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December 4, 2009
Akron enacts LGBT equality ordinance
Akron--After 11 years of false starts, Akron has passed an ordinance banning discrimination by sexual orientation or gender identity.
The updated version, enacted November 30 after two weeks of delay, caps off a string of attempts dating back to 1998 when Council President Marco Sommerville and Stonewall Akron first tried to pass the measure.
Earlier tries got off to bad starts and did not have wide backing. As support broadened, other events distracted city officials and delayed action. These included an attempted recall of Mayor Don Plusquellic and an incident where Sommerville was caught with a firearm at the Akron Canton Airport.
The present ordinance was sponsored by Sommerville and Plusquellic, with councilors Raymond Cox of Ward 8, Terry Albanese of Ward 6, and at-large members Jim Shealey and Kelli Crawford.
It was Plusquellic and Sommerville’s plan to pass the ordinance before January, when Sandra Kurt succeeds Cox in Ward 8.
Kurt, who was part of Stonewall Akron, will be the city’s first openly gay official.
Also voting for the ordinance was Bruce Kilby of Ward 2, Renee Greene of Ward 4, Tina Merlitti of Ward 7, Mike Williams and John Conti at large.
Opposed were James Hurley of Ward 1 and Mike Freeman of Ward 9.
Plusquellic spoke to council in favor of passing the legislation.
The city was also under some pressure from organizers of the Gay Games, as Akron is jointly hosting the 2014 event with Cleveland.
The ordinance covers employment and city contractors.
The debate was contentious and in the end, the version that passed 11-2 was amended twice.
As passed, “gender identity” will not apply to contractors providing services to minors. The words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” also are excluded from the part of the measure that covers contracts with religious organizations.
The contractors serving minors amendment passed 9-4, with Albanese, Cox, Crawford and Jones opposed.
The amendment exempting religious organizations passed 10-3 with Albanese, Cox and Crawford opposed.
Hurley and Freeman, a former pastor, fought for the amendments, then voted against the ordinance anyway.
“We have not had one lawsuit against the city of Akron because of this issue, yet we have this legislation before us saying, Let’s create a protected class based on sexuality,” Freeman said. “If I were a lawyer, I’d be on my knees praying this thing passes because of the lawsuits that could follow.”
“The notion itself is simple,” Cox countered. “Without protection there will be people who, because of who they are, will be discriminated against. What is the basis for saying on paper you are qualified, but when we see you, we really don’t want you here?”
Sommerville praised council for giving thoughtful consideration to the vote and for engaging in healthy debate.
“A lot of Council members have been really honest here,” Sommerville said. “I want Council to know I appreciate the honesty and discussion we’ve had.”
The Stonewall Democrats of Summit County advocated for the measure’s passage.
Its president, Edward “Chip” Clupper, was pleased that it passed, but disappointed that it had been amended and the exclusions put in.