Sexual orientation not included in Ohio discrimination lawWritten by Blair Bohland | | firstname.lastname@example.org
By law, Ohioans cannot be fired because of their race, religion, color, national origin, sex, military status, ancestry or age.
But in many communities they can be fired because of their gender or sexual orientation.
“The words ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity’ appear nowhere in state law,” said Kim Welter, director of programs and outreach at Equality Ohio, the statewide educational and advocacy organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning and allies (LGBTQA). “So we’re not included in nondiscrimination laws or hate crime laws and we’re not specifically spelled out in schools or anti-bullying.”
Some cities — including Toledo and Bowling Green — have passed local legislation to include gender and sexual orientation.
Many neighboring cities, however, have yet to join the parade.
“It’s completely legal in Ohio to fire somebody, refuse to rent to them, refuse to hire them, refuse service in a restaurant or hotel based only on sexual orientation or gender identity,” Welter said. “The City of Toledo has a local ordinance that makes that illegal, but if they’re in Rossford or Sylvania, that’s not true.”
The excitement of the upcoming Toledo Pride parade and festivities can easily overpower the reason why organizations like Toledo Pride were created in the first place — to bring people with a common interest together.
But in many cases these interests aren’t always protected under the law, and organizations like Toledo Pride, Equality Toledo and Equality Ohio step up to bring attention to them.
It is not uncommon to have people fired or harassed because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, said Welter, who said Ohio is one of the slowest states to pass legislation and is tied for the second to last in the country for LGBTQA rights.
Welter said she has received calls from Northwest Ohio telling of situations where the harassment was so severe, the caller had to see a therapist. Another caller was so afraid to go to work, he called in sick.
“So they were ultimately going to get fired for the days they missed, not because of their sexual orientation. But it was really tied together. It’s hard to keep track of those cases,” Welter said. “Most of the big cities have laws, but the problem with some of the smaller cities like Perrysburg and Maumee is that they don’t have a community relations commission like Toledo’.”
“People who are fired or harassed because they are too masculine or feminine, or not masculine or feminine enough, can find court support under the idea that sex and gender are both intended by the word ‘sex’,” Welter said. “So people who are transgender have a bit more protection under that law than people who are gay, lesbian or bisexual.”
There is also no relationship recognition at the state level in Ohio. A constitutional amendment states that not only will Ohio refuse to recognize same-sex marriages, but the state won’t recognize any legal status that approximates marriage, such as civil unions or domestic partnerships.
“What happens is that a couple goes to another state to get married, and then they come back to Ohio and they aren’t married anymore,” Welter said.
Toledo has fairly decent protection, said Kelly Heuss, Toledo Pride marketing and communications co-coordinator and founder of local LGBTQA publication Outlines Toledo.
“Equality Ohio has a ranking system based on points, and Toledo is within the top five in the state,” Heuss said. “In terms of having the domestic partnership registry, nondiscrimination laws, employment, housing and public accommodations, Toledo as a city is pretty good.”
Many people don’t realize they can call the Ohio Civil Rights Commission if they feel they were wronged, Welter said.
“It’s not something we’re able to get out well enough publically,” Welter said. “There is the City of Toledo Board of Community Relations locally, and they have different names in different cities. But most people don’t understand the law completely and sometimes they just don’t report. Oftentimes if they were harassed out of a job or fired, they quit because it’s such a nasty work environment. They don’t want to go back to something like that.”
Welter said the only way for things to happen at the local level is for locals to get involved and ask for change themselves.