CLEVELAND — LGBTQ advocates in Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati spent Wednesday night calling fellow Ohioans, urging them to tell their lawmakers they want the LGBTQ community to be protected from discrimination.
In Cleveland, volunteers gathered at the Equality Ohio office inside Cleveland Marshall College of Law at Cleveland State University. They made call after call to people represented by key lawmakers in the Ohio General Assembly who are involved in passing the Ohio Fairness Act out of committee.
According to Gwen Stembridge, statewide civic engagement director for Equality Ohio, the bill, which would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, has been introduced several times over the last ten years. Versions of the bill are currently in both the Ohio House and the Ohio Senate. Despite support from hundreds of businesses and organizations in Ohio, the bill has never become law.
“Did you know it’s still legal in Ohio to fire someone just cause of who they are or whom they love,” Stembridge said to someone she called.
That’s the message volunteers shared with fellow Ohioans.
“We get phone calls every day from someone who has been denied housing, who has been turned away from a soup kitchen or turned away from their job or from an opportunity,” Stembridge said.
Volunteers asked the people who answered the phones if they would like to be patched through to their elected representatives to leave a message with their support. In total, Stembridge said 74 people ended up making calls to their lawmakers to express their support.
Stembridge said that state workers are already protected from employment discrimination in Ohio, after former Governor John Kasich’s executive order before leaving office in 2018. Governor Mike DeWine chose to continue that executive order when he took office.
But those protections don’t apply to everyone else. Stembridge is hopeful that will change soon, with more bipartisan support for the Ohio Fairness Act now than ever before.
“We know that there are legislators in the Statehouse who support fairness for everyone, and so it’s just about reminding them that this is what the people of Ohio want,” Stembridge said.
More than two dozen local governments in Ohio have already passed protections similar to the Ohio Fairness Act.