Columbus--The October 20 meeting of the Community Relations Commission, the body that oversees civil rights in the city, saw conflict between two lesbian and gay members and the commission chair over the addition of transgendered people to the city�s nondiscrimination ordinances.
Brian Shinn and Chris Cozad, two commission members, want gender identity added to the classes in the civil rights code, while commission chair Bob Short, whose term ends in January, refused to allow the issue to be brought up in the meeting.
The commission is working on the first major and complete overhaul of Columbus� civil rights code since 1993. Racial profiling was added in the late 1990s, but this is the first top-to-bottom revamp in 12 years.
�What he did, I consider it problematic parliamentarily,� said Cozad. However, �I consider it a bump in the road, not a crisis.�
She pointed out that the new ordinance is currently being written by the city attorney�s office, and that two previous votes in the commission had suggested including gender identity.
�I think it�s unfortunate that he chose to do it in this particular way,� she said of Short�s dismissal of the issue.
�It�s not going away,� Shinn said. �I�m not sure of the context, whether this will come up for a vote in the Community Relations Commission again or be added later.�
He does believe, though, that as the city�s human rights arm, it is the �most appropriate venue.�
Shinn noted that the commission needs to see what the city attorney�s office releases before a definite plan can be made.
�I would leave it to the city attorney�s office to interpret under the commission�s rules what the content will be,� he said.
The commission�s next meeting will be on November 17, and their December meeting is usually replaced with a holiday get-together. If the city attorney�s office has not completed work on the revision within a week, the panel won�t be able to take it up again until after Short has left the commission in January.
�We�re looking at a lot of things,� Cozad added, �including adding civil penalties, age and disability.�
Currently, said Cozad, the city�s civil rights code, which includes sexual orientation, only has criminal penalties for discrimination in housing, employment and other provision of goods and services.
The commission investigates claims of discrimination. Short argued that the commission didn�t have the resources to also examine claims made on the basis of gender identity and that the proper venue for adding the class was in city council.
However, Mary Jo Hudson, who retained her seat on council in this week�s election, wants to see it come through the proper channels, in this case commission recommendations via the mayor�s office.
�I�m hopeful that the mayor will pick it up,� she said. �My understanding indicated that he will take it up. I�m hoping it comes from the mayor because then it will have some immediate broad-based support.�
The commission sends its recommendations to the mayor�s office, which then takes them to the city council. Hudson, Columbus� first openly lesbian council member, believes if Mayor Michael Coleman brings the matter up, it will send a strong message to the city council.
Cozad is optimistic that transgendered people will be protected in the state capital.
�There�s a fair amount of support for it,� she noted.
Presently, among the 11 Ohio cities that include sexual orientation in their equal rights ordinances, only Toledo also includes gender identity.
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