Weak LGBTQ protections need bolstered in Oberlin, according to the city’s human relations commission.
Employment discrimination and public accommodations are the group’s chief targets, co-chair Ray English said Tuesday while speaking to the Oberlin Business Partnership.
When it comes to hiring, job security, or service, there’s nothing to legally stop store owners or professionals from discriminating against people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer, he said.
The lack of protection is striking when compared to the Fair Housing Act, which bars realtors and landlords from making decisions on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, ancestry, disabilities, family status, or national origin.
And Ohio’s only hate crimes law speaks to “ethnic intimidation” related to menacing and harassment. Violence motivated by gender identity or sexual orientation isn’t addressed at all by statute.
“A lot of what we’re saying is that we have to get to a different place when it comes to these issues,” English said.
Bathrooms, both public and private, are also in the HRC’s crosshairs, said Gwen Stembridge of Equality Ohio, a Columbus-based nonprofit that advocates for the LGBTQ community and which has been working with the commission.
Referencing the North Carolina legislature’s now-repealed “bathroom bill” aimed at thwarting transgender rights, she said Oberlin business owners would be required to let people use the bathroom that matches their gender identity.
While those protections don’t exist at either the federal or state level, she wants to see them put in place across Ohio.
English said there are questions about whether such a requirement would violate the religious protection clause of the First Amendment.
The HRC is weighing whether there should be an exception for churches, and if so, what it should entail.
The commission has been discussing LGBTQ protections for years. Now it is preparing a list of recommendations for city council to consider adopting formally, including the employment and accommodations issues.
Putting protections in place won’t be enough, English said. There will also need to be procedures for how to hear and deal with complaints.
He outlined a plan for the human relations commission to mediate disputes before they escalate into lawsuits.
It calls for trained HRC members to try to reach informal resolutions. English said the aim was for all such talks to be kept entirely confidential.
However, there is no provision in the Ohio Open Meetings Act or Public Records Act that would allow the board to conduct business behind closed doors or to shield documents relating to the complaints or the identities of the parties involved.
Statute very clearly mandates that all public bodies must conduct business in the open and only with a quorum present.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.