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Meet the Guest Editor: AJ Casey, Executive Director of Stonewall Columbus

614now Staff



Cincinnati native AJ Casey brings over 25 years of experience to her new position as the Executive Director of Stonewall Columbus. This month she let us become part of her busy June preparations to help us shape our Pride cover package and we can’t thank her enough.

What excites you about your new position at Stonewall?

What excites me most is that it truly is a brand-new day at Stonewall Columbus. Not only do we have new leadership, but we have a new building, new board members and limitless new opportunities to engage with the LGBTQ+ family throughout the city and county. We are focused on being a catalyst for positive growth and are adamant in the pursuit of a united and thriving community.

Our new facility offers 15,000 square feet of light-filled space that is just begging for creative new programs and services. We’re partnering with organizations such as Equality Ohio to provide free legal clinics; and North Central Mental Health Services to offer LGBTQ+-friendly counseling. And there is so much more room for creative, engaging programs that I can’t help but be excited about the good that can happen here.

Photo by Brian Kaiser

After 38 years, Stonewall Columbus is still the largest and only LGBTQ+ community center in central Ohio. As we move forward, we are fostering relationships to ensure that everyone in the extended LGBTQ+ family can experience Stonewall Columbus as theircommunity center.

Tell me about the work of your parents and how it has shaped you and your work.

My parents were very active in the Civil Rights Movement. My mother was an organizer and get-out-the-vote activist. My father was an attorney and one of the first African American men to be appointed Assistant US District Attorney during the Kennedy administration. Dad’s career was centered on eliminating discrimination in public schools, police departments and state-run construction projects. My parents taught each of their three children (I’m the middle child) the power of confidence when the world rejects you and the necessity of excellence to forge personal success.

My own work is informed by the ongoing struggle for equality. My life—as black, female and lesbian of a certain age—places me in multiple social, gender and political intersections. The consistent driver throughout my career has been visionary empowerment. I have mastered skills that allow me to help people initiate change in themselves, their organizations and communities. I am a perennial student of this work and I have invested decades in honing my craft.


We’ve seen many steps forward and several steps back in LGBTQ+ inclusion and rights in just the past few years. Where do we go from here?

Within the LGBTQ+ family, progress encourages us and setbacks strengthen our resolve. For example, recently, nearly 100 LGBTQ+ advocates showed up at the Ohio Statehouse for hearings around the proposed Ohio Fairness Act (Senate Bill 11) and hundreds more submitted written testimony in support. The bill, if passed, would add LGBTQ people to the laws which make discrimination illegal.

During the public testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, one advocate reminded the senators how long people within the LGBTQ+ community have been fighting for this law. “We’ve been showing up for decades in support of these rights,” he said. “And we will keep showing up until we share equally in the rights of all Ohio citizens!” So, if the question is “Where do we go from here?” the answer is an unequivocal we keep showing up until we help create a society, a city, a state where all of us thrive.

While the LGBTQ+ community in Columbus finds strength in being a large community, it is also a community with lines of division. How can we be more intentional about reaching out to and including more people?

We must be intentional about reaching out to and including more people. Period.

At Stonewall, that means that we are deliberate to about diversity and inclusion. We show it at the board level, the staff level, in our volunteer outreach and in our programs & events. We constantly ask ourselves who else we can bring to the table to ensure that our biggest plans are as welcoming and inclusive as possible.

I think that inclusion is about building relationships, not numbering participants. It’s not just about having people of diverse backgrounds or identities in the same space. It’s about how those assembled in that space combine their collective genius to create more powerful outcomes. Inclusion requires us to demonstrate what Dr. King described as “a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love.”

And I also have to quote RuPaul here. At the end of each episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race, Ru says “If you don’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?” I believe that outreach and inclusion therefore require a dedicated practice of building self-confidence, self-acceptance and self-love. These practices have been a part of my personal journey and been prominent in my career. I intend that they will play some part in how we move forward and pursue a heightened sense of unity as an LGBTQ+ family.

You met your partner at Pride. Tell me about how that happened.

Singer/Songwriter Tracy Walker was one of the performers at Columbus Pride in 2016. I didn’t see her perform and hadn’t heard of her except to read her bio in the Pride Guide.

Somehow, we both ended up in the performers’ VIP tent that Friday night. It was already dark outside when we struck up a casual conversation standing in the glow of a string of white lights. Something about the glow around her made her appear angelic to me. Two minutes later, Tracy moved in to stand real close to me. That’s when I knew that this was more than a casual conversation! That was three years ago this Pride. We’ve been standing close in the glow of each other’s light ever since.

That’s the power of Pride. It is the perfect intersection of authentic personality and extended community. At Pride, people can discover themselves, explore new ideas and—sometimes—find true love.

When you’re not an activist/nonprofit leader/director, what can you be found doing? Reading leadership books and books about world religions or philosophy. Traveling to beaches and bask in the sun. Shopping.

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Stonewall makes statement on CPD, Pride celebration in October




Editors' Note: An earlier publication of this article referred to the cancellation of both the Stonewall Columbus Pride Festival and Parade. The Festival will not take place in 2020.

