Prizm News / February 19, 2019 / By Bob Vitale

(Photo by FlickrMy Trusty Gavel, via Wikimedia Commons)

LGBTQ people can take advantage of a change in Ohio law.

By Bob Vitale

Equality Ohio will host two legal clinics this week for LGBTQ people who might qualify under a new state law to have their criminal records sealed.

A new law that went into effect in October 2018 that expands the number and type of convictions that people can have expunged, or erased. It allows people to seek their records cleared of an unlimited number of misdemeanors and up to five lower-level, nonviolent and nonsexual felony convictions.

The new law also shortens the waiting period—to one year for misdemeanors and three to five years for felonies—for people who want to request expungement.

Andy Dugan, the staff attorney for Equality Ohio legal clinics, said expungement can open doors that previously have slammed shut when potential employers, landlords and others conduct criminal background checks.

A 2016 study by the Center for American Progress and the Movement Advancement Project found that LGBTQ people—particularly LGBTQ people of color—are more likely to face such issues.

While a third of adults are people of color, two-thirds of adults in prison or jail are people of color, the study reported. And while 3.8 percent of adults identified as LGBTQ, 7.9 percent of adults in prison or jail are LGBTQ.

Among youth in juvenile justice facilities, the numbers are even more disproportionate. Twenty percent of youth in the juvenile justice system are LGBTQ and 85 percent are people of color.

“They have a higher chance of coming into contact with the criminal justice system than the public at large,” Dugan said. “They’re marginalized and targeted. And then it will show up in job searches and when they look for housing.”

The clinics will take place Friday, Feb. 22 from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and Saturday, Feb. 23 from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. at Stonewall Columbus, 1160 N. High St., 43201.

Dugan said attorneys from the Ohio State Bar Foundation also will be on hand to help with other legal issues, such as landlord/tenant disputes, identity theft, name changes, protection orders and more. It’s a free clinic, but Equality Ohio is asking people to register here.

The statewide LGBTQ advocacy group plans to offer more legal clinics around Ohio.