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Guest column/Pride Month display about basic human dignity

The dismay I have felt in my heart since the publication of the June 19 letter to the editor from Laura Sirilla has had time to simmer (“Keep politics out of displays.”) In it, the writer demanded that the Public Library of Steubenville and Jefferson County remove displays celebrating Pride Month and accompanying books.

Observances like Pride Month exist to honor events, much like Memorial Day or Labor Day. Special periods of honor such as Pride Month and others are to recognize groups who don’t have a single holiday.

The right of folks to exist without persecution where they live, work and get basic life services has been attacked because of their sexual orientation for years. The snickers, the glares, the outright physical attacks and the inability to simply be your authentic self is a form of persecution.

Some of those who are filled with hate will push back and say “I don’t mind them, I just don’t want it in my face.” What do you mean by “in your face?” Do you mean they can’t kiss their partner on the cheek in the parking lot when dropping off after lunch at work? That they can’t put their hand on their partner’s back as they guide them through a crowd? Do you mean that they can’t dance together when they are guests at a wedding? Those are all perfectly acceptable nonaggressive displays of being a couple. How is it not acceptable if it is a same sex couple? Do you realize these couples have to gauge where they are and if those simple acts will cause them to be attacked, beaten or even killed? It is time that we accept that being gay is not, as the writer claims, a lifestyle choice. Years of studies have identified that being gay is simply how folks are born.

Despite basic human dignity and it being the right thing to do as reasons to embrace Pride Month displays, there is the cause of public health. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, youth who are closeted homosexuals are up to two and a half times more likely to contemplate suicide. Closeted gays were more likely to actually attempt suicide. Imagine living in a community where, in addition to normal teenage issues, you wonder if you are accepted.

Having Pride Month displays and other shows of support will not “turn someone gay.” It may, however, let young people know that they are accepted and welcome. It also can let people know that the staff and customers of the location displaying Pride Month information are supportive.

The bottom line for Pride Month displays often is just that, how does this impact the bottom line? The State Level Business Climate Index tells that story. This ranking identifies states at a score up to 100 based on 20 metrics that include items such as youth and family support; political and religious attitudes; health access and safety; work environment; employment; legal and nondiscrimination protections. Ohio’s 2022 score oaf 53.43 was an improvement of the 2021 score of 48.9.

So why does this matter? It matters because businesses look to the climate of an area. There are several bills in the Legislature right now that could negatively impact the 2023 score of Ohio which could cause Ohio to fall further down the business climate scale. In fact, the Ohio Chamber of Commerce watches that so closely that they chose to write a statement for release about House Bill 616 and its anti-gay language impact on “Ohio’s ability to lure the best and brightest minds to fill these openings and put roots down in the Buckeye State.” When the state Chamber of Commerce Association issues a press release about its concerns over LGBTQ policies impacting business, isn’t it past time to listen locally?

Jefferson County residents continue to ask why we don’t have the progress that we see in Weirton. Yet, other area towns had a Pride festival. What seems to have happened here is that Steubenville has simply switched its power base to a new group of “large-and-in-charge” folks, who don’t support Pride Month. Potential new businesses don’t want to have to jump through moral hoops that don’t match their values.

If we want to have corporations consider Jefferson County a viable location, we have to act like a viable location where corporations with diverse workforces would feel welcome. Also, the fact that the local business community and county diversity committee have yet to defend the display and make a public statement is troubling.

We encourage you to show that we are a moderate community with moderate ideas. We don’t have a space for hate here.

I, and members of Ohio Valley NOW, a local chapter of the National Organization for Women, have begun a FaceBook campaign to procure books that the library needs. Find it at https://www.facebook.com/donate/2966859783605164/. This is not a right or left issue. This is a humankind issue. Let’s show everyone that we support inclusion and acceptance.

(McCalla is a resident of Mingo Junction.)

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