Wheeling City Council Chambers Overflow with LGBTQ+ Supporters
During the City Council's last meeting of May, Wheeling residents flooded the chambers to show their support for the LGBTQ+ community and the upcoming Pride on the Plaza event on June 10
The Wheeling City Council met for its last meeting of May with what may be record attendance by the community. Unlike previous times when the chambers were full for proclamations alone, ultimately emptying out after they are delivered, this meeting saw members of the public present for the entire meeting. The entire council was in attendance, as well as many influential Wheeling-ites were too—including Delegate Shawn Fluharty and former state Senator Owens Brown. As Del Fluharty entered the chambers he asked of someone, “I heard something big was happening. Did I miss anything?”
The Friendlier City Project—a local non-profit whose mission is to build and foster a thriving LGBTQ+ community in Wheeling—put the call out on social media for supporters to show up at the council meeting in response to Carlee Dittmar, Chair of the Ohio County Republican Party, who has used the public comment period in previous meetings to speak against the upcoming Pride on the Plaza on June 10. She has also spoke against LGBTQ+ people in general, attacked Councilor Rosemary Ketchum, Ward 3, repeatedly, and is well-known in the community for her conspiracy-theory and hate-filled social media posts. Seven members of the public were signed up to speak—five using their allotted three minutes to speak in support of LGBTQ+ people and the event.
Johnny Haught, owner of Ohio Valley MMA, was first to speak wearing a shirt with rainbow colors that said “bully this.” Haught previously volunteered his services as an MMA instructor to provide protection to LGBTQ+ events after a March drag brunch at Primanti Brothers was cancelled due to threats of violence. Haught said, “love is love. No longer will we allow fear and hatred to spread in the community.” He said the City of Wheeling has the chance to earn the moniker ‘The Friendly City’ by supporting the event.
“We can start to tear down the stigma in our society” against LGBTQ+ people, Haught said. He said the goal of events like Pride on the Plaza was to show kids it’s okay to be who you are and implored the community to “take humanity back from being political issues,” saying “we are not divided.” Haught concluded by pledging the support of the Ohio Valley MMA group saying they will ensure attendees of the event are safe, adding that “the event will go on.” The audience roared with cheers.
Susan Hagan asked of the council, speaking about a woman and known bigot who speaks frequently, “aren’t y’all tired of hearing the same things every meeting?” Hagan noted there wasn’t even a drag show scheduled for the Pride on the Plaza event. “This isn’t about the children. These are the same people who are against splash pads.” Hagan concluded by saying, “If you don’t want your children at a pride festival don’t take them.” The audience, again, erupted with cheers.
Mikaya Green, co-founder of the Friendlier City Project, made clear the Pride on the Plaza event was separate from past events—notably the Ohio Valley Pride’s 2022 Pride Parade which received a lot of pushback and anger regarding a drag performer’s outfit and choice of music. Green stated the goal of FCP was to ensure LGBTQ+ voices were heard and reflected in decisions made by the city government. “Having an inclusive community is a big deal for keeping people here,” Green said, adding that recent events in the Ohio Valley—like the cancelled Primanti Brothers drag brunch—have caused discomfort and fear in the LGBTQ+ community.
Green said previous events hosted by the Friendlier City Project have received huge turnouts, causing the group to look for bigger venues. She said the event has become larger than expected because, “some people think being queer is a political statement,” making pushback from a vocal minority inevitable. “Wheeling has shown us that the locals are strongly in support. We love Wheeling,” Green said. She finished by saying if anyone has questions about the event to reach out to the group on Facebook.
Carlee Dittmar rose to speak, as she does every meeting. Clearly flustered, she first spoke out against Councilor Ben Seidler, Ward 2, saying it was his fault that she was receieving pushback after he called her a “hater” in the paper. Dittmar was referencing a piece in the Intelligencer which had her May 2 rant to council published nearly word-for-word. At this meeting Councilor Seidler abruptly left the meeting as she rose, slamming the door behind him. He told reporters that if Dittmar represented the modern Republican party then he would gladly change his registration.
Dittmar gave her comments while staring at the crowd, targeting other speakers by name as she did so. Members of the crowd asked if she was addressing the council or the community, to which Mayor Glenn Elliott asked the audience to hold their comments while others spoke. Despite this, many members continued to pushback against what she was saying, with some booing her and others laughing at her statements. Dittmar finished by handing a papers containing what she claims to be threats to the Chief of Police at Wheeling PD.
The message of the public comment period was loud and clear—the people in attendance were overwhelmingly in support of the LGBTQ+ community and the Pride on the Plaza event. After the meeting folks filled the hallways continuing their conversations. More media were present at the meeting than ever before, likely representing half a dozen organizations including the Hudson Household Editorial.
This publication is unabashed in its support of the Pride on the Plaza event, which will happen on June 10 from 11:00 to 9:00 at the Market St Plaza in downtown Wheeling. We encourage our readers to support the Friendlier City Project by donating to the non-profit through their website and by following their social media pages on Facebook and Instagram.
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