Banning LGBT discrimination: Supporters urge Ohio lawmakers to act

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Ohio's civil rights code bans discrimination based on race, color, sex, disability, age, religion or national origin.

Those protections do not apply to the LGBT community. State lawmakers are considering a bill to change that.

Many states, including Ohio, do not protect LGBT people from discrimination in housing, employment, or public accommodations.

Dozens of people testified at the statehouse Wednesday to tell lawmakers it's time to change the law.

Lisa Phair has a transgender son.

"My child should be afforded the same opportunity as every other kid at his bus stop," she said. "He's smart and kind and capable. And he should be judged based on his merit and character, and not what's in his pants."

Jason Rudman was recruited to Cleveland for a top position with a Fortune 500 company.

He says he and his husband had doubts about moving to a state where they weren't protected.

Cleveland is one of 19 Ohio cities, including Columbus, that bans LGBT discrimination.

"However, here's the reality: my family could travel to a different part of Ohio, and be denied access to public accommodation," Rudman said.

He argued House Bill 160 is about equality and simple fairness.

The Ohio Chamber of Commerce says it's also good business. It would allow Ohio to compete with 21 states and the District of Columbia that currently have similar protections on the books.

"In advancing Ohio's business climate, the Ohio Chamber recognizes the value and power of diversity," said Don Boyd. "We believe that employees deserve robust protections from discrimination, and that discrimination of any type has no place in the workplace. everyone deserves the right to do their job without fear of being discriminated against."

State Representative Bill Seitz argued the bill goes further than non-discrimination.

"This is not merely a statement that people shall not discriminate, but rather an affirmative obligation to have an affirmative action program for the employment of such persons, not just a statement that we're not going to discriminate against them."

Variations of the bill have died in the Ohio Statehouse multiple times.

Wednesday was the first time in nearly a decade that it got this far. It was a second hearing.

Supporters say times have changed, and so should Ohio.

"There is a liberty bell on the grounds floor of this building," said Rudman, his voice choked with emotion. "And there are words that surround it. And two of them are tolerance and equality. And that is what we uphold in this state of Ohio. I urge you to pass this bill."

Wednesday's hearing was for proponent testimony.

Next steps, including a hearing for opponent testimony, or a vote, are up to Representative Louis Blessing, Chairman of the House Government Accountability and Oversight Committee.

The group Citizens for Community Values opposes House Bill 160, calling it a "bathroom bill" that would "bully small business into compromising their beliefs and privacy."

Full statement from Citizens for Community Values:

Introduced by Representative Nickie Antonio (D-13), the 112-page House Bill 160 elevates “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to protected class status – saying it’s illegal to discriminate against LGBT people just like its illegal to discriminate against people based on age, race, national origin, disability, and religion.

I’ll tell you more later about why it’s ridiculous to compare sexual orientation and gender identity to things like race, but today, I’ll quickly explain 3 negative impacts of this bill.

1 - Bathroom and Shower Privacy - HB 160 is a “bathroom bill” which mandates that people are allowed to use the private facility with which they identify. This means men can use women’s restrooms, showers, or changing rooms.

2 – Warning: Lawsuits Ahead – How do you know someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity? Basing law on these vague terms is a guaranteed path to frivolous lawsuits and disaster for small business owners. Because of how politicized the LGBT issue is, the mere threat of a charge of discrimination is potentially damaging to a business, even if the claim is unfounded.

3 – Celebrate… or else. - Across the country we’ve seen business owners like Barronelle Stutzman, Aaron and Melissa Klien, and Jack Phillips be at risk of losing everything they own because they don’t want to participate in a religious ceremony they disagree with: a same-sex wedding. HB 160 would put every Ohioan in business in at risk for similar lawsuits.