Dec 3, 2021 - News

Ohio's inaction on LGBTQ+ rights spurs local progress

Ohio communities that have passed anti-discrimination ordinances
Data: Equality Ohio; Map: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

In the absence of statewide LGBTQ+ protections, a growing number of Ohio communities are taking it upon themselves to enact ordinances to safeguard personal rights.

Why it matters: The patchwork of laws showcases efforts made by cities to promote inclusive values in part to attract population and economic growth.

State of play: The Human Rights Campaign Foundation's 2021 Municipal Equality Index gave Columbus a perfect score for the quality of life for LGBTQ+ residents, Axios reported last week, while Dublin fared much lower.

Yes, but: There is still more work to be done in the capital city, advocates say, while Dublin leaders recently approved an anti-discrimination ordinance.

The big picture: The state of Ohio prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, religion and other protected classes, but this does not include sexual orientation or gender expression.

  • Bipartisan attempts to expand statewide discrimination law to include those protections have gained little traction in the Republican-led Ohio General Assembly.

The intrigue: Statewide inaction and the pandemic both played a role in spurring local activism, says Joseph Soza, Central Ohio regional organizer for advocacy group Equality Ohio.

  • After major Pride events were canceled in 2020, activists were inspired to host small-scale gatherings in their hometowns that led to a "tremendous momentum in Central Ohio communities" wanting to pursue local policy, Soza tells Axios.
  • He pointed to Rainbow Dublin, a new pro-LGBTQ+ group formed earlier in 2021, which joined Equality Ohio and a local Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) chapter in pushing for the Dublin ordinance.

Zoom in: The Dublin City Council vote on Nov. 15 made it the 34th Ohio municipality to prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ+ people in areas of employment, housing and public accommodations.

  • This list includes area cities Columbus, Bexley, Reynoldsburg, Westerville and Worthington.
  • A number of other Franklin County towns have yet to take action, reducing legal protection to a matter of geographic luck.
  • Soza describes being protected at work and at home in separate areas of Columbus, but not while running errands in a suburb in between.

What they're saying: Rainbow Dublin founder Bobby Weston, called the ordinance "an amazing first step in bringing Dublin up-to-date with many of our neighboring communities."

  • "I believe that we must do our best to make sure Dublin stands for fairness, parity and success, by setting the bar as high as possible," Weston told city council members.

The final word: Those at Equality Ohio are optimistic of where the Buckeye State is headed, but acknowledge that progress is not always linear.

  • "Progress is possible and so is backtracking," says Maria Bruno, the group's public policy director, noting legislative efforts to curb trans rights.
  • "We are in a pivotal moment in Ohio's political sphere in that we have a lot of people who are deciding right now, in real time, what their values are."

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