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June 19, 2009

 

LGBT discussion takes on a new tone in the Ohio Statehouse

Columbus--As the House State Government committee considered a bill to outlaw discrimination by sexual orientation or gender identity, State Rep. Cliff Hite of Findlay challenged Crystal Curry of the anti-gay Concerned Women for America.

“You and the other [Equal Housing and Employment Act opponents] have testified that homosexuals are only about three percent of the population,” said Hite, a Republican. “So how is it that three percent represents such a threat?”

“They’re not,” Curry answered, “unless we give them civil rights and allow them to marry. Then they are a threat. Three percent is not harmful unless they keep pushing and pushing and take on rights.”

Curry then told lawmakers that because LGBT people use the word “gay” instead of “homosexual” and Will and Grace has gay characters, homosexuality will “become accepted.”

“Kids will grow up and try it,” she complained.

The exchange caused a visible reaction in Hite and other committee members, both Democrats and Republicans.

This illustrates what might be the most significant development in the bill’s movement through the Ohio legislature:

The measure’s opponents can no longer make wild, unsubstantiated and long-debunked claims about the lives of LGBT people without challenges from both sides of the partisan aisle.

In past years, in hearings on the “defense of marriage act,” protection of school students, or earlier versions of EHEA, conservative Republican committee chairs badgered and denigrated parents who just wanted to say they loved their children, then let anti-gay advocates recite their talking points unchallenged.

This time, it was the bill’s opponents that complained of being badgered by both Democrats and Republicans.

The House State Government Committee, chaired by Democrat Ron Gerberry of Youngstown, heard EHEA proponents on June 3, and opponents June 10.

The committee passed the measure by an 8 to 5 vote on June 17, sending it to the full House.

On both the hearing days, the committee room was filled with more than 50 spectators.

Six witnesses testified for the bill. They were Ohio Civil Rights Commission Director G. Michael Payton, Equality Ohio director Lynne Bowman, United Methodist Church Bishop Bruce R. Ough, educator Jimmie Beall of Columbus, Miami Valley Fair Housing Center president Jim McCarthy, Ron Templin of Cardinal Health Systems, and Springfield Mayor Warren Copeland.

Payton and Bowman spoke to specific issues in civil rights law and answered questions, including giving descriptions of specific incidents of anti-LGBT discrimination.

Payton said of the 5,000 cases the civil rights commission investigates annually, about 300 are due to sexual orientation and gender identity, though it currently has no jurisdiction over them.

Beall’s story of being fired for being a lesbian was the testimony most remembered by the members, and they referred to it repeatedly the next week to challenge EHEA opponents’ claims that sexual orientation discrimination doesn’t exist.

McCarty talked about his partner and said the most common complaint his agency gets is gay and lesbian couples denied rental opportunities.

Cardinal Health, the state’s largest health care provider, had never taken a position on legislation before EHEA, but chose to testify for its passage because they see it as good for business.

Copeland said his city, which is small, wants to enforce equal housing and employment non-discrimination covering LGBT people but lacks the resources to do it effectively, a situation other small communities find themselves in.

“If EHEA passes,” said Copeland, “the Ohio Civil Rights Commission, not us, will pay to enforce the law. Hence, we can include it in our own legislation.”

Seven opponents testified. Joining Curry were Institute for Principled Policy director Barry Sheets, who read a statement from Crystal Dixon who claimed to have been fired from the University of Toledo for anti-gay statements.

The committee also heard from Mission America president Linda Harvey, homemaker and former elementary school teacher Carolyn Blow of Xenia, former teacher Ruth Sawczyn of Cleveland, Concerned Women of America of Ohio director Bobbi Radek, and Citizens for Community Values vice president David Miller.

Blow and Harvey gave essentially the same testimony against EHEA as they gave before the Senate last year. This time, however, they were questioned on the validity of their statements.

Blow told the committee that 33 percent of homosexuals “eat poop,” over 88 percent have public orgy sex, and have hundreds of partners in their lifetime.

Avon Lake Democrat Matt Lundy, who is the committee’s vice chair, questioned Blow’s sources and asked her to define “normal.”

“Well, it’s not normal to eat poop, or to drink urine, or lick someone else’s anus.”

At that, Lundy cut her off.

Sawczyn, of Cleveland, testified against her city’s domestic partner registry and brought copies of the Gay People’s Chronicle for each member, alleging that it promotes “bug chasers” and high mortality rates before saying that homosexuals brought down ancient Greece, Rome, and Canada.

Dan Stewart, one of the bill’s lead sponsors who sits on the committee, asked Sawczyn if she thought the Methodist bishop, who testified for the bill a week earlier, is immoral.

“He’s probably not faithful to the scriptures,” she answered, to audible gasps in the audience and among committee members.

Hite, a Methodist, took personal offense to the statement.

Stewart asked some opponents: Do you believe it is okay to fire someone solely because they are gay or lesbian?

Harvey and Radek answered “Yes” emphatically, which was not lost on the committee members.

Blow and Sawczyn seemed confused by the question and didn’t answer.

Testimony can be viewed at www.dowhatsrightohio.com.    |

 


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