Discrimination against sexual orientation and gender identity could soon be illegal in Oberlin.
City council is considering an expansion of existing anti-discrimination safeguards to include sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression in Oberlin’s Equal Opportunity Employment Program and housing ordinances.
Nineteen cities in Ohio have made discrimination against the LGBTQ community illegal, and Oberlin would be the first in Lorain County.
Ohio is one of 28 states where people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer are left out of anti-discrimination laws.
There’s nothing to legally prevent store owners or professionals from hiring, firing, or denying someone access to housing, public spaces, or services simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Existing laws provide protections based on race, religion, national origin, ancestry, handicap, color, and sex. No laws speak to intimidation motivated by gender or sex.
The Rev. Brian Wilbert, the LGBTQ affiliate chaplain at Oberlin College, said students are anxious about the national attitude toward their community.
Many don’t feel accepted and some say they feel discriminated against when it comes to gendered bathrooms and other public amenities. Wilbert said they feel there aren’t enough laws to protect them.
The city’s proposed revisions are based on recommendations from the Oberlin human relations commission and Equality Ohio, an LGBTQ advocacy nonprofit.
Among the changes include an edited definition of gender identity or expression as “having or being perceived as having a gender identity or expression whether or not that gender identity or expression is different from that traditionally associated with the sex assigned to that individual at birth.”
Sexual orientation means “having an orientation for or being identified as having an orientation for heterosexuality, bisexuality, or homosexuality.”
“Your attention to this issue is especially needed right now when rights are under threat at the state and national level and misunderstanding leads to ignorant and harmful words and acts,” said Gwen Stembridge, an employee with Equality Ohio.
She said updating only the housing and public employment code falls short of full equality, and urged council to add sections to its existing laws to include private employment and public accommodations.
“I hear stories all the time of members of the transgender community that are not welcome in restrooms that correspond with their gender, with how they live every day,” Stembridge said. “You have the opportunity to send a message to the community that all are welcome to earn a living and enjoy public spaces and services no matter who they are or whom they love.”
Councilman Kelley Singleton said he believes council will step on board. The first step is about cleaning up language in its existing ordinances before adding to them.
“There have been so many things that I have experienced on council where I think, ‘Oh we haven’t done anything about that yet?’ and this is one of those things,” he said.
Laurie Hamame can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @HamameNews on Twitter.