Ohio should pass a law preventing discrimination in the workplace on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
In a 2009 study, more than one in 10 lesbian, gay, or transgender people from across the U.S. reported having experienced employment or housing discrimination. According to a 2002 study, gay males earn between 16 percent and 28 percent less than their heterosexual male counterparts. Further, 90 percent of the transgender population has experienced some kind of employment discrimination. To stop this abuse of civil rights and safeguard the welfare of all Ohioans, the state of Ohio should add sexual orientation and gender identity to existing law protecting against such discriminatory employment practices.
The definitions of sexual orientation and gender identity as given in H.B. 335 are insufficiently clear or broad. Currently, the bill defines sexual orientation as “actual or perceived heterosexuality, homosexuality, or bisexuality,” which is similar to the definitions used by some other U.S. states that have enacted similar laws. However, in 2006, an international panel of human rights experts generated a set of more comprehensive definitions. Their improved definition of sexual orientation includes “the capacity for profound emotional, affectional and sexual attraction to, and intimate and sexual relations with, individuals of a different gender or the same gender or more than one gender,” or lack thereof.
This definition guarantees protection to a wider section of the population and is similar to the legal definition currently used in Minnesota. More importantly, defining sexual orientation without creating specific subcategories of attraction helps ensure that the law protects everyone, regardless of their orientation.
The elimination of employment discrimination would not only protect especially vulnerable sections of the population, but also makes good economic sense. The poverty rates for homosexual men and women are above the national average, and they are more likely to be receiving public assistance than their heterosexual counterparts. Transgender people, meanwhile, have unemployment and homelessness rates at nearly double that of the general population, likely as a result of the widespread prejudices they face. By eliminating discrimination in the workplace, Ohio could provide these vulnerable individuals with the opportunity to better their situation without needing to spend significantly more state funds.
Since job discrimination contributes to the economic disadvantages these communities face, ending it could help thousands of Ohioans improve their economic status. H.B. 335 also includes important provisions preventing housing discrimination, which, in combination with improved employment prospects, could help remedy the problem of homelessness. Fewer homeless people and more employment would then benefit all Ohioans, without significant costs to the state.