Americans for Workplace Opportunity Community Meeting in Akron Has Wide Impact
September 12, 2013 by Guest contributor
Post submitted by Aliya Rahman, Field Organizer, Americans for Workplace Opportunity and partner organization Equality Ohio
Angel Falls could be called the home base of Akron's LGBT community. It's an LGBT-owned coffee shop on Highland Square, and its outdoor tables have been hosting our weekly Akron LGBT Community Organizing meetings.
It's 8:32 p.m., just past our end time. We've been rounding up signed postcards to Senator Portman, writing letters asking him to vote "yes" on the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, and practicing how to teach letter-writing to others. I am gathering up materials when Austin Sincere asks if he can have another sheet of paper. I haven't heard Austin speak much throughout the meeting, so I ask him to tell us more about what brought him here and what he cares about.
Austin tells us that he served in the military, where he took a bullet for a friend. After discharge, he sought work in private law enforcement. He tells us he moved north from Georgia because as an openly gay man, he thought he'd have a better experience at work here in Ohio. Unfortunately, he found otherwise.
"I dealt with it for over a year," he explained. "My manager making comments in meetings about me, because I was gay, loud enough for others to hear. I've been looking for meetings like this one because my friends asked me what I was going to do about what happened to me."
I tell Austin that I am genuinely happy he has joined us tonight. He replies, "Well, I knew I was going to like you when I saw your cowboy boots. See, my roommates dressed me today. Usually I'm in jeans and a hat and boots. I'm a country boy. I drive a Chevy Silverado. I break just about every stereotype of a gay guy."
Austin's story is important to the Americans for Workplace Opportunity campaign - not just because of what happened to him at work and the protections he didn’t have, but because of the road that brought him to Akron. I came to my current job at Equality Ohio after being a community organizer working on racial and economic justice campaigns, and in the course of that work I met a lot of rising community leaders like Austin – whose stories really do hold within them the story of Ohio.
Historically, this was a working people's state where families came (many from the South) to seek a fair day’s pay for an honest day’s work. Nothing fancy. The layout of the state and its highways shows who we are – around the Columbus hub we have the Glass City (Toledo), the Steel City (Youngstown), Cincinnati as a last stop on the Underground Railroad and entry point for workers from the South, and this place – Akron, the Rubber City.
Austin is, of course, not the only local leader and unsung hero of note here. The Akron LGBT Community Organizing meetings are fairly new as a consistent entity, but the activist energy is not. The meetings came about because a local resident, Sarah Bryan, who recently bought a house here in town with her girlfriend, asked me while we were shooting pool how she could get plugged into LGBT rights work. I asked when she was free to learn about the ENDA campaign and some other issues - and we started meeting. We invited folks who were new to activism, like Austin Sincere and Meghan Bates. We put out invites to local activists who have been at the organizing game for a long time and who want to see their work turn into something solid, consistent, and multi-issue focused right here in Akron – people like Shannon Glatz, Shane May, Jake Nash, Scott Piepho, and the county’s first out City Council member, Sandra Kurt. Via friend in other cities, word got out to folks like Greta Ramey and Erin Barnard, who are connected to the Akron arts community. And, we see people from surrounding areas, like Crystal Corrigan, who drives 70 minutes to get here, and PFLAG folk whose chapter works with youth in a radius spanning multiple counties.
Akron matters because our activists here show that the LGBT and ally community is broad in its concerns and habits – and, honestly, because we won't change Ohio in the three Cs (for out-of-staters, that's Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Columbus, the three largest metropoli of the Buckeye State). Highland Square and the people who meet here are not your stereotypical gayborhood components, but they are vibrant, on the move, and emblematic of where we want to take this state through paired campaign and community organizing work.
People came to Ohio to work hard and to have a fair shot at providing for their families, and this is as true today as it was in the 1800s. Legislation that makes this possible for all people—laws that protect all families at home, at school, and on the job—helps this state to do what it has always done best: let people work.
Want to work with the Americans for Workplace Opportunity campaign to build a local organizing table in your town? You can do that. Contact us at Lynne.Bowman@hrc.org
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