This story is republished with permission from The Buckeye Flame.
Rebecca Maurer wants more transparency in Cleveland City Hall.
And it’s a quality she role-models herself in her bid to become the newest member of the Cleveland City Council. Right on her campaign website, she proudly shares that her LGBTQ+ identity helps inform her point of view.
“Being a member of the LGBTQ+ community has also shaped how I see the world. I remember vividly when Ohio passed State Issue 1 in 2004, banning gay marriage. Even while that rule was in effect at the state level, in 2009 Cleveland was one of the first cities in the State to pass anti-discrimination laws that protected the queer community. Local government cannot do everything — the marriage ban was not overturned until the 2015 Obergefell Supreme Court decision. But I saw early on that municipal government could play a critical role in giving dignity and rights to every person.”
Now Maurer—a lawyer and community advocate who is running to represent Ward 12’s Old Brooklyn, Slavic Village, Brooklyn Centre, and Tremont neighborhoods—hopes to bring that same transparency to a city government that habitually faces the accusation that it is inaccessible to the public. The Buckeye Flame caught up with Maurer to get her thoughts on Cleveland as a moral leader, a trans murder epicenter, and an LGBTQ+ destination.
Why the Cleveland City Council and why now?
A big part of what inspired me to interact with the City Council was my experiences as a queer kid. I identify as bi and I have strong memories of State Issue 1 [banning gay marriage]passing in Ohio in 2004. We had a whole school assembly about it and what it meant to live in a state that had banned gay marriage.
One thing that I learned when I was older, went to law school, and came back to Cleveland, was that in 2009 Cleveland became one of the first cities in Ohio to pass LGBTQ protections at the municipal level. This was when the state level was a really, really tough space. That experience made me focus on local government in a way that has only been amplified by the Trump administration and by so much happening at the federal level that makes you look around and say, “Local government is where we can make a huge difference.”
We see all of these incredible, progressive cities doing amazing work. Cleveland could be one of them—and I truly believe that—but we’re not there because our city government isn’t engaging with residents. The city government is not transparent and it’s not accessible. I’m really excited to be part of that conversation here in 2021 to change that.
You would think that something like being transparent and accessible would be an easy fix, but Cleveland can’t seem to figure out how to fix that.
Well, no, and it hasn’t been fixed because the current City Hall is what is breaking it. I diagnose the problem like a breakdown in trust between residents and City Hall and I don’t think that breakdown came from residents. It has come from a City that has been actively disinterested for years now in really authentic engagement with residents.
I saw that firsthand when I was the legal arm of Cleveland Lead Advocates for Safe Housing (CLASH). We were pushing to get the city to pass a lead-safe housing law. Before the law passed, houses were only tested for lead after a kid became poisoned. So essentially the kid was the lead detector. We wanted to move the city to a national gold standard where you test homes before a kid becomes poisoned.
We had done all of this policy research. We brought in experts. We did this incredible level of work. But because we were perceived as outsiders or antagonistic, the response we got was, “You’re not going through the right channels. You’re not doing this correctly.” There was a very clear sense that there was a right way to respond to problems and there was a wrong way. But if you’re in government, you need to be interacting with everyone who is acting in good faith to try to improve the city.
Cleveland occupies a tricky space where we have many LGBTQ+ protections here, but you step two feet outside of the city and you are in a physical space that doesn’t have those protections. What responsibility does Cleveland have to model the way for our neighbors?
I think Equality Ohio does such incredible work in this area by highlighting that we as a state need the protections in employment, housing, and public accommodation that Ohio just doesn’t have. We’re lucky that we have passed those protections here in Cleveland. But Cleveland is in a county with 50 municipalities and a lot of them have not passed those protections.
Cleveland is a regional leader. We’ve led in the sense of passing the laws. But you also need to be that strong moral leadership that is pushing these issues across the county and is willing to talk and be open about LGBTQ issues. I really look forward to joining the voices on council who are doing that work and pushing these issues across the region.
There was a notable op-ed in Cleveland Scene last summer calling Cleveland the “epicenter for America’s trans murder crisis.“
That’s actually up on my screen right this second!
How can City Council play a role in addressing that crisis?
I think that goes back to the question of moral leadership. When you talk about murders of Black trans women, you’re looking at the intersection of multiple identities and multiple forms of discrimination. You’re looking at racism, you’re looking at misogyny, you’re looking at trans misogyny. If we are not tackling all of those, we are not tackling the murders of Black trans women. And we clearly aren’t doing a very good job of that right now. Doing a better job means having better programs in our schools to talk to CMSD students who are feeling alienated at home because of their identity. It means taking moments like the annual Trans Day of Remembrance and translating these tragedies into actual steps for the city.
Talk to us about the importance of being an out candidate.
It’s something I’ve struggled with. The bi-erasure problem is definitely real, especially as someone who has dated men and women and is navigating that question as a candidate. So much of my race isn’t about my identity as an LGBTQ person. I love to talk about it because it has informed my sense of the world.
But it’s also not the defining issue I’m running on. I’m running on policy wonk logistics at City Hall that could be done better. But we all come to this work from our lived experiences and this is part of my lived experience, so it’s something I’m really excited to talk about as I campaign.
For LGBTQ+ people and allies who are reading this from outside of Cleveland, what do they need to know about Cleveland?
Oh my gosh, they need to know that queer culture is alive in Cleveland! It is here and it is happening. There is so much possibility in this city for the queer community, and for the queer community to contribute to our region. I look around and see so much potential and that is what gets me excited to do this work every day.
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