Cincinnati Takes New Steps Toward More Direct LGBTQ+ Protections in Municipal Code

Council member Reggie Harris is spearheading local efforts for "equal protection under the law."

click to enlarge Cincinnati City Council member Reggie Harris speaks before the city raises the transgender pride flag on March 31, 2022. - Photo:
Cincinnati City Council member Reggie Harris speaks before the city raises the transgender pride flag on March 31, 2022.

The Queen City soon could be even more affirming for residents and employees.

Cincinnati City Council member Reggie Harris is collaborating with other city administrators and organizations to update language in the city’s municipal code to provide more comprehensive legal protections and practices. The new provisions will more directly cover gender expression and identity from discrimination and other LGBTQ+ concerns.

LGBTQ most often stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (or questioning), with the longer acronym of LGBTQIA adding intersex and asexual.

Harris specifically is working on sections 914-1 (“Definitions”), 914-3 (“Housing Discrimination Prohibited”), 914-5 (“Employment Discrimination”), 914-15 (“Exclusions”) of the municipal code, Harris tells CityBeat in an email.

“Cincinnati led the way with its nondiscrimination ordinance, but since then we’ve learned a lot. It’s time to update it so we can continue to lead the nation when it comes to equity,” Harris says.

Section 914-1, the city’s unlawful discriminatory practices chapter of the municipal code, lays out the words and phrases whose meanings have been standardized throughout the code. The section covers a wide range of topics, from age to disability to marital status. The code currently includes definitions for sexual orientation and transgender individuals, but Harris says that more current language is needed.

“First and foremost, we are updating the definitions listed in our nondiscrimination code to account for what we have learned as best practices over the years. This includes making sure language pertaining to gender expression and gender identity is up-to-date and as inclusive and accurate as possible,” Harris says.

Harris and others also are working on additional sections of the code.

“We are reviewing the enforcement procedure for the ‘Source of Income’ discrimination to address the Section 8 (housing) discrimination occurring throughout the city,” Harris says. “Lastly, we are recommending that the businesses to which the code is applied is expanded so that workers throughout the city, no matter where they work, have equal protection under the law.”

“Together, these changes will make sure that the nondiscrimination language in our city’s code reach(es) as many people as possible and all Cincinnatians have the legal protections they need to live vibrant, fulfilling lives,” Harris adds.

Harris, who is serving his first term on Cincinnati City Council and chairs the Equitable Growth & Housing Committee, is developing the municipal code’s new language alongside city solicitor Andrew W. Garth and representatives from Equality Ohio, a nonprofit organization based in Columbus that advocates for LGBTQ+ issues. He began digging into the issue upon taking his seat on Cincinnati City Council in January, he says, adding that Garth’s office is reviewing the updates and will produce an ordinance for the council to evaluate.

Harris hopes to introduce the ordinance to the council “in the next couple months,” he says.

“I used to serve on the board of Equality Ohio and learned about actions local governments can take to ensure that the legal protections provided to its most vulnerable communities are as robust as possible,” Harris says. “I was aware coming into office that the code, while progressive at the time, needed an update. This is what Equality Ohio does extremely well, and that is why I am so happy to partner with them on this project.”

click to enlarge The transgender pride flag is raised at Cincinnati City Hall on March 31, 2022. - Photo: video still,
Photo: video still,
The transgender pride flag is raised at Cincinnati City Hall on March 31, 2022.
The effort is Harris’ latest push to affirm and protect Cincinnati’s LGBTQ+ residents. On March 31, the city raised the trans pride flag at City Hall for the first time in Cincinnati’s history in recognition of International Transgender Day of Visibility. Harris, who is gay, coordinated the effort and marked it as an acknowledgement of progress and a look ahead at the work that still needs to be done.

“We have to do both symbolic gestures and policy gestures, and that is the way we move forward,” Harris said at the time.

During city council meetings in April, Harris, vice mayor Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney, council member Greg Landsman and others have denounced bills sponsored by members of Ohio’s House of Representatives that restrict care or education for LGBTQ+ individuals.

HB 454, titled the “Enact the Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act,” would prohibit offering minors any kind of gender affirming treatment, from hormones to surgery. The bill also would put the onus on healthcare providers by defining that treatment as “unprofessional conduct” for state licensing boards and making “actual or threatened violations” of the bill grounds for a lawsuit.''

The more recent HB 616 would prohibit the “promotion and teaching of divisive or inherently racist concepts in public schools” while also nixing educational materials about sexual orientation and gender identity. Educators would be in danger of losing their teaching credentials.

Additional states across the nation, including Florida and Texas, have been introducing — and even passing — legislation that is effectively anti-LGBTQ+ and, frequently, racist.

Before joining Cincinnati City Council, Harris had worked in affordable housing, social work, social policy and the arts, according to his government biography.

“Personally, I have always said that the legal and lived experiences of our LGBTQIA+ community need to be of our utmost priority. The legal underpinnings of our municipal code provide the basis for this, and it is incredibly important to make sure those protections are in place as a foundation for the equity work we do,” Harris says.

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