Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who sought the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, has signed an executive order prohibiting discrimination against transgender state employees — in his last month in office.
Kasich’s order bans discrimination on the basis of both sexual orientation and gender identity or expression, along with numerous other characteristics, such as sex, race, and religion. It replaces one from 2011 that covered a variety of traits including sexual orientation but not gender identity or expression.
“It’s just the right thing to do,” Kasich said Wednesday via Twitter.
It’s just the right thing to do.
— John Kasich (@JohnKasich) December 19, 2018
The order is one of his last actions as governor. He did not seek reelection this year due to term limits. His successor, taking office in January, will be another Republican, Mike DeWine. Although DeWine “has not weighed in on this specific executive order, he has expressed an openness to preserving Kasich’s executive orders, according to Freedom for All Americans,” the Washington Blade reports.
Asked why Kasich signed the order now, his spokesman Jon Keeling told the Blade, “The governor continues to be opposed to discrimination in state employment and this order reflects how he believes that policy should be implemented.” Ohio has no law protecting private-sector employees from anti-LGBTQ discrimination.
Kasich, while solidly conservative, generally appeared more flexible than other Republican presidential aspirants during debates in the 2016 election cycle. He has been a major critic of Donald Trump, and there has been speculation that he would challenge Trump in the 2020 Republican primaries.
“However, on the same day he signed the executive order, Kasich threw cold water on the idea,” the Blade notes. At a speech in Columbus, he said, “I don’t get into things that I don’t think I can win. And I think right now, today, inside the Republican Party, I can’t beat him [Trump] in a primary,” The Plain Dealer of Cleveland reports.
Kasich, who was a U.S. House member from Ohio and Fox News host before he became governor, does not have a great record on LGBTQ rights, although in the 2016 election cycle he stood out as a little less homophobic than other Republicans. He said he had opposed legalizing same-sex marriage, but he accepted the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on the matter and had moved on.
He also said it was wrong for business owners to turn away LGBTQ customers and others who offend their religious beliefs. “I mean, if you’re in the business of commerce, conduct commerce. That’s my view,” he said in a February 2016 debate. “And if you don’t agree with their lifestyle, say a prayer for them when they leave and hope they change their behavior.”
But he backtracked in a debate a week later, saying forcing business owners to participate in something they don’t endorse, such as a same-sex marriage, was a separate issue. He encouraged people turned away to be “tolerant,” saying, “If you go to a photographer to take pictures at your wedding, and he says, I’d rather not do it, find another photographer, don’t sue them in court.” He said he hoped “common sense” would prevail and there wouldn’t be a need for religious objections laws.
His executive order offers recourse to state workers who believe they’ve been subjected to discrimination by going to their supervisors, the Ohio Civil Rights Commission, and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Penalties for those who discriminate include termination.
Despite the lateness of the order, Kasich received praise from several LGBTQ rights groups. Kasich “heard his constituents loud and clear and … took action to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in the workplace,” said a statement issued by Masen Davis, CEO of Freedom for All Americans.
“Equality Ohio has been sending the governor letters with stories from LGBTQ Ohioans about their experiences with discrimination throughout the year and finding opportunities to grow his familiarity with transgender people and their lives,” the group’s executive director, Alana Jochum, told the Blade. “He heard this call, and we are grateful for Gov. Kasich’s leadership in extending nondiscrimination protections for transgender state employees.”
And TransOhio executive director James Knapp said Kasich’s action marks “truly an important and historic day — not just for the transgender community — but for the entire state.”