CLEVELAND — On Thursday morning, State Senator Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) will be re-introducing the Ohio Fairness Act — for the sixth time in 10 years.
The legislation aims to prohibit discrimination of LGBTQ individuals in Ohio.
And this year, the Ohio Realtors Association became one of the first in the country to form a partnership that hopes to promote homeownership in the LGBTQ community.
As many of us know, house hunting and home buying can be a long, complicated process.
And for Rebecca McMillen and Sondra Cassidy, having a gay realtor and gay lender, actually made the process go that much smoother.
Having someone have that understanding and ask the right questions was beneficial,” McMillen said.
“I agree, I don’t think we even knew what we could or could not do together, legally,” Cassidy added.
Currently, neither federal nor state laws in Ohio prohibit housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
“Because we’re not a protected class, a buyer — and it has happened — they refuse to sell a house to a lesbian couple,” said Alex Cruz, the national VP of the LGBTQ+ Real Estate Alliance.
In fact, Ohio is one of 27 states where the LGBTQ community is not a protected class.
And that’s not for lack of trying.
A bill in the Ohio legislature, known as the Ohio Fairness Act, has been shot down several times over the years, despite having widespread backing from the public and from businesses.
“We strive for inclusion, inclusion, inclusion,” Cruz said. “And that’s great term but there are times I don’t want inclusion, I don’t want to be a checkbox. I want to be welcomed.”
It’s why Ohio Realtors recently partnered with the national LGBTQ Real Estate Alliance on a "memorandum of understanding."
“It’s all about awareness,” said Seth Task, president of the Ohio Realtors. “And the more we understand each other, the better we can get along. So we’re going to continue to work hard.”
Licensed realtors and sales people have to take several hours of fair housing courses every three years as part of their continuing education requirements.
The goal with this memorandum of understanding is to get the 35,000 Ohio realtors in the association to always take a stand when they see unfair housing practices when it comes to any class — race, gender, sexual orientation and others.
Even if that means walking away from a paycheck.
“The buyer or seller of the home can say that [they don’t want to work with someone] but the agent should then push back and say, “I cannot allow you to do that or if you choose to, then I can no longer represent you,’” Cruz explained.
And for couples like Cassidy and McMillen, there is comfort in knowing protections are in place.
“Hopefully these changes will make us all feel safer.”
As for the Ohio Fairness Act, Senator Antonio said she is hopeful it will get traction with the new general assembly that is in place.