Powerful Testimony Takes Center Stage at Ohio Fairness Act Hearing

By Shane Stahl • February 1, 2018 • 11:50 am

On January 31, constituents from all across the state of Ohio convened in a packed chamber at the Statehouse in Columbus to attend the second hearing of HB 160, also known as the Ohio Fairness Act, which would provide inclusive non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people in housing, employment, and public accommodations. This marks the first time in Ohio history a comprehensive non-discrimination bill has received a second hearing in the state legislature.

HB 160 has been assigned to the Government Oversight and Accountability Committee, and yesterday 17 people gave powerful and moving testimony to committee members including chair Rep. Louis W. Blessing III (R-District 29) and ranking member Rep. Kathleen Clyde (D-District 75). Rep. Nickie Antonio (D-District 13) sponsored the bill for the eleventh time this legislative cycle and was in attendance to provide support to those testifying. In all, a total of 96 people were on hand to testify, and more than 150 written pieces of testimony were submitted to the committee.

“The chair was awesome in terms of working with us,” Antonio told Freedom for All Americans. “I think the message was heard loud and clear, and I’ll tell you, the fact that we have the Ohio Chamber of Commerce’s support is huge.”

The business case for passing the Ohio Fairness Act was a cornerstone of yesterday’s testimony. Several business owners and entrepreneurs spoke about how a lack of comprehensive non-discrimination laws had a direct impact on Ohio’s economy and the ability to attract and retain the best talent. In addition, the membership of Ohio Business Competes, a coalition of over 300 businesses large and small throughout the Buckeye State supporting non-discrimination protections, was visually displayed during testimony.

Don Boyd, the Director of Legal Affairs for the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, testified: “Ensuring Ohio’s future business competitiveness is good for all. In advancing Ohio’s business climate, the Chamber recognizes the value of diversity. The current patchwork of ordinances creates a compliance nightmare for Ohio businesses”

Alana Jochum, Executive Director of Equality Ohio, the state’s leading group promoting fairness and equal treatment for LGBTQ people and one of the most powerful proponents of the legislation, was also on hand to provide testimony. “I am here in part to represent the many who cannot be, because they are afraid of living as their true self,” she offered. “The chorus of voices not able to be here speaks volumes.”

Following the hearing, Jochum said:

“We are thrilled at the turnount of Ohio businesses, LGBTQ Ohioans, parents, friends, and allies today to the hearing on HB 160. We are hopeful that HB 160 will be voted out of committee and to a full vote and passage in the House.” – Alana Jochum, Executive Director, Equality Ohio

Perhaps the most moving testimony of the day came from the last person to speak, 9-year-old Sean, a transgender girl. She described how she had been bullied and discriminated against in her school by classmates, and how her pleas to adults in school went ignored:

“My principal didn’t protect me, she discriminated against me.I guess that makes her a bully too. The Constitution says we are entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Please protect my happiness, and please don’t be bullies.” – Sean, 9-year-old transgender girl in Ohio

To follow the latest on HB 160 and other Ohio legislation, use our Legislative Tracker here.

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