Commentary

08.25.17

LGBT Advocacy In Real Time

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Remember the empowering and beautiful slogan that went viral in June 2015, “Love Wins?” Can you believe it’s been more than two years since the U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, confirming the constitutional right to marriage equality? While this historic victory for LGBT rights marked a significant step in the right direction, there are still many parts of the United States where gay and transgender people can be unfairly fired from their jobs, evicted from their homes, or turned away by a business, simply because of who they are or who they love.

Unfortunately, in 2017, we still lack a federal law that would protect people from being denied housing or public accommodations because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, which is why it’s so important for us to strengthen, enhance, and utilize state and local protections.

A patchwork of protections

In the United States, an LGBT person’s zip code can determine whether they are legally protected from discrimination. In 2017, we still lack a federal law that would protect people from being denied housing or public accommodations because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, which is why it’s so important for us to strengthen, enhance, and utilize state and local protections.

Only 20 states (and the District of Columbia) currently have laws prohibiting employment, housing, and public accommodations discrimination, on the basis of both sexual orientation and gender identity. Two additional states have anti-discrimination laws that are inclusive of sexual orientation, but not gender identity.

Ohio is one of 28 states that have no statewide laws protecting the LGBT community against workplace and housing discrimination. Ohio only protects state employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation, and doesn’t extend this protection to gender identity. The good news is, that nineteen Ohio cities have passed their own comprehensive anti-discrimination ordinances, and an additional eleven counties and cities have instituted limited protections for municipal employees. But on the flip side, that still leaves hundreds of municipalities in which gay and transgender Ohioans can be fired from their job, denied housing, or simply refused service just because of who they are, with no legal recourse.

Why we need non-discrimination protections

It’s simple: all people, should be treated fairly and equally under the law. All people means all people and it should go without saying that this does in fact include our LGBT friends, neighbors, coworkers, and family members. When it comes to being able to earn a living, find housing, or receive services from businesses or government offices, they should be treated like anyone else. The unfortunate reality, however, is that anti-LGBT bias still exists in our society, and continues to impact many aspects of gay and transgender people’s lives. For example, studies show that more than a third of gay Americans have experienced adverse treatment in the workplace because of their sexual orientation, and a shocking 90% of transgender people have endured work-related harassment or mistreatment based on their gender identity.

Gay and transgender people and their families need clear, consistent protections against discrimination. It is time for the Ohio legislature to finally take a stand for equality, and pass a bill that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the classes protected under state civil rights laws. Two such bills – HB 160 and SB 100 – have already been introduced this session. Unfortunately, politicians determined to resist forward progress have also introduced legislation that could open the door for discrimination against LGBTQ people under the guise of protecting religious liberty.

Now that we’ve been through this process, we want to arm you with the information and skills you need to put Cleveland’s anti-discrimination protections into action, whether you are advocating for yourself, a loved one, or a client.

Putting existing protections to work

In addition to advocating for the passage of consistent legal protections at federal, state, and local levels, it is critical that LGBT people and their allies know what steps to take if they experience discrimination in cities that already have local protections in place.

The ACLU of Ohio recently helped a transgender woman assert her rights under Cleveland’s public accommodations ordinance, after she and her friend were denied service at a local Family Dollar store because of their gender presentation. At the end of the administrative complaint process, the City of Cleveland Fair Housing Board ordered the defendants to pay our client a total of $15,000 in punitive damages, and to design and implement a yearly cultural competency training program for its staff.

Now that we’ve been through this process, we want to arm you with the information and skills you need to put Cleveland’s anti-discrimination protections into action, whether you are advocating for yourself, a loved one, or a client. Join us for a two-part training on September 8, 2017, featuring Ryan Clopton-Zymler, Community Relations Manager at the LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland, and Elizabeth Bonham, Staff Attorney for the ACLU of Ohio.

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