OP-ED, By Nickie J. Antonio
State Representative (Lakewood, Cleveland’s Westside) HD13
Equality among all citizens is a cornerstone of our democratic society. Throughout our history individuals have fought hard to achieve equal rights and pave a path towards freedom which has not been without struggle and sacrifice. Members of the LGBT (lesbian, Gay Bisexual, Transgender) community are all too familiar with the struggle for equality. As we enter the LGBT “Pride Festival” season we take pride in the progress derived from the commitment and tireless efforts of those who stood up and stand up for equality, however, many obstacles remain.
As lawmakers we are called to adhere to and hold true to the principles that govern our society; principles of freedom, justice, and equality for all people. These ideals cannot be realized in isolation, but rather we must acknowledge that each principle relies on the other. We must make a commitment to the fundamental virtues that embody our constitution, our state, and our nation.
In September of 2011, I along with my colleague State Rep. Ross McGregor (R-Springfield) introduced House Bill 335, the Equal Housing Equal Employment Act. This bill takes a meaningful step toward greater equality for Ohio’s citizens. It explicitly prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in housing and employment. State law currently prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, gender, national origin, age, ancestry, military status and disability under Ohio’s Civil Rights Law. H.B.335 will simply add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of categories protected by the current law. This legislation has bi-partisan support because both Democrats and Republicans recognize that all citizens deserve equality under the law. H.B. 335 is nearly identical to legislation passed by the House in the 128th General Assembly in 2010, with a bipartisan vote as House Bill 176; unfortunately it stalled in the Ohio Senate.
Hard working Ohioans who are also members of the LGBT community contribute every day to the success and well-being of our state. We work, worship, pay taxes, volunteer, send our children to school, attend school, and are civically engaged in our communities. We represent our communities on city councils, school boards, county council boards, and in the Ohio State Legislature. All Ohioans deserve our respect and the full scope of rights that full citizenship brings. Now is the time for Ohio to join with the 21 states and over 650 Fortune 500 companies to become as job friendly as possible to grow our economy. This past February, in Utah, eBay, 1-800-Contacts, and Ancestry.com came together and told state legislators that unless they pass legislation ensuring lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender employment protection rights, they would not only refrain from bringing more jobs to Utah, but they will move their companies to other states who embrace equality. These corporate leaders noted that unless this legislation was passed, it would be very difficult for them to recruit industry experts to the state, thus not allowing them to grow and advance their companies. Ohio needs to be able to send the message that we are indeed a business friendly state, that we are open for business, and that companies can move here, be successful and that their employees will be welcomed and protected from discrimination. Now is the time to be proud of an Ohio that will not tolerate discrimination of any of her citizens. That would be something to celebrate.