As a middle-class kid from Kentucky, I moved to Cincinnati, Ohio for college. When I arrived, I found a city deeply divided on issues of race and sexual orientation.
Five years prior to my arrival, Cincinnati voters passed perhaps the most anti-gay local law our country has ever seen. The law, Article XII, denied the city from even considering the inclusion of sexual orientation or gender identity in the housing & workplace non-discrimination law. A double whammy. Three years after my arrival, the city erupted into a racial unrest.
Coming from a family of fighters, I immediately began trying to create change. While in law school, I helped lead the efforts to repeal Article XII. We spent two years going door-to-door, having honest conversations with people on the door steps about gay rights. We said the word “gay.” We didn't talk about general terms like "equality" and "fairness," but engaged people in why we thought it was wrong to fire someone or deny them housing based solely on who they loved. These conversations were the catalyst to the successful repeal, the only winning gay-rights initiative in the country in 2004 (a year when 13 states banned marriage equality in their constitutions).
After my long-term mentor & Vice-Mayor of the City of Cincinnati, David Crowley, was term limited in 2009 and soon thereafter passed away, I decided to run for Council. All the political experts and insiders said the same thing: “It’s impossible for you to win: 1) You’re not originally from here; 2) You’re too young; and 3) You’re openly gay.”
That kind of skepticism has always been my biggest motivation. I am most motivated by proving to the world that it doesn’t matter: 1) What color your skin is; 2) How much money you make; 3) Where you were born; or 4) Who you love. If you have good ideas, work really hard & treat people with respect, there are no limits to success.
And we did prove them wrong! In 2011, on my first run for political office, I became the first openly gay person elected in Cincinnati, Ohio and the first openly gay man elected in any of the four major cities throughout Ohio. Since my election, I have lead the efforts to: 1) Extend equal partner health benefits to all city employees; 2) Create an LGBT police & fire liaison; and 3) Make it mandatory for anyone accepting city funding or subsidies to agree, in writing, to an inclusive non-discrimination policy. These efforts have results in a 19-point increase in the Human Rights Campaign Municipal Equality Index. And all of these votes were passed by a 9-member Council that consists of 5 African Americans, 3 women and four political parties (Democrats, Republicans, Independents & Charterites).
My story continues today as we strive to create a city (and a world) where we all feel valued, welcomed and respected.
Chris Seelbach is a Cincinnati Council Member