On Nov. 7, Ohio voters elected 11 openly gay and lesbian public officials. These include Megan Kilgore, the city auditor in Columbus, and Democrat Ryan Mess, who garnered the most votes of 13 candidates in the race for Cincinnati Board of Education.
In Ohio, LGBT people may be legally fired or denied an apartment for their sexual identity or orientation unless they live in one of 19 currently protected cities. This makes the election of LGBT officials especially meaningful in Ohio.
Ohio House Rep. Nickie Antonio, D-Lakewood, sponsored a bill last June that would change that. The Ohio Fairness Act (H.B. 160) would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in housing and employment. This reflects similar protections already in place in 22 states.
The bill is a “fair proposal that will simply give people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender the same freedom to work, the same freedom to live where they choose, the same equal participation in society, just as anyone else in Ohio,” Antonio told reporters.
“No one should be denied access to a home and all that comes with that responsibility,” she added. “No one should live in fear of losing their job, or be denied the right to pursue a career and be a contributing member of society.”
Antonio is openly gay and serving her fourt term as a state representative, leading her party’s House caucus as Democratic Whip. The Ohio Fairness Bill has been referred to the Government Accountability and Oversight Committee, and is yet to go to a vote.
“We are your family, friends, teammates, neighbors and coworkers who deserve to feel safe in our communities and in our wonderful state,” said Douglas Koala Robinson of the Southeastern Ohio LGBT Coalition.
In 2013, a private school teacher in Ohio was fired when officials at her school became aware of her partner through her mother’s obituary.
Four years earlier, a manufacturing executive believed to be gay was fired after facing severe harassment from his coworkers and manager, including groping and having his car vandalized with spray paint more than once. He presented the case to the Ohio court system and lost, as freedom from harassment based on sexual orientation and fair employment of LGBT people is not protected by state or federal law.
According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, 17 percent of transgender Ohioans who have been employed have been fired for their gender identity or expression.
“It’s a simple fix,” said Grant Stancliff, communications director for Equality Ohio. “We’d just like to add ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity/expression’ to the list of protected classes in Ohio.” This would place the law firmly on the side of victims of discrimination and provide protection for the 212,000 LGBT workers in Ohio. “We very much support Rep. Nickie Antonio’s bill, the Ohio Fairness Act,” said Stancliff.
Equality Ohio invites LGBT people who have experienced discrimination to come forward. Once the committee calls for another hearing, supporters of the bill will be asked to testify and share stories of discrimination with committee members. According to Stancliff, some of the most staunchly opposed politicians have been swayed by these personal accounts.
Without statewide protection, LGBT individuals rely on relative safe havens to find opportunities for employment, community and a safe place to live. Without the protection of the law, community support is essential to security.
Athens is one of the 19 cities with nondiscrimination protections in place.
The Ohio University LGBT Center, the Southeastern Ohio LGBT Coalition and the Southeast Ohio LGBTQ+ Center all provide resources and advocacy for LGBT people in the area.
In 1998, Athens City Council adopted an amendment to the city’s non-discrimination ordinance that bars discrimination in housing, employment and accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation. That law remains in effect today.
Local LGBT centers provide resources such as references to LGBT-friendly medical, dental, counseling, and legal services in the area, and networks of community allies and LGBT-affirming businesses. Resources for the Athens area can be found at www.ohio.edu/lgbt/athensarea.cfm, which includes information for both students and non-student community members.