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August 1, 2008

Equality Ohio drops its
opposition to sick leave act

Columbus--Ohio’s statewide LGBT advocacy group has backed off its opposition to a sick leave initiative likely to be on the November ballot.

Equality Ohio’s board of directors voted at their July 19 meeting to change its position on the proposed Healthy Families Act from “active opposition” to “neutrality.”

The act would require Ohio employers with 25 or more workers to provide at least seven paid sick days a year. This includes leave to care for a legally married spouse who is ill--but not an unmarried partner, either same-sex or opposite sex. A non-biological parent can also take time off to care for a child.

Ohioans for Healthy Families, a coalition led by the Service Employees International Union, drew up the initiative and is circulating petitions, which they must submit by August 4.

Lawmakers rejected the proposal in May, which prompted the petition drive. If there are enough valid signatures, the matter will go to the voters.

Besides SEIU, the measure’s co-sponsors include the American Association of Retired Persons, Progress Ohio, the Ohio Democratic Party and other labor and workers’ rights groups that often support LGBT equality.

However, Equality Ohio voted to oppose the measure in June, 2007, because its authors at SEIU excluded using sick leave to care for an unmarried domestic partner.

The Ohio initiative is part of a national effort whose model bill includes domestic partners.

SEIU spokesperson Jennifer Farmer said last year they were removed from the Ohio version to make the measure easier to pass. Most of the coalition partners were not part of the discussions leading to this.

Initially, SEIU also noted that Ohio’s marriage ban amendment might prohibit including sick leave to care for a partner. They abandoned that when the Ohio Supreme Court ruled last summer that it only bars marriage and civil unions. But they didn’t change the bill.

Equality Ohio Public Policy Committee chair Douglas Braun said director Lynne Bowman met with SEIU “ten days or a week” before the July 19 board meeting and came back with the “suggestion to go to neutral.”

At press time, Bowman was on vacation and unavailable for comment.

However, Braun said that the board’s decision came after a long debate and was “not staff directed.”

“It’s likely to pass,” Braun said of the sick leave act. “Our people are left out, but it will help some people, even gays and lesbians, only as individuals.”

“The point [of opposing the measure] was to let SEIU know that we didn’t appreciate that no one in the LGBT community was contacted before they made the language choice they did,” said Braun, adding, “It looked odd having us on the opposite side.”

“We did not achieve the language changes, but we educated members of the coalition,” Braun said. “We’re not going to spend volunteer time opposing this.”

A group called Ohioans to Protect Jobs and Fair Benefits formed this month to oppose the Healthy Families Act. It is comprised of business and trade associations.

These groups oppose the measure for different reasons than Equality Ohio had.

Asked if that difference created an opportunity to point out LGBT job discrimination and talk about passing the Equal Housing and Employment Act, which is Equality Ohio’s legislative priority, Braun said, “No one thought about that.”

“The education piece is over with,” Braun said. “No one else is coming on board with us at this point.”

Several groups backed away from HFA last year after Equality Ohio opposed it. The largest of these was NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio.

NARAL director Kellie Copeland said Equality Ohio did not contact NARAL before changing its position.

Copeland said SEIU is not happy with NARAL, either, “but they heard us and we stood by our principles.”

Copeland said that since NARAL’s position on the matter was a withdrawal of previous support--not opposition--that they were already neutral, in effect, and would remain so.

“We can’t endorse it,” said Copeland, “It doesn’t include everyone, and that’s important to us.”

Once passed by the voters, the measure goes back to the legislature where it can be amended in minor ways and given a section in the Ohio Revised Code.

Braun said Equality Ohio will use that opportunity to try to persuade lawmakers to include unmarried couples.

“That stands about as much chance as a snowball in hell,” Braun said, “but we’ll go through the motions.”

New deputy director hired

The board also announced the creation of a new position, deputy director, and the hire of Columbus native Peter Caborn to fill it.

Caborn will be responsible for oversight of Equality Ohio’s administrative operations and fiscal development, freeing Bowman’s time to do more programmatic and political work.

Caborn was involved with founding of Equality Ohio in 2004 before joining the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation as its director of major gifts and membership.

“After having a hand in the beginnings of Equality Ohio just a few years ago, I am thrilled to return to Ohio to work professionally for this strong, strategic organization”, said Caborn.

“There is so much opportunity in Ohio. I’m honored to be able to add my knowledge and experience to the great team of people who strive to make equality in Ohio a reality every day,” Caborn said.

Caborn’s hire brings Equality Ohio’s professional staff to six.

Goodbye to a founding board member

The July 19 meeting was the last for Equality Ohio board chair Tom Grote of Columbus.

Grote is one of the organization’s founders, and is arguably the most responsible for its successful launch. He has chaired the board of Equality Ohio or its sister group, Equality Ohio Education Fund, since their inception.

Grote is credited with pulling together the start-up resources, working closely with Bowman, nurturing the organization’s vision, and with mentoring the young board.

He stepped down to work on a new business venture and to spend more time with his partner Rick Neal on growing their family.

“Although I will miss the day-to-day involvement with Equality Ohio, it is time for me to move on to the next phase of my life,” said Grote. “Together we have created a strong organization for the future; Equality Ohio is in good hands.”

Grote is replaced as board chair by the Rev. Dr. Michael Castle of Centerville, near Dayton, where he is pastor of Cross Creek Community Church, United Church of Christ. He has been involved with Equality Ohio since October 2005.

“As the founder of a progressive and justice-seeking church, I understand the power the grassroots voice brings to advocacy work “, said Castle. “My partner Dan and I look forward to the day when our relationship to each other and to our son will be fully recognized by the state of Ohio.”

In other business, the Equality Ohio board welcomed Debra Anne Johnson of Cincinnati, as a new member. The Equality Ohio Education Fund also welcomed Paul Feeney, immediate past president of Columbus Gay Men’s Chorus board of directors, to its board.



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