Prizm News / February 25, 2019 / By Bob Vitale

State Sen. Michael Rulli, R-Leetonia, takes the oath of office in January with his wife at his side. (Ohio Senate photo)

‘We should pursue freedom at every opportunity,’ says first-term Sen. Michael Rulli.

By Bob Vitale

For the first time in five years, a Republican in the Ohio General Assembly is lending his support to legislation that would expand the state’s nondiscrimination laws to cover sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. 

“I’m not your normal Republican,” says state Sen. Michael Rulli. 

The first-term lawmaker from Leetonia, a village of 2,000 about 20 miles south of Youngstown, calls himself a “very big supporter” of LGBTQ civil rights. He’s a graduate of Emerson College in Boston, which consistently ranks among the most LGBTQ-friendly schools in the nation.  

Michael Rulli

He says once subscribed to The Advocate, and he’s a fan of an effort by a gay conservative entrepreneur to recast the Republican Party as more welcoming to LGBTQ people and others currently outside its tent. 

“A lot of people in our party have put up walls and barriers,” Rulli told Prizm in an interview late last week. “If we are going to be the party of Abraham Lincoln, we should pursue freedom at every opportunity.” 

Rulli is one of 10 lawmakers who’ve signed on to state Sen. Nickie Antonio’s latest nondiscrimination bill, which would add Ohio to the list of 20 states with LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination laws. 

In this session of the General Assembly, the Ohio Fairness Act is Senate Bill 11. Antonio, a Democrat from Lakewood, says the number shows where the issue ranks on Democrats’ priority list; Republicans who control the chamber introduced the first 10 Senate bills. 

The addition of one Republican cosponsor isn’t for a lack of trying, Antonio said. 

“I talked to quite a few of my Republican colleagues,” she said. “This bill isn’t about conservative or liberal, Democrat or Republican. It shouldn’t be looked at that way.” 

That’s certainly not how Rulli looks at the issue. The director of operations for his family’s century-old business, Rulli Bros. Grocery markets in Austintown and Boardman, he has served on the Leetonia school board and led a business development group in his hometown. 

Rulli’s Senate district includes Mahoning and Columbiana counties.

Ohio needs to welcome people, he said.  

“Everyone is in the pursuit of happiness. This is a free land, and everyone needs to be inclusive.” 

The last Republican to publicly support an LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination bill in the Ohio General Assembly was state Rep. Ross McGregor of Springfield, who served until 2014.