The Equality Act

Progress for equal protections under the law for LGBT people has accelerated in recent years. Late last month, the Supreme Court laid a cornerstone of that progress when deciding to federally protect the right for gay couples to wed. While important, the right to marry dwarfs a set of basic, yet critical safeguards denied to members of the LGBT community.

Last month my boyfriend and I began searching for an apartment in Dayton. High on my list of thoughts were number of bedrooms we might need, a considerable amount of natural sunlight, and the difficult search for natural wooden floors. Never did it occur my being gay could play a role in house hunting.

It does; and last week, a bill introduced in Congress looks to change this.

With 205 Senate and House Democrats signing on, the Equality Act is the most extensive piece of legislation prohibiting public discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Attempts to pass similar laws have been made since the 1970s, but none have provided the all-encompassing rights the Equality Act seeks to provide.

According to Equality Ohio, of the 50 states in our country, only 22 protect people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Ohio is not among them.

While some employers and cities (like Dayton) implement nondiscrimination policies or ordinances, no protections for equal access to housing, employment, or public accommodations exist.

The Equality Act of 2015 is a bold measure because it is not a stand-alone bill, but rather an extension - or addition, to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The hope of democratic sponsors is that case law supporting the CRA will essentially strengthen the same protections for LGBT people.

The act has only been introduced, and is already facing conservative opposition on the basis of religious freedom.

A key provision in the Equality Act would prohibit claims of it violating the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 - a piece of legislation frequently cited by those claiming religious exemption in accepting and protecting the rights of LGBT individuals. Conservatives like Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen argue businesses have a right to discriminatory polices on principle of religious freedom.

The congresswoman is the first sitting Republican in the House to support marriage equality.

She said, “While the Equality Act seeks to be an important step forward to protect LGBT individuals against discrimination in housing, workplaces, schools, and public accommodations, I have concerns about the current proposal’s broadness and how it will impact religious organizations… I remain committed to working to ensure all Americans are treated fairly.”

Log Cabin Republicans has also expressed worries over how “broad” the act is. In a statement released on the day of the Equality Act announcement, Executive Director Gregory Angelo said, “It is widely known that Log Cabin Republicans has long supported, lobbied, and advocated for comprehensive LGBT non-discrimination legislation, but we share hesitations about the Equality Act expressed by a number of organizations including LGBT advocates on the left and other civil rights groups.”

These religious arguments convolute the need for lawful protections on the basis of sex and gender.

The Equality Act does not infringe upon the beliefs or religious rights of any person or group - nor does it argue religious disapproval of LGBT individuals is wrong. The law simply seeks to extend the same rights awarded to every other person in this country who isn’t gay, bisexual or transgender.

In a piece debunking “myths” behind the act, writer Matt Baume puts the religious argument into perspective, writing, “We have wide latitude to practice religion in this country. That latitude stops where it hurts someone else.”

Note: This article appears in the August issue of Gay Dayton.

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A Big Future for Tiny Homes in Dayton?

Trevor Gay and Mary Benasutti are living large in a small way.

With their self-titled “Heart of it All House," the couple is credited by other area media outlets as being the first in the region to build and live in a “micro home.” At 224 square feet, it certainly fits the bill.

14 windows spread sunlight throughout the one room home, and the four-wheeled trailer it sits on allows for easy moving. Inside, lofts on each end maximize living space.

“As long as there is a power hookup, our house requires 220 power supply - and it’s ultimately a garden house that feeds our water. And you just hook it up to a full ton truck, make sure you don’t hit anything above 13’6” and you’re ready to go,” Gay says.

The newly engaged Miami Valley couple may soon have company.

Darin Zaruba is president and CEO of Colorado-based EcoCabins. His company specializes in factory-built tiny homes, and last weekend partnered with Dayton’s annual Homearama.

Zaruba says Dayton, unlike some larger western cities he has visited, could offer a solution to one of the largest problems plaguing the tiny house movement - a place to put those tiny houses.

“Most of the people that are doing that now [building tiny homes] are going outside of city areas, they’re going into rural areas, they’re going onto someone else’s property where no one is ever going to bug them. I would say a majority of people are not wanting that lifestyle. They actually want to be closer to a metro area, they want to be closer to arts, a river, biking trails, coffee shops.”

