Ohio’s troubling track record on LGBTQ+ rights

February 19, 2020 12:15 am

A LGBTQ+ rights demonstration. Photo by Susan J. Demas, Michigan Advance, States Newsroom.

When most of us are little, we learn about the “Golden Rule.” This is the basic principle that you should treat others the way you’d like to be treated. This maxim is taught across different religions and cultures, and usually, it’s used to help children learn about empathy. Unfortunately, Ohio’s children are learning the opposite lesson from our lawmakers.

In the 1960’s, discrimination on the basis of race, gender, religion, sex, and national origin was deemed unconstitutional via the Civil Rights Act. Because the language did not explicitly include sexual orientation and gender identity, protections for LGBTQ+ people have been largely left to the states. Ohio is one of 30 states that allows discrimination against LGBTQ+ people in employment, housing, and public accommodations – leaving 389,000 LGBTQ+ adults and 72,000 LGBTQ+ youth at risk.

In Ohio, a LGBTQ+ person can get married on Sunday, lose their job on Monday, be denied housing on Tuesday, and refused service at a restaurant on a Wednesday. In 2014, more than one in four LGBT adults (2.2 million people) struggled to put food on the table. No-one should live with this fear because of who they love or how they identify. Everyone should be able to put in an honest day’s work and provide for their family.

Yet, despite broad efforts from the LGBTQ+ community and its allies, Ohio lawmakers have failed to pass non-discrimination legislation. This effort began in 2003; that’s right — we’ve been fighting for these basic protections for nearly twenty years. The Ohio Fairness Act is the latest attempt.

While state lawmakers are dragging their feet, local leaders in 26 cities and one county have enacted these protections themselves. LGBTQ+ Ohioans are our friends, neighbors, co-workers. Living free from discrimination shouldn’t hinge on whether we are fortunate enough to live in the right zip code.   

The good news is that Ohioans and businesses are ready for the Ohio Fairness Act to pass. In fact, nearly three quarters of Ohioans favor employment and housing laws that make

it illegal to discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Similarly, more than 800 business have joined Ohio Business Competes – making the connection that Ohio can win investment, business and talent by sending a clear message that the LGBTQ+ community is welcome here.

Sadly non-discrimination protections aren’t the only thing lacking in Ohio. Our troubling track record on LGBTQ+ rights goes further. Ohio is one of only two states that does not allow individuals to correct the gender marker on their birth certificate. This outdated and dangerous policy is unconstitutional, unfair, and continues to put transgender individuals at risk of discrimination and being unnecessarily outed. 

In 2018, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, the ACLU, and Lambda Legal filed a lawsuit against the state urging Ohio to fulfill the Constitution’s promise that all people have a right to live freely and openly in society as who they are, without fear of discrimination.

The most recent attack on LGBTQ+ Ohioans has fallen on transgender kids through the so-called “Vulnerable Child Protection Act” (Representatives Hood and Dean issued a call for co-sponsors on 2/11, but the bill has not yet been introduced). Don’t let the name fool you, this bill would seriously jeopardize the health and rights of children in Ohio by prohibiting medically-necessary therapy, creating criminal penalties for providers who offer that care, and creating a civil right of action for the child or their parent/ guardian. It’s no wonder that 68% of LGBTQ+ youth say they hear negative messages about being LGBTQ+ from elected leaders.

LGBTQ+ youth are also twice as likely as their peers to say they have been physically assaulted, kicked or shoved. Being a kid is hard enough. We don’t need politicians making it even harder for kids who are transgender and singling them out for increased bullying and harassment. Medical and mental health treatment for transgender individuals is guided by evidence-based clinical guidelines and based on the individual needs of each patient. Blanket bans on treatment disrupt medically necessary care and result in negative health outcomes including anxiety, depression and suicidality. 

A proposal like this is one of the most extreme political attacks on transgender people in recent memory—and it displays a fundamental ignorance about medical care for transgender youth. Medical professionals, not politicians, should decide what medical care is in the best interest of a patient in accordance with the current medical best practices. Transgender children, like any child, have the best chance to thrive when they are supported and can get the care they need.

Ohio’s track record on LGBTQ+ rights is bleak, but it’s not too late to change. It is far past time to end the fear and hatred that hurts our communities. Liberty and justice for all is one of the biggest broken promises of our government. But we can get one step closer to making good on that promise in Ohio by stopping discriminatory bills from making their way through the Ohio General Assembly and passing the Ohio Fairness Act once and for all. 

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Jocelyn Rosnick
Jocelyn Rosnick

Jocelyn Rosnick is the Policy Director for the ACLU of Ohio. She joined the ACLU of Ohio staff in 2012, where she has used her legal, communications, and organizing skills to move between departments and work on a variety of high-level projects. In addition to her work with the ACLU, she coordinates the Ohio Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild which trains individuals to be legal observers at demonstrations in order to safeguard protestor’s constitutional rights. Jocelyn received her B.A. in sociology with an emphasis on social inequality from West Virginia University. Although a Mountaineer at heart, Jocelyn moved to Cleveland to attend Case Western Reserve University School of Law, where she received her Juris Doctor in 2012.