2010: Springfield Residents Form an LGBTQ Advocacy Nonprofit

Back of T-Shirt that says "Working toward a Springfield where everyone feels at home equality-springfield.org"In the summer of 2010, two editorials appeared within a couple of weeks of each other in the Springfield News-Sun, each one arguing that the local community could do more to improve the quality of life for LGBTQ people who live and work in this part of the state (“Springfield Gays Shouldn’t Feel That They Need to Hide” (7/10/10), and “Mother of Gay Son: ‘Tolerance the Least We Should Give’” (8/8/10)). Those articles prompted a number of people to look for ways to promote positive change, and by the end of August, Equality Springfield came together as a nonprofit dedicated to a fourfold mission: to promote broader awareness of LGBTQ issues in the Greater Springfield community, to improve the visibility of LGBTQ people by actively participating in the cultural life of the city, to build coalitions of supportive individuals and organizations, and to provide opportunities for fellowship and mutual respect among LGBTQ people and their allies.

 

2010-2012: Public Education Gets Underway, Nondiscrimination Protection Awaits Another Day, and a Holiday Tradition Begins

Equality Springfield Booth at CultureFestThe members of Equality Springfield agreed that a municipal nondiscrimination policy should be the top priority of this new organization, and because many in Springfield were unaware that it was legal to fire, evict, or deny services on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in Springfield, the group knew that community education would be key in achieving this aim. In its first public education effort, Equality Springfield—along with friends from Equality Ohio—shared information about the prevalence of discrimination and about the shortfall in public policies from their vendor’s booth at CultureFest, an annual celebration of cultural diversity at City Hall Plaza. The new group followed up this effort by organizing screenings of films at the State Theatre with the aim of raising awareness about a range of issues confronting LGBTQ people, issues that included discrimination, bullying, religious perspectives on sexuality, and healthcare challenges for aging gay and transgender people. Equality Springfield also focused part of its education energies on city leaders by organizing a letter-writing campaign in which residents described the intolerance they’d experienced or witnessed. Group members shared information with City Hall’s Human Relations Board as well, and they used the public comments segment at City Commission meetings to raise awareness about the needs of local LGBTQ people. Eventually, a proposed nondiscrimination policy was included on the Commission’s agenda on February 14th, 2011, and it was defeated in a 2-3 decision.

Dayton Gay Men's Chorus at Christ Episcopal Church
Disappointments in the first years were offset by successes like the first holiday concert of the Dayton Gay Men’s Chorus, a collaboration between the Chorus, Christ Episcopal Church, and Equality Springfield in 2010. The concert beat all expectations with a remarkable performance, a large and enthusiastic audience, and new and long-lasting friendships commencing all in one evening. The DGMC Holiday Concert has since become an annual tradition in Springfield with a different affirming congregation taking up the hosting duties each year.

 

 

 

2013-14: Public Education Ramps Up: a Film Series, Public Speakers, and Billboard-Sized Visibility

Top of LGBTQ Documentary Series flierEquality Springfield redoubled its awareness efforts by expanding its individual movie events into the first LGBTQ film series in Springfield. In 2013 and again in 2014, the movies screened at Chakeres Upper Valley Mall Cinema led to audience discussions around topics like marriage equality, LGBTQ history, anti-trans and anti-gay violence, and the biblical interpretation underlying the religious controversy over sexuality. Equality Springfield also continued bringing attention to the need for a local nondiscrimination policy by writing editorials in the local press, by organizing a community forum on LGBTQ rights at City Hall, and by publishing a full-page open letter in the Springfield News-Sun that explained the challenges faced by LGBTQ people and that encouraged City Commissioners to attend the forum at City Hall.

Image titled "A Vigil of Remembrance, Concern, and Community Response" used as a flier for a public vigil for LeelahIn 2014, Equality Springfield also stepped up its efforts to promote awareness of discrimination and violence against transgender people by collaborating with Wittenberg University on a Transgender Day of Remembrance vigil and by organizing a speaking engagement with Huffington Post contributor and transgender activist Brynn Tannehill. December 28th, 2014, also brought the death of transgender teen Leelah Alcorn, and Equality Springfield responded with a candlelight vigil at City Hall led by the Rev. Avery Sledge, the first openly transgender clergy in the Springfield community.

To celebrate Pride Month in 2014, the group shifted its visibility campaign into a higher gear with its first billboard campaign. Five billboards went up around the downtown area in June, each one addressing topics like marriage equality, job security, and LGBTQ pride. One particularly well-received billboard, which featured City Commissioner Karen Duncan expressing her support for workplace protection, inspired a range of community responses as well as a headline in the local paper. This campaign also marked the beginning of the annual faith community billboard, a project in which local affirming congregations collaborate on the message and design concept. That tradition continues up to the present, and with the number of participating congregations doubling over the years, the billboard now serves as a powerful indicator of growing acceptance in the community.

