Recognition for courageous LGBT allies takes root in memory of Nancy Minson

Cincinnati leader forged coalitions, fought anti-LGBT measure and won its repeal by voters

By Hans Johnson, Board Vice Co-Chair, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

“Nancy was such a presence in our lives and organizations for so long that she’s still with us. Recently someone said at a meeting, ‘I don’t think Nancy would have let this happen.’ And wouldn’t you know, people got out their checkbooks or agreed to take on another responsibility. It’s as if she’s listening in or just in the next room. She hasn’t left us at all.” — Jenny O’Donnell, community activist in Cincinnati, strong ally of LGBT rights and friend of Minson

“One of the wonderful things about Nancy was that she could have a knock-down, drag-’em-out argument. But she would wrap up by saying, ‘Wanna go for a drink?'” — Scott Knox, attorney, Ohio LGBT community leader and friend of Minson

“Nancy was my own guardian angel, and I thought that was just me. But she approached everyone that way. The same respect I thought that was unique to me was something she shared with all those around her. She truly dedicated her life to social justice in the world.” — Larry Minson, brother of Nancy Minson

Once in a while, a person comes along who allows one of the great moral causes of her time to shine through her. And it shines with such simplicity and brilliance that it sheds a revealing light on all around her.

Nancy Minson was such a person. The light she cast was an invitation for the best of what we are to evince and express itself. Nancy, who passed away in Cincinnati the day after Labor Day 2009, was a guiding light for coalition and vindication of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. Her contributions as an ally of this community deserve remembrance and continuation.

In her memory, a group of her friends, family and admirers is organizing the Nancy Minson Memorial Recognition for Righteous and Courageous Action at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

I was blessed to work with Nancy early in my career. And I want to explain why she deserves this memorial and why it resonates.

First, no such singular recognition for a brave and strategic ally of our fight for equality yet exists. And no one is a more fitting namesake for such an honor than Nancy.

Second, brave allies like Nancy are vital to winning equal rights. Polling data and survey results bear out this fact. So does experience. With few exceptions, we who believe in freedom and equality for LGBT people, who want fairness and dignity for our lives and relationships and families, prevail in politics only when we stand together with a host of allies. Nancy was this most strategic kind of ally.

Finally, people who take others’ equality personally and persevere are an inspiring example. In 1993, Cincinnati was ground zero for a vicious anti-LGBT campaign seeking to pass an amendment to the city charter that would, in the words of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, make LGBT people “strangers to the law.” It barred the city from taking steps to counteract discrimination, essentially making local government complicit in private acts of bias. Like the policy Kennedy referred to, Issue 3 in Cincinnati ended up gaining a majority of votes. But unlike its counterpart that Kennedy and the high court struck down, Cincinnati’s measure was somehow allowed to stand.

No one felt the pain of Issue 3’s passage more than Nancy, who led the drive to defeat it, with support from the Task Force. In the dark days following its approval, Nancy brought rigor and humor and proportion to a landscape scarred with pain and distrust and recrimination. She kept speaking to business leaders, faith leaders, reporters, legal players, national allies and elected officials of both major parties — or, in Cincinnati, all 3 (including Charterites) — when some in the LGBT community were just too scalded to sustain the dialogue. She stayed true to her vision of a beloved community and kept shining her light to bring others around, or bring them over, to build it with her.

Facing the reality, and the stigma, of the nation’s only official anti-LGBT municipal policy, Nancy took the simple but radical step of taking it personally.

I am a native of Kalamazoo, Mich. In 2001, anti-LGBT campaigners in my hometown had the audacity (Nancy would say “chutzpah”) to try to replicate Issue 3 or Article 12 as it became known in law. They tried to bamboozle the family and friends in the community where I grew up to pass a similar measure. Drawing on the lesson of Nancy Minson, we convinced voters to take personally this appeal to indecency and attack on their sense of fair play. We defeated that drive.

With the savvy and elbow grease of a close-knit team and a corps of hardworking volunteers, Cincinnatians in 2004 voted to scrap Article 12 eleven years after its enactment.

Both Nancy and the Task Force were integral to that victory. Turning the page on that chapter comes with the risk that a heroine of the story, especially after her own passing, gets consigned to the index. Nancy deserves more than that.

We have an opportunity to celebrate Nancy Minson’s legacy.

The Task Force, established in 1973, is the first and oldest national organization dedicated to winning freedom and expanding legal protection for LGBT people. We are and have long been at the forefront of campaigns to stop local and state ballot measures that set back equality and to forge coalitions that will advance and preserve it.

At the Task Force, we rely on allies to help improve the lives of LGBT people and to build power with us from the ground up, in communities and in the democratic process. We miss Nancy Minson. And we celebrate all those who walk in her footsteps to win equality and make America a better place for us all.