COLUMBUS, Ohio — At the end of a year dominated by coverage and conversations about marriage equality, it’s other longstanding issues for LGBT people that are getting the most attention in Ohio.
State legislators have introduced separate bills that would ban so-called conversion therapy for LGBT children and add sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s hate crimes laws.
And as civil-rights groups intensified their lobbying of Sen. Rob Portman leading up to his Senate vote in favor of the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act, activists also have been pushing an Ohio version that would ban housing and job discrimination based on people’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
Although polls show Ohioans closely divided on the issue of marriage, they find overwhelming support for anti-discrimination laws that cover LGBT Ohioans. Nearly 70 percent are in favor, and more than 80 percent think laws are already in place.
“I really think the majority of the people in the state of Ohio are fair and believe in equality,” said state Rep. Nickie Antonio, D-Lakewood. “Our public policy needs to catch up.”
Equality Ohio Executive Director Elyzabeth Holford said proponents need 11 more votes in the state House and four more votes in the state Senate to win passage of an Ohio anti-discrimination bill known as the Equal Housing and Employment Act.
An ongoing lobbying effort has called in supportive business owners, corporate leaders, clergy and other faith leaders to talk with their hometown legislators who are on the fence.
The September poll by the Washington-based Public Religion Research Institute found support for anti-discrimination laws among majorities of Ohio Republicans, Democrats and independents, as well as evangelical Christians and Catholics.
“We’re making sure they know their voters support this,” Holford said. “We are not in the category of being a wedge issue anymore.”
Two other pieces of legislation also have been introduced this fall to address LGBT concerns.
Antonio, who became the first openly gay Ohioan elected to the state legislature in 2010, introduced hate-crimes legislation in October.
House Bill 300 would expand Ohio’s hate-crimes law – called ethnic intimidation in the state – to include crimes committed against people because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or disabilities. The law already covers race, color, religion and national origin. The law adds one degree of severity to the crime with which a suspect is charged.
Five hate crimes received wide attention this year in Ohio.
In April, a 20-year-old transgender woman named Cemia “CeCe” Dove was found dead in Olmstead Township near Cleveland. In a span of four days during June, three gay men were attacked in Columbus, and a gay man was attacked by a group of 20 young men outside a Cleveland bar over Labor Day weekend.
Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati are among Ohio cities with broad local hate-crimes laws, and a federal hate-crimes law was expanded in 2009. But Antonio said a gap exists when it comes to state-level crimes.
Her bill has been assigned to the Judiciary Committee in the Republican-controlled House. No hearing has been scheduled.
Another legislative proposal, Senate Bill 188, would ban psychologists, therapists and other professionals from trying to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of Ohio children by practicing so-called “conversion therapy.”
Ohio would be the third state to ban the discredited practice if the bill written by Sen. Charleta Tavares, D-Columbus, becomes law. The bill has been assigned to the Republican-controlled Senate’s Medicaid, Health and Human Services Committee, where no hearing has been scheduled.
“This is about protecting children,” Tavares said. “Colleagues on both sides of the aisle want to prevent anything that causes harm to young people.”