The Gambier Village Council Monday made the town the 29th municipality in Ohio to pass its own version of the Ohio Fairness Act, legislation that adds sexual orientation and gender identity or expression to antidiscrimination laws in the Buckeye State. Gambier also happened to be the first to do so via Zoom.
“The world seems to be on hold, but many people can’t wait to be afforded basic legal protections everyone else has,” Alana Jochum, executive director of Equality Ohio, said in a statement. “Generally, LGBTQ people in Ohio are not covered in the laws that make discrimination illegal. We are all making hard decisions right now. Whether or not you can be out and open at work should not be one of them. We applaud Gambier for protecting its residents and advocating for all LGBTQ Ohioans.”
Most of the council attended the monthly meeting remotely via Zoom, the Mount Vernon News reports. Only Mayor Leeman Kessler, Fiscal Officer Kathi Schonauer, and Administrator R.C. Wise attended in person at the village community center.
The Ohio Fairness Act is the name given to bills pending in both houses of the state legislature that would outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in housing, employment, and public accommodations. The Senate version of the bill, SB 11, was introduced by lesbian Sen. Nickie J. Antonio and Sen. Michael Rulli.
“This bill has support from the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, the Ohio Manufacturers' Association and hundreds of other businesses in our state,” Antonio said in a statement when it was introduced last year. “Employers know these policies are good for business and create opportunity for communities, businesses, and workers, which can further Ohio as a serious contender in the global economy.” Antonio tried to pass a similar bill four times while serving as a representative in the House.
Introduced by Reps. Michael Skindell and Brett Hillyer, the current House version of the Ohio Fairness Act, HB 369, is a bipartisan effort. Hillyer is a conservative Republican who felt the bill’s protection of individual liberties and the right to work fit well with his beliefs in self-reliance and individual liberty.
"As a conservative, it's my belief that you should be able to work and be yourself, and so long as you can show up and do your job and do what your employer asks of you, then you should have protections under the law," Hillyer said in a statement.
Gambier, which is home to Kenyon College, and the other towns that have adopted LGBTQ-inclusive civil rights laws are the exception to the rule in Ohio. But their actions mean that over a quarter of the state's population is covered by such laws.
Meanwhile, the Ohio Fairness Act is stalled in the legislature. Jochum is asking for the community’s help in getting the bills heard and passed. “We need everyone to call their Ohio elected representatives right now and ask that the Ohio Fairness Act move forward. This is not the time to withhold worker protections,” she said.