Bill would help small Ohio cities fight discrimination against LGBT

By Earl RinehartThe Columbus Dispatch  •  Monday May 18, 2015 4:27 AM

An Ohio lawmaker plans to introduce legislation to help small cities protect their LGBT residents from housing and employment discrimination.

State Rep. Michael Stinziano said he’s looking into how the Ohio Civil Rights Commission could help cities investigate discrimination complaints made by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals.

“We’re hoping to have language in two to three weeks,” he said earlier this month. “It just seems to make a lot of common sense.”

The LGBT community is not a protected class under Ohio law, but the bill would permit the commission to investigate complaints and turn over the results to cities.

That’s what Grandview Heights City Councilman Steve Gladman suggested when he contacted Stinziano for help last month.

Grandview Heights had passed a resolution urging the state to make LGBT a protected class but has not drawn up an ordinance enforcing it. Franklin County commissioners have passed a similar resolution.

“We’re still figuring out how to do it for such a small city,” Gladman said at the time. The city of 6,900 residents doesn’t have the resources to investigate discrimination complaints.

Gladman said he has an interest in fair-housing issues as president of the nonprofit Affordable Housing Trust for Columbus and Franklin County.

His interest grew when Bexley announced it was considering an ordinance to include LGBT as a protected class in housing and employment. The issue came up in March when a Bexley videographer said she would refuse to shoot same-sex marriages.

Bexley plans to vote on the ordinance on June 9, said City Councilwoman Deneese Owen, its lead sponsor.

The ordinance would outlaw discrimination based on, among other things, sexual orientation and gender identity. Complaints could be referred to the Ohio Civil Rights Commission or investigated by the Bexley city prosecutor, according to the proposal. A violator could be fined up to $1,000 for a first offense.

The civil-rights commission already has been doing something similar to what Stinziano is proposing, Owen said.

“Technically, they can review the cases,” Owen wrote in an email. “But they get dropped for lack of jurisdiction if they don’t pertain to gender stereotyping (which the commission can handle).”

Gender stereotyping occurs when a woman is considered to be too manly or a man too feminine, said Keith McNeil, director of regional operations for the commission. In some cases, including two in Ohio involving transsexuals, federal courts have ruled that gender stereotyping is discrimination.

Columbus LGBT residents who complain to the commission are told that they are a protected class in Columbus, where discrimination cases are investigated by the city’s Community Relations Commission, McNeil said.

Stinziano, whose district covers Bexley and Grandview Heights, is running for a city council seat in Columbus.

The Human Rights Campaign identified about a dozen Ohio cities that provide protection for some in the LGBT community regarding housing and employment.

“It’s in bits and pieces,” said Grant Stancliff, spokesman for the advocacy group Equality Ohio.

Some city ordinances outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation, which includes gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals. A few protect transgender individuals.

Others said they passed resolutions but no actual ordinance affording protection.

Columbus was the only central Ohio city on the list with an ordinance listing LGBT as a protected class.

Owen said the state should adopt a uniform code that protects all groups so the protection doesn’t differ from city to city.