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March 12, 2010

Promised fix for TG equality law misses March date

Cleveland--City Council will not revise a weakened transgender equality law by the end of March as planned, with budget concerns cited as the reason.

Council unanimously passed the ordinance on November 30, adding gender identity and expression to the city�s non-discrimination code.

The housing protections are complete. But amendments from the city law department and Council President Martin Sweeney limited the public accommodation and employment protections on the morning of the vote.

The amendments concerned restrooms and locker rooms.

Under the version passed, employers only have to provide �reasonable access to adequate facilities.�

It does not specify what is �reasonable� or �adequate,� leaving the possibility that a transitioning person could be made to use a facility that is inconvenient or even off the premises, should their employer deem it �reasonable� and �adequate.�

The ordinance�s sponsor, gay former Ward 14 councilor Joe Santiago, called the amendments and the debate over them �political stuff.�

The �stuff� appears to be a combination of the councilors� personal issues over restrooms, and the city�s ongoing dispute with a transgender woman who was ordered to use the men�s dressing room at a community pool--a public accommodation--in 2008.

The pool case is presently before the Ohio Civil Rights Commission. As amended, the new ordinance allows the city to continue this type of discrimination.

There were never enough votes in council last fall to pass the original version of the measure, which would have had the same protections as transgender equality measures in other Ohio cities.

During the November 30 Finance Committee meeting where the amendments were added, councilor Joe Cimperman, an advocate and co-sponsor of the law, said he would pass a corrective measure by the end of March.

�This is Chapter One,� Cimperman said. �This piece can continue to evolve.�

Since then, a charter amendment has made council two seats smaller. Santiago was defeated for re-election in Ward 14, but Jeff Johnson, who has a record of LGBT advocacy, was elected in Ward 8.

Cimperman believes that the new council will have the votes to make the changes, though it is unusual for city councils to revisit non-budget matters a few months after they pass.

Last fall, Cimperman called the measure�s unanimous passage--made possible by weakening it--�grounds to build for next time.�

�The goal is by the end of March to amend this ordinance to restore protections, especially in public accommodations.�

Cimperman said at the time that he envisioned council taking up a package of LGBT ordinances �in the spring,� including one to give city employees domestic partner benefits.

There is currently no ordinance to do that on the table, and no immediate plans to introduce one.

In reply to a March 1 email inquiry, Cimperman wrote, �We are just concluding the budget and have been deep in the deliberations. I am hoping to have more information in a few weeks. As it develops, I will definitely keep you in the loop.�

Jacob Nash, a transgender activist involved in passing last fall�s ordinance, said Cimperman told him in mid-February that the budget has delayed action on the corrective measure.

�I�m not surprised that it isn�t going to be done by the end of March,� said Nash. �I was promised it would be looked at and revised this year some time. That tells me December 31.�

Nash was involved with group of community leaders that advised council on the original ordinance. He said the group has not reconvened.

Nash said he is satisfied with last fall�s ordinance.

�It�s better than no protection at all,� he said.

�I have known many transgender people who have had to go off-premises to use the restroom. It�s not okay, but at least they still have a job,� Nash said.

Nash said he expects to be involved in the process of passing a new ordinance and would like to see one introduced �by May at the latest.�

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