Earlier this year, the Home Builders Association of Dayton and city officials reached out to Zaruba to discuss possible development of the metro area.

“When I came here 3 or 4 months ago just to look at the place and talk to the housing and building association president, I drove around and saw a lot of the places they were calling ‘blighted areas.’ And I thought, my gosh this is a beautiful area, here’s these beautiful lots,” Zaruba said.

“Somebody with a business sense, and a marketing sense, could come in and re-zone something that would be tiny house friendly. And that would create a sense of community as well, so maybe block by block - that’s what I just proposed to the city.”

No official plans are drawn, but Zaruba explains how having a tiny home development in the metro area could save the city money in property management costs while bringing in new taxpayers.

“As I drove around, it seemed to be a beautiful merging of a need, big need, big desire, that I’ve seen in the growing industry of the tiny house movement, and an opportunity to fill that need with a municipal, metro area that would be able to do it.”

Trevor Gay echoes the need for a tiny home community in Dayton. He says the active, outdoor lifestyle associated with tiny house builders can be found throughout the Miami Valley.

“If there was a proper way to do a community downtown, near it, that was safe, organized, and it wasn’t the same stigma as a trailer park - it’s a tiny home community, that would be awesome. There’s a need for that,” Gay said.

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A Journey for Acceptance: Transgender Lives in the Miami Valley

Pastor Joy Simpson of Eternal Joy Metropolitan Community Church holds the rainbow colored stole she wears during service. Her partner, Stacy Sandberg, stands behind. Simpson identifies as bisexual, while Sandberg identifies as trans*.

The latest cover of the Dayton City Paper is not what I had chosen to represent my latest piece with the paper. What I saw published today has been met with backlash, and rightfully so. Sources mentioned in my story have expressed dislike for the cover artwork, and the play on words within the headlines. Twitter expressed disapproval and offense earlier today as well.

The text within the story explains why the cover and headlines are inappropriate. Transgender people explain how their identity is frequently misrepresented and incorrectly portrayed. Too often, the focus shifts on sex and sex characteristics when a more educated discussion is needed. A hairy leg and foot stepping into heels doesn't quite get that message across.

I do not stand behind these editorial decisions, however, I do stand behind my talented family at Dayton City Paper. Their intentions were not to offend. Their mistakes are excellent examples of gender misunderstanding knowing no boundaries - and more importantly, the need for this discussion.

Please, read my piece in the Dayton City Paper on transgender acceptance in America's "Queerest City." It also appears here on my website.

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Marriage Equality - A Done Deal?

A recent email from the Human Rights Campaign surprised me with a more-than-confident message on the upcoming oral arguments for marriage equality. “Now that the fight for marriage equality is over,” the title read. HRC and other leading national gay organizations are heralding this “historic decision” before any judgment from the Supreme Court is handed down. Those who are convinced of sweeping positive outcomes from the high court in June are missing crucial pieces to the marriage puzzle.

The 2013 overrule of a DOMA section, which banned same-sex couples from federal marriage benefits, is said to be proof of the favorable action justices will take. While liberal, the 2013 decision is far from a federal mandate requiring states to preform same-sex marriages.

The ruling on cases beginning oral arguments this Tuesday will determine the constitutionality of bans on same-sex marriage. Lawyers for same-sex couples argue these bans violate the fourteenth amendment’s “equal protection of the laws.”

In a Business Insider article earlier this week, ULCA law professor Adam Winkler explained, “I think many people in the LGBT rights community have taken for granted that they would win this case.”

Dayton, Ohio is Advocate Magazine's reigning, "Queerest City in America." The LGBT publication listed trans-inclusiveness and culture among their reasons.

He continued, “I think one thing that may surprise is a compromise in this case rather than complete victory for same-sex couples."

The article highlights two central questions the Supreme Court must answer to reach a decision in June. The first asks whether or not states are required to issue marriage licenses to gay couples under the Fourteenth Amendment. The other explores the requirement for states to recognize same-sex marriages performed in outside jurisdictions.

While a “yes” answer is expected for the second, a “no” to the first would not be surprising. Legal experts like Winkler think this is what may happen. This type of decision would appeal to state’s rights advocates, serving as a “middle ground” for marriage equality. This decision would not force states to conduct same-sex marriages, but safeguard federal benefits for gay couples married in states where it is permitted.

