Hilliard City Council to consider dual approaches to LGBTQ-protection legislation June 14

A. Kevin Corvo
ThisWeek group

Hilliard City Council members are poised to consider two ordinances that would provide broader civil-rights protections to the LGBTQ community.

Each of the ordinances is scheduled for a second and final reading at 7 p.m. June 14 at the Hilliard Municipal Building, 3800 Municipal Way.

Hilliard City Hall is at 3800 Municipal Way.

One of the ordinances is more than a year in the making.

A version of that ordinance, developed by council members Cynthia Vermillion and Andy Teater, was presented to City Council in March.

Council member Omar Tarazi proffered an alternate version shortly after that.

On May 24, both ordinances were introduced, received a first reading and discussed before being advanced.

City Council also accepted public comment on the legislation May 24, and eight people spoke in favor of it.

One, Dennis Ginty, a Hilliard City Schools resident, told council members he is a gay man who avoids speaking publicly, but “there are times you need to stand up (and) do the right thing.”

Ginty said the path of the legislation “is being followed by the young people in the community,” many of whom are “struggling with their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

“To many, it is a lonely and frightening time, Ginty said. "It is hard enough to try and figure things out, but it is even more so if your own locally elected officials do not make it perfectly clear that you are respected for the whole person you truly are."

During council discussion, Tarazi and Vermillion exchanged views on each of the ordinances.

Vermillion, the lone Democrat on City Council who was elected in 2019, and Teater, a Republican and former Hilliard school board member, began working on their version of the legislation last year, Vermillion said.

They started early last year after such protections were discussed but not included in amendments to the city charter in 2019 and were not addressed in stalled legislation to amend the city code after amendments to the city charter, she said.

Their efforts came to light in February after a Hilliard Davidson High School administrator sent an email inviting students to express support for the legislation which would not be publicly introduced until March, prompting Tarazi to introduce his alternate legislation.

The legislation extends civil-rights protections to members of the LGBTQ community in three areas of life: housing, employment and public accommodations, Vermillion said.

Although state and federal laws provide such protections based on race, gender, creed, religion and other statuses, they does not do so for the traits of the LGBTQ community, she said.

The legislation also provides for the city’s law department to determine if discrimination has occurred and, if so, to remedy it by either referring the case to state or federal jurisdictions or to adjudicate it locally where civil fines could be levied, Vermillion said.

Tarazi said although he desires such legislation, he does not think the measure proposed by Vermillion and Teater would achieve the intended goal.

The legislation proposed by Tarazi would add “sexual orientation” and “gender expression” to the city’s antidiscrimination policy while also establishing criminal repercussions for violations, he said.

Hilliard resident Alex Cofield, who served on the most recent charter-review commission, said the city’s code applies to “harassing conduct” but does not go far enough to address other more nuanced forms of harassment addressed in the legislation proposed by Vermillion and Teater.

The legislation proposed by Vermillion and Teater has civil fines, but according to Tarazi, no complaints have been filed in any local jurisdiction that has city code similar to that which Hilliard is considering.

Further, within the Hilliard community, Tarazi said, many of the LGBTQ-related harassments he is aware of are school-based, for which Hilliard’s proposed legislation provides no shelter.

“(My legislation) is a substantive approach to this, while (the other) is a public-relations approach,” Tarazi said previously.

Vermillion challenged that comment May 24.

Vermillion asked for a show of hands among the gallery May 24, asking whether anyone else thought it was a public-relations “stunt” or whether it is “real.”

“This is real because it will help our LGBTQ community feel they are appreciated and valued,” Vermillion said.

In response to the position that the issue would be better considered by state and federal lawmakers, because the Ohio legislature has not passed the Ohio Fairness Act, it is up to local jurisdictions to enact their own policies, Vermillion said.

The Ohio Fairness Act refers to legislation that would protect LGBTQ Ohioans from discrimination in employment, housing and accommodations, according to a story published by cleveland.com.

Council member Les Carrier said he believes council will achieve an acceptable policy that meets the intended goal and the different views in the community.

“You cannot overstate how consequential and far-reaching this is, as a matter of law and policy," Carrier said. "LGBTQ persons wish to have full membership in society codified, something absent in federal and state law. Similarly, those with traditional faith-arrived views on sexuality and marriage feel compelled to live in obedience to the Divine.

“You can’t have a weightier issue, (but) it doesn’t have to be a zero-sum discussion.”

kcorvo@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekCorvo