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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
March 17, 2006

Cincinnati passes LGBT human rights ordinance

City becomes Ohio�s 13th with such a measure

Cincinnati--City council ended a 13-year detour for the human rights ordinance on March 15 when it passed an amendment restoring �sexual orientation� and adding transgender people to the measure.

The measure passed 8 to 1, with only Republican Councilor Chris Monzel voting against it.

Council�s Law and Public Safety committee approved the amendment 5 to 0 the day before, with Monzel abstaining.

Voters cleared the way for the change in November 2004 by repealing Article 12 of the city charter, which prohibited such a measure.

Article 12 was passed by voters in 1993 in reaction to the city�s original human rights ordinance, passed the year before, which included sexual orientation.

With the article in place, council repealed the sexual orientation part in 1995, leaving in place the measure�s protections against housing, employment and public accommodation discrimination on the basis of religion, gender, race, color, age, disability, marital status and ethnic, national, or Appalachian regional origin.

The new amendment was introduced March 7 by councilor David Crowley, who said he has two gay children. Councilors Laketa Cole, Chris Bortz, John Cranley and vice mayor Jim Tarbell co-sponsored it. Bortz and Tarbell are members of Cincinnati�s Charter Party. The others are Democrats.

The LGBT advocacy group Equality Cincinnati was involved in the ordinance�s development.

Council�s other two Democrats, Cecil Thomas and Jeff Berding, along with Republican Leslie Ghiz, also voted to pass the measure.

�We have tri-partisan support for this,� said Equality Cincinnati president Gary Wright, who also led the campaign to repeal Article 12.

100 people at committee hearing

The March 14 committee hearing was where all of the discussion about the ordinance took place.

Wright said that Monzel announced during the committee meeting that his opposition was based on an intention to introduce another ordinance protecting �all law-abiding citizens from all types of discrimination.�

Courts routinely dismiss claims brought under such vague laws.

According to Wright, about 100 people, nearly all supporters of the ordinance, packed council chambers for the committee hearing. Twenty spoke in favor of it. Council members not on the committee were present, too, and all spoke in favor of it.

Wright said that two people spoke against the measure. One he described as a Walnut Hills landlord concerned that he would be forced to rent to gay people if it passed. The other was a member of the group Black Fist, who said that it should be opposed because gays don�t do anything to help blacks.

Thomas, the committee�s chair, is a friend of Cincinnati transsexual police officer Philecia Barnes, who won a federal discrimination suit in which the city claimed it was permitted to discriminate against Barnes based on her gender identity because there was no law prohibiting it.

Thomas, who also talked about pouring concrete driveways with Barnes, used his friend�s case as an example of why the ordinance is necessary.

Barnes� attorney Alphonse Gerhardstein also spoke in favor of it.

Gerhardstein also represented citizens who unsuccessfully challenged Article 12�s constitutionality ten years ago.

Wright told the committee, �The people�s vote [repealing Article 12] gave back to you the power to lead us forward as our elected representatives. And in 2005, when they elected you, a council and a mayor that did not shy from standing up for fairness, the people said once again that they wanted to live in a city that included everyone.�

Dr. Mitchel Livingston, chair of the National Conference for Community and Justice of Greater Cincinnati, told the committee that passing the ordinance would keep the city competitive with neighboring cities that already have similar ordinances.

�At the moment, Cincinnati is at a disadvantage in our regional marketplace by being the only major city without HRO protection for gays and transgender people,� said Livingston. �So, to be fair, to be competitive, let�s approve of this proposed amendment. Let�s honor the mandate of the repeal of Article 12 and demonstrate that we are a community that values and protects all of its citizens, not just some of them.�

Douglas Kelley told the committee of his experience with discrimination on the perception by a former employer that he is gay. Kelley said he was forced to quit the job due to lack of recourse to fight for his rights.

Paula Ison, who is transgender, took issue with an article in the Cincinnati Enquirer that quoted some members of council saying they support the ordinance even though they know of few instances where people are fired for being gay.

�Perhaps that is true for gays,� said Ison, �but that is hardly the case for transgendered people who are frequently summarily fired when they attempt to come out. This is especially true in �employment at will� states like Ohio.�

John Boggess said he and his partner chose to stay in Cincinnati because voters repealed Article 12, and it was assumed that council would reinstate the protections.

�We are not here to cause discomfort or to make a statement,� said Boggess. �We are here to mow our grass, cart our trash to the curb and keep the house painted. We shovel the neighbors� walks and help support local schools just like everyone else.�

�Shame on You� advertisement

The day of the committee hearing, Equal Rights Not Special Rights, the group that passed the initiative creating Article 12, published a full-page ad in the Enquirer.

Under �Shame on You� in large type, it attacked the ordinance�s sponsors as not addressing the �real issues� facing the city like �crime, economic development and racial unity.�

The ad asked, �Why are to pushing transgender rights? Your proposed ordinance will grant special rights to persons who identify as transgendered, lesbians, and homosexuals. That will only serve to divide a city that needs unity.�

The ad insisted that local, state and national laws �already provide equal treatment for every citizen of Cincinnati. Even prominent homosexual advocates admit that discrimination based on sexual orientation is virtually non-existent.�

�Are you really pushing for same-sex marriage?� the ad continued.

�Cincinnatians need to know this; Everywhere same-sex marriage has been pushed, unfair ordinances like this were one of the first steps used.�

The ad then made a call to �put special rights on the ballot�--which was the theme of the 1993 campaign to pass Article 12.

Equal Rights Not Special Rights is an enterprise of Citizens for Community Values of suburban Sharonville. Its president, Phil Burress of West Chester, threatened to go to the voters again if council passed the ordinance. He has not said whether he would advocating another charter amendment or a referendum to repeal the new ordinance.

Wright said either one would fail.

�The city has already had that conversation, and people support this ordinance,� said Wright.

�Cincinnati is a different place now and the mainstream leaders are ready to pass this and move on,� Wright said. �They are not going to be bullied by Burress.�

Wright said Burress is no paper tiger, and that he has a lot of money and can pay people to put something on the ballot. But Wright is convinced that the ordinance will stand this time.

A dozen other Ohio cities--Cleveland, Columbus, Toledo, Youngstown, Athens, Oberlin, Yellow Springs, East Cleveland, Cleveland Heights, North Olmsted, Lakewood and Westlake--cover sexual orientation in their equal rights ordinances. Toledo�s, like the new Cincinnati measure, also covers transgender people. No federal or Ohio state law includes either one.

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