Lawmakers Weigh In On Ohio Anti-Discrimination Act

Art by Giana Vigliotti

For the fifth time since 2011, Democratic state Sen. Nickie Antonio of Lakewood has introduced the Ohio Fairness Act. 

The Act would provide protection from discrimination by preventing employers from firing people, residents from being evicted from their homes and people from being denied service from public places just for being in the + community. 

In years prior, the Ohio Fairness Act was only given one hearing when it was brought forward.

For the LGBTQ+ community in Ohio, there is a looming concern of never being sure of acceptance at work, at an apartment or by society. 

“Everyone should have the right to full citizenship,” Antonio says. “I believe the bill should pass because [people in the LGBTQ+ community] don’t have protection in the public sphere.” 

Antonio and others who support her bill say it would extend the same protections to the LGBTQ+ community as to other groups that have faced discrimination.

The United States prides itself as being a free country. It is a nation built by immigrants, and those who were persecuted in their former countries, who came to America for the freedom its people advertise.

“The intention of our country, when it began to pursue civil rights legislation, was to do right by the people that had been left out in all prior arrangements…,” says Suzanne Holt, director of women’s studies at . “I think the direction of civil rights legislation was to … open up rights and opportunities and protection and recognition and respect for everyone.”

The words “liberty and justice for all” are written in the Pledge of Allegiance. Antonio argues that there’s not a footnote saying “not for LGBTQ+ people.”

The Ohio Fairness Act is personal to Sen. Antonio, because she is a lesbian mother. Raised in a Christian household, Antonio was taught to love everyone and is talking to the community about being open and accepting.

Sen. Antonio, the sponsor of the bill, is supported by other members of the Ohio Senate.

“I have added my name to the House version of the Ohio Fairness Act as a cosponsor and will do everything I can to ensure its passage,” wrote Sen. Randi Clites in an email. 

While there are many supporters, there are others who oppose it or are not convinced that passing the Ohio Fairness Act is right for the time.

“I think there are good motivations behind the bill, but it covers an awful lot of territory,” says Sen. John Eklund. “It might be better to narrow it a little bit to just employment at workplace. Something else, something less broad.” 

Those opposing the bill are worried that once the bill is put in place, there will be an abundance of lawsuits or abuses of the law, but Sen. Antonio said that in any other state where a similar non-discrimination law was passed, there was never a flood of lawsuits. States such as California, Illinois, Maine and several more have specific laws against discrimination of the LGBTQ+ community. 

“The Ohio Fairness Act is ostensibly designed to protect and to remediate the current situation,” Holt says. “The moment that you named who are the beneficiaries for that, there’s going to be distrust on the part of people that regard those people as untrustworthy.” 

Holt believes it is possible a few people could abuse the law, but she thinks those who would benefit from this law would know its limitations.

“Indicating that all LGBTQ+ people will abuse the law, they presume that all other people are good people and that they would never hurt an LGBT person,” Holt says.

Sen. Eklund, who is neutral, said several large corporations are already incorporating non-discrimination laws within their own companies, so the need for this law is not a necessity. 

Instead of focusing on this bill, Sen. Eklund believes Ohio has inadequate services for the LGBTQ+ community. He thinks at this time, Ohio should focus on increasing services such as counseling. 

“I have great sympathy and understanding for the group. They have different issues to deal with, and I’m eager to address issues,” Eklund says. 

Although he supports the LGBTQ+ community, he is not convinced the bill is right for this time. Others like Holt believe with the current situation, now is the best time for a law like this to pass.

“If we’re thinking about the element of danger in a polarized culture … the incentive to pass a law like this is greater, simply because there has been a change in the permissions thanks to the Trump presidency and the people backing him,” Holt said. “It has given a nod to abuses that otherwise would’ve been few and far between.”

The larger question is: Will this change anything?

“I don’t think that the people who are LGBT activists have any illusion that this law fixes everything,” Holt said. “They just know that now people who are treated badly will have some legal recourse.” 

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