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November 21, 2008

Cleveland to add
TG non-bias and
partner registry

Cleveland--City Council is considering measures to make this the third Ohio city with a domestic partner registry and the fifth to protect transgender citizens from discrimination.

An ordinance to create the registry was introduced at the November 17 council meeting by openly gay Ward 14 councilor Joe Santiago and 12 other members.

Like registries created in Cleveland Heights in 2003 and Toledo last year, the Cleveland proposal confers no rights, but allows couples who share a common residence, an intimate relationship, and who are responsible for each other’s welfare, to file it with the city. The certificate can then be used to obtain benefits from other institutions such as employers, insurance companies and health care providers.

Cleveland will charge couples $55 to cover the cost of maintaining the registry, compared to $25 in Toledo and $50 in Cleveland Heights. Like the other two, Cleveland’s registry will be open to both same-sex and opposite sex couples, and to non-residents.

With 13 of the 21 council members signed on as co-sponsors, proponents are expecting passage by December 8. Mayor Frank Jackson, who did not return calls for comment, is expected to sign it.

Of the 103 citizens in the council meeting, about 70 wore rainbow stickers supporting the ordinance handed out by Cleveland LGBT Center director Sue Doerfer, as did some members of council.

Joining Santiago as sponsors are councilors Joe Cimperman of Ward 13, Matt Zone of Ward 17, Jay Westbrook (18), Dona Brady (19), Robert White III (2), Anthony Brancatelli (12), Kenneth Johnson (4), Brian Cummins (15), Mamie Mitchell (6), Kevin Kelley (16), Kevin Conwell (9), and Terrell Pruitt (1).

Westbrook, who spoke at the first Cleveland Pride festival in 1989 as city council president, borrowed a phrase from Dr. Martin Luther King and President-elect Barack Obama, telling the council that they must act with the “fierce urgency of now” to pass the registry.

“A role of government is to sanction good strong relationships,” said Westbrook, “people who make commitments.”

“It’s the right thing to do,” Westbrook added.

Cimperman echoed the sentiment. “We could have done this ten years ago, if the time was right,” he said. Zone, who celebrated his 18th wedding anniversary that day, pointed out that while he could marry and have it recognized, his late brother Marty could not marry his partner.

“All this registry does is respect people,” Zone said, appealing to colleagues who may be struggling with it.

Conwell said he cannot correlate passage of the registry with the civil rights movement of 40 years ago, but he agrees with it, calling it a human rights issue.

“I have family who are gay,” Mitchell remarked. “You can’t deny your own family.”

The ordinance will have a hearing on the morning of Monday, November 24. Those opposed as well as those in favor are expected to speak on it.

The ordinance was part of an effort begun nearly two years ago involving Santiago, Zone, Cimperman, and LGBT community leaders Patrick Shepherd, Sue Doerfer, Mary Zaller, Keli Zehnder, and Tim Downing.

The group hopes the series of proposals will lead to stronger human rights measures for the city, adding transgender people to those protected from discrimination, city charter changes, and domestic partner benefits to city employees.

Gender identity to be added

A second ordinance that will come before council was introduced quietly by Santiago in August. That ordinance will add gender identity as a protected class every place in city law where other categories such as race, religion, sex and sexual orientation are currently included.

That ordinance has nine co-sponsors.

“Some things you do on the quiet side,” said Santiago as to why he did not announce the introduction of the ordinance.

“I needed to get the support of more members of council first,” Santiago said, adding that the city law department is giving the measure the last look to make sure it is correct, so it can move through council.

“Hearings will educate members and we will win support,” Santiago said, expecting the gender identity addition to be more difficult to pass than the registry.

Cleveland’s current equal rights ordinance was passed in 1994. It protects from discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations based on sexual orientation, among other factors.

Similar measures exist in 14 other Ohio cities, and four of these--Cincinnati, Toledo, Dayton and Oxford--include transgender people.

In 1996, the Cleveland measure was changed to make job discrimination a criminal offense rather than a civil one. The only one in the nation to do so, the intent was to have complaints pursued by public prosecutors rather than by private lawsuits, which victims might not be able to afford.

But the standard of proof also got raised to the one required to convict a criminal. As such, the ordinance has been nearly impossible to enforce.

Santiago’s proposal returns the measure to a civil one.

City council spoke against discrimination by sexual orientation and gender identity a week earlier when it voted 19 to 1 to support the Equal Housing and Employment Non-Discrimination Act currently before the Ohio legislature.

That evening, Council also passed a resolution honoring November 17as the tenth annual Transgender Day of Remembrance and those trying to advance transgender equality. It also passed 19-1.

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