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Out & About in Cleveland

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Al-Ihsan School Fundraiser, Tri-C LGBTQ Dialogue, and the Fight for Marriage Equality

On Sunday, April 27th, we attended a fundraiser for the Al-Ihsan Schools in Parma. Their vision statement reads that they are committed to providing an outstanding education enriched by Islamic values and that they strive for excellence in every endeavor. The fundraiser was held at La Villa Conference and Banquet Center on Brookpark Road in Cleveland and we were warmly greeted by Dr. Mouawia Ghiba, President of the Al Ishan Educational Foundation. The dinner and the company were excellent but for us, the best part of the evening was when groups of small children took the stage and recited parts of the Quran. What made this so good was that they looked so happy to be there and their parents were so proud of them.

After we got home, we looked up the philosophy statement which reads that "the community of the Al Ihsan School puts the principles of Islam into practice to foster a genuine belief in the dignity, worth, and personal responsibility of each individual. We seek to develop a positive identity in our students to prepare them intellectually, socially, emotionally, spiritually, and physically to succeed in a pluralist world."

We agree with this and are very glad that we had the opportunity to show support for this institution.

On Monday, April 28th, we spent a good part of the day over at Tri-C West in Parma tabling at an event titled "Building Bridges, Sharing Spaces LGBTQ and You" which was hosted by Tri-C to help connect the LGBTQ student community with college and community resources. Among the other organizations tabling there were Plexus and PFLAG.

An hour and a half or so was devoted to a panel discussion consisting of a young man who ran the Gay Straight Alliance at Tri-C; a college professor who is also associated with PFLAG; the director of the LGBT Center at Case Western Reserve as well as representatives from the Civil Rights Program of the FBI and the Cleveland Clinic Foundation. It really made our day when one of the panelists acknowledged how grateful they were for the support of Margaret W. Wong and mentioned that we were tabling there.

Overall, the focus of this program was to emphasize the need to build an environment at Tri-C which is conductive to the safety and success of LGBTQ students through sustained dialogue, an action-oriented process best described as discussing a problem with others and really listening to what they have to say and then, after all sides have spoken, make the necessary steps to improve the situation.

We donated a copy of Ms. Wong's book "The Immigrant's Way" for a raffle at the end of the program and the book was won by Sueli Yahara, a young woman who is heavily involved with student government that we had met before when we tabled at other Tri-C events. Ms. Yahara, a very impressive young person, was delighted to won the book and we were indeed delighted that she was the winner.

That evening we attended a program put on by "Why Marriage Matters Ohio" at the Lakewood Congregational Church where national organizers outlined the strategy to achieve marriage equality in Ohio for same sex couples in 2016 by way of a ballot initiative. Basically what must be done is to build a grassroots public education campaign to build support for marriage equality by having conversations and sharing stories to show that same-sex couples and their families should be treated fairly. We learned that the best way to do this is to emphasize the core values of love and commitment over the economic benefits of marriage because the former has proven to be more successful.

The organizers we met tonight were real professionals who worked on successful marriage equality campaigns in other states and were more than willing to take suggestions from the attendees including ourselves. Also in attendance and quite active in the discussion were our friends, Ohio State Representative Nickie Antonio and Mary Zaller from the Gay Games.

Another welcome addition to tonight's program were testimonies from two special parties. First, there was Reverend Mark Thomas, of the Lakewood Congregational Church where we were meeting, who spoke for a few minutes about how the United Church of Christ has been at the forefront in battles for the rights of gays, women and people of color and how much it meant to a family when he performed a marriage ceremony for a gay couple. The second party was a gay couple, who stood before us with their small children and spoke about the importance of marriage for them and their family. We left tonight's meeting realizing that we would have to work hard to achieve our goal but feeling optimistic about ultimately winning.

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