This article appears in the May issue of GayDayton. Available May first.

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Access Denied: Continuing the battle for equal access to Dayton's RTA

The elderly and people with disabilities make up a considerable part of RTA's ridership. The groups accounted for 1 in every 10 rides the transit system sold in 2011.

People with disabilities and the elderly account for over 1 in every 10 rides the Greater Dayton Regional Transit Authority provided in 2012. While covering a 274 square-mile area, the system working to provide reliable, accessible transportation, now faces an access problem of it's own. 

The RTA Stop at the Dayton Mall sits over 500 feet from the mall's south entrance. A far walk for anyone with a disability or of older age. The stop's inconvenient placement has garnered media attention in the past - but remains unchanged. 

Now, a local group in Dayton is legally challenging the mall manager to move the stop closer to the entrance.

But that isn't all they hope to accomplish. Please, read my investigative piece into how LEAD - Leaders for Equality and Action in Dayton - is working to make a simple trip to the mall possible for everyone. 

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Welcome to jwiedle.com

Polen Farm in the Dayton, Ohio suburb of Kettering is a public area frequently used for weddings and other social events. The land White Oak Farm sits on was awarded to John Bigger Sr. for his service in the Revolutionary war. His grandson built the farmhouse and barn in 1854. In 1979 it was bequeathed to the city of Kettering by owner, Russell V. Polen.

Hello again!

First and foremost, welcome to the newly redesigned www.jwiedle.com. The cohesive layout showcases my reporting in Dayton and serves as a central location for my professional online presence.  Professional, however, should not be confused with impersonal. I make the distinction to highlight my goals for this website.

In my opinion, the best reporting is a conversation – a relationship – between journalist and audience. jwiedle.com is styled in an effort to build that connection. On this website I hope to share my experiences not only as a reporter, but as a Daytonian.

Dayton is rich in culture and activity, more so, I would argue, than any of Ohio’s larger metropolitan areas. This rust belt city is taking on new life; with no place to go but up. Dayton is ushering in change with an influx of young professionals, a robust artistic environment, and a desire among its people to transition from a manufacturing past to a bustling service-based economy. jwiedle.com is where my exploration of, integration into, and work within this city, will be shared.

Please, stay tuned for my new-eyed perspective of this great place.

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Happy Sunday!

 

Greetings from Kettering! I hope this post finds readers well, and if living in the Miami Valley, prepared for the snow showers heading this way tonight. I don't mind winter - I simply wish it would stay consistent.

Personally, January has been a quiet month. I have been bouncing between two projects nearing their final stages. One will be featured as a cover story in an upcoming issue of the Dayton City Paper, while the other is an investigative feature/short documentary hybrid. 

Seeing as I cannot share either at the moment, this post contains an op-ed I authored back in 2013 for the Cincinnati Enquirer. The piece recounts my experiences while accompanying a friend to better understand the homeless community in Downtown Cincinnati. It came to mind last week while I was researching Dayton area homeless shelters. What I experienced that night profoundly changed my view of what it means to be poor. To truly be without. Now in Dayton, I am exploring opportunities to work with its homeless community. 

The upcoming stories I mentioned above will be on this blog soon. Please, check back soon to see more.

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Which Came First: The Chicken or The Law?

In the four months since beginning my freelance endeavor with the Dayton City Paper, our relationship has grown rapidly. The story featured here is proof. When I first contacted the paper’s editor, Sarah Sidlow, I had only a few ideas in mind as to what I might be capable of doing. The first meeting in Dayton with both Sarah and Paul Noah, the paper’s publisher, soon evolved into a brainstorming session regarding the creation of an entirely new division at the paper; video.

Video is where I knew I wanted to start in terms of freelancing. Yet I failed to realize the many ways in which my knowledge of video production and storytelling could benefit a publication lacking any type of video content. Since, my skill set has increased tenfold. I’m now working with programs and editing in ways that only freelance can provide the creative mindset and time for. Many other ideas are in the works for how we at Dayton City Paper can expand integration of video content. But, in the meantime I enjoy reporting stories like this.

