The Human Rights Campaign recognized four Ohio cities for their commitment to LGBTQ equality in 2016, despite being in a state that does not have LGBTQ-inclusive non-discrimination policies.
Cincinnati, Columbus, Dayton and Toledo were recognized as “All-Star Cities” for their efforts, and the first three cities received a 100 score from the foundation’s Municipal Equality Index. This is Dayton’s first year on the list.
Ohio is one of 28 states in the country that does not have statewide non-discrimination policies that include LGBTQ people. In addition to the four cities mentioned, 11 other cities in the state have adopted LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination laws. That leaves more than 80 percent of Ohioans living in an area without LGBTQ protection, according to Equality Ohio Spokesman Grant Stancliff.
“Getting statewide protections against discrimination for LGBTQ people is one of our primary goals,” Stancliff said. “However, we’ve been working on that for a decade, and the two parties can’t seem to come to agreement about what that means.”
Ohio’s anti-discrimination policy prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, military status, national origin, disability, age or ancestry, but it does not include any specific clause for LGBTQ individuals.
One of the biggest issues with not having a statewide policy is the inconsistency it brings to different parts of the state, according to the ACLU of Ohio’s Policy Manager Lisa Wurm.
“If you live inside the city of Columbus but you work outside the city in Dublin, then the anti-discrimination laws do not apply to you,” Wurm said.
Transgender people in Ohio also face issues separate from the lack of an anti-discrimination law. They are unable to update the gender marker on their birth certificate. Ohio is one of three states that does not allow this, which Stancliff calls “a bit of an embarrassment.”
Equality Ohio has worked to change some of the discriminatory laws in Ohio, including a Cleveland law that said its non-discrimination law was not applicable for transgender people using bathrooms. The law allowed business owners and employers to discriminate against transgender people using bathrooms, but Equality Ohio worked with the city of Cleveland to change the law.
The group has tried to amend laws in cities all across the state, particularly after an emergence in anti-LGBTQ laws that came after the landmark Supreme Court case in 2015 that made same-sex marriage legal.
“After the Supreme Court ruled that the states must allow for same-sex marriage, several Ohio legislators introduced anti-LGBTQ laws in Ohio,” Stancliff said. “For example, one law says that wedding vendors can discriminate against same-sex couples. Our position on that is if you’re open for business, you’re open for business. That’s a long standing tradition in this country since the Civil Rights Act has been passed: if you operate in the public sector, you can’t discriminate just because of who someone is.”
Equality Ohio is working with smaller cities who reach out to them in order to enact change on a smaller level. The group encourages people wanting to change their city’s law to begin work on the local scale.
“The best thing to do if you live in a smaller town and want to make some change is to find some like-minded people and work together on it,” Stancliff said. “Equality Ohio is available to help, but nothing can replace activists who actually live and work in the community they want to effect change in.”