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
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
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
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
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.
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