CLEVELAND — The United States Supreme Court ruled Monday that members of the LGBTQ community are protected from employment discrimination by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex and national origin.
The SCOTUS ruling held that this also covers discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Eliana Turan, director of development at the LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland, said she views the landmark decision as a victory.
However, she said, "This is nowhere near the end of this fight."
The ruling removes legal ambiguity at the federal level and could potentially lead to protections in other areas, Turan said.
"In the years leading up to this landmark decision, the broad consensus within our court system was that Title VII afforded protection to the LGBTQ community, but there was enough dissension within courts here and there that there wasn’t a unanimous agreement here," Turan said. "So with this landmark decision by the Supreme Court, that uncertainty is now removed, and it is now official that Title VII protections apply to protect the LGBTQ community in the United States of America."
Turan said there's more work to be done, though. She said a pair of bills in the Ohio General Assembly, called the Ohio Fairness Act, are "absolutely essential to get passed in the state of Ohio."
The bills, Senate Bill 11 and House Bill 369, seek to provide comprehensive legal protection in multiple areas for LGBTQ Ohioans.
"All Ohioans who want to make a life here, like myself, it would afford a sense of legitimacy and validation for us and a sense of safety," Turan said. "It would make me feel as if this is truly my home. A place that I’ve been born and raised, a place that I defended in uniform. It would make me and those in my community know that we are loved and we are welcomed here."
Turan said it's critical to understand the "deep-rooted nature of homophobia and transphobia" in the U.S. and the world.
"This is not something that our straight neighbors necessarily see all the time," Turan said. "Not all of this is something that’s going to be directly visible."
She gave examples such as "being harassed to the point that you’re being forced to leave your job, things like you’re being evicted from where you’re living, not being hired even though you’re the best candidate for the job. These sorts of things happen to the LGBTQ community every day. We live under a sense of danger every single day."
Turan added, "The truth is that if the inalienable rights of any group of people are looked over, are denied, that undermines the legitimacy of the inalienable rights of all people, all human beings."
Turan said that the LGBTQ community has faced "an onslaught of legal attacks from all directions" over the past few years, including recent rollbacks of legal protections within the Affordable Care Act.
She hopes this ruling will be a turning point.
"It was a win, it was a victory, but it was only on one front of many, and that’s why we have to keep going until equality is afforded for all realms of life," Turan said.
State Senator Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) said she was "pleasantly surprised" by the Supreme Court's ruling Monday. However, she said the Ohio Fairness Act would allow for full equality, giving LGBTQ Ohioans protections to work, live and play in their own communities without discrimination.
"What that bill does is provide those protections with regard to employment, housing and being in the public sphere," Antonio said.
Right now, some county and city governments in Ohio have these protections, what Antonio called "kind of a disjointed, disconnected patchwork."
"You maybe live in one community, work in a different community," Antonio said. "You may have equality, experience and enjoy equality in one community but not in the other."
She also said it would give people facing discrimination options other than just filing a lawsuit.
"They might be able to have a hearing, they might be able to go to mediation with the person that’s discriminating against them," Antonio said. "There’s some measures they can take, [including] litigation, but there’s steps that can be taken before that."
She said the Ohio Fairness Act would also serve as a prevention tool, judging by how similar laws have been received in other states, and that it would also enable LGBTQ Ohioans to heal.
"Right now we have citizenship, we got a little bit closer to full citizenship, but we are not there," Antonio said. "We do not have full citizenship right now."
Antonio said there is strong support from the business community and the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, among other organizations, and that a law like the Ohio Fairness Act would re-energize Ohio's economy.
The Ohio Fairness Act remains in committee in both houses of the General Assembly.
"I think we have less and less reasons all the time why we aren’t moving these bills forward," Antonio said. "I think there’s much more reason to do it than not to do it, and so as my colleagues know already, they can continue to expect that I will continue to encourage them to both have more hearings and pass the bills. It’s time."