Prizm News / September 25, 2018 / By Bob Vitale
Four hours of discussion followed by an 8-3 vote add sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression to county anti-bias laws.
By Bob Vitale
After nearly four hours of comments by residents who invoked religion, economics and personal experience, Cuyahoga County Council members voted, 8-3, Tuesday to adopt Ohio’s first countywide ordinance barring discrimination based on people’s sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.
“This was quite a discussion, quite a forum,” Council President Dan Brady told an audience inside the council chambers, out in the lobby and in an adjacent hearing. The council heard testimony from more than 85 people for and against the ordinance.
The new law will extend already existing nondiscrimination protections based on race, gender, religion, disability and other factors to LGBTQ people in 53 more Ohio cities, villages and townships. Twenty Ohio communities have adopted their own nondiscrimination laws. Cuyahoga County is one of just two Ohio counties with the power to pass its own laws.
Brady; cosponsors Yvonne Conwell, Michael Houser, Dale Miller and Sunny Simon; and council members Shontel Brown, Pernell Jones Jr., and Scott Tuma voted for the legislation. Council members Nan Baker, Michael Gallagher and Jack Schron, the council’s only three Republican members, opposed the ordinance.
Debate centered around the same issues raised in cities around Ohio that already have approved LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination laws. Conservative Christian opponents of the LGBTQ community described sexual orientation and gender identity as a choice that shouldn’t be protected. They raised the specter of male sexual predators pretending to be transgender in order to enter women’s restrooms. They urged the council to exempt religious institutions from the law.
One woman told council members they were turning Cuyahoga County into a “cesspool,” and one man told officials they were “satanically bewitched.” Another mentioned Brady’s wife, children and grandchildren by name, saying he should fear for their safety in public restrooms.
LGBTQ residents of Cuyahoga County told stories of their own experiences with discrimination and hate, of being harassed, humiliated or assaulted, of wrestling with the choice of whether to live or quit fighting, of fighting for those who chose the latter.
“I will never understand fighting a bill to protect other human beings,” said openly gay county resident Billy Tyler, who remembered a gay high school friend who, at age 14, committed suicide in 1997.
“I will never understand hating other human beings,” Tyler said.
Darius Stubbs of Cleveland, who is transgender, told officials that a Cuyahoga County resident’s address shouldn’t determine whether he, she or they can get a job or keep their home.
“I know that we cannot legislate hearts and minds, but legislation can provide an opportunity for our elected officials to provide a beacon to our citizenry of who we want to be,” he said.
The new Cuyahoga County law bars anti-LGBTQ discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations. It creates a three-member Commission on Human Rights to hear, investigate and rule on discrimination complaints.
Keith Benjamin, director of community services in South Euclid, a Cuyahoga County municipality that passed its own nondiscrimination ordinance in March, said he heard many of the same arguments against that plan.
“Many people stood up and predicted dire consequences,” he said. “None of those dire predictions came to pass, just as they haven’t in Olmsted Falls or Cleveland or Cleveland Heights or Lakewood.”
Those Cuyahoga County communities, along with East Cleveland, have local nondiscrimination laws. The countywide law covers 720,000 more Cuyahoga County residents in communities that include Parma, Euclid, Strongsville, Westlake and North Olmsted.
“I will finally have the rights that many of you have never had the misfortune of not having,” said county resident Madison Woods.