Group: Sexual orientation should be added to anti-discrimination law

The Springfield Human Relations board presented its annual report to the city commission at a work session on Tuesday. The board recommended commissioners add sexual orientation to the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance.

The current ordinance prohibits discrimination based on race, religion, ancestry, sex, national origin, age and disability. No amendments have been proposed to change those rules.

In February 2012, commissioners voted 3-2 against amending the city’s anti-discrimination codes. The topic was debated for months before large crowds at commission meetings.

Commissioners Dan Martin, Joyce Chilton and Kevin O’Neill voted against the issue, while Mayor Warren Copeland and Commissioner Karen Duncan voted in favor of adding sexual orientation to the anti-discrimination codes.

In 2014, the human relation board began collecting data through surveys and public meetings to gauge discrimination in the community. The three most common concerns cited included racial discrimination; the north/south divide; and LGBT discrimination.

Research shows a welcoming environment will help residents become attached to the community and they won’t leave, Smith said.

“The reality is we continue to lose population,” Smith said.

Cities who are more welcoming through local attitudes and legislation are more attractive to the gay and lesbian community, Duncan said.

“They feel more comfortable and they’re more welcomed in different organizations,” Duncan said.

Springfield resident Jason Stevens, who opposed the issue as the county coordinator for the Citizens for Community Values during previous discussions, wants other issues to be addressed before the non-discrimination ordinance, including bringing more jobs to Springfield. He said the change will not keep people in Springfield.

“That’s statistically not true,” Stevens said. “It’s a bunch of hoopla. I don’t care what anybody says.”

Over the last five years, the issue has gotten even more complicated based on recent court cases, including the ruling on Hobby Lobby’s religious health care exemption, Martin said.

“It seems to me that the issues we wrestled with in 2011 and 2012 are just as difficult, if not more difficult,” Martin said. “My sense is that the trajectory towards answering some of these questions has to come at the federal level or if the state of Ohio does some type of state decision that gives us the road map.”

The Ohio Civil Rights Commission investigates discrimination in Springfield for a variety of different classifications based on housing, employment and public accommodation, Community Development Director Shannon Meadows said.

However, most complaints cannot be investigated because there are currently no laws at the federal or state levels providing protections for sexual orientation. Some segments of government do provide protections, including federal hiring, Human Relations Board Chair Eric Smith said.

“It’s a real hodge-podge,” Smith said. “We as a city need to decide this is the right thing to do for our citizens to have access to due process. We can’t rely on these other frameworks.”

The board believes it’s important to create the legal framework for all citizens to have due process because it’s the right thing to do, Smith said.

The report includes statements from 2011 with specific examples of discrimination based on sexual orientation. The board interviewed several people who have experienced similar discrimination, but they asked to remain anonymous due to possible employment, housing or safety repercussions.

There are no court cases because those who are discriminated against because of their sexual orientation can’t take it to the court, Smith said.

“If I’m fired and it’s because of that particular issue, sexual orientation, whatever that may be, I cannot take that to the courts and have a court case,” Smith said. “That’s why we don’t have that.”

Thank you for reading the Springfield News-Sun and for supporting local journalism. Subscribers: log in for access to your daily ePaper and premium newsletters.

Thank you for supporting in-depth local journalism with your subscription to the Springfield News-Sun. Get more news when you want it with email newsletters just for subscribers. Sign up here.

X