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November 20, 2009

 

Council to vote on TG bias law this month

Cleveland--City Council will take up an ordinance barring discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression either November 23 or November 30, according to Ward 13 councilor Joe Cimperman, who is trying to push it through before the council session ends on December 7.

If passed, Cimperman and Ward 18 councilor Jay Westbrook want the legislation to be named for its author, Joe Santiago, Cleveland’s first openly gay official, who did not win re-election to his Ward 14 seat in the September primary.

Santiago introduced the measure in August, 2008. Cleveland’s existing anti-discrimination ordinance already includes sexual orientation.

At the November 9 council meeting, Ask Cleveland, a grassroots organization working to build popular support for the measure, delivered more than 2,600 postcards to city councilors.

The cards tell officials that Cleveland should join other Ohio major cities, Columbus, Dayton, Cincinnati and Toledo, and its suburbs Cleveland Heights and Shaker Heights by passing legal protections for transgender people.

Ask Cleveland spokesperson David Caldwell said residents of every city ward filled out cards, which was one of the most surprising things to the councilors.

Karen Deamons, who has a complaint against the city in the Ohio Civil Rights Commission over the Cudell Recreation Center’s insistence that she use the men’s locker room when swimming, collected over 200 of the cards herself.

After nearly a year in the city’s Law Department for reasons not yet clear, the ordinance looks like it will pass narrowly, but it’s not certain.

Vote count varies

In August, the Gay People’s Chronicle asked all 21 councilors if they would support the measure in its current form. Only ten responded to the written survey. Eight committed to vote for the measure: Santiago and original cosponsors Cimperman, Westbrook, Michael Polensek of Ward 11 and Matt Zone of Ward 17.

Joining them are Phyllis Cleveland of Ward 5, Mamie Mitchell of Ward 6, and Dona Brady of Ward 19.

Ward 15 councilor Brian Cummins became a sponsor later, but did not respond to the survey. He has since committed to its support.

Council President Martin Sweeney of Ward 20 and Majority Whip Kevin Kelley were less clear in their intentions.

Ask Cleveland volunteers asked each councilor again for a commitment when they distributed the post cards. Caldwell said the responses were similar to what the Chronicle found, but their list of committed supporters has shifted a bit.

Cimperman believes the vote count will be similar or a little stronger than the December vote on the domestic partner registry, which was 13 to 7.

Prior to that vote, Cimperman predicted there would be 17 to 19 votes for the registry.

Cleveland LGBT Center director Sue Doerfer, who is working with Cimperman, said there are 14 votes for the ordinance, and she had a list from Cimperman of who they are.

As with the registry vote, the majority of councilors on Doerfer’s list are white and represent west side wards, again a possible sign of a racial split.

Amendments not clear

When the measure is considered by council, it will have “more than five” amendments, according to Cimperman.

The council clerk does not release amendments or ordinance changes until they become official at the Finance Committee meeting on the Monday morning before they are voted on.

Doerfer, however, knew of two of the amendments.

One exempts the city from requiring the modification of existing facilities or building new facilities with regard to restrooms.

Another, also aimed at existing facilities, reads: “Nothing in this section shall be construed to establish unlawful discrimination based on actual or perceived gender identification or expression due to the denial of access to shared showers, locker rooms or dressing facilities in which being seen unclothed is unavoidable, provided reasonable access to adequate facilities is available.”

“The lawyers will have to sort that out,” said Doerfer, adding that Lambda Legal and the National Center for Transgender Equality vetted these amendments.

The latter one, in particular, could be an attempt to protect the city from Deamons’ complaint.

Cimperman said attempts were made to make the ordinance track the Equal Housing and Employment Act passed by the Ohio House in September.

He added that council members thought the postcard campaign was “impressive.”

“They thought it was well thought out,” Cimperman said. “People took notice.”

Cimperman said he and the other sponsors have the support of council president Sweeney to pass the ordinance either November 23 or 30. It will be considered by the Finance Committee before going to the full council.

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