Dialogue sought on discrimination laws

An effort to expand local non-discrimination laws to include sexual orientation last year failed, but its proponents want to keep the conversation going.

Equality Springfield Community Action ran a full-page ad in the Springfield News-Sun on Sunday inviting Springfield City Commissioners Joyce Chilton, Dan Martin and Kevin O’Neill to a forum at 7 p.m. today in the City Hall Forum, 76 E. High St.

The three commissioners voted against adding sexual orientation to the city’s non-discrimination language in February 2012

“They’ve already made their decision,” said Rick Incorvati of Equality Springfield. “But we don’t feel like that conversation is done. We’re encouraging ways of continuing a dialogue with those commissioners.”

The forum will feature two speakers, including Lynne Bowman of the Human Rights Campaign and Elyzabeth Holford of Equality Ohio, who will discuss lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues in Springfield, the state and the nation. The forum is free and open to the public.

Chilton declined to comment on Monday. Martin reiterated his stance that rights decisions should be made at the federal and state level.

“I don’t believe municipalities should determine constitutional rights and responsibilities, including the creation of protected classifications,” Martin said.

O’Neill said he plans to attend, although he hasn’t changed his stance.

“They’re entitled to their opinion,” O’Neill said. “I stand in my position that we have had no proof of and kind of discrimination with regards to jobs and with regards to housing.”

Equality Springfield is a non-profit groups representing the interests of LGBT residents in Springfield and Clark County. In the past three years, the three commissioners haven’t attended an Equality Springfield event, the ad said, despite saying education has a role in addressing discrimination.

“The track record hasn’t been strong,” Incorvati said. “We’re just hoping for change.”

While keeping the dialogue open is important, the group doesn’t plan to pursue legislation again soon.

“Until one of these commissioners provides some indication they think workplace protections and housing protections is something they can get behind, we don’t have any other plans,” Incorvati said. “We’re really kind of stuck with this commission. They’ve spoken, and we’re trying to just keep open the dialogue and keep open the opportunities that maybe there’s a change of heart.”

O’Neill said the issue should be handled by the state legislature, rather than local governments across the state where laws can change from municipality to municipality.

At the state level, state Rep. Ross McGregor, R-Springfield, is co-sponsoring a bill that would outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation. An identical bill is also being heard in the Ohio Senate.

McGregor said the bill is similar to legislation he’s introduced twice before.

“It’s an issue that’s important, and one I’ll continue to pursue legislatively,” McGregor said. “We’re excited to have the process start again. Discrimination in any form is bad and reflects poorly on our state and communities. I don’t think Ohio should be known as a place where you can be fired for being gay, and currently, that is the case.”

The bill would exempt religious organizations and small businesses without human resource operations.

“(The bill) sends a message that we value everybody for their contributions to the workplace and our communities,” McGregor said.

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