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May 9, 2008

Lucas bans job bias for county workers

Commission joins Toledo council in backing state bill

Toledo--Northwest Ohio has delivered a one-two punch for LGBT equality, with Lucas County extending nondiscrimination protections to its LGBT employees and joining the city of Toledo in supporting the state Equal Housing and Employment Act.

Toledo City Council unanimously approved a resolution endorsing EHEA on April 29. The bill, in the state legislature, would prohibit employment and housing discrimination by sexual orientation or gender identity. The Lucas County Commission followed on May 6 with a 3-0 vote to endorse the measure.

At the same meeting, commissioners unanimously passed the county worker non-discrimination measure.

During the meeting, Lucas commissioner Ben Konop pointed to Richard Florida’s book Who’s Your City. The follow-up to Florida’s Rise of the Creative Class, it repeats the author’s arguments that creativity bolsters economic development, and Florida firmly believes that protections for LGBT people help attract the “creative class” to an area.

 “I think it was the right thing to do from two perspectives,” Konop told the Gay People’s Chronicle. “Number one, I think morally it’s hard to argue. People should be judged for the job they’re doing instead of their sexual orientation or gender identity, so it protects county employees from being judged unfairly.”

“There’s an economic benefit to our community from this, too,” he continued. “There’s been substantial social science research showing the more a community is diverse and accepting of sexual orientation and gender identities, the better the community does economically. We in Toledo are in very difficult economic times, so we need all the help we can get.”

“I think we need to establish ourselves as one of the premier communities in the country in terms of diversity and tolerance of people of all different views and backgrounds,” he concluded. “We going to take it very seriously and make sure it’s abided by.”

Michelle Stecker, interim executive director of Equality Toledo, noted that the welfare of the LGBT community is “tied to the economic development of northwest Ohio,” but also said that the area enjoys an embarrassment of riches in terms of forward-thinking elected officials.

Franklin County, which includes Columbus, also protects county employees on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, while Cuyahoga and Summit counties (containing Cleveland and Akron) protect for sexual orientation alone, according to Kim Welter of Equality Ohio.

The four counties join 11 Ohio cities that include sexual orientation in their public worker job policies. Eight of these cities also protect private employees, and four of those include gender identity. The state of Ohio also bars discrimination in state employment by sexual orientation or gender identity.

Franklin County has also passed a resolution supporting EHEA, which was introduced in the Ohio House in March by Democrat Dan Stewart and Republican Jon Peterson, and in the Senate by Democrat Dale Miller.

Lucas County Commission president Tina Skeldon Wozniak told the Toledo Blade, “I don’t believe we practice discrimination, but I think it’s important to make it recognizable within the policy. I think it’s the right thing to do, but I also believe communities that are progressive in their policies toward protection of people’s rights have stronger communities.”

Stecker was pleased with the three unanimous decisions.

“We’re so fortunate,” she said. “In Toledo, our leaders are really supportive of LGBT civil rights, and Toledo has become a model city in Ohio in terms of reaching out to the LGBT community.”

She enumerated the ways in which LGBT citizens are protected in Toledo.

“We have a domestic partnership registry, we have cutting-edge transgender protections, our large employers offer protections for LGBT employees,” she said. “It came as no surprise that the county commissioners and city council were unanimous, because they are our allies.”

“I’m thrilled they went on the record to support EHEA and I’m thankful for their leadership,” she concluded. “It’s because we have such wonderful political allies. When we go to them with our issues, we know they’re going to say yes to us, we know they’re going to be supportive.”

“They don’t just give it lip service, they show us by their actions that LGBT people are truly welcome here in northwest Ohio,” she posited. “That’s why Toledo is such a good place to live for LGBT people.”

“We’ve been getting phone calls from people in other areas asking, tell us about Toledo, should we be moving there, and that’s exciting as well,” Stecker noted.


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