Kent City Council expands LGBTQ community protections

Kent resident Linda Miles addresses Kent City Council and urges them to continue to support those being discriminated against during their meeting on Wed., July 2, 2017.

Cody Patton

Kent City Council expanded its LGBTQ protection ordinance Wednesday in a unanimous vote, creating more tangible protections and expanding it to protected groups, including minorities.

The council first passed a protection ordinance in April but faced criticism from the local LGBTQ community who said it did not contain enough enforceable protections.

The crowd of supporters present had the chance to weigh in, but before they did, City Planner David Ruller said it would be best to postpone adding to the ordinance until more data about the issues could be collected.

“For us, it comes down to timing,” Ruller said. “We are open to taking more steps, but those steps need to be warranted.”

Ruller said the city fully supports the LGBTQ community, but the council wants to make sure the city can live up to what is “put on the books”.

When Tiffany Jones took her turn at the microphone, she addressed the issue of waiting to enhance the existing ordinance.

“People don’t want to wait until something bad happens in Kent to realize that we couldn’t handle it,” she said. “As a lesbian and a voting citizen, I urge you to do the right thing now.”

Caryn Austen, lead organizer for the Women’s March in northeastern Ohio, said when she heard the debate about deepening the ordinance protections, she felt she had to say something.

“Having legislation — whether you have data or not, you have the faces in this room,” she said. “They are your data. Listen to your data.”

Linda Miles, a Kent resident, said she thought the city could be doing more.

“I am proud of Kent,” Miles said. ”But I would be (prouder) if we had more rules and consequences protecting people who are being discriminated.”

The council discussed how they would enforce the ordinance and decided on a system of mediation and possible misdemeanor charges for those found in violation — which includes discrimination in the workplace, housing and accommodations.

Heidi L. Shaffer, Ward 5 city councilperson, said the ordinance should not only be enhanced but expanded to accommodate all marginalized groups as well.

Shaffer motioned that the ordinance accommodate all protected classes in Kent and the motion passed.

Following this motion, Tracy Wallach, Ward 6 city councilperson, motioned for criminal charges be added following mediation attempt failures.

“There has to be teeth to back up what we are trying to do here,” she said.

“I want to speak to the power of mediation,” Shaffer added. “We are not a city that (simply) penalizes people but educates.”

Councilperson Roger Sidoti said he was disgusted any of the legislation was even necessary.

“I am saddened that we have to legislate what should be considered decent human behavior,” Sidoti said. “The fact that we don’t know how to be appropriate to each other is highly offensive to me.”

Those in attendance showing their support were relieved and excited about the success of the night.

Gwen Stembridge, the Northeast Ohio coordinator for Equality Ohio, said the night carries a lot of meaning in the fight for equality.

“I am so excited, and it means so much,” Stembridge said. “We commend the city for being number 19 in the state to add these fully comprehensive protections.”

Such protections do not exist at the state or federal level, Stembridge said, and people are still fired from their jobs for being part of the LGBTQ community.

“Putting up laws protects people legally, but it doesn’t stop racism, homophobia or transphobia,” she said. “But it does force us to have that conversation and open up options for people who didn’t have them before.”

Cody Patton is the diversity reporter, contact him at [email protected].