Prizm News / September 23, 2018 / By Bob Vitale

 

The Cuyahoga County Council meets Tuesday at 5 p.m. to debate and vote on a proposal to ban discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. (Cuyahoga County photo; top photo from Google Maps)

Approval would protect residents of 53 more cities, counties and villages from bias in employment, housing and public accommodations.

By Bob Vitale 

A vote scheduled Tuesday could make Cuyahoga County the first county in the state to outlaw discrimination against LGBTQ people, putting another 720,000-plus Ohioans under protections that state legislators refuse to adopt. 

The 11-member Cuyahoga County Council is scheduled to meet at 5 p.m. Tuesday to vote on a proposed ordinance that would add sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression to county laws that ban discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations. A new human rights commission would hear, investigate and rule on complaints. 

Five members of the council have sponsored the legislation, meaning just one more vote is needed for approval. Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish introduced the proposal in June along with council President Dan Brady. 

“This is an important step forward in our quest to make sure that all residents have equal access to justice and that they feel safe and supported,” Budish said back then. “You can say that you support equal rights for all, but until there is legislation that supports this, it isn’t a reality.” 

Cuyahoga and Summit counties are the only two in Ohio with home-rule powers to create their own laws. The other 86 counties simply administer government programs and have no power to address discrimination against LGBTQ people. 

The Cuyahoga County cities of Cleveland, Cleveland Heights, East Cleveland, Lakewood, Olmsted Falls and South Euclid are among 20 Ohio cities that have adopted LGBTQ-inclusive local nondiscrimination laws. 

Passage of a nondiscrimination ordinance in Cuyahoga County would protect LGBTQ people in the 53 cities, villages and townships that haven’t addressed the issue, including Parma, Euclid, Strongsville, Westlake and North Olmsted. 

Equality Ohio spokesperson Grant Stancliff said the percentage of Ohioans covered by local nondiscrimination laws would jump from nearly 22 percent to 27 percent. 

“A lot of times, people think they have to move to the big cities, the gay ‘meccas,’” he said. “Sometimes people don’t want to leave their families. They won’t want to leave their friends.” 

The statewide advocacy group for the LGBTQ+ community has asked supporters of the measure to attend Tuesday’s meeting, scheduled for 5 p.m. on the fourth floor of the Cuyahoga County Administrative Headquarters at 2079 E. 9th St., Cleveland, 44115.  

“This could be big––this ordinance could protect every single LGBTQ person in Cuyahoga County from legal discrimination in employment, access to housing, and in access to basic goods and services,” Equality Ohio said on Facebook. “Cuyahoga Council needs to know that LGBTQ people and their allies support them in taking this step.” 

On Monday night, Equality Ohio and the Human Rights Campaign are hosting a two-hour gathering for supporters to call and email County Council members. It’s taking place from 6 p.m.-8 p.m. at the AIDS Task Force of Greater Cleveland, 2829 Euclid Ave., Cleveland, 44115. 

The six council members who have not sponsored the proposed nondiscrimination ordinance include three Democrats and all three Republicans. Three of those six—Democrat Pernel Jones Jr., and Republicans Michael Gallagher and Jack Schron—voted in 2012 against domestic partner benefits for Cuyahoga County government employees in same-sex relationships. 

Gallagher and Schron, though, said at the time—and again in 2014—that their no votes weren’t a result of ill-will toward LGBTQ people but out of their desire to offer benefits as well to county employees with opposite-sex domestic partners. 

Republican Nan Baker, a former state representative, also has indicated regret for a past vote against LGBTQ constituents. She voted against a 2009 measure in the Ohio House that would have added sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s job and housing nondiscrimination laws; when she sought the Republican nomination for an Ohio Senate seat in 2016, she told The Plain Dealer she would support such a measure now. 

But if the three Republican council members’ comments show any type of evolution on LGBTQ issues, their party leadership is headed in the opposite direction. 

In 2014, when Schron was running for Cuyahoga County executive against Budish, a Democrat, the county’s Republican leadership had a tent at that year’s international Gay Games in Cleveland. County GOP Chairman Rob Frost told The Plain Dealer that the party was reaching out to LGBTQ voters, and Gallagher told the paper that the image of Republicans as anti-LGBTQ were unfair. 

“I think it’s the way things are framed by Democrats and the [Democratic] Party,” he told the paper. “They frame it like the Republicans are bad guys and against you, but that’s not necessarily the truth.” 

In August of this year, however, the Cuyahoga County Republican Party’s Executive and Central committees—more than 400 people—voted unanimously to oppose the nondiscrimination ordinance. The Republicans said the ordinance “would create new rights” for “newly created protected classes.” A Republican Party statement said the ordinance amounts to “an improper overreach by local politicians into the lives of county residents with no clear benefit or purpose.” 

Polls show it’s not a popular position they’re taking. A series of polls in 2017 by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 69 percent of Ohioans want state law to ban discrimination against LGBTQ people.

Ohio is one of 30 states without inclusive nondiscrimination laws.

bobvitale@prizmnews.com
Twitter: @Bob_Vitale