Prizm News / March 21, 2019 / By Bob Vitale

Above: State Sen. Nickie Antonio, D-Lakewood, at a Statehouse news conference. Top: Executive Director Alana Jochum of Equality Ohio, which coordinates the Ohio Business Competes coalition. (Prizm photos by Bob Vitale)

Corporate coalition tops 600 members for latest version of the Ohio Fairness Act.

By Bob Vitale 

Backers of legislation that would add sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression to Ohio’s nondiscrimination laws offered 600 reasons today to refute the argument that state regulation is bad for business. 

Six-hundred Ohio businesses—from the state’s biggest member of the Fortune 500 to an online seller of LGBTQ-inspired dog clothes—have joined a coalition of companies calling for state lawmakers to approve a bill making it illegal to fire workers, evict tenants or turn away customers because they’re gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. 

- Advertisement -

Ohio Business Competes has doubled its membership in just the last year, organizers announced at a Statehouse news conference. The list of backers includes the Ohio Chamber of Commerce and Ohio Manufacturers Association, as well as Ohio-based Fortune 500 members Cardinal Health, Procter & Gamble, Progressive Casualty Insurance Co., American Electric Power, Sherwin-Williams, Fifth Third Bank and KeyCorp. 

“They had to make all the logos smaller,” state Sen. Nickie Antonio said, referring to a chart of supporters on an easel nearby. 

Antonio, D-Lakewood, introduced the Ohio Fairness Act in February for the fifth consecutive session of the Ohio General Assembly. It’s numbered as Senate Bill 11, which she said indicates it’s a high priority for Senate Democrats since the first 10 bills all were introduced by majority Republicans. 

While they still make the fairness argument about the Ohio Fairness Act— “it’s not about regulation, it’s about rights,” said Dayton business owner Tom Greene, the father of two gay sons—advocates are increasingly pitching the legislation as an economic-development tool for the state.

Businesses looking to expand and employees looking to relocate take into consideration a state’s climate on LGBTQ and other issues of inclusion, they say. It’s an especially high priority for job-seeking Millennials, said Derrick Clay, a member of the Government Affairs Steering Committee for the Greater  Columbus Chamber of Commerce. 

Antonio suggested that Amazon might have spurned Columbus during its search last year for a second North American headquarters because Ohio lacks an inclusive nondiscrimination law. Marin Luria Harbur of Lima, who was fired from a job for being transgender, nearly relocated to Minnesota because of its civil-rights guarantees, she said. 

The Ohio Fairness Act already has been granted a Senate committee hearing, and the addition of a Republican cosponsor this year is another reason Antonio said she’s optimistic about its chances. State Sen. Michael Rulli, R-Leetonia, called the legislation a matter of common sense for a state that needs to attract new businesses, new workers and new residents. 

Equality Ohio and other advocates have had more success at the local level in recent years, and 27 percent of Ohioans now live in communities whose local nondiscrimination laws include sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. 

But that has created a patchwork of protections that can end up leaving an LGBTQ Ohioan protected where she lives but vulnerable to discrimination where she works. While Cuyahoga County passed a nondiscrimination law last year that covers all of its municipalities, the only communities in Franklin County that have outlawed anti-LGBTQ discrimination are Columbus and Bexley. 

“Absent statewide protections, people can lose their rights on their daily commute,” said Jennifer Evans of TransOhio.