Ohio nondiscrimination bill introduced, but lacks transgender protections

Equality OhioCOLUMBUS, Ohio — Last week, Representative Bill Hayes introduced HB 537, which attempts to make discrimination in housing or employment on the basis of sexual orientation unlawful. However, the bill does nothing for the most vulnerable in the LGBTQ community, transgender Ohioans, and is silent on discrimination in public accommodations.

There is a clear problem in Ohio – it is generally legal to fire someone, kick someone out of rental housing, or deny service at a store or restaurant just because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Unfortunately, this law does not address these important issues – not only does it leave transgender people out entirely, it fails to secure protections against discrimination in public accommodations.

Discrimination against transgender people has spurred travel boycotts from several Ohio cities and counties to North Carolina including Columbus, Cincinnati, Dayton, Cuyahoga County and Summit County.

Protections against discrimination in public accommodations – like being refused entry or access to stores, restaurants, parks, hotels, doctor’s offices and banks – is a fundamental civil right that this bill does not address. In addition, the bill has broad religious exemptions.

“Equality Ohio will never support a bill that fails to include the transgender community,” said Alana Jochum, managing director of Equality Ohio. “We need to show that Ohio is truly welcoming to all LGBTQ Ohioans. The bill represents a complicated attempt to a solve a problem that could be resolved simply by adding protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression throughout Ohio’s existing nondiscrimination code. I look forward to working with Rep. Hayes and our legislators to work together for a law in Ohio that protects the entire LGBTQ community.”

“When we say that everyone deserves protection from discrimination, we mean everyone,” said Lisa Wurm, policy manager for the ACLU of Ohio. “We refuse to support legislation that carves out exceptions for people that are often the most vulnerable and stigmatized. We will not sacrifice the rights of transgender people in our work for full legal equality.”

“While we appreciate Representative Hayes’ desire to address discrimination against lesbian, gay and bisexual people in Ohio, this attempt is simply a non-starter. A bill that would truly address this issue would also include protections in public accommodations and would ensure that those most vulnerable to discrimination, transgender individuals, were included. We’d be happy to work with Representative Hayes to craft something that would more fully address the problem of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in all places where people live, work and play.” Sarah Warbelow, HRC Legal Director.