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August 28, 2009

 

Two cities pass equality measures on same night

Bowling Green, Ohio--City Council added sexual orientation and gender identity to two ordinances barring discrimination, one in housing and the other in jobs and public accommodations.

The debate was raucous before the August 17 votes. The amendment to the housing discrimination ordinance was unanimously in favor, while the other passed on a 6-1 vote.

The same evening, Cleveland Heights’ city council added gender identity to their fair housing, city worker anti-bias and city contracting ordinances on a unanimous vote, which also changed the term “handicap” to “disability.”

The council also approved an “emergency” measure removing the need for a second vote on the ordinance. Mayor Edward Kelley is expected to sign the new ordinance at the next council meeting.

Cleveland Heights’ ordinance was introduced by Mark Tumeo, the first openly gay councilor in the city’s history. Tumeo is the chair of council’s Public Health and Safety Committee.

“It’s hard to express how much it means to me to sit here with six people who respect me for who I am,” Tumeo said after the vote.

“It highlights everything I have done . . . as I approach the end of my 12 years on council,” said councilor Nancy Dietrich, who is not seeking reelection this fall.

While the addition of gender identity to Cleveland Heights’ ordinances went smoothly, at least two councilors in Bowling Green expect their antidiscrimination ordinances to face a referendum.

The referendum would have to be filed within 30 days of the council vote, but since the deadline for the 2009 general election was at 4 pm on August 20, no referendum is possible before the 2010 general election.

“The battle is not over,” said councilor Robert McOmber, quoted in the Bowling Green Sentinel Tribune. “You will need to win the hearts and minds of the public in 2010 to make this stick.”

“I think people can be convinced if they think it is the right thing to do,” he continued. “If this comes up to a public vote, I will vote for it.”

Councilor Larry Sorrells’ statements made it sound as if referenda were a way of life in Bowling Green.

“If we can get a referendum on a third-of-an-acre rezoning at the hospital, I think we may see one on this.”

The two new measures bring to eight the number of Ohio cities that include gender identity in their anti-bias codes; the others are Columbus, Cincinnati, Toledo, Dayton, Shaker Heights and Oxford.

Sixteen Ohio cities include sexual orientation, covering a fifth of the state’s population: the above eight plus Athens, Oberlin, Yellow Springs, Lakewood, North Olmsted, Canton, East Cleveland and Cleveland, which has a bill in council to add gender identity.

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