The Post is the editorially-independent paper at Ohio University that covers both campus and local news. Throughout my time at The Post, I have held the positions of news reporter, news staff writer and most currently, news editor. Below are some of my selected works from The Post. Additional articles can be found at thepostathens.com.
LGBT+ voters face barriers in and out of the voting booth
Kyle Serrott remembers exactly where he was during election night in 2016.
Serrott, a first-year graduate student studying political science, was at a gay bar in Columbus.
The bar was filled with hope and was a fun environment, Serrott said. Drag queens were dressed as Hillary Clinton, and the early evening was festive, as election forecasts showed Clinton, a Democrat, ahead of now-President Donald Trump at the polls.
As results for the presidential election continued to trickle in at about 10 p.m., however, the energy in the bar shifted, Serrott said.
“It just turned really somber,” Serrott said. “And everybody was just kind of shocked.”
For voters across the country, the 2016 election ushered in a new era of political advocacy and participation. The 2018 midterms saw an 11% increase in voter turnout from 2014, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, but not everyone has been able to take part in the newfound political frenzy.
Voters who are a part of the LGBT+ community are facing voter disenfranchisement across the country and in Athens. From trouble with legal documents to unresponsive representatives, the growing block of voters is also facing a growing number of roadblocks on their path to the polls.
The number of people in America who identify as a part of the LGBT+ community is growing. That growing group is also largely made up of young people who are becoming more politically active, Grant Stancliff, communications director at Equality Ohio, said.
“With greater political power comes backlash,” Stancliff said. “There’s value for some people in getting other people not to vote.”
Many of those young people are college students, like Serrott. For those voters, living on a college campus can pose a challenge.
Serrott said he moved dorms during his first semester at Ohio University. He didn’t think he had to update his voter registration for moving between buildings and ended up voting absentee since his polling location changed.
Serrott now makes sure to update his voter registration whenever he moves, but many students make the same mistake he did in 2012.
“As young people are trying to just build more and become more politically engaged, we’re seeing a lot of attempts to try to … disallow students from voting,” Stancliff said.
Around 21% of LGBT+ adults are not registered to vote, according to UCLA’s Williams Institute. By comparison, only 17% of non-LGBT adults are not registered.
For transgender voters, problems also lie in having the documentation to vote.
In 2014, 27% of transgender citizens who had transitioned reported they had no identification documents or records that list their correct gender, according to Project Vote.
Stancliff said when someone is transitioning, voting can be something that is completely inaccessible or harder to get to.
“To get an updated voter ID card, you need a driver’s license with your accurate name on it,” Stancliff said. “And then to get that driver’s license, you probably need to go to court to get your name legally changed. To get your name legally changed, in many cases, you might need a doctor to sign off on that.”
The LGBT community widely faces housing insecurity and has a disproportionate rate of homelessness, Serrott said. He also believes they rent at a higher rate.
To help combat that issue and others, Serrott said Ellie Hamrick is a “really good” local candidate for LGBT people.
Hamrick, a socialist running for an At-Large seat on Athens City Council, has made housing a prime component of her platform.
Hamrick also said she would be the only openly queer elected official in Athens if elected. In her opinion, housing justice is key to promoting freedom for queer and transgender individuals.
“These issues seem to be of no concern to my Democratic opponents, who are totally out of touch with working class people and who have done nothing to change the fact that Athens is the poorest and most unequal county in Ohio, even though their party has been in power for as long as many college students have been alive,” Hamrick said in an email.
Hamrick has collaborated with mayoral candidate Damon Krane, an independent democratic socialist, to create “Operation Slumlord Smackdown.” The plan looks to change Athens’ renting policies by hiring more workers in the city code office, instituting rent control and more strictly enforcing city code, according to a previous Post report.
Serrott said he thinks state and local representatives aren’t really in tune with the needs of the LGBT community. Serrott, who helps with the OU LGBT center’s graduate student programming, also said he doesn’t believe any local officials have reached out to the center on doing town halls or programs on LGBT issues.
Micah McCarey, interim director of the LGBT center, confirmed that the center has not had recent communications with city officials about voter registration.
