Although apparently assured of victory, a pro-homosexual
nondiscrimination ordinance proposed by an openly lesbian Ohio official
failed at the ballot box, thanks to a last-minute campaign on the part
of churches and landlords.
By late fall, Dayton, Ohio City Commissioner Mary Wiseman, an open
lesbian, had garnered the support of four out of five city commissioners
for the proposed ordinance. Only Mayor Michael Turner had consistently
The expansive proposal would have amended the city’s
anti-discrimination law, which forbids discrimination in housing,
employment and accommodations based on race, color and religion, to
include “sexual orientation” — a term broad enough to include
transvestites — as well as the “poor,” and persons of “Appalachian
The ordinance contained no exemptions for day care centers,
Christian-owned businesses, churches, religious organizations or
However, as news began to circulate throughout Dayton, city
commissioners’ offices were flooded with calls of opposition. When the
vote came on Dec. 21, Wiseman was the only commissioner left who
supported her ordinance. In a 4-1 vote, the city officials removed the
controversial ordinance from the agenda.
“The bottom line is that whereas at the close of the week I had four
votes in favor of amending the non-discrimination ordinance to include
sexual orientation, this week I do not have those votes,” said Wiseman.
Area pastors and religious organizations rallied in opposition to the
ordinance. Phil Burress, head of Citizens for Community Values in
Cincinnati, came into town to lobby city commissioners on the legal
ramifications of passing an ordinance to protect sexual orientation.
According to City Commissioner Dean Lovelace, he was swayed by
Christians’ expressions of concern over Wiseman’s proposal.
“Their concern was just the lack of acknowledging [that] a law in
this town would legalize immoral behavior,” he said. “Somehow, for us to
pass a law that would sanction that is too much — and they would fight
Under the proposed law, no businessman would have been able legally
to enforce a dress code, since it could be considered discrimination
against a person’s sexual orientation. Turner cited as an example a
transvestite man coming to work wearing a dress, the prohibition of
which would have been illegal under the proposed ordinance.
Turner also expressed concern over the lack of any exemptions for
According to an article by Eric Resnick in the Gay People’s
Chronicle, Aug. 13, Wiseman told the publication her anti-discrimination
ordinance would be broad enough to include transgendered individuals
(transvestites, “drag queens” and those undergoing sex changes). She
also revealed that her effort to protect the “poor” was actually
calculated to protect people with AIDS who receive income from public
assistance sources. Gay People’s Chronicle noted that Wiseman’s emphasis
on protecting the poor “is aimed at protecting people with AIDS who
receive income from public assistance and often have fewer housing
opportunities once landlords learn of their income source.”
Wiseman castigated Mayor Turner in the interview. “He has never
spoken out in favor of civil rights for gays and lesbians,” she said.
“His core support is from the extreme right wing religious community.”
During the final hearing on the ordinance, members of the real estate
community joined in, expressing opposition to Wiseman’s inclusion of the
“poor” in the proposal. If passed, landlords logically would have been
prohibited from asking about the income levels of prospective renters.
Several landlords told the commission they would sell their property
or leave them empty before they would obey such an ordinance, according
to Melody Morris, a volunteer with the Christian Family Network who
attended the hearing.
Morris noted that several members of the audience of “Appalachian
descent” spoke against the ordinance and accused Wiseman of using them
to promote a gay agenda.
She said this issue has rallied conservative Christians in Dayton.
“I have not seen a single issue that brought the Christian community
together like this one,” said Morris. “People were from all different
denominations. It brought a unification I haven’t seen on a single issue
in a long time.”
Indeed, calls ran 16 to 1 against passage of the Wiseman ordinance,
according to Morris, who says the legislative showdown demonstrates how
important it is for Christians to maintain good communications on
“If Wiseman does come back, Christians will be back as well,” said
Don McMurray, executive director of the Greater Dayton Association of
Baptists, said that Southern Baptists preach that homosexuality is a
sin. “I would be opposed to any change in the law that would create any
special classification for homosexuality,” said McMurray.
Sharen Shaw Johnson, a lesbian editorial writer for the Dayton Daily
News, lamented the defeat of Wiseman’s ordinance in a Dec. 23 editorial.
“We live amid a larger culture so overwhelmingly heterosexual that
often, its anti-gay bias is unconscious but wounds nonetheless,” she
wrote. “Packing the heft of centuries of discrimination, it can batter
through the most buttressed defenses until we take the hate into
ourselves. We call this internalized homophobia; battling it remains one
of our greatest challenges as gay men and lesbians. That is what most
bothered me about the City Hall carnival show this week: The damage I
know it inflicted almost casually on our hard-earned sense of ourselves
as productive, contributing, worthwhile members of the Dayton
After her defeat on Dec. 21, Wiseman proposed two resolutions. One
would have required the city to pass a similar resolution in the future;
the second would have changed the city code to include the word
“perceived” in the city’s sexual orientation ordinance. If this had
passed, not only those actually homosexual, but even “perceived” to be
so, would have been protected against “discrimination.” Both resolutions
were defeated, but Wiseman has vowed to resubmit her proposal.