News Release 2009 May 18

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

May 18, 2009

Contact:

David Caldwell, Spokesperson, Ask Cleveland: 216 965 3690 (cell), david@askcleveland.org

Jennifer Dowd, Field Director, Ask Cleveland: 863 944 3410 (cell), jenn@askcleveland.org


ASK CLEVELAND LAUNCHES CAMPAIGN TO PASS TRANSGENDER NON-DISCRIMINATION LAW

New Field Director Will Be Ohio's First-Ever Full-Time Transgender Rights Staffer

CLEVELAND, OHIO -- Ask Cleveland, Cleveland's most active LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) rights organization, announced today that it has launched a campaign to ban discrimination on the basis of gender identity and gender expression in the city of Cleveland.

"It's not fair to fire people from their jobs just because of who they are.  It's not fair -- but sadly, it's legal" said David Caldwell, spokesperson for Ask Cleveland.  "Transgender people are one of the most marginalized, at-risk populations in our society, and within our city.  Legal protections for the transgender community are sorely needed -- and sorely lacking.  It's time for that to change -- and the first step is outlawing discrimination within our city," said Caldwell.

The previously all-volunteer group -- which knocked on over 10,000 doors to support the city's new domestic partnership registry -- is also proud to announce that its grassroots fundraising campaign has raised $14,142 from 168 donors, and that the organization has hired its first full-time staffer.

Implications of Transgender Protections Often Misunderstood

Transgender rights efforts are often held back by distortion and misinformation.  Last November, after a highly deceptive opposition campaign, voters in Hamtramck, Michigan repealed a law that extended basic non-discrimination laws to cover transgender people.  In 2008, Cleveland City Council considered an ordinance that would have extended some legal protections to the transgender community, but the bill has been stalled since, despite assurances that it would be voted on first in 2008, then in January 2009 (see http://www.gaypeopleschronicle.com/stories08/december/1219084.htm).

"We still need to do a lot of education -- among both city officials and the public -- to make this non-discrimination law a reality," said Caldwell.  "The fight over the domestic partnership registry allowed our opposition in Cleveland to create the perception that protecting the LGBT community is politically risky.  But it doesn't have to be that way.  Ask Cleveland is going to make sure that our elected officials also hear from fair-minded residents who believe that in our city, equality and justice should belong to everyone."  Columbus, Cincinnati, Dayton, and Toledo already have laws protecting transgender people from discrimination in those cities.  "We think it's time -- past time -- for Cleveland to join other Ohio cities in declaring it's wrong to discriminate against people because of who they are," added Caldwell.

New Field Director Comes From Winning Transgender Rights Campaign

Miami activist Jennifer Dowd will join the Ask Cleveland team this week as a full-time staffer responsible for mobilizing Cleveland voters to support a transgender non-discrimination law.  Dowd took a leadership role on the successful campaign to protect transgender rights in Gainesville, Florida in March; voters there defeated an attempt to remove protections for transgender people from that city's laws.  Under attack, Gainesville LGBT community leaders called on Florida LGBT organizations to form a statewide coalition to support the effort to defend transgender rights.  Even without any paid staff, Dowd's organization, UM (University of Miami) for Equality, was the most successful student organization -- and the second-most successful organization of any kind -- to join the coalition.

"One of the things that the Gainesville campaign taught me is that voters will stand against discrimination if they have the facts," said Dowd.  "Another is that there's untapped potential out there in the community to fight for LGBT rights.  Almost everyone who was involved in our campaign at the University of Miami was completely new to politics.  A lot of them were straight.  But a lot of people care enough about LGBT rights to help -- if you ask."

Dowd assumes control of a field operation that has already knocked on over 10,000 doors talking with voters about Cleveland's domestic partnership registry.  "I couldn't be more excited about the possibilities I see joining the Ask Cleveland team.  I've never joined a team that has already accomplished this much.  The amount they've been able to do as an all-volunteer team is truly impressive.  One other exciting thing -- I've never been able to apply myself fully to this work; I've always had to volunteer in my spare time.  I can't wait to see how much more I can do when the only thing I worry about each day is how to do better work protecting transgender rights."

"We've never had a staffer in Ohio whose sole job was working to advance transgender rights.  I think it's a milestone that is worth noting as the LGBT community learns to do a better job protecting all of our members," added Caldwell.

Group Suspends "Keep the Registry" Campaign

Ask Cleveland's new focus on protecting transgender rights means that the organization will suspend its Keep The Registry campaign for now.  After a three-week public campaign, Cleveland City Council passed a domestic partnership registry in December 2008.  When opposition groups got wind of the pending legislation, they mobilized their supporters in an attempt to dissuade Cleveland City Council members from passing the law.  Their efforts changed the votes of several Council members, but Council still passed the legislation by a 13-7 tally.  After passage, a group called the Greater Cleveland Coalition of Churches formed in an attempt to repeal the law at the ballot box.  They are currently gathering signatures in an attempt to force the domestic partnership registry law onto the ballot so that they can ask voters to overturn it.

Organizers need 5,000 signatures to force a vote, and currently have gathered about 3,000.  "Make no mistake -- this threat is still real, and we are taking nothing for granted," said Caldwell.  "But our current assessment is that it's unlikely the opposition can put the domestic partnership registry on the ballot until 2010, and they may never do it at all.  In the meantime, the transgender community lacks even the most fundamental protections against discrimination.  We believe that -- while we remain vigilant about the opposition's signature drive -- it's time to move forward."

Ask Cleveland believes that work to advance transgender rights also helps to protect the domestic partnership registry.  "Working on transgender non-discrimination legislation is working for equal rights.  We believe that the work we do mobilizing Clevelanders in favor of equal rights will help us protect transgender people, protect the domestic partnership registry, and advance the pro-LGBT legislation that will be needed in the future to achieve full equality."

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Ask Cleveland is a broad-based organization of gay rights supporters in greater Cleveland working to protect and advance equal rights for the LGBT (lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender) community.  Ask Cleveland believes that the LGBT community will achieve its goals sooner and more sustainably by inviting more people to participate in the process of securing equal rights for all.  For more information, or to make a financial contribution, visit http://www.askcleveland.org/ 
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