Originally rescheduled for Sat., Oct. 3, the Stonewall Columbus Pride Festival and Parade will not take place in 2020. According to a statement made by Densil R. Porteous—Stonewall Columbus interim executive director—Stonewall Columbus will focus its efforts on committing to the Black Lives Matter movement and better serving black trans allies during an untraditional celebration of Pride in October.

"We are not quite ready to discuss what will happen on that date as we are still sharing information and getting feedback from various constituents across the community,” said Porteous. “While October is not the traditional month of Pride it is LGBTQ+ history month and we plan to bring and encourage just as much pride in the celebration of LGBTQ+ history as we do in June celebrating our progress in motion to this point."

Along with bringing up the need for the Stonewall Columbus community to be a stronger voice for black transgender people, Porteous talked about the legend of black trans activist Marsha P. Johnson, who was a firecracker at the Stonewall uprising of 1969. You can read about a (614) review of a documentary about her life and death here and catch it streaming on Netflix.

"I believe (the presence of police) causes ‘triggers’ of what has happened in the past, causes them to think of what can happen in that moment, and that makes people feel unease at times when their thoughts and experiences should be full of celebration and pride," said Porteous.

In the statement posted on Facebook, Porteous also mentioned that Stonewall Columbus would “no longer contract with or engage the CPD for security during Columbus PRIDE and other Stonewall events.” The Columbus Pride Festival and Parade's safety and security have been provided by volunteers, including some off-duty CPD.

"Like any vendor with which we contract, we have to ensure our constituents are satisfied with the service the vendor provides," Porteous said.

For a brief overview of where Stonewall Columbus got its namesake from, check out this (614) article here.

Porteous is hopeful for a future, though, where police and citizens can co-exist peacefully.

"We have a firm belief that Columbus has the opportunity to be an exemplar for what community, government, and police can do when we all come together and think intentionally about the work that needs to be done to move us forward," Porteous said.

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Pride Movie Month: How to Survive a Plague




Tolls on the number of people infected and killed by a disease have been an unavoidable modern-day nightmare that has plagued screens across the world. Intermittently throughout the 2012 documentary How to Survive a Plague, the number of those taken by the AIDS epidemic that spiked in the late 1980s starts at just over half-a-million in 1987 and climbs to 1.2 million by 1989.

The numbers are catastrophic, and they really put into perspective what a deadly pandemic looks like. Or what it looks like when the government ignores your faction of life. 

Every faction of the gay community has its own battle. At times they’ve been divided over their different fights, but fighting back against authority has always been in the DNA of any LGBTQ+ movement. While the disease was “mysteriously” killing gay men, thousands took to the streets pleading for a cure. 

The loudest of these voices came from Act Up, a grassroots group that took it upon themselves to end the AIDS epidemic. The epicenter of this epidemic was Greenwich Village, New York City. This is where leaders of the LGBTQ+ community, like Larry Kramer and Peter Staley, fought word-for-word with New York politicians, demanding equality and progress toward a disease that was 100 percent fatal without a cure.

So much like today, in a time when people aren’t asking for ridiculous demands, peaceful protestors during the AIDS crisis would be dragged away by police into vans. While police brutality has continued under the eye of America, in the 1980s, the LGBTQ+ community was losing two wars: the one against the police and the one against AIDS.

With no one coming to their aid, gays became their own doctors, drug smugglers, physicians, drug dealers— a product of a society ignoring their needs.

The eerie score of cellist Arthur Russell throws the viewer into a helpless abyss. The most haunting example of this comes when protestors throw the ashes of their friends and AIDs victims over the fence guarding the White House. It has to be one of the most dynamic images of the neverending LGBTQ+ struggle.

Act Up does end up making a difference in the long battle against AIDS, but it’s not before the disease has taken over 8.2 million lives worldwide. 

These are the numbers you see when a government doesn’t step in.

How to Survive a Plague is available to stream on Amazon Prime.

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Photo Gallery: Juneteenth march from police headquarters to Maroon Arts Group complex




Photo by Rebecca Tien.
Friday—the day that would have kicked off Pride weekend—was instead the day that a few hundred residents joined the LGBTQ community and its Black Lives Matters counterparts at 6 p.m. and marched the nearly two-mile stretch from the Columbus Police Department to the Maroon Arts Group complex to peacefully protest and make their voices heard.Libations followed by a resounding, Ashay, from the crowd. Messages of solidarity. The persistent beating of drums. A liberating walk through a historically black neighborhood. All done to celebrate these three things on Juneteenth 2020: heritage, Pride, and blackness.The Pride March to Commemorate Juneteenth, organized by Black, Out, & Proud, peacefully and powerfully exhibited the strength of the LGBTQ+ and black communities in Columbus and their continued fight against systematic racism.During a weekend that is typically dedicated to Pride, the LGBTQ and black communities came together to further amplify black voices at the frontline of protests.These voices of Black, Out, & Proud community leaders, including co-founder of Bake Me Happy Letha Pugh and local artist Charles Smith, addressed the needs of black LGBTQ members, radical change within the city’s police department, and an urgency to continue to push forward the cause for equality. After almost 30 minutes, protesters then assembled to begin a march to MPACC on Mount Vernon. For nearly an hour, protesters filled the streets, following a truck with a chorus of uplifting drumming and calls for peace, justice, and equality.Below is a gallery of images captured by (614) freelance photographer Rebecca Tien.Previous Next
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