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LGBTQ community cheers passage of new law that protects from discrimination

Posted at 6:28 PM, Sep 26, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-27 10:31:29-04

Tuesday night leaders in Cuyahoga County gave the green light to the formation of a commission on human rights that extends new protections for members of the LGBTQ community.

Previously those individuals could lose their job, be denied housing or kicked out of a business because of who they are.

The move by Cuyahoga County, which created its share of controversy, gives victims of discrimination a legal leg to stand on.

RELATED: Cuyahoga County becomes first in the state to adopt legislation that protects the LGBTQ community

News 5 caught up with a trans woman who said it's legislation that's long overdue.

"They weren't very LGBT friendly,” said Jessica Wilkins.

That's how Wilkins describes the working environment at her last job in Cuyahoga County.

"This one guy would tell me how he just got out of jail for beating up someone," said Wilkins.

Because she didn't feel safe, Wilkins applied for a bakery manager position.

"When you have to hide who you are every day, it's hard to put your best foot forward," said Wilkins.

In order to get the job, Wilkins was told because she wasn't a woman, she would have to cut her long hair.

"I said I'm going to be transitioning soon, so I'll be a girl, and they were like, we don't hire your kind of people," said Wilkins.

Wilkins tells us that overnight she found herself jobless, living with her parents.

Afraid she'd remain unemployed, Wilkins went as far as to delay her transition.

"For a few more months, until I could land the job I have now," said Wilkins.

A job that Wilkins can't lose just because of her gender identity.

"Me being transgender doesn't affect how I work," said Wilkins.

Cuyahoga County now includes sexual orientation and gender identity in its protected classes.

"Ninety percent of transgender people report discrimination in the workplace," said Elizabeth Bonham.

Bonham is celebrating the move as both an attorney for the ACLU and a member of the LGBTQ community.

"I can walk into a pizza shop and be denied service because I am a lesbian under federal law," said Bonham.

Protections still lacking at the federal and state level are now covered within the county.

"To take this step demonstrates how much momentum we have in the right direction," said Bonham.

Advocates tell News 5 that they hope this inspires lawmakers in Columbus to extend this safety net statewide.

"It'll give people a leg to stand on and to feel safe," said Wilkins.

For Jessica Wilkins, it's a feeling she didn't always have but moving forward she does.

"I'm glad Cleveland is a place that I can definitely call home forever now," said Wilkins.

An attorney from Cuyahoga County, who helped write the new ordinance, told News 5 that this will be a very fair process.

Parties from both sides of any complaint will have the chance to appear before the independent Commission on Human Rights before any sort of legal action is taken.