As we celebrate Pride month, we also must call attention to the fact that in most parts of Ohio, it’s still legal to discriminate against the LGBTQ community. Ohio remains one of 29 states that leaves LGBTQ people out of laws that provide basic protections. That means that LGBTQ Ohioans can be fired from their job, denied housing or simply refused service just because of who they are or who they love. It’s unacceptable. That is not the Ohio I want to live in.
Numerous states have passed non-discrimination legislation. Unfortunately in Ohio, non-discrimination bills have been introduced and stalled every year for more than a decade. We’ve been fighting for basic protections since 2003! Despite advocates’ best efforts, LGBTQ Ohioans can still get married on Sunday, lose their housing on Monday, be denied employment on Tuesday, and be denied access to public space on Wednesday.
The absence of basic protections can cause feelings of stigma and discrimination within LGBTQ communities. Stigma and discrimination can come in different forms, all of which can negatively impact the individual, economy, and community at large. The legal landscape in Ohio and lack of statewide LGBTQ-inclusive legislation and policies puts our LGBTQ residents at risk for negative outcomes.
However, at this very moment, Ohio legislators have the opportunity to change this reality. For the first time, bills extending basic protections to the LGBTQ community were introduced with bipartisan support in both the Ohio House of Representatives and the Ohio Senate, making 2019 a historic year for LGBTQ advocacy. Our lawmakers have six months left in this legislative session, and we urge them to demonstrate broad support for the adoption of statewide non-discrimination policies. The Ohio Fairness Act would outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in housing, employment, and public accommodations.
Public opinion polls find that people want equality for all. Roughly seven in ten Ohioans report that they favor LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination policies. It also makes economic sense. Adopting anti-discrimination policies is good for business. That is why over 850 businesses have signed on in support of enacting a nondiscrimination bill.
The Ohio Fairness Act has made great progress and come further than ever before in this current legislative session. However, both versions of the bill remain in committee and haven’t been brought before the full chamber, so we have yet to test the widespread support.
Given the lack of action by the state legislature, individual municipalities are stepping up to ensure that LGBTQ communities have basic protections. To date, 30 cities and counties in Ohio have passed local ordinances banning any LGBTQ discrimination (sexual orientation or gender identity) in employment, housing, and public accommodations. As a result of this movement, over a quarter of the state's population is covered by such laws.
And while many things have been put on hold as a result of the coronavirus, advocating locally for LGBTQ Ohioans is not one. Local officials have shown that they will not stop fighting for basic protections – even in the midst of a pandemic – and those efforts are resulting in much needed change. On May 4th, the Gambier Village Council unanimously voted to pass its own version of the Ohio Fairness Act via Zoom. Gambier become the first municipality in Ohio to pass such an ordinance over video conference. More good news marked the start of Pride Month as University Heights became the 30th locality to pass a local, LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance on June 1st.
Now it’s time for our state legislators to follow suit.
As we shared in our previous post, Pride may be cancelled, but our love and support for Ohio’s LGBTQ community is not. Similarly, the uncertainty presented by COVID-19 will not stop our fight for LQBTQ equality. While great work is being done locally, we need to statewide action and solutions. All Ohioans should be protected from discrimination. It’s long overdue. Stand with us and our partners by taking action. Call and email legislators and tell them to advance the Ohio Fairness Act.