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September 23, 2011

Equality bill is back in Statehouse
next week

Columbus--A rally outside the Ohio Statehouse will launch the efforts to pass an LGBT anti-discrimination law on September 27.

The Equal Housing and Employment Act will be reintroduced by Republican Rep. Ross McGregor and Democratic Rep. Nickie Antonio. The same day, Equality Ohio is holding a rally, press conference and lobby day for the bill.

The measure passed the Ohio House of Representatives on September 15, 2009. It was then sent to the Ohio Senate which took no action, so it died when the session ended last year.

The bill would bar discrimination by sexual orientation or gender identity in public and private employment, housing and public accommodations.

Similar measures are already on the books in 21 states, of which 15 include gender identity. No federal law protects either group from discrimination.

Although none of Ohio’s neighboring states have such laws, all six of its largest cities do, along with 11 other ones.

The groundwork has been laid for the bill’s introduction, with over two hundred people at each of the last two Equality Ohio Lobby Days in May of 2011 and 2010. Hundreds of constituents, representing virtually every county in the state, spoke to legislators about LGBT issues, including antidiscrimination and anti-bullying legislation.

Antonio is also the lead co-sponsor of an anti-bullying bill, with Rep. Michael Stinziano of Columbus.

While EHEA passed a Democrat-controlled House and died in the Republican-controlled Senate, Equality Ohio executive director Ed Mullen believes that the bill have a chance to pass in the current GOP legislature, and it is an effort that must be made.

“I think a lot of people throughout the state think, because the legislature is a lot more conservative than it has been in the past, this will be a hard bill to get passed,” Mullen said. “But I also think there has been a dramatic shift across the country in how conservatives view gay issues.”

Mullen pointed to the conservative money and lobbying efforts on behalf of same-sex marriage in New York, where full equal marriage passed earlier this year. There, major Republican donors pushed lawmakers to support marriage equality.

“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.

He acknowledges that it will not be easy.

“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,” Mullen continued. “I think it is going to take a lot of people working very hard together to make it work, but I do think it is a definite possibility.”

Mullen, who took the reins of Equality Ohio in February, has a firm grasp of what he speaks. Having handled civil rights cases based on both LGBT status and disability, he can speak to legislators about the heavy cost of inequality. In a state in dire financial straits, that is a point that bears repeating.

He also believes the groundwork that has been laid with legislators, including 40 freshmen lawmakers, has made a difference already. He said there is an enormous different between talking to lawmakers a year ago, and speaking to them now, although other LGBT advocates around the state do not necessarily see that.

“What we have been doing to try to get support for both the bullying bill and the nondiscrimination bill is go into the districts where legislators are on the fence, where legislators could vote yes or no on the bills,” he said, noting that Equality Ohio has been reaching out to community, business and religious leaders in those areas, asking them to express their support for LGBT equality to their lawmakers.

“The same arguments and the same people and the same conversations support both bills,” Mullen said, noting that it was “moving the needle forward on explaining why our issues are so important.”

While the current internet age makes social networking seem like a powerful force, Mullen does not believe that “liking” things or signing petitions, paper or online, will get the job done.

“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,” he stressed. “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.”

“Unless we demand it in that way, nothing is going to happen,” he concluded.

The Equal Housing and Employment Act rally will begin at 1:30 pm in front of the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus. For more information, go to www.equalityohio.org.

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