Reynoldsburg is the latest Ohio city to expand discrimination protections to LGBTQ persons.

City Council unanimously approved a new ordinance June 22, adding sexual orientation, gender identity or expression and natural hairstyle as protected classes, expanding the city’s anti-discrimination laws related to housing, employment and public-accommodation practices.

The new law goes into effect July 22.

The ordinance is a response to Ohio House Bill 369 and Ohio Senate Bill 11, commonly referred to as the “Ohio Fairness Act,” which would expand protections based on sexual orientation, gender identification and gender expression.

Both bills have stalled at the Statehouse.

The “natural hair style” component refers to House Bill 535, introduced by state Reps. Paula Hicks-Hudson (D-Cleveland) and Juanita Brent (D-Toledo).

Described as the CROWN Act (an acronym that stands for creating a respectful and open world for natural hair), the bill would ban discriminatory policies in Ohio schools that penalize students, especially students of color, for wearing natural hairstyles that embrace their cultural identities, according to a March news release by Hicks-Hudson.

Reynoldsburg joins more than two dozen other communities across the state that have enacted similar legislation, including Bexley, Columbus, Westerville and Worthington.

The Reynoldsburg legislation was introduced by Councilwoman Kristin Bryant, who heads the public safety, law and courts committee. She introduced similar legislation in April 2018, but it stalled at the committee level in a 3-2 vote.

“When I brought this forward in 2018, they were using a model from Bexley. (City) attorney (Chris) Shook painstakingly went through the ordinances of many cities throughout Ohio and he took the best of the best,” Bryant said. “I’m optimistic – maybe not realistic, but optimistic – that the state will pass the Ohio Fairness Act. (LGBTQ people) are not trying to be special. They just want to have the same rights as everybody else.”

Councilman Stacie Baker, who in 2018 voted with Bryant, in favor of moving the legislation forward, said the ordinance was “long overdue” in Reynoldsburg.

“Two years ago, we tried, and it should have passed then,” he said.

The new ordinance provides recourse for people who believe they have suffered discriminatory acts or practices not otherwise protected by state or federal law. Written complaints would have to be filed with the city and sworn to under oath, within 180 days of the incident. If the charge of discrimination alleges a violation based on race, sex, ethnicity, national origin, religion, age, disability, military status or any other class protected under state or federal law, then the complaint must be filed with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission or Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

According to the ordinance, once a complaint is received, the city attorney’s office would investigate to determine if there is probable cause to believe discrimination occurred. If so, a hearing officer would be appointed to conduct an administrative hearing.

The hearing officer could issue findings of fact and conclusions of law and could issue orders and impose sanctions, including administrative costs, attorney fees incurred by the complainant and a civil penalty of up to $2,500, according to the legislation.

The legislation provides exemptions for those seeking employment at a religious corporation, association, educational institution or society and “allows a religious institution to employ only those people of the same religion,” Shook said.

It also includes definitions of commercial and noncommercial activity, to help provide clarity for religious institutions, he said.

Ward 4 Councilwoman Meredith Lawson-Rowe said the new law is an opportunity to “change hearts.”

“I know that things can’t always be enforced behind closed doors, but I’m going to do what I can do to pull back the curtain,” Lawson-Rowe said. “I fully support this anti-discrimination ordinance. Those who don’t are welcome to their opinions and we’re still neighbors.”

The complete ordinance can be read online at tinyurl.com/yatpvh88.

The next council meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. July 13 at City Hall, 7232 E. Main St.

editorial@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekNews