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Cincinnati's first openly gay council member celebrates 10 years of LGBTQ+ progress

Cincinnati Council Member Chris Seelbach
Becca Costello
Cincinnati Council Member Chris Seelbach presided over his final meeting as chair of the Equity, Inclusion, Youth & The Arts Committee on December 7, 2021.

Cincinnati Council Member Chris Seelbach outlined a decade of LGBTQ+ progress Tuesday, at his final meeting as chair of the Equity, Inclusion, Youth and the Arts Committee.

Seelbach was elected in 2011 as the city's first-ever openly gay council member. He says over the last 10 years, Cincinnati has become a national leader on LGBTQ+ rights.

"In 2015, Cincinnati became the first and only city in the country to ban conversion therapy for minors. I can tell you that that has saved lives," Seelbach says. "And hundreds of other cities in this country have followed our suit — hundreds."

The conversion therapy ban came in the wake of the suicide of local transgender teen Leelah Alcorn.

"The story went international, it went worldwide. And for the first time for so many, people started talking about what it means to be transgender, and transgender equality," Seelbach says. "I was also subjected to conversion therapy. I can tell you how harmful, terrifying [it is]."

Seelbach says he's proud of many initiatives, including getting transgender care included in health insurance plans for city employees, and establishing an LGBTQ liaison in the police department.

One of Seelbach's first efforts was to let city employees add long-term same-sex partners to their health insurance, three years before the U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.

That landmark case is also tied to Cincinnati. Seelbach says Jim Obergefell, who filed the lawsuit that eventually made it to the nation's highest court, is his friend and neighbor.

"And so it was Jim Obergefell — (former) Over-the-Rhine resident, Cincinnati resident — that brought marriage equality to this country," Seelbach says. "And allowed, three years later, me to marry the love of my life."

Seelbach says the rapid progress in the last 10 years is remarkable, especially considering Cincinnati's reputation in the 1990s after voters approved a charter amendment prohibiting legal protections for LGBT citizens. Seelbach says he worked on the campaign to repeal Article 12.

"Thirteen states, including the state of Ohio, passed constitutional amendments banning gay marriage [in 2004]," Seelbach says. "And Cincinnati became the only winning LGBT Rights Initiative in the country when voters repealed Article 12."

Seelbach could not run for re-election this year because of term limits, and he leaves office at the end of the month. He says there's still more to do.

"Because the aggression and violence against transgender women of color, the bullying of kids, it all still goes on," Seelbach says. "The Civil Rights Act passed, but racism still exists every day. Our laws can be fully supportive of the LGBT community but homophobia and violence against our community is still going to happen."

Seelbach says he's hopeful the new council and mayor will continue to take LGBTQ issues seriously. He says he's passing the baton to incoming council member Reggie Harris, who will be the first openly gay person of color on council.

See Seelbach's full presentation below:

Local Government Reporter with a particular focus on Cincinnati; experienced journalist in public radio and television throughout the Midwest. Enthusiastic about: civic engagement, public libraries, and urban planning.