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May 17, 2013

Bill would outlaw LGBT discrimination in Ohio

Columbus--The Equal Housing and Employment Act is once again before the Ohio legislature, introduced two days after Equality Ohio’s annual Lobby Day put hundreds of LGBT and ally advocates before lawmakers.

The measure would add sexual orientation and gender identity to Ohio’s antidiscrimination laws, with exceptions for religious organizations and employers with fewer than 15 employees.

Presently, it is legal in Ohio to fire or evict someone for being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.

Twenty-one other states have laws prohibiting such discrimination, sixteen of which include gender identity or other language protecting transgender people.

Seventeen Ohio cities have similar local ordinances, covering a fifth of the state’s population.

No federal law covers sexual orientation or gender identity.

The bill was introduced in the Ohio House of Representatives on May 10 by Rep. Nickie Antonio, a Lakewood Democrat and one of two openly lesbian or gay lawmakers, and Springfield’s Rep. Ross McGregor, a Republican.

The primary sponsors in the Ohio Senate, where it was introduced the same day, are Republican Frank LaRose of Akron and Democrat Michael Skindell, also of Lakewood.

Minority leader Rep. Armond Budish of Beachwood is pushing the House’s Republican leadership for quick action to schedule hearings for the bill.

He and Antonio sent a letter to House Speaker William Batchelder on May 7, stating, “We write this letter to seek your support for legislation to prohibit discrimination in housing and employment based on sexual orientation and gender identity. This legislative proposal has been a recurring subject during past General Assemblies, and it was ultimately passed by the House in 2009 before dying in the Senate.”

Versions of the bill have been in the Ohio legislature since 2003.

“Unfortunately, elected officials have failed to act on such a measure over the years, leaving many Ohioans without the same opportunity to hold a job or find housing to which all people are entitled,” it continues.

After discussing the present shortcoming of Ohio law, they write, “To provide a long overdue remedy, we ask that you will expeditiously move our forthcoming bill . . . This bill will not require quotas or mandate affirmative action programs. Rather, it will modernize Ohio’s anti-discrimination laws by ending unjust and prejudiced practices. Furthermore, it will align Ohio with numerous states, countless cities and counties, most of Ohio’s public universities, and almost all Fortune 500 companies that have enacted laws or policies to achieve the same end.”

Federal bill also introduced

EHEA was reintroduced into the Ohio legislature 15 days after the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act was reintroduced in Congress. The LGBT anti-discrimination measure has been put before lawmakers for decades, but never passed. Earlier versions have left out protections for gender identity, but this year’s model includes them, garnering support from a number of prominent transgender organizations.

However, the Transgender Law Center, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union point out that the federal bill’s religious exemption is overly broad, and could allow church-affiliated schools and hospitals to fire or refuse to hire people who were LGBT simply because their denomination does not approve.

“Some courts have said that even hospitals and universities may be able to claim the exemption; thus it is possible that a religiously affiliated hospital could fire a transgender doctor or a religiously affiliated university could terminate a gay groundskeeper,” the coalition of groups said in an April 25 statement.








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