On May 4, 2020, the Village of Gambier made history when it unanimously passed an LGBTQ+ non-discrimination ordinance. Not only is Gambier the first municipality in Knox County to pass such an ordinance, but it is the first in the state of Ohio to do so virtually — the vote was held in a Village Council meeting conducted via Zoom conferencing. Gambier joins 28 other Ohio municipalities in enacting non-discrimination ordinances protecting LGBTQ+ residents and visitors.
Gambier passed the ordinance several weeks after Kenyon emphasized its support for LGBTQ+ Ohioans. In late March, the College signed on to Ohio Business Competes, an initiative of the nonprofit LGBTQ+ advocacy group Equality Ohio. Ohio Business Competes is a non-partisan coalition of Ohio businesses committed to achieving LGBTQ+ inclusive non-discrimination policies. The Village of Gambier’s unanimous vote on the new ordinance followed testimonies from Gwen Stembridge, statewide civic engagement director for Equality Ohio, and Timothy Bussey, assistant director for the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (ODEI).
Bussey played a key role in both of these recent changes. According to Bussey, both changes came after job candidates interviewing at Kenyon had inquired about the nearest town with LGBTQ+ non-discrimination ordinances.
Both Kenyon and Gambier’s recent actions underscore the community’s commitment to attracting, retaining and protecting LGBTQ+ individuals who hope to live or work in Gambier.
“By signing onto Ohio Business Complete, Kenyon has publicly affirmed that we want to attract and retain a diverse and qualified set of employees, and it also demonstrates that LGBTQ+ inclusion and equity is a core value of our workplace and campus,” Bussey said.
As for the ordinance, Mayor of Gambier Leeman Kessler ’04 says that the town had been working on formalizing protections for some time, and that he had been approached by Bussey about turning plans into action and coordinating with Equality Ohio to draft the ordinance.
“I had communicated to [Mayor Kessler] the need for such an ordinance, since Kenyon has such a close relationship with Gambier. Frankly, it is important to have the protections anyway, but certainly, it’s beneficial to the College to have this ordinance in place,” Bussey said. “It increases the likelihood that job candidates will be able to find adequate housing, while also feeling comfortable in knowing that they have those legal protections.”
Another central player in the push for this ordinance was Equality Ohio, which assisted the Village in drafting this ordinance, ensuring that its language captures the full range of protections and extends them to the variety of identities encompassed within the LGBTQ+ community. For Bussey, the ordinance provides much needed assurance for LGBTQ+ people considering taking a job, buying a home, or renting an apartment in Gambier.
In the testimony he gave before the Village Council, Bussey discussed the patchwork nature of legal protections for LGBTQ+ Ohioans. When Bussey took his job at Kenyon, he moved to Newark and commuted 40 minutes each day because Newark was the nearest town with such an ordinance. Without legal protections, Bussey would have had to worry about being denied a lease for being queer. For LGBTQ+ Ohioans, the lack of federal or even statewide protections means that they only have rights and protections in some parts of the states and not others. Before this ordinance was passed, Bussey would lose protections when he left Newark for work each day until he returned home.
Bussey hopes that some of the other 900-plus municipalities in Ohio will follow suit. He said that, currently, only a quarter of LGBTQ+ Ohioans have these legal protections.
The ordinance is itself a local version of the Ohio Fairness Act, a bill currently stalled in the Ohio Legislature that would make the same protections apply statewide. Ultimately, even as towns and cities extend protections to their residents, widespread outlawing of discrimination can only come with a statewide bill. While there is still work to be done, Bussey was pleased by Gambier’s leadership on the issue.
“History was made [on Monday night]. Gambier is now the first place in Knox County that’s done something like this, and that’s a big deal,” Bussey said.
National LGBTQ+ news leader the Advocate also praised Gambier for being the first Ohio municipality to enact such an ordinance remotely.
In a statement shared with the Collegian, Mayor Kessler affirmed Gambier’s commitment to protecting Gambier’s residents, employees, and visitors.
“No one should feel like their employment, housing, or ability to engage should be threatened because of who they are or whom they love,” he wrote. “While the village has a long history of promoting equality and inclusivity, we are now able to publicly show our dedication to those ideals and link arms with other communities across the state and the country.”