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On a recent Saturday morning on a street corner in downtown Youngstown, lesbian couples took part in a commitment ceremony.
The couples signed wedding certificates because gay marriages are unrecognized and illegal in Ohio.
The eclectic group included some with pink hair, some wearing wedding dresses and others wearing tuxedos or polo shirts.
“There’s always a man (who’s) part of the girl relationship and all of the guys, there’s usually a more feminine guy,” said James Vivo, a gay man who has run a floral shop on Youngstown’s South Side for nearly 30 years.
Vivo and his partner live in the neighborhood.
“Gay in Youngstown is a lot nicer than it was because it’s not like there are more of us but we’re more known now because people aren’t afraid to say ‘I’m gay,’” Vivo said.
Youngstown has its own gay pride festival, which was held three weeks ago. The commitment ceremony was part of it.
Anita Davis runs the festival. She said it’s easier being gay in bigger cities.
“In Youngstown, I think this is still something new for a lot of folks, particularly to see a gay pride festival in Youngstown,” she said.
Davis is also a Youngstown police officer. She said she had more difficulty being a woman when she started at the department than when she came out as gay.
“I have not had any negativity directed toward me because I’m gay at the Youngstown Police Department,” she said.
Youngstown has four gay bars. But gays don’t tend to all live in one area, at least not anymore.
“There was an area, they called it Gaytown because there was a landlord on the North Side, he bought the houses and he rented them out to gay people,” Vivo said.
One couple, Evan Murphy and her wife Misty Miller-Murphy, of New Castle, attended the festival. Murphy said she used to be married to a man, her best friend who knew she was gay, to avoid the pain that comes with being gay.
But after searching for 16 years, she finally allowed herself to be married to another woman. She said she and her wife were married in New York and had ceremonies in Rome, Ohio and elsewhere.
Murphy and her wife said they believe they were discriminated against at a New Castle bar that, once they recognized the two were a couple, put up a sign saying no public kissing was allowed. Murphy said she and Miller-Murphy were never overtly affectionate.
“She loves me,” Murphy said. “No one has to make a judgment about that. No one has to come into our home.”