STONEWALL CLEVELAND was a gay civil rights organization established in April, 1990 that operated through 1992 with the purpose of serving as the political voice of the lesbian and gay community in Northeastern Ohio. Inspired by lesbian and gay resistance to discrimination during the Stonewall Riots of 1969, the organization dedicated itself to the achievement of civil rights, civil liberties, and personal security for all without discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. It worked to eliminate prejudice against the gay and lesbian community through public discussion, community education, and mass voter registration with the ultimate goal of achieving political and social equality.
The organization met on a monthly basis, and meetings were conducted at a number of locations, including the LESBIAN/GAY COMMUNITY SERVICE CENTER OF GREATER CLEVELAND, CLEVELAND STATE UNIVERSITY, CASE WESTERN RESERVE UNIVERSITY, and members’ homes. Minutes of the general membership meeting were mailed to each member until the organization expanded and shifted to relaying its activities through a quarterly newsletter in 1991. In that same year, the organization finalized its incorporation as a non-profit under the name Stonewall Human Rights Organization of Greater Cleveland, Inc.
Outside of regular meetings, the organization’s activities included community events such as picnics and film nights, educational events with lectures by prominent lesbian and gay activists like Rhonda Rivera, leadership and networking training for members, regular lobbying efforts at the city level, and endorsement of candidates for the Ohio state legislature in collaboration with other lesbian and gay rights organizations. Stonewall Cleveland was dedicated to increasing the diversity of the organization and actively worked to recruit more women and people of color by advertising its activities in newsletters such as WHAT SHE WANTS, a local monthly feminist publication, making appearances at performances by OVEN PRODUCTIONS, and attending other community events.
In February 1991, members of Stonewall Cleveland held a meeting with the legislative committee of Cleveland’s Community Relations Board in which they advocated for the prohibition of discrimination in employment on the basis of sexual orientation for all city workers; the appointment of a lesbian or gay community member to the Community Relations Board; civil rights legislation to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in employment, housing, public accommodations, insurance, credit, and union practices; support for efforts to improve relations between the Cleveland Police Department and the lesbian and gay community, including sensitivity training developed by the community; support for programming within Cleveland Public Schools to support sexual minority youth; endorsement for the extension of employee benefits by city employers to domestic partners; and greater funding for mental health, employment training, and health care needs for the community.
While the meeting did not immediately lead to policy changes, protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, the extension of city employee benefits to domestic partners, and sensitivity training to improve relations between the gay and lesbian community and the police department would all eventually be implemented by the City of Cleveland. (For more information, see LGBTQ RIGHTS IN CLEVELAND, LGBTQ LIAISON TO THE DEPARTMENT OF SAFETY AND THE DIVISION OF POLICE.)
On March 23, 1991, Stonewall Cleveland held an “Unjust Policy” march protesting the discrimination against lesbians and gay men in the Armed Services. At the time, the United States had recently become involved in the Gulf War. Stonewall Cleveland stated that its position on the war itself was neutral and that the organization would support those currently deployed in the war and those discharged while working to change the policy regarding discrimination on the basis of sexual preference.
Following the “Unjust Policy” march, Stonewall Cleveland shifted its efforts to focus on Pride events for 1991. The organization developed a five-point platform for Pride that demanded money be spent fighting AIDS rather than war, full civil rights for lesbians, gays, and bisexuals, ending racism within and outside the gay and lesbian community, keeping abortion safe and legal, and the right to live and love openly without harassment and violence.
While Stonewall Cleveland was a short-lived organization, its efforts provide insight into the demands of Cleveland’s lesbian and gay community in the early 1990s, which centered on community building and the passage of legislation to support equal rights.
Last Updated: 2/25/2022