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Marriage Equality Is Great And All, But...

Cleveland's LGBT Community Is Focused On More Important Things Right Now

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State Rep. Nickie Antonio, a Lakewood Democrat and the first openly gay member of the state legislature, is one of the co-sponsors of the House bill. She's spent a lifetime supporting change like the EHEA, nudging Ohio further from the inequity of Issue 1 and toward a status quo of even footing for all.

And echoing Holford's look to the future, she notes that none of the 12 states that have opened the door to gay marriage have done so without first ending employment discriminations.

"It gives us the opportunity to be whole, three-dimensional people—not a stereotype, not some kind of caricature that was designed by someone who doesn't really have any relationship to my life and my family," Antonio says. "For all of us, it's this opportunity to be our authentic selves. Does that include having a job? Of course. Should it then surprise someone that the other thing that many in the LGBT community would also like to have is a full acknowledgement of their relationship? We can have that discussion, as well."

Social equality bills have a history of dying in committee down in Columbus —most recently, an employment-related rights bill died in the Ohio Senate in 2009 after the House approved it.  The latest bipartisan effort now—and once again—proposes a pair of bills that would ban discrimination in matters relating to housing, employment, certain government contracts and various health services.

But like all the talk and all the headlines, real change is in the air. Harris cautions, however: "As much as we have done, there's still a lot to do...Part of it is letting people know what their rights are—or finding out that you don't have the rights. You can get involved in advocating for yourself."

"These patients go to see a doctor just for a cold and they're told, 'We don't take care of you. We don't do that,'" Ng says, passing along stories he's seen play out in Cleveland. "They're not even asking for hormones or surgery. We see patients who are rejected by health care providers when they're most vulnerable."

Whether via termination of employment, denial of housing, or simply the day-to-day pressure of social constructs, members of the LGBT community often find their health deteriorating. An entire field of study—minority stress theory—is devoted to understanding the crossroads of health and discrimination. In corners of Cleveland, there are doctors and healthcare professionals ensuring that those matters are addressed.

A startling percentage of LGBT patients (typically in the realm of 20 percent or so, depending on geography and population) report being denied health services.

Ng, now working exclusively in the field of LGBT health at MetroHealth Medical Center and its LGBT Pride Clinic, has has helped lead the local discussion for years. He's seen those denials, those turned backs and indifferent physicians.

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