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Ohio Statehouse fights LGBT discrimination

The Ohio legislature made an attempt to eliminate employment and housing discrimination against the LGBT community yesterday, introducing a bi-partisan bill to the Ohio House of Representatives.

House Bill 335, the Equal Housing and Employment Act, would add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the categories of people protected from discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations.

The bill would protect their rights just as race, gender, religion and other categories have been protected for years. The bill includes a religion exemption, does not require the construction of any facilities and only applies to businesses with 15 or more employees.

Father Michael Brown, of the Holy Cross Reformed Catholic Church in Toledo, was on hand yesterday for the bill introduction.

“They aren’t asking for special rights, just the same rights as everyone else,” Brown said. “I thought this was settled in the ’60s when poor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. died.”

Mickey Hart, director of the Ohio University’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Center, shares Brown’s sentiments.

“It’s interesting that people don’t want to use these terms,” he said. “Everyone has a sexual orientation and gender identity and not having protection leads to discrimination across the board.”

In terms of what the bill will bring to business, co-sponsor Nickie Antonio, D-13th, said it just makes sense in the current economic climate.    

“It’s good for business to say Ohio does not allow discrimination,” Antonio said. “It’ll make a difference who takes a second look to bring business to Ohio.”

Bringing comfort to residents is also crucial, said Hart, adding that he knows people who have experienced hostility about their sexual orientation at their work places in Athens.

“Anything that we can do to make citizens feel at home benefits all,” he said.

About 17 cities across the state, including Columbus, have created equality laws for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community. Ed Mullen, executive director of Equality Ohio, said it’s time for the state to follow suit.

“There are 100,000 people in the LGBT community in Ohio,” Mullen said. “These cities have open doors and thrive confidently. It’s not only good policy, it’s good politics.”

The Ohio House passed a similar bill in 2009, but the Senate never acted on it.

That bill, introduced in September 2009, would have prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, as the current bill aims to do.

The current bill is waiting to be sent to the appropriate House Committee.

“I have faith in my legislative colleagues,” said Rep. Ross McGregor, R-72nd, who also co-sponsored the bill. “We’d like to see it on the governor’s desk.”

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