Thursday, February 6, 2003

Speaking up

We can't afford to be silent


Some cities don't have to say anything. You already know who they are.

Hey, America. We're New York City - big, brave and the home of Broadway. Atlanta says it's the city that's too busy to hate. Seattle's sales pitch is so good people don't even mention the dreary weather anymore.

Cincinnati is an uncommonly beautiful place with extraordinary cultural attractions. But these are not the first things most outsiders mention when they hear our name. Bad football. Bill Cosby and the boycott. An "anti-gay" amendment. We've been called racially troubled, riot-torn and intolerant.

So, those of us who know this place owe it to our city to speak up whenever we have the chance. We'll die, literally, if no one wants to visit here, if no one wants to come here to live.

A lot of people spoke up this week. They could have just written a letter. Or they could have said nothing. It would have been easier.

Instead, they went downtown, found a parking space somewhere near the brutally ugly but impressively Romanesque castle on Plum Street. They hauled themselves up three long marble flights of stairs to Cincinnati City Council chambers. About 60 people spoke at the Law Committee meeting Tuesday. And another dozen showed up before the council meeting Wednesday.

A proposal was before Cincinnati City Council to expand the city's hate crime law to include sexual orientation.

Threat to sue

Some people argued that this would be redundant. We already have plenty of laws. In fact, Cincinnati's Municipal Code already had created a separate offense for misdemeanor crimes motivated by race, color, religion or national origin. Then Councilmen John Cranley and David Crowley proposed to add gender, disability, sexual orientation and age to the existing law.

When Phil Burress of Citizens for Community Values threatened to sue council members if they passed the expanded law, I didn't get the impression that he was concerned about inclusion of the elderly and the disabled.

The discussion swirled around gay rights. The right of a person to be gay. You'd think, as Thomas Jefferson said, that this would be "self evident." But laws have often reinforced this original document.

"You have a wondrous opportunity to add detail to a great canvas," Kenny Arron told council. Arron, who moved here eight months ago, said later, "I've never been in a community trying so hard to step out of pain. The cool part is that so many people care so fervently about this city."

And then City Council spoke, in its official way - voting 7-2 to pass the expanded ordinance.

Mayor Charlie Luken said it's an important statement of welcome. Councilman David Pepper called it "symbolic but practical and real."

Vice Mayor Alicia Reece called it "the real deal, equal access to safety for all citizens."

Maybe some cities don't have to say anything.

We don't have that luxury.

E-mail or phone 768-8393.

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