Xenia Could Become First Ohio Municipality to Proactively Ban LGBTQ+ Protections

Xenia City Council President Will Urschel spoke to the Greene County Tea Party in January about his city's stance on opposing LGBTQ+ protections.

Feb 6, 2023 at 1:14 pm
click to enlarge Xenia City Council President Will Urschel - Photo: www.ci.xenia.oh.us
Photo: www.ci.xenia.oh.us
Xenia City Council President Will Urschel

On the evening of Jan. 24, Will Urschel stood before members of the Greene County Tea Party in the Xenia Community Center. 

The group was gathered together to hear from Jeremiah Martin – a former affiliate of the Center for Christian Virtue – speaking on the topic of “Creating the Next Generation of Conservative Leaders.” 

But first, Urschel offered some remarks from his role as president of the Xenia City Council, located in southwestern Ohio, 15 miles east of Dayton.

On the screen behind Urschel, a listing of “Greene County Issues” was projected:

  1. Grooming Story Hour at the Fairborn Public Library
  2. Pornography in the Beavercreek High School Library
  3. Xenia’s YMCA’s Transgender Locker Room Policy

Urschel – who used the word “we” over a dozen times in his 15-minute remarks recorded on video – updated attendees on a local case in which a trans woman was getting changed in the locker room of the Xenia YMCA.

Urschel said that after hearing from residents, the city council actively helped coordinate the prosecution of this individual.

“We went to three families whose wives and daughters had to witness [the trans woman in the locker room],” Urschel said. “They filed police reports, our detectives investigated and we filed charges against the individual in the Xenia municipal court.”

The defendant was charged with three counts of indecent exposure. The Buckeye Flame will not be naming the trans woman in this article to protect her safety. 

According to media coverage of the YMCA case in November, one of the complainants was the wife of Van Holloway, the staff elder at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Xenia. According to the church’s website, Urschel is employed at Emmanuel as a pastor.

Urschel said that if the prosecution is successful, the Xenia City Council will then prosecute the YMCA.

“As an individual organization, if you aid and abet in the commission of a crime you can be prosecuted too,” he said. “We can go after the YMCA as an organization under the same public indecency [laws].”

The Greater Dayton YMCA – the umbrella organization for the Xenia YMCA – released a statement in November saying that they adhere to Ohio and federal laws and anti-discrimination laws, which allow all members access to its facilities and programs, regardless of gender identity.  

A potential first for Ohio

Urschel concluded his remarks by announcing that Xenia is exploring legislation that would proactively ban protections for the LGBTQ+ community in the area of public accommodations, which would include public locker rooms, changing rooms and bathrooms.

Urschel did not respond to The Buckeye Flame’s requests for comments. 

This is the latest example of local Ohio municipalities considering nondiscrimination legislation here in a state that does not grant LGBTQ+ protections in the areas of housing, employment and public accommodations. 

The Ohio Fairness Act – legislation that would guarantee these protections statewide – has been proposed every year for over a decade, but has never made it to a vote of the full Ohio legislature. 

Urschel highlighted the Fairness Act in his remarks, and specifically that Representative Brian Lampton (R-Beavercreek) – who represents the western part of Greene County – was an initial co-sponsor of the bill. This fact elicited audible groans from the audience. 

Urschel said he and a group of pastors met with Lampton in December.

“I don’t think he’ll be sponsoring [The Fairness Act] again,” Urschel said of the effects of that meeting.

Lampton also did not respond to The Buckeye Flame’s requests for comments. 

But where other Ohio municipalities have considered legislation to add LGBTQ+ protections, Xenia would become the first Ohio municipality to proactively ban them, a fact Urschel highlighted on the video.

Urschel said this legislation had the “100% endorsement” from the Xenia City Council, mayor, city manager and law director.

Urschel’s claims disputed

Xenia Law Director Donnette Fisher disputed nearly all of Urschel’s statements.

