Ohio Lawmakers Introduce Legislation Barring Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Discrimination

Ohio is one of 28 states that does not extend anti-discrimination protections to sexual preference or gender identity. But a bipartisan duo of lawmakers in the Ohio House has taken up the work of trying to change that.

click to enlarge City workers raise the pride flag outside of Cincinnati City Hall. The Queen City is one of about two dozen throughout Ohio with its own municipal anti-discrimination laws for sexual orientation. The state doesn't have those laws — yet. - Photo: Nick Swartsell
Photo: Nick Swartsell
City workers raise the pride flag outside of Cincinnati City Hall. The Queen City is one of about two dozen throughout Ohio with its own municipal anti-discrimination laws for sexual orientation. The state doesn't have those laws — yet.

Ohio's anti-discrimination laws — designed to protect people from unfair labor, housing and other discrimination based on membership in protected groups — do not include gender identity or sexual orientation.

Two members of the Ohio House of Representatives, however, want to change that. State Rep. Michael Skindell, a Democrat representing the Cleveland suburb of Lakewood, and Rep. Brett Hillyer, a Republican from the east-central Ohio city of Uhrichsville, say they are introducing House Bill 369, which would make LGBTQ status a protected class under the state's laws.

That bill follows another introduced in the state Senate in May looking to make the same change. Both are called the Ohio Fairness Act. The bipartisan duo in the House says it's time for the state legislature to act.

“Businesses and workers alike say non-discrimination policies often determine investment and relocation,” Skindell said in a statement earlier this month. “That’s why we’re bringing business leaders and advocates to the table to make our state more inclusive and attractive to young workers, their families and the businesses who will drive Ohio’s economic future.”

About 800 Ohio businesses and business organizations, including the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber, back the Ohio Fairness Act.

Ohio is one of 28 states that currently doesn't include LGBTQ status in its anti-discrimination laws, even though a 2017 poll by the Public Religion Research Institute found almost 70 percent of Ohioans support anti-discrimination protections based on sexual preference and gender identity. 

About two-dozen local municipalities, including Cincinnati, have passed their own ordinances banning discrimination based on sexual preference or gender identity. 

But those local laws only protect about a quarter of Ohioans, advocacy groups say.

“You shouldn’t have to move to the city to feel protected from discrimination at work, in accessing housing and when purchasing goods or services," Equality Ohio Executive Director Alana Jochum said this month. "It’s time for Ohio’s legislators to make a commitment to LGBTQ Ohioans — urban, suburban and rural — that they have the same right to work hard and provide for their families as everybody else."

Some groups, however, argue the law would infringe on religious liberties.

"Ohio is a diverse and tolerant state," Citizens for Community Values President Aaron Baer said in a statement. "If passed, this legislation would punish and silence anyone that simply wants to honor their faith." 

Efforts to pass through the State House anti-discrimination laws on the basis of sexual orientation and gender date back to at least 2008, but have not yet come to fruition. Skindell and Hillyer say they believe their bill will receive committee hearings soon. 

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