homeowner, employed at a private college and dining in one of the bluest parts of the state, I largely stay unscathed. My mountain of privilege keeps me pretty well-insulated from the blatant discrimination faced daily by my LGBTQ+ siblings, in particular Black trans women who are forced to dodge violence at every step as they walk through this world.
Unsurprisingly, I want the Ohio Fairness Act to pass, both to outlaw the discrimination that does happen as well as the discrimination that could. As a journalist, I ground my purpose in amplifying efforts to move this bill into law, which includes transcribing hours of testimony to report back to my readers.
So, when I sat down that November morning to watch a hearing consisting of Ohioans opposed to our state supporting this basic equality, I thought I could remain a thing apart. I knew horrible things would be said, but my task was simple: Hear the homophobia. Type the homophobia. Publish the homophobia.
Then the parade of pastors came marching in.
They came from all over Ohio: from parishes in counties of which I’ve never heard to a nonprofit located only a few blocks away from me in Cleveland. They spoke with conviction, constantly reminding those listening that they represented large congregations. And, yes, they did indeed say terrible things.
This one casually compared being gay to being a pedophile. That one said LGBTQ+ people are “vile” and “sinful.” Yet another said LGBTQ+ equality is a danger to children and that this equal rights bill is akin to “tyranny,” a word she used three times lest you missed it the first two.
My attempts to remain unaffected by the words of these strangers had quickly failed. Before me on my computer screen were individuals who resolutely proclaimed they spoke for masses of people and for the will of God, and the word they brought forth was that I am an abomination inherently less-deserving of legal protections than my straight neighbors. This wasn’t the denunciation of a televangelist in a southern state I will likely never visit; these were a litany of condemnations from people who live in the same state as I reside. Their censure felt local and it felt personal.
The rational part of my brain screamed, “Not a single one of these faith leaders is Jewish. Their words should not affect you so.”
But not all parts of my being are rational. I know academically that faith can be used as a tool to suppress, but bearing witness to it firsthand from people who live around the corner is an altogether different experience. Somewhere in the process, hairline fractures between me and faith emerged that just hadn’t been there before.
I can’t stop thinking that we’re not doing enough – that Jews in Ohio are just not doing enough – to counteract the idea that faith stands opposed to LGBTQ+ people and to help finally push the Ohio Fairness Act boulder over the hill. We’re not protesting enough. We’re not using our voices enough. We’re not using Judaism and all of its social justice tenants enough.
There isn’t clarion call to action here. I’m hoping someone else knows the path forward because right now I can’t grasp it.
I just keep nestling in that loveseat, staring out the cat-obscured back window, hunched over a screen, wishing my faith would stand behind me, my humanity and my equality in a way that I don’t currently feel, but desperately want to see in action.
Ken Schneck is the editor of The Buckeye Flame, Ohio’s only statewide LGBTQ+ news and views source. In his spare time, he is a professor of education at Baldwin Wallace University.