Some Ohio legislators have been trying for years to add sexual orientation and gender identity or expression into the state’s anti-discrimination law. The bill, known as the “Ohio Fairness Act,” would make those additions a protected class in employment, housing and other public accommodations.
Right now, a person in Ohio could be fired from their job, kicked out of their apartment, or refused service based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.
“We actually do receive those calls, we have those stories,” said Alana Jochum with Equality Ohio.
The organization is among the advocates defending the rights of LGBTQ people in Ohio. If the “Ohio Fairness Act” passes, those things could no longer legally happen.
“It’s important because LGBTQ Ohioans are still left out of having any kind of protections,” said State Senator Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood). She has reintroduced the legislation in the form of Senate Bill 11. This is the seventh time a bill like this has been introduced in the past 11 years.
Creating a statewide policy
Antonio says the goal is to create a statewide anti-discrimination policy. Right after he was inaugurated in January, Mike DeWine extended an executive order signed just before John Kasich left the governor’s office, extending protections to state workers. And some cities and municipalities have their own local ordinances protecting their residents. But if an LGBTQ person is fired in a city without these local laws?
"There’s really no recourse, there’s really nothing that they can do,” Antonio said.
Jochum with Equality Ohio says it’s not fair to have a patchwork of protections. “We should have a system where everyone has protection no matter where they live, or work, or engage in their daily life in Ohio.”
Jochum says Ohio is one of 28 states without this anti-discrimination language. She says the state is slowly falling behind. “This is a non-partisan issue. It is a human rights and a civil rights issue, and a business issue for our economy.”
Opponents see conflicts
But there are people who oppose the bill, saying that it will actually create more problems for others especially when it comes to religious beliefs.
Aaron Baer with the conservative organization Citizens for Community Values lists off his own scenarios. He cites a faith-based women’s homeless shelter in Anchorage, Alaska locked in a lawsuit for barring a transgender woman, and the high-profile case in Colorado when a baker refused to make a cake for a same-sex couple.
Baer said laws like the “Ohio Fairness Act” leave the door open to conflicts. “They’re so vague that they create a lot of problems in communities. They create a lot of problems for ministries, for businesses, for individuals, for schools, so we would rather just say ‘hey, this isn’t needed.’”
Baer adds that he believes employment, housing, and services discrimination against LGBTQ people is not a widespread problem. “At the end of the day, we don’t have people being fired for being gay, at least not on a massive level. Most of the time when you hear these stories there’s some other factor going on but I don’t know of a single business owner in any part of Ohio that is actively looking to not hire somebody because they’re gay or serve someone because they’re gay. Every business owner I know wants to get as many customers in the door as possible.”
But Jochum said this is a prevalent issue in Ohio. However, she said people may not feel comfortable speaking out because of the lack of pro-LGBTQ policies. That being said, Jochum and Senator Antonio do not believe this bill will lead to a groundswell of litigation in Ohio.
“Now there’s a line in the sand for people not to be discriminated against. It raises the bar on our behavior. It doesn’t open the floodgates to complaints,” Antonia said.
The bill is getting a big boost from the business community. The Ohio Chamber of Commerce along with hundreds of companies are calling on lawmakers to pass the bill. They say it makes the state more attractive to new companies looking to move and to a younger workforce.