Equality law passes in state House, awaits Senate

Kelly Petryszyn

LGBT community would gain protection

Kelsey Robinson, PRIDE! Kent secretary, sent a message to her prospective roommate last year to introduce herself. She did not get the response she expected.

Her roommate replied to the message that she wanted Robinson to leave the room. The roommate said her father was a preacher and she didn’t want to know about Robinson’s female company, Robinson said.

“It was really hurtful,” Robinson said. This was the first time she had been discriminated against based on her sexual orientation. She added that although she is protected by the university now, she is fearful of being fired from a job in the future because of who she is.

Robinson is concerned because Ohio does not currently protect the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community from being discriminated against for housing, employment and public accommodation – although it does protect other minorities.

For the first time in history, that may change. More than a week ago, the Ohio House of Representatives passed House Bill 176, the Equal Housing and Employment Act, in a 56-39 bipartisan vote. The bill would add sexual orientation and gender identity to this list of protected classifications. In order to become a law, the bill has now moved to the Senate and has to get passed.

“If it does pass, it will significantly improve the lives of LGBT people and their families,” said Molly Merryman, associate professor of justice studies at the Trumbull campus and member of Equality Ohio, an organization that fights for equal rights of the LGBT Ohio community. Equality Ohio has been pushing the bill, which has been put through the House three times but hasn’t passed until now. Currently, 21 states protect LGBT people from discrimination, according to Equality Ohio’s Web site. Merryman said not having this legislation puts Ohio at a disadvantage.

“Allies don’t want to come to Ohio because it has no protective legislation,” she said, adding that a number of people leave Ohio for another state that has discriminatory protections. Employees at small businesses are most affected by the lack of protection because small businesses in Ohio tend not to have this protection in their policies, whereas universities and larger companies in Ohio do.

Without the law protecting LGBT people, discrimination sometimes takes place.

Although it’s not always evident, discrimination does still exist. Sue Doerfer, executive director at the LGBT Community Center in Cleveland, said the center gets “probably two to three calls every day from LGBT people who believe they are being discriminated against.” Some of the cases, she said, involve people getting kicked out of their residences by their landlords or getting fired because of their sexual orientation.

The LGBT person who got fired because of sexual orientation may sue the company based on the law should it get passed.

“These are really fundamental rights,” Doerfer said. “It’s a really important bill.”

Patti Swartz, associate professor of English at the East Liverpool campus agrees that this should be a natural right for all.

“It should have been passed years ago to ensure all citizens are protected. Not including all LGBT people is a deprivation of right,” she said.

Swartz, who has experienced employment discrimination before, said this bill “would help people who are LGBT and Q (queer) live lives free of fear.”

Merryman said Equality Ohio is working with the Senate to educate its members.

She added that despite the victory in the House, “I do think we have a tough road ahead of us.”

Contact diversity reporter Kelly Petryszyn at [email protected].