Feeling accepted by the community is critical for anyone to find belonging and support, but especially for LGBTQ people who too often feel like outsiders.
Acceptance determines whether people feel safe going out in public and doing things as simple as eating in a restaurant or going to the movies. It can also affect whether people feel safe accessing resources such as doctors, counselors and emergency care.
When people don’t feel accepted in their community, they fear retaliation, harassment, or discrimination and instances of abuse can go unreported.
The LGBTQ community has legitimate reasons to feel unsafe in Stark County. LGBTQ public accommodations discrimination is legal in Stark County and Canton — as there is no federal or statewide law to protect our community.
It’s legal for businesses like restaurants, hotels, doctors’ offices, pharmacies, retail stores, libraries, parks, private schools and day care centers to refuse services on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Yet, 53% percent of Stark County residents reported that they feel businesses should not be able to refuse services to LGBTQ people, according to a recent countywide survey conducted by the Center for Marketing and Opinion Research.
Even more troubling, no federal or statewide law protects our communities in Stark County and Canton from conversion therapy.
Conversion therapy is the practice of attempting to change someone’s sexuality or gender identity, often utilizing abusive techniques such as electric shock, induced nausea and induced vomiting. It can also entail hypnosis, exorcism, and talk therapy.
Ultimately, conversion therapy is trying to change the unchangeable, making queer people straight or trans people cis.
However, nearly half, 46%, of Stark County residents agree that conversion therapy should be banned. And less than a quarter, 23%, of Stark County residents actually support conversion therapy.
The majority of people in Stark County support equality for the LGBTQ community. Four in 5 Stark residents think that there is a lot or some acceptance of the LGBTQ community in Stark County, according to the county survey.
Given that acceptance and support is high in Stark County, I believe the time is right for community leaders in Canton and Stark County to listen to Stark County residents and support the LGBTQ community alongside its residents.
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To be clear, strides have been made to increase acceptance and support among the public. Events like Stark County’s first Pride Festival this year only furthers those efforts.
But there is still more work to be done, more progress that needs to be made.
Beyond changing laws that allow discrimination of the LGBTQ community in Canton and Stark County, we need more LGBTQ dedicated safe spaces and resources in Stark County.
Queer in Canton is dedicated to building community, increasing access to affirming resources, and advocating for a more equal Canton. We are working to open an LGBTQ+ community center in downtown Canton to provide a whole host of services and a place for queer people to safely gather and build community with one another.
So while we are waiting for Stark County and Canton’s policies to align with the views of its residents, you can count on Queer in Canton to help you find support and belonging in our community as well as to continue to advocate for changes that help people in the LGBTQ community to feel accepted.
Abby Henry is the cofounder of Queer in Canton.
This article originally appeared on The Repository: Commentary: Acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community in Stark County