White supremacist groups reportedly targeted the home of Ohio’s openly gay candidate for Congress earlier this week.
Columbus’ local NBC affiliate reported yesterday that a Neo-Nazi hate group known as “Patriot Front” left a sticker on a campaign sign in Democratic nominee Rick Neal’s front yard. “Revolution Is Tradition,” read the message left in front of Neal’s German Village home—which he shares with his husband, Tom Grote, and two daughters.
The 51-year-old is running for the U.S. House of Representatives in Ohio’s 15th Congressional district. If elected, he would be the first openly LGBTQ elected official to represent the Buckeye State in the national legislature.
The connection between his sexual orientation and being singled out by a white supremacist group wasn’t lost on Neal.
“I’m the first openly gay nominee running for federal office in Ohio’s history,” the candidate told NBC4 Columbus on Thursday. “I mean, it was bound to get some attention, right?”
Patriot Front is one of Ohio’s most active hate groups, blanketing college campuses with its far, far right ideologies. According to the group’s website, these include the support of an ethnocentric nation-state based on a pan-European ideal, restraining individualism, and furthering the cause of fascism. Its members also reportedly believe that rape is acceptable, so long as the victim is a member of one’s own race.
A March report from the New York Times found that Patriot Front, which split off from Vanguard America following the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, was responsible for 30 percent of white supremacist fliers posted in public places over the past 10 months.
Most recently, the group went on a tagging spree in downtown Columbus during LGBTQ Pride Month, hanging fliers with messages like “Reject Poison” and “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Victory.”
In a statement shared with INTO, the Ohio Democratic Party noted the influx of white supremacy in the state.
“Last summer we called for action to address the fact that our state is an epicenter for hate group activity and hate crimes are disturbingly prevalent in Ohio,” claimed Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper. “The Republican leaders in Columbus and our GOP members of Congress in Washington have done nothing to tamp down the spread of hate-filled rhetoric and intimidation that leads to violence.”
“Now we’re seeing Ohioans who run for office and put themselves forward as public servants are being targeted,” Pepper added.
But what put Neal in the crosshairs isn’t merely that he’s a gay candidate in a state that voted for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton by an eight-point margin in 2016. The former Peace Corps worker—who helped build hospitals in Afghanistan and taught in Morocco—is raising two adopted African-American girls with his husband.
Calling the incident “sad” and “disappointing,” the LGBTQ rights organization Equality Ohio claimed it’s contrary to the values that advocates like Neal fight for every day.
“We’ve been working for years for an Ohio that everyone can call home, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression,” said Executive Director Alana Jochum in a statement. “Central Ohio largely shares in that vision of a bigger world, not a smaller one. I’m proud we have candidates running, like Rick Neal, who have a vision for that bigger, more inclusive world and who are working to make it a reality.”
Prior to his candidacy, Neal fought for the freedom to marry for LGBTQ couples after his Massachusetts wedding wasn’t recognized by the state of Ohio in 2007. His platform includes support for the Equality Act, which would extend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to ban discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation.
Meanwhile, his opponent—four-term Republican Steve Stivers—has received a zero rating from the Human Rights Campaign, its lowest possible score on LGBTQ equality.
Neal claimed he would not allow right-wing hate to stifle his quest to make history in November amid a watershed election year for queer and trans candidates. He claimed that the white supremacist sticker was a “pathetic attempt to intimidate me” into dropping out of the race for Ohio’s 15th district.
“It’s not going to work,” Neal said in a statement. “I’m still running for Congress to fight for better paying jobs, quality, affordable healthcare, and real solutions to Ohio’s opioid crisis on behalf of everyone.”
As INTO previously reported, at least 10 LGBTQ candidates won their primary races in Ohio this year—a landmark total.