The Road Ahead
Stancliff said 2016 marked some of the first intentional efforts to promote LGBT+ voter registration in Ohio. The election results were disheartening for some, Stancliff said, but have also resulted in the further mobilization of LGBT+ voters.
“For a lot of people … (Trump’s election) can be scary and traumatizing and make one want to hide. And for other people, it can steal their resolve to get registered to vote,” Stancliff said. “We’re really trying to help people to channel a lot of that … existential frustration and fear from what (Trump’s) administration has done, and really channel that into power by voting.”
Equality Ohio is already looking at 2020 elections, Stancliff said. The group is hoping to help fuel voter registration efforts through a variety of platforms. Text messages, online registration and going to people’s doors are all part of the organization’s efforts.
Hamrick is hoping to make changes in Athens to help promote LGBT rights if elected. She’d like to mandate that all public, single-occupancy restrooms in Athens be labeled as gender-inclusive and that multi-stall, gender-segregated restrooms have signage posted. She said doing so would help show that all people have the right to use public restrooms regardless of gender expression.
“This is about the fundamental right of trans, nonbinary, intersex and visibly queer people to participate fully in our society,” Hamrick said in an email.
Serrott would like to see more interaction between public officials and the LGBT community in Athens. That means extending the conversation beyond the OU’s LGBT center.
“The LGBT Center here is a good resource, but it’s not the only resource,” Serrott said. “And frankly, it’s just a university resource. So while we try … to be involved in the outside community now, you can’t reach everybody.”
Serrott said the 2016 elections represent a shift in how people think and serve as a marker for politics moving forward.
“I think 2016 elections is one of those times where like, you … remember where you were the next day,” Serrott said. “My parents remember where they were when Kennedy was assassinated. It was one of those moments, I think — kind of monumental.”
Bloomberg campaign office launch party highlights climate, electability
Mike Bloomberg’s campaign team opened an Athens office Saturday with supporters placing an emphasis on mitigating climate change and building a strong coalition to defeat President Donald Trump.
The launch party for the office, located at 9 W. Stimson Ave., featured speakers who all emphasized Bloomberg’s ability to combat both national and state issues for Ohioans, like opioid addiction.
The featured speaker was Ohio University alumnus and architect Maya Lin. Lin, who has worked with Bloomberg for about 20 years at Bloomberg Philanthropies, said she has seen firsthand the work that Bloomberg has done in New York and knows he can do the same as president.
Lin also highlighted Bloomberg’s “unprecedented” economic stimulation of New York City and institutional education reforms.
“In education, over 100,000 school seats were added and a record 4,000 preschools opened,” Lin said. “22 of the top 25 performing schools in the state are now in New York City, or were at the time when Mike was there since 2005.”
Other speakers highlighted what they believe is Bloomberg’s ability to combat crises, such as the opioid crisis in Ohio.
Luke Feeney, mayor of Chillicothe, said his town was the first stop Bloomberg made in Ohio. He appreciated Bloomberg speaking directly to the people of Chillicothe about the opioid crisis during round tables and believes his empathy, combined with mayoral experience, makes him qualified to beat Trump.
“Mike sat there and he listened. He listened to families. He asked important questions. And you could tell he was really wanting to know how southern Ohio was affected,” Feeney said.
Lin also said the opioid crisis is largely affecting rural areas such as Athens, and that Bloomberg has a plan to combat it.
“He knows we’re (in a) crisis moment,” Lin said. “And I think he’s going to really focus on helping just get things done to really help people with addiction, destigmatize it to get help when they need it. I mean, there’s like a huge platform, which I think is … very strong.”
Another one of Bloomberg’s plans would also get America to be carbon neutral by 2050, Lin said. She said that plan would resonate well with the people of Athens who are concerned about fracking and coal in the area.
“That is probably why I’m here. It’s for the environment. I care deeply. I’m very concerned,” Lin said. “And I feel that we have very little time left. And I think Mike has proven that he can work to focus on all aspects of dealing with climate change and grow our economy because that’s important.”
The opening was also met by protesters holding signs criticizing Bloomberg, including some that read “Black Lives Matter” and “Bloomberg knew what stop & frisk would do.”
Kailee Missler, a senior studying strategic communication, said she was disappointed that Bloomberg was the first primary candidate to open an office in such a politically active city and that Bloomberg was only able to do so because of his enormous wealth.
