Emerson College alumnus Michael Rulli ’91, is in his first term as a state senator in Ohio. Rulli is a Republican and has taken a stance to support LGBTQ rights.
By David Ertischek ’01
Not all Ohioans are currently protected against discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression, but state Senator Michael Rulli ’91 wants to do something about that.
“I find [the fact] that we are talking about it … absurd.” said Rulli, who is the only Republican state senator currently supporting the legislation. “If I can legislate and make it official and let people know how awesome Ohio is, and that we welcome you, and we are not going to put up with any bias in any shape or form [then let’s do it].”
Ohio did take a step forward in December 2018 when Republican Governor John Kasich signed an executive order banning LGBTQ discrimination, but only for state employees.
The Ohio Fairness Act’s primary sponsor is Democratic state Senator Nickie Antonio, and seven other Democratic lawmakers have sponsored it. Rulli said he’s in talks with other state Senate Republicans about the bill, and expects some will vote in favor of it. He also believes that Republican Governor Mike DeWine would sign it into law.
“We need to do [the Fairness Act] so that if you’re a company in Ohio and you’re going to discriminate, we are going to lay the hammer on you. We’re not going to put up with it. … In 2019, it’s unacceptable,” said Rulli.
Rulli is a first-term state senator, and said Antonio approached him after he got elected to see if he was genuine about supporting LGBTQ rights. He hadn’t focused on the issue while running for office, but spoke about it publicly, including at a barbecue fundraiser with an invitation list of 400 people. Only three attendees of that barbecue contacted Rulli to chastise him about his stance, and Rulli has used that trio (without naming them) to push for the state GOP to support LGBTQ rights.
“My opinion is we need to expunge those people from the Republican Party. That is hate, and I won’t put up with that in any form,” said Rulli.
Rulli knows he’s bucking the trend among Republicans nationally by actively supporting LGBTQ rights. Estimating that 95 percent of his family and friends are Democrats, and that both he and his wife have many gay family members, it begs the question — why is he a Republican?
“If I’m going to strip it down: Less government,” Rulli said. “When it’s tied together to talk about freedom for LGBTQ, it’s the same freedom if someone believes that a rock is their god, or Jesus, or Muhammad. As long as you are free to believe it,” said Rulli.
He’s also putting his money where his mouth is — actually that of his family business, Rulli Bros. markets, which has been around for more than 100 years. Rulli Bros., of which Rulli is director of operations, is one of 400 Ohioan companies to join Ohio Business Competes, a nonpartisan organization that supports “achieving nondiscrimination policies at the state level in order to attract the best talent.” Other notable businesses include Proctor & Gamble, Ohio Health, General Electric, United Way, Huntington Bank, and AT&T.
“The Republican Party needs to walk the walk and make the tent bigger,” said Rulli. “Everyone in my life who is part of [the LGBTQ] community is totally an overachiever and strives to live their life to the fullest. I find it fascinating. They are the ultimate citizens of Ohio. They are part of our churches and our schools. They are cornerstones.”