Several people identifying as transgender and gay went before an Ohio Senate committee Wednesday to tell their stories of discrimination.
They want legislators to approve a bill that would add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes under the state’s anti-discrimination law. Ohio Public Radio's Andy Chow reports.
Sitting in a Senate committee room in downtown Columbus, Jody Davis waits patiently to tell her story.
“I’m also a Christian. I’m also a mom. I’m also a wife who happens to be transgender.”
As she stands before lawmakers, she talks tells of the kind of treatment she faces as a trans woman.
“I face discrimination from a majority of places from which I try to rent an apartment for identifying myself as transgender.”
She says she experiences this prejudice in a number of scenarios, such as when it came time to buy a wedding dress.
“After hesitation, some discussion with a manager, they were able to find one person, one person at the store who was willing to work with me and fit me.”
Davis is testifying in support of a Senate bill that would add gender identity and sexual orientation to the list of classes protected by the state’s anti-discrimination laws.
Also known as the Ohio Fairness Act, the bill would apply to issues with employment, housing, and public accommodations.
Davis emphasizes the importance of creating these protections, which exist in some local municipalities but not statewide. But she adds that this can send a message of support for the LGBTQ community, including young people.
“They’re still trying to figure out themselves and any kind of legislation that they can look to and say ‘it’s safe for me to be here, it’s safe for me to be myself in my high school, in my college, in my jobs, in my family.’ I mean it’s so important.”
Davis was not the only one to share their story. One by one, different people who identify as LGBTQ and allies who stepped up to talk about how the bill could help them.
“My name is James Knapp, my pronouns are he, him, his. I went to a private, Catholic school in Akron, Ohio. I mention that only because it’s still an all-girls school and looking at me you would never guess that history about me.”
“My name is Sarah Taylor and I am the daughter of two women, Karen and Nancy.”
“My name is Thomas Grote. On a personal note, I can share with you that my being gay has not been an easy road for me.”
That was Tom Grote, whose family owns several businesses including Donatos Pizza. Grote along with the Ohio Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO discussed how important these laws can be for the business community and attracting workers.
“Having non-discrimination protections in place empowers our employees to perform at their best because they don’t have to be afraid every single day when they come to work.”
The Senate committee only heard testimony from supporters. If this bill gets another hearing, it will likely be time for opponents to offer their stance.
Those against the legislation include Citizens for Community Values. The group’s president Aaron Baer says these changes can open the door to unnecessary lawsuits.
“When you look at a bill like this that is as vague as sexual orientation and gender identity, how does a business owner know if one of their employees is gay? The idea that you can be sued by somebody for firing them because they’re gay, that’s a plaintiff lawyers dream.”
He adds that there are a lot of groups and businesses against the bill that are too afraid to speak out.
"There is no doubt that the proponents of this bill have run a campaign of fear and intimidation to try and bully people to either support this bill or be quiet on the bill. Nobody wants to be called a bigot. Nobody wants to be seen as anti-LGBT. But you can support and love your LGBT neighbors and still see this bill as harmful.”
Baer believes more people could come in opposition to the bill when the time comes.
As for Jody Davis, she says she’s privileged to have a place to live and work without discrimination. She says that’s all the more reason to fight for this bill.
“I know other people in the state don’t have the same privilege, don’t have the same access to bathrooms and health care and jobs and employment that I do, then I want to be here to speak out.”
Similar legislation has been proposed in the Ohio House and Senate since 2008. The furthest it’s gone is through the House when Democrats had control of the chamber in 2009.