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Cuyahoga County looks to add protections for LGBTQ residents

Posted at 5:49 PM, Jul 18, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-18 18:22:55-04

Cracking down on discrimination, Cuyahoga is poised to become the first county in the state to add new protections for people who live there.

Council members are considering a proposal that would include sexual orientation and gender identity to classes already covered by state law.

The county is also looking to take things a step further and create a commission on human rights. However, there's some concern that, if passed as is, the commission would not do enough to protect members of the LGBTQ community.

"Transgender people have to evaluate every single space that they walk into," Jackson Siegel said.

It's a way of life for Siegel.

"I identify as a transgender man and I live in Cuyahoga County," he said.

A county that, depending on where he goes, could find Siegel fired from a job, turned away by businesses and denied housing — all of it perfectly legal.

"You could have protections for where you live, but not necessarily where you work," J. Bennett Guess with the ACLU of Ohio said.

Cuyahoga County Council members are looking to close that loophole.

"Our legal intake suggests that it is real and it is pervasive," Guess said.

A steady stream of calls from concerned residents who are not already protected from these discriminations come into Equality Ohio.

"At least weekly, from individuals who have been discriminated against in housing, have been fired from their job, have been turned away from public spaces," Gwen Stembridge with Equality Ohio said.

Many area cities already offer protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

"This is a bold move to become the first county in Ohio to add these two classifications to our non-discrimination ordinance," Guess said.

Guess said plans to also create a commission on human rights in the county falls short.

"It really doesn't help the actual individual,” Guess said.

Fines collected by those who discriminate would be used to fund public education on issues of inclusion and equity.

"That is important work in our community," Guess said.

Guess said he would like to see the commission have a little more teeth and give victims a chance to collect monetary damages.

"We think this is an opportunity to do absolutely the best thing we can for the LGBTQ community, and as currently proposed, it is not the best thing that we can do," Guess said.

For now, Siegel said it's a move in the right direction.

"Not so much on paper change things, but be able to create a platform, a dialogue to ensue these changes of acceptance," Siegel said.

The ACLU would like to see these protections rolled out in all 88 counties in Ohio.

The Cuyahoga County Council will take up the ordinance at a committee meeting on Thursday. It will still need a couple more readings before it can come up for a vote.