Cuyahoga County Council just made history for its LGBTQ residents. The council––the first county in Ohio, and only one of two that can enact such a law, the other being Summit––voted to establish county-wide LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination protections. In addition, they created a Human Rights Commission in order to advance a culture of diversity and inclusion, and to respond to complaints of discrimination.
20 municipalities in Ohio have already taken this step. Before tonight’s vote, the amount of Ohioans living in areas with LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination protections was 21.58%; with Cuyahoga County, that number is now 27.66%.
“I am incredibly proud of the Cuyahoga County Council and of the message this sends to the LGBTQ residents of Cuyahoga County,” said Alana Jochum, Equality Ohio Executive Director. “I hope that in particular, this sends a message to LGBTQ youth in the county that they are welcome, they are accepted, and they shouldn’t have to move to the big city to be treated with dignity.”
“Cuyahoga County leaders have taken an important step and we hope their leadership will build momentum in other communities that lack protections,” said HRC Ohio State Director Shawn Copeland. “But more must be done to move equality forward and end the unacceptable patchwork of non-discrimination laws across this state that leave LGBTQ Ohioans at risk. In November, we must elect a pro-equality governor and state legislature committed to passing the Ohio Fairness Act, and we must address the epidemic of violence facing Ohio’s transgender community — particularly transgender women of color. Every Ohioan should have a fair chance to earn a living, provide for their families, and live their lives without fear of discrimination and we look forward to working with our local partners and elected officials to ensure that all are protected.”
This is a major step for LGBTQ Ohioans, and coincides with an elephant in the room––or the Ohio Legislature, in this case. The Ohio Fairness Act (HB160), a state version of what Cuyahoga County passed, is similar to proposals considered by the legislature over the years (and passed by the Ohio House in 2009).
But there’s a big difference this session––LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination protections have a tremendous amount of public support as well as the buy-in of businesses operating in Ohio.
Ohio Business Competes, a coalition of over 475 corporations, small and medium sized businesses, law firms, and universities supports LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination at the state level. Regional chambers of commerce, including the Columbus Chamber, the Dayton Chamber of Commerce, Cincinnati Regional Chamber, and the Greater Cleveland Partnership support HB160. The Ohio Chamber does as well.
For the first time in nearly a decade, the bill received a hearing in January. The end of session is approaching, and it will be hard for legislators to ignore what Cuyahoga County has done here.