Prizm News / February 20, 2019 / By Bob Vitale

Westerville Mayor Craig Treneff and City Council Chairman Michael Heyeck are among supporters of LGBTQ-equality measures in their city. (Prizm photo by Bob Vitale)

‘This is about the kind of community we want to be,’ City Council member says.

By Bob Vitale 

A majority of City Council members in the Columbus suburb of Westerville expressed support Tuesday night for an ordinance that would make it illegal for local employers, businesses and landlords to discriminate based on a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. 

Now they just need to write one. 

Council members heard from LGBTQ residents and allies about the need for local action on an issue that state and federal lawmakers haven’t addressed. Ohio is one of 29 states whose nondiscrimination laws exclude all LGBTQ people, but local laws cover 27 percent of the state’s population. 

As the head of the Westerville Central High School Gay-Straight Alliance told her local government: “You guys can do things that we can’t.” 

Council members asked for patience from the public. They’ve hired a consultant to advise them—Columbus lawyer John Marshall, who has represented LGBTQ clients and other victims of discrimination—but said they want to make sure they adopt a law that can stand up to potential legal challenges. 

Marshall also suggested that some of the 21 local laws in Ohio are not being utilized by people who face discrimination because they lack strong enforcement measures. 

Council member Valerie Cumming, however, asked her colleagues to act with some sense of urgency. 

“This is about the kind of community we want to be,” she said at the end of a 2½-hour meeting that focused largely on ways Westerville’s government can express its support for diversity, acceptance and LGBTQ civil rights. 

“I appreciate that we’re being cautious, but I need a commitment that we’re going to do something, not ‘someday’ but as quickly as possible.” 

The question in Westerville does appear to be a question of when, though, and not if

Only one council member, Timothy Davey, expressed hesitance about a nondiscrimination measure, but his comments focused on being “skeptical of government fixing problems as opposed to making them worse and not the religious opposition similar proposals have raised. Davey also voted Tuesday night against the city moving to obtain private land to widen a right-turn lane at a local intersection. 

Mayor Craig Treneff said, though, that it’s up to local government to address discrimination that might take place in Westerville. 

“It should be state government, honestly, but I have zero confidence that the majority in the state legislature will do anything,” he said. Of the more libertarian view of government staying out of such matters, Treneff said: “The marketplace has never and will never address issues of civil rights and discrimination.” 

In addition to a nondiscrimination ordinance, city attorneys and administrators suggested more ways Westerville can promote equality. 

Council members also expressed support for a local hate-crimes law that would be LGBTQ-inclusive and for passing a statement of support for the proposed Ohio Fairness Act, a statewide, LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination law introduced last week by state Sen. Nickie Antonio, D-Lakewood. 

Westerville updated its internal policies last year to ban discrimination based on the sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression of city employees. 

City attorneys also suggested Tuesday that Westerville require city contractors and those obtaining city permits to abide by nondiscrimination policies. 

Council members identified those as more short-term priorities.