History 06 

2015-16: Springfield Pride Begins, and Marriage Equality Meets Resistance in Springfield’s Court

Picture of Pride CelebrationWith three city commissioners maintaining their opposition to a nondiscrimination policy covering LGBTQ people, Equality Springfield turned its attention to further public visibility efforts and successfully brought the Pride tradition to the local community in 2015. On Saturday, June 13th, Equality Springfield reserved City Hall Plaza, made arrangements for the food trucks, made space for twenty-five community organizations and vendors, and assembled an impressive lineup of talented singers and drag performers for the largest celebration of LGBTQ people in Springfield’s history. Springfield Mayor Warren Copeland, Commissioner Karen Duncan, Equality Ohio’s Executive Director Elyzabeth Holford, and other speakers expressed their support of the local LGBTQ community, and local drag icon Amanda Sue presided over the festivities.

History 09Two weeks later, on June 26th, 2015, the cause for celebration continued as the Supreme Court handed down the momentous decision that made same-sex marriage the law of the land. Not everyone supported this development, however, and in Springfield, Probate Judge Richard Carey cited personal religious convictions in his refusal to sign marriage licenses for same-sex couples. (Another judge’s name appeared in his stead.) Equality Springfield objected in the local press to any practices that signaled different treatment for same-gender couples, and the group also organized a rally outside City Hall that brought state and local attention to concerns about inequities. To resolve the problem, all marriage licenses in Clark County are now endorsed by the Clark Court Probate Court rather than by judges.

History 16Pride returned to City Hall Plaza in 2016, and this time, the event was adorned with sixty light post banners bearing rainbow colors and the words “Springfield Pride.” Equality Springfield purchased the banners, with the help of generous contributions from its supporters, and made arrangements with City Hall to have them up every June in honor of the LGBTQ people who make their home in Springfield.

 

2017-18: Nondiscrimination Protection Comes to Springfield--So Does the Karen Duncan Award and a Disinformation Campaign

Image stating "Thank You, Springfield City Commission Springfield Passes Nondiscrimination Protection"When the elections of 2017 brought new members to the City Commission, Equality Springfield focused its awareness efforts on the recently elected public officials, and on January 30th, 2018, shortly after these commissioners took office, the full Commission voted to include sexual orientation and gender identity in the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance by a measure of 4 to1. City Commissioner Karen Duncan had retired from office by that point, but to recognize her unshakable advocacy over the years, Equality Springfield named the Karen Duncan Advocacy Award in her honor and made her the first recipient of this distinction.

In the buildup to vote and in the period that followed, a new online publication appeared called Champion City News. While some of the content in this new media outlet was borrowed from reputable sources, other stories were original and were rich in misinformation and fear tactics—often about LGBTQ people and about the ramifications of Springfield’s newly adopted nondiscrimination policy. Equality Springfield members established connections between the publication and the financially troubled E. F. Hutton company, and the group used its own social media outlets to disclose the concealed ties and to correct the disinformation. The publication soon stopped its campaigns, and the publication was removed from the web shortly thereafter.

Equality Springfield’s own visibility and public education campaigns continued, and in 2018, the organization received an award from the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce for having garnered the most votes in the “Best Billboard” category of their Best of Springfield competition. The positive attention may have been a response to the new direction the billboards took in 2017 after the federal government excluded transgender people from serving in the military. Equality Springfield responded with two billboards, one affirming the choice of transgender people to live authentically and another thanking a local transgender veteran for her service.

Equality Springfield Billboard "Thanks to our transgender friends for their military service" and a picture of Avery SledgeEquality Springfield Billboard titled "Love Yourself and Honor your truth Transgender Pride" with a picture of Shea Beal

2019-20: A Decade of Equality Springfield: Expanding Pride and Serving Queer Youth

History 15In 2019, Pride celebrations around the world marked 50 years since the Stonewall Uprising in New York City on June 28th, 1969, the event that led to the Pride march tradition and that made June the logical choice for the Pride Month observance. Equality Springfield commemorated the anniversary with a Stonewall focus at its own Pride celebration and commissioned a design from a local artist to celebrate the milestone. The group also continued its support of the other events that the Springfield community has come to expect from its local LGBTQ advocacy nonprofit: the Transgender Day of Remembrance observance, the annual return of the Dayton Gay Men’s Chorus, and the celebration of local hero with the Karen Duncan Award.

With the nondiscrimination policy adopted, Equality Springfield’s public education efforts continue to find new ways of making Springfield a place where everyone feels at home. Recent events have aspired to meet the needs of a community that is home to a wide spectrum of gender fluid identities and expressions, especially among the younger generations. In 2019, the group offered an ally training workshop with local advocate and educator Brandy Phipps, and in 2020, Equality Springfield is supporting an exciting effort to provide a safe place for gender fluid teens.

 

In 2020, Equality Springfield marks a decade of public education and LGBTQ advocacy, and over that period the group has evolved to serve the changing needs of its of community. The next decade will bring additional transformations in vision, but the commitment to an ever-improving quality of life for LGBTQ people in the Greater Springfield area will go unchanged.