Sarah McBride and her feathery friends were the talk of the newsroom shortly before I arrived at the city paper. On the day of our first meeting in September Sarah mentioned it might be an interesting story both verbally and visually.  I took on the story that day and was completely unaware of how involved it would become. Chicken keeping, as it turns out, never goes - wait for it - over easy. 

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Hauntfest Descends on Oregon District

Halloween may have come and gone, however, I wanted to share this, as I never got around to doing so late last month. The Oregon District in Downtown Dayton played host to Hauntfest last month, which celebrated 29 years  in Dayton. The Oregon District Business Association sponsored the event once again with a classic movie monster theme in mind. Cleopatra and Mary Poppins, among others, spoke with me for the city paper video above.  

The amount of effort put in to some of the costumes was truly astounding. Some said they design their outfits specifically for the event. Frankenstein, who is briefly featured in the footage above, showed remarkable creativity; wearing a costume complete with lights and intricate detail on a larger-than-life scale. 

Once fall sets in, Dayton and the surrounding Miami Valley become a busy place for the remainder of the year. With multiple events every weekend, Hauntfest stands out among the rest as particularly, spooktacular. 

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Dayton Music Fest: 10 Years of Local Musical Talent

Original music is not a new concept in Dayton, Ohio. This area of the Buckeye State has a history of producing great music since the 1950's bluegrass era. The Dayton Music Fest began ten years ago with a vision to showcase the city's heritage in local musical talent. The music festival has stayed true to this mission every year with 2014's event being no different.

29 different bands were featured this year at 6 different locations throughout Dayton. I caught acts at Eastwood Metropark and in the Oregon District at the Trolley Stop for the City Paper. New bands are featured every year, and others from past years go on to find success elsewhere. The successful nearly always return - recognizing the importance and drive behind Music Fest. Dayton is said to have always possessed an entrepreneurial spirit that even I feel has evoked me at times since arriving here. That same spirit can be heard in the region's homemade music. 

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Dayton Art Institute's Oktoberfest Draws in 26,000

I recently moved to Dayton and therefore was not aware of the tradition that is Dayton Art Institute's Oktoberfest. I soon learned it's a big deal - so much so that this year's event brought in 26,000 people.

Oktoberfest serves as the largest arts fundraiser in the Miami Valley, generating over a quarter million dollars for the art institute every year. Institute CEO Michael Roedinger explained to me the role the museum has in the surrounding Dayton area, and how it serves as the heart of the region's art community. While donations are encouraged, most of the institute's art collections, as well as some of the programs it provides, remain free to the public. Oktoberfest generates the funds making that possible while highlighting German-American food, entertainment and culture. 

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Cyclopsfest Comes to Yellow Springs

Cyclopsfest in Yellow Springs, Ohio is quickly becoming somewhat of a tradition for those in the largely liberal Southwestern Ohio town. Organizers DJ and Justin Galvin told me the festival is inspired by the locally made items they sell in their Yellow Springs store, Urban Handmade. Their goal is simple; to showcase local art and encourage area residents to shop closer to home. Regional artists, food vendors and designers gathered for the fourth incarnation of the street market styled festival on September 13. I spent the day learning why the event continues to grow each year and the affect it has on Yellow Spring's economy. 

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Jason Collins; The First Gay Professional Athlete

This past week found me in the nation’s capital visiting a very dear friend of mine. Sara Salman and I began our relationship my freshman year at Ohio University. I met her through a training program at WOUB in Athens, Ohio. We struck up conversation that evening and since then have traveled together, worked together, grown together all while learning from each other. I’m proud to say she is now doing incredible work in Washington DC with the news network Al Jazeera.

With only a little over a week to spend in the city I wanted to produce a freelance piece including interviews with those visiting and living in the District.  The announcement of Jason Collins becoming the first openly gay man to play in a professional sports league came during my visit. I wanted to know what those in this fast-growing city thought of the news.

The result can be seen in the video above. I find it important to mention that it was unintentional to include the opinions of only those supportive of the NBA signing an openly gay man to play. I found in my venture that those who did not support, and or questioned the newsworthiness of my piece did not want me to record their response. Although I pressed for them to appear on camera, they wished not to. Their chosen silence, in some ways, speaks just as loud as what they told me “off the record.”

Share your thoughts on the piece and add to the conversation by tweeting to me @JWiedle. 

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