It’s time for legislators to pass the Ohio Fairness Act

On behalf of our respective businesses and the Ohio Business Competes coalition, we implore the Ohio General Assembly to pass the Ohio Fairness Act (House Bill 369 and Senate Bill 11).

Ohio Business Competes is a group of over 1,000 organizations, nonprofits, unions and businesses of all sizes across Ohio who have come together to advocate for LGBTQ Ohioans to be treated as equals under the law. The Ohio Fairness Act simply adds “sexual orientation” and “gender identity or expression” to Ohio’s nondiscrimination laws to ensure that the LGBTQ community cannot be discriminated against in employment, housing and public accommodations.

At the Cleveland Clinic, the Eaton Corporation, Ernst & Young, Avery Dennison and PNC Bank, we continue to celebrate the recent Supreme Court decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, in which the court recognized in a 6-3 majority that Title VII “sex” discrimination protections cover LGBTQ workers. We welcome that the directives of Bostock apply to large companies like ours — many of whom have had supportive policies for LGBTQ employees in place for years.

But we also know that it’s not enough.

Though the Supreme Court’s decision was momentous and brings a level of job security to countless LGBTQ people across the country, it doesn’t protect everyone and it only applies to federal employment law. As some of the largest employers in the state, all of our employees are covered under this decision, but many workers in Ohio are not. Federal employment discrimination law only applies to employers with 15 or more employees, so if someone works for a small or medium-sized business (like the vast majority of Ohio Business Competes members), they can still be fired because of who they are or whom they love.

And we need to ensure that our LGBTQ employees are protected against discrimination in all parts of their lives — not just at work. It is still the case in Ohio that landlords and real estate agents can refuse to rent or sell someone a home because they happen to be gay or transgender. They can also be refused service at “public accommodations,” like coffee shops, hotels or restaurants.

With campuses and employees across the state in cities large and small, the absence of those protections speaks volumes to our employees. We know that our employees cannot bring their full selves to work if they lose aspects of their civil rights on their daily commute.

In writing the court’s decision, Justice Neil Gorsuch was clear: discrimination against job applicants and employees based on their sexual orientation or gender identity or expression is both wrong and illegal.

But it is also good for business to welcome LGBTQ people. Passing the Ohio Fairness Act will put our state in a better position to compete for the best and brightest workforce. LGBTQ people want to know that they will be protected if they move here to work, and many of the young people in our state are moving away for college and employment because they feel safer and more welcomed in other places that have such protections in place.

The “brain drain” that Ohio’s economy is feeling right now is real, especially as we experience the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. As the Ohio legislature debates how to best recover from the pandemic and use the state’s limited resources to help that recovery, the Ohio Fairness Act serves as a no-cost opportunity to give our state an economic boost. Our elected leaders should take advantage of this opportunity and make Ohio a more equitable place to live and work in the process.

As some of the largest businesses and employers in Ohio, we feel we have a moral and economic imperative to combat inequality wherever it exists in our state and in our communities. Racism is a public health crisis. Combating discrimination in all its forms and taking action as clinicians guides our pursuit of true equality, justice and care for our patients and community. We are proud to be members of Ohio Business Competes to promote a fairer, more just Ohio.

It is time to pass the Ohio Fairness Act. Businesses support it — as do the vast majority of Ohioans — and equity in Ohio demands it now.

James Hekman, M.D., is regional medical director for the West Region of the Cleveland Clinic. He is a staff physician at the Lakewood Family Health Center and at the Cleveland Clinic Center for LGBTQ+ Care.
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