In a phone call with The Buckeye Flame, Fisher said that it is the policy of her office that the Xenia City Council does not have input in the criminal justice process and that they played no role in the prosecution of the YMCA case.

“We will not prosecute anyone for political reasons,” she said.

Fisher said that she recognized that Urschel’s comments on the video painted a picture of a city council actively involved in these charges. She said she has taken steps to address perceptions of impropriety, including instructing the city prosecutor to reach out to the trans woman’s attorney with an offer of a different prosecutor.

“I will appoint an independent city prosecutor if there are any concerns that the city council is playing an improper role in this prosecution,” she said.

The Buckeye Flame reached out to the defendant and her attorney for comment. The defendant responded that she is currently awaiting her hearing, but that she could not comment further on this ongoing case.

The Xenia Law Department has no plan or intention of bringing charges against the YMCA, Fisher said, “as the required level of culpability is not met based on the facts as presented.”

Regarding potential legislation to proactively ban nondiscrimination protections in Xenia, Fisher said that she was approached by Urschel with questions.

These questions prompted David Hayes, Xenia’s prosecuting attorney, to request an opinion from the Ohio Attorney General regarding whether prohibitions on sex discrimination “include sexual orientation and gender identity for the purposes of public accommodation” and whether restrooms and locker rooms are covered in those protections.

The Ohio Attorney General has yet to issue an opinion on the issue.

Fisher told The Buckeye Flame that there are no public records regarding the Xenia City Council considering this legislation because – despite Urschel’s direct comments on the video – no such conversations have taken place.

“There has never been any discussion among council about passing legislation to exclude gender identity under the state’s public accommodation discrimination law,” Fisher said. “I do not believe a city could legally pass legislation modifying or defining state statute at any rate – that is the job of the Ohio General Assembly.”

Tea Party priorities

The video of Urschel was recorded by Carolyn Uecker, the executive chair of the Greene County Republican Executive Committee. She told The Buckeye Flame that she was in attendance at that meeting as a member of the Tea Party and not as a representative of the Greene County Republicans.

After Urschel announced Xenia City Council’s intent to pass the ban on nondiscrimination protections, Uecker could be heard saying, “I would applaud right now but I am holding this camera.”

Urschel is then seen on camera smiling in response.

Urschel has told several media outlets that he did not know he was being recorded.

Despite Urschel’s  repeated use of the word “we” and his statement that all Xenia officials are “100%” behind the plans of action he outlined, the city released a statement on Jan. 31 saying that “the comments made by the individual Council member in the subject video were his own and were not authorized by or on the behalf of the rest of City Council, the Mayor, the City Manager or the Law Director.”

Kim McCarthy, chair of the Greene County Democratic Party, condemned any actions of the Xenia City Council that perpetuate discrimination.

She said Urschel’s comments and the “Greene County Issues” projected on the screen behind him are representative of a geographic area dominated by Republican-elected officials who work to divide the local population through culture wars.

“These issues are fabrications coming from a small minority of people who are using fear to promote discrimination against valued members of our community,” McCarthy said.

Widespread deadnaming

The charges against the trans woman getting changed at the YMCA have been widely covered by local and national media outlets.

In that coverage, the individual has been repeatedly deadnamed, the practice of using a transgender’s person’s discarded name, instead of the name they have legally or socially adopted.

GLAAD, the nation’s largest LGBTQ+ media advocacy organization, has condemned this coverage, instructing media to use the name a person uses and not to repeat in reporting inaccurate names used by police or other public sources.

“Deadnaming undermines authentic identity and the basic human need to be seen and respected for who they are,” said Barbara Simon, head of news and campaigns for GLAAD.

Simon said this case also serves as a reminder that media are responsible for holding elected officials accountable for behavior and rhetoric that puts any citizen at risk, including false claims about LGBTQ+ people in public spaces.

“Trans people want what each of us does – to be ourselves, and live in safety and dignity,” Simon said.

This article was originally published by The Buckeye Flame and is republished here with permission.

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