“He has done some horrendous things and they should not be ignored,” Missler said. “The narrative should not be ‘Mike Bloomberg opens office in small town’. It’s ‘Mike Bloomberg buys the Democratic Party’, because that is what he is doing.”
Everyone is welcome to support whoever they want in the primary election, Meredith Tucker, communication director for Bloomberg, said.
Lin said she was glad Bloomberg apologized for stop and frisk, and she believes his apology was genuine.
“There was a lot of good that he did do, and I believe him that when he says that he is not only aware how wrong he was, that he’s going to make amends,” Lin said. “What he will put in place to focus our attention and our monies on criminal reform system is hugely important.”
Athens tourism shows the city is more than just a college town
Athens tourism is evolving to draw tourists into everything Athens has to offer through new channels and promotions.
When most people think of Athens, Ohio University is what comes to mind. Paige Alost, executive director at the Athens County Visitor’s Bureau, wants to broaden the tourism conversation about what else the region has to offer.
“I think it’s just a creative conversation, really, kind of spurred on by some major organizations here,” Alost said. “I mean, ours for sure, but groups like Rural Action and ACEnet that have really jumped sort of feet-first into the tourism development realm, I think it really kind of brought those conversations to light.”
Alost and her staff at the bureau are trying to create an identity for the community. That identity has largely been based around OU in the past. The scope of Athens’ identity has been growing through the creation of event packages.
One of the visitor’s bureau’s projects is 30 Mile Meal, which is where together local food producers, the farmer’s market, craft breweries and wineries engage tourists in the community while they’re in Athens.
Events, such as the motorcycle course Windy-9, draw an even bigger audience that Athens wouldn’t normally see.The Windy-9 is nearly 1,000 miles of motorcycling course spanned across nine paths. Alost said the Windy-9 is the first curated collection of motorcycle touring in the state.
“That has been huge for us and attracting people who wouldn’t come here for any other reason,” Alost said. “You know, maybe they’re not hikers or attending the university, but it brings people to the region to ride and they’re having a great experience.”
The visitor’s bureau partners with RoadRUNNER magazine, a national motorcycle magazine, to help promote the event. It has been a primary partner with the project since the beginning, Alost said.
The visitor’s bureau typically utilizes social media and digital marketing to promote to its audiences. Facebook, YouTube and Instagram have all been utilized in promotion projects.
“It really depends on the market that we’re speaking to,” Alost said. “But you know, certain age groups respond better on Facebook and digital advertising than others.”
Both the Athens County Visitor’s Bureau and the OU Inn try to promote outdoor experiences for tourists. The OU Inn specifically tailors the Athens experience to each group it sees, Betsy Baringer, director of sales and catering at the hotel, said.
“It just depends on the request of the guests to try to custom tailor it to make it perfect,” Baringer said. “It could be even just a tour of town on campus if the group that’s coming in maybe has some future bobcats in their group.”
Other events the OU Inn often promotes include ziplining and biking. Athens Mayor Steve Patterson predicts that once the 88-mile Baileys Trail project is completed, the city will experience a large increase in tourism, according to a previous Post report.
For Alost, biking is also an important tourist attraction. The Hockhocking Adena bikeway and the amount of local bike shops have made biking a key feature of Athens, and it’s something Alost tries to emphasize in her work.
“We always say tourism is a byproduct of good community development,” Alost said. “It’s got to come from what your locals love and what they’re willing to invest their time and … resources in.”
As the only full-service hotel in the city, the OU Inn tries to serve as a hub for tourists to go in and explore the city of Athens, Baringer said. It tries to bring in larger groups and corporations that travel around the city in order to maximize tourist numbers, and their effects.
“That’s a huge part of the tourism pushes: to bring the groups that come in and bring a lot of spending dollars, not just at the hotel, but at the other restaurants and places, uptown businesses,” Baringer said.
The tourism industry plays an integral role in the city of Athens. Tourism brought in about $166 million in revenue in 2017, according to a previous Post report.
Finding success in the tourism industry centers around not changing Athens’ culture, but building upon what the region offers.
“What we have here is pretty special,” Alost said. “But just as a whole, how do we welcome more people to the region to show them what we love?”