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October 7, 2011

LGBT equality bill is reintroduced in the Statehouse

Columbus--The Equal Housing and Employment Act was reintroduced into the Ohio legislature on September 27, accompanied by a rally on the Statehouse steps at which a number of the sponsors and their representatives spoke.

The bill would bar discrimination by sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations, similar to existing Ohio laws covering race, religion and other areas.

It was introduced in the Ohio House of Representatives by Democrat Nickie Antonio of Lakewood and Republican Ross McGregor of Springfield, both of whom gave strong statements in favor of the legislation.

“Ohio can no longer afford to drive away the talented workforce of tomorrow by not enacting this legislation,” McGregor noted. “A creative and vibrant workforce is what is required to create a 21st century economy in the state of Ohio. By enacting House Bill 335 we are saying that Ohio is a place where everyone can live and work free of discrimination.”

“This bill provides for the simple universal right of all citizens to equal treatment under the law, based on the premise that all are created equal including those Ohio citizens who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual transgendered,” Antonio said.

She pointed to the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and said, “It’s time for Ohio to join with the 21 states and over 650 Fortune 500 companies across the country who know that banning LGBT discrimination is good for employees and good for business.”

EHEA passed the Democrat-controlled Ohio House of Representatives in 2009, but died in the Senate. This session, both houses are controlled by Republicans, but Equality Ohio executive director Ed Mullen believes that the bill still has a chance to pass.

According to polling figures from Equality Ohio, 72 percent of Ohio residents favor adding sexual orientation and gender identity to non-discrimination laws in the state, and 65 percent of Ohio Republicans are on board with the expansion of antidiscrimination legislation.

Seventeen cities across the state, including all of the six largest ones, bar anti-gay discrimination in their ordinances. While 21 other states have similar laws, there are no federal protections.

The bill was introduced in the Ohio Senate by Michael Skindell of Lakewood and Charleta Tavares of Columbus. Skindell staffer Leo Almeida spoke to the crowd at the rally, as did Mullen and Bonnie McGinnis, who talked about her own experience with employment discrimination.

Prior to the reintroduction of the legislation, Mullen pointed to a burgeoning change in the way conservatives across the country view LGBT equality measures.

“What we’re seeing around the country is that conservatives who are supportive of the LGBT community are not booted out of office, and are, in a way, canonized,” he noted, pointing to the Republican state senators in New York who were strongly lobbied by major donors in favor of marriage equality in the state.

“I think it is an uphill battle, but I think there’s a definite opportunity for us to get this passed in the next legislature,” he said, noting that there has been a great effort to reach out to legislators who might not have made up their minds about EHEA and an anti-bullying bill, also introduced by Antonio.

“The absolute most important point is that nothing is going to happen in the state unless people demand it, and ‘demand it’ doesn’t mean signing a petition or going to a Facebook page,” Mullen said. “It means picking up the phone and calling your legislator, going to Columbus with your straight allies and family members and talking to your legislator.”




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