Prizm News / February 1, 2018 / By Bob Vitale

Melissa Alexander, co-chair of TransOhio, addresses members of the Ohio House Committee on Government Accountability and Oversight. (Prizm photo by Bob Vitale)

Victims of discrimination, businesses and legal experts testify in favor of expanding Ohio’s nondiscrimination laws.

By Bob Vitale 

LGBTQ Ohioans who’ve been fired from jobs or kicked out of apartments told lawmakers on Wednesday why discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity should be outlawed in the state. 

But a 9-year-old girl who talked about the anti-transgender bullies in her young life and then reminded lawmakers of all Americans’ inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness had people in tears and on their feet. 

“Please protect my happiness,” she said to conclude a hearing of the House Government Accountability and Oversight Committee, which heard testimony from people who support a bill to add sexual orientation and gender identity to Ohio’s nondiscrimination laws. 

The second hearing of the committee is the furthest such legislation has advanced in Ohio since 2009. 

“I want you to know that we are going to work very hard to get this bill passed and make sure you live in a state that doesn’t discriminate,” Rep. Kathleen Clyde, D-Kent, told the girl, who lives with her family in Northeast Ohio. 

Clyde is a cosponsor of House Bill 160, also called the Ohio Fairness Act. It was introduced by Rep. Nickie Antonio, D-Lakewood. 

More than 70 people—LGBTQ Ohioans who’ve faced discrimination, leaders of civil-rights organizations, parents, legal experts, and businesses and business groups—requested to speak at the hearing. About 15 got the chance over 2 1/2 hours. Committee Chairman Louis Blessing III, R-Colerain Township, said about 140 people submitted written statements. 

Jimmie Beall of Columbus told lawmakers how she was called into the office at the public school where she taught in Madison County on Good Friday in 2003. She was told she would “no longer be needed,” that the London city school no longer needed a full-time government teacher. 

The decision came two days after Beall, a lesbian, presented a lesson on discrimination and harassment of LGBTQ students as part of GLSEN’s National Day of Silence. Beall had been told earlier that she would be recommended for a contract renewal. 

“In Ohio, (discrimination against LGBTQ people) is legal, and I am the face of that,” she said. 

Theodore Pavlich of Cleveland talked about the great apartment he found in September 2014 and the landlord who told him he had to leave a month later when a background check revealed he’s transgender. 

“He told me he wanted a ‘family-friendly household’ and transgender people did not fit that description,” he said. 

Pavlich, a college student at the time, was forced to move back in with his parents in Geauga County and add a commute to his already busy schedule that included classes, studying and a 30-hour-a-week job. 

He ended up withdrawing from classes halfway through the semester. 

Equality Ohio Executive Director Alana Jochum said she was speaking at the hearing for those who couldn’t attend, not because of distance from Columbus or other commitments but because publicly identifying themselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender could cost them a job or apartment. 

“I’m talking about the people who use their initials on their return envelopes in order to disguise they are in a saame-gender relationship…, the person who tells me that the interview for the job was going great until he let the pronoun of his spouse slip in a conversation, the couple for whom apartments are suddenly not available once the agent suspects they are more than roommates, the person turned away from the convenience store when the clerk believes they are transgender because ‘we don’t serve your kind here.'” 

While about 20 percent of Ohioans live in cities with local anti-discrimination laws that cover sexual orientation and gender identity, Jochum said, “80 percent of Ohioans just have to deal with legalized discrimination and it’s not fair.” 

“It’s not fair for the kid from Lima or Zanesville or Canton who doesn’t want to leave his friends and family just because he thinks he has to move to the big city to live his life.” 

Melissa Alexander, co-chair of TransOhio, said she hears regularly from people across Ohio who are asked to leave restaurants and other businesses, who are denied jobs or are fired. 

“The state of Ohio should send a clear message that our state is open to all who come here to employ, to work, to live, to visit, and that when they do so they will find a welcome state,” Alexander said. 

“That welcome should extend to the LGBTQ community as well.”