•  HOME 
  •  BOOKS 
  •  WWP 
  •  DONATE 
  • Loading

Follow workers.org on
Twitter Facebook iGoogle

Transgender protection laws passed in Ohio

Published Dec 13, 2009 10:08 PM

On the evening of Nov. 30, scores of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer activists packed Cleveland City Council chambers in anticipation of a tremendous victory for the transgender community. That night the Council revised the city charter to prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression.

The resolution was first introduced last year by Joe Santiago, Cleveland’s first openly gay councilperson. Santiago was also one of only two Latinos/as ever elected to the Council.

The vote—21-0 with no abstentions—came as a result of a year-long grassroots campaign. Volunteers from the group Ask Cleveland did door-to-door canvassing in all of the city’s council wards, explaining the issue of discrimination against trans people and asking residents to sign postcards telling their councilpersons to support the charter revision.

The final push came this past Election Day, when hundreds of additional postcards were signed by voters at their local polling sites. Voters had previously been targeted at the September primary election for mayor and City Council. All together over 2,600 postcards were received by the City Council, over half of them from African-American residents.

Last year, when the Council passed a resolution establishing a domestic partner registry in Cleveland, all but two African-American councilpersons voted against it. Several changed their position after heavy lobbying by prominent Black ministers. For that reason, Ask Cleveland made a point of reaching out to the African-American community. “The reason we won 21-to-nothing was that we actually talked to the people, and the Council knew that,” Doug Braun, an Ask Cleveland organizer, told Workers World.

Ask Cleveland did not fight this struggle single-handedly. A coalition, including the LGBT Center, Equality Ohio, Stonewall Democrats, TransFamily Cleveland and TransOhio, lobbied the City Council extensively. All of the groups active in the campaign had a presence at City Hall during the vote.

More victories south of Cleveland

Earlier the same day the Akron City Council voted to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation as well as gender identity. While this was the first time that transgender-inclusive language was introduced, efforts to add “sexual orientation” to Akron’s non-discrimination codes go back to 1998.

Nov. 30 was also the day that Summit County, which includes Akron, granted discrimination protection to transgender employees of the county and of companies with which the county does business.

Now all of Ohio’s six largest cities—Cleveland, Akron, Toledo, Cincinnati, Columbus and Dayton—and five out of six of their respective counties, along with 11 smaller municipalities, offer legal redress for the vicious discrimination faced by transgender workers. The recent victories mean that one in five Ohio residents lives in a community that is, at least on paper, trans-friendly.

However, in their final form both the Akron and Cleveland charter revisions contained significant flaws. The Cleveland ordinance, which covers employment, housing and public accommodation, exempts restrooms and locker rooms from public accommodations and for employment only requires a “reasonable accommodation.” Thus, in a restaurant, store, gym or any public place, transgender people could and will be forced to use facilities designated for the sex assigned them at birth, regardless of their gender identity—putting their safety at risk. Employers would be free to segregate transgender workers in “separate-but-equal” locker rooms and bathrooms.

Community activists only learned of the amendments the night before the vote. They were raised in the Finance Committee—although banning discrimination doesn’t cost a penny—by the Council president, Martin Sweeney, who chairs that committee. “We asked our transgender volunteers what to do,” Braun explained, “and they said it has shortcomings but we need to pass this.”

The Akron ordinance, which prevents employment discrimination within city limits and by city contractors, has two problems. The words “gender identity” are excluded for contractors that provide services to minors. This perpetuates the stereotype that transgender adults are somehow inherently a danger to children and furthermore attacks transgender youth by depriving them of role models.

Both “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” discrimination are permissible by religious organizations that have city contracts. But why should a public body enter into contracts with “faith-based” entities to begin with, especially those for whom the bigoted condemnation of natural human expression as sinful is an article of faith?

Northeast Ohio activists are vowing to continue the fight until all of these insidious last-minute “compromises” are overturned and the full rights of the LGBTQ community are fully recognized.