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Athens progresses with LGBT rights

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The Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender community is working to create fair treatment.

Ordinances protecting citizens against hate crimes and establishing a domestic partner registry were both passed by Athens City Council in June of 2011.  A third ordinance allowing domestic partners of city employees benefits was passed this past November.

The people of Athens County have been disputing the rights of LGBT for many years. Initiatives started increasing in the late 80s. In 1989, the council passed a sexual orientation anti-discrimination ordinance that protects citizens of LGBT sexual orientation against hate crimes.

However, past mayor Sara Hendricker immediately vetoed it.  The opposition felt that city spending would increase and were worried about public accommodation and housing.

“It is something that many people in Athens have felt strongly about for many, many years,” At-Large Rep. Elahu Gosney said.

The ordinances were passed mostly due to the efforts of the Community to Move Athens Forward (CMAF), a group founded by Mickey Hart, former head of the Ohio University LGBT Center. The group’s initiative is to improve and protect the rights of the LGBT community. CMAF came to Athens City Council in 2009 looking for ways to make the city more inclusive.

Tracy Kelly, former president of OU’s Graduate Student Senate, was a member of the CMAF and wrote the initial policy proposal for the hate crime ordinance of 2011.

“We were inspired by the other cities in Ohio that had already taken the initiative: Cleveland, Yellow Springs and Toledo,” said Kelly.

Athens is now one of 29 Ohio cities and counties to have passed ordinances of anti-discrimination. The ordinance in Athens that previously only protected sexual orientation has now been extended to the protection of gender identity.

The ordinance reads, “No person shall violate menacing; criminal damaging or endangering; or criminal mischief, by reason of actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, marital or familial status, age or disability as defined by Section 3304.11(a) of the Ohio Revised Code, of another person or group of persons.”

While a hate crime can be committed against persons of actual sexual orientation, the CMAF thought it necessary to add assumptions about sexual orientation.

“We thought ‘perceived sexual orientation’ was more sensitive language,” Kelly said.

The domestic partner ordinance allows couples to register by filling out an application and declare shared responsibility for each other’s welfare acknowledged by the city. Companies and institutions are able to acknowledge the relationship and give families certain benefits.

“It does not do anything official, but it’s nice to have that recognition, I think. I don’t know if it has been incredibly popular,” Gosney said.

The registry is currently the closest any city/county can receive to a same sex marriage license law in Ohio due to a section in the state constitution. Article 15, section 11 reads, “Only a union between one man and one woman may be a marriage valid in or recognized by this state and its political subdivisions. This state and its political subdivisions shall not create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance or effect of marriage.”

Established in 2004, “the law prohibits anything resembling same sex marriage in Ohio,” said Gosney. “It’s horrible.”

The ordinance allowing city employees benefits for their partners was the final of the three to be passed. It extends all benefits from city employees to their domestic partners. The partners must meet criteria including sharing a committed relationship of at least six months, a permanent residence, be at least 18 years old and so on. A total of 48 employees qualify for the new policy.

“It felt good to be at the forefront of this issue,” said Gosney.

“I think it was very important as a practical matter, because [the ordinances] helped to improve the quality of life. But also they had a symbolic function; so many people came together to help with LGBT,” said Kelly, “I am really happy to say we are part of an inclusive community.”

 

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  1. Elahu Gosney

    February 7, 2013 at 9:48 AM

    This is one of the best things we have done as a community in the five years I have been on city council.

    Reply

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