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Misinformation abounds about Cuyahoga County’s overdue anti-discrimination ordinance: Robert Chaloupka (Opinion)

September 21, 2018

Misinformation abounds about Cuyahoga County’s overdue anti-discrimination ordinance: Robert Chaloupka (Opinion)

SEVEN HILLS, Ohio -- Next week, the Cuyahoga County Council is expected to vote on an anti-discrimination ordinance along the lines of those passed in 20 cities throughout Ohio, including six communities in Cuyahoga County (Cleveland, Cleveland Heights, East Cleveland, Lakewood, Olmsted Falls, and South Euclid). The draft legislation is long (about 25 pages), but it ultimately has one primary purpose: to add LGBTQ individuals to the classes of people against whom discrimination is already prohibited in the areas of employment, housing, and access to “places of public accommodation.”

Something like this is long overdue. From an economic perspective, this legislation will help our region retain and attract the best business and artistic talent, both because it will identify Cuyahoga County as a welcoming community that is prepared to be a leader in protecting the civil rights of all its citizens, and because it will hopefully lead to meaningful change at the state level and perhaps even at the federal level. Most importantly, though, this is the right thing to do.

There seems to be a lot of misinformation out there, so let me take a minute to describe what this ordinance would and would not do:

* It would give LGBTQ individuals some amount of protection for being fired, demoted, or otherwise discriminated against at work, simply because of who they are and whom they love. It would not force employers, large or small, to become experts in LGBTQ issues to comply with the law.

* It would protect LGBTQ people’s right to rent or own a home on the same terms as anyone else. It would not force churches or ministers to change their religious practices.

* It would ensure that LGBTQ people have the same access as anyone else to public places and businesses that are open to the general public. It would not increase the danger of children, boys or girls, being assaulted in restrooms.

Simply put, this ordinance would simply extend to our LGBTQ friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers the same protection from unlawful discrimination most of us in Cuyahoga County take for granted. I would also note that protecting someone’s right to live their life peacefully and without discrimination is not an infringement of anyone else’s freedoms.

It’s also important to point out that this ordinance would not duplicate existing state or federal law. Ohio law does not include sexual orientation or gender identity/expression as protected classes under the state anti-discrimination laws.

There is also no federal statute protecting the rights of LGBTQ persons in the areas of employment, housing, or public accommodations. While some federal agencies have chosen to defend these rights, those are policy decisions, subject to change with any new administration. In other words, under the letter of the law, a person can lose their job, lose their home, or be denied access to places otherwise open to the public, simply because they’re gay.

I’m a lifelong resident of Cuyahoga County. I’m also a straight, white, Christian man who had access to a solid education, a chance to pursue my career dreams, and the opportunity to raise my family in a nice home in the suburbs. My parents always taught me, as my wife and I teach our daughter, that you can achieve whatever goals you set, if you only work hard enough for it.

But that’s not the case for so many of our fellow citizens. The LGBTQ community, like other marginalized communities, has always had to deal with discrimination and mistreatment, ranging from everyday slights and derogatory comments, to a lack of opportunities in employment, housing, and other areas of everyday life, and, tragically, even to violent attacks and murder. We have a lot of work do to in order to make that dream of hard work leading to success achievable to everyone.

Cuyahoga County is full of millions of good people of all genders, races, religions, nationalities, and sexual orientations. Above just about all else, we pride ourselves on being good people, welcoming to all and ready to help our neighbors in need. This anti-discrimination ordinance gives us the chance to show the world whether we are who we say we are – actions speak louder than words, and this action is sorely needed.

Robert Chaloupka is an attorney in Seven Hills. 

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