Eric Hayes, Communications and Development Coordinator
The US Department of Justice has been on a roll recently. If you’ve been reading our blog or watching the news lately, you’ll know that we’ve seen policies ending safety guidelines for trans youth in schools, arguments that businesses can discriminate against the LGBTQ community, and the quiet withdrawal from challenges to discriminatory laws at the state and local level. One of the more notable actions taken by the DOJ recently involves arguing in court that it is acceptable by federal law for employers to discriminate against LGBTQ individuals.
This viewpoint is especially noteworthy because it directly contradicts the rulings of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC): the federal agency that usually administers workplace discrimination law. The EEOC has ruled on several occasions that discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression are by nature based on sex stereotyping, which makes them a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The rulings of the EEOC, however, are not binding over privately held businesses, and federal courts may make different rulings. While there is no fully held consensus between federal adjudicators, it is very atypical for one federal agency to contradict another in this manner.
But instead of going deeper into the confusing rabbit hole that is the EEOC and its role in the creation and enforcement of nondiscrimination policy, let’s bring things down to a more local level. The LGBTQ community has never enjoyed the privilege of an enforceable, evenly-applied federal level protection from employment discrimination. Most of these protections only exist at the local or state level. This means that whether you are protected or not has a lot to do with geography. 22 out of 50 states currently have laws that protect people from discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Let’s take a look at the state of Ohio.
- No state law in Ohio addresses LGBT workplace discrimination.
- Governor John Kasich has signed an executive order prohibiting discrimination against state employees on the basis of sexual orientation, it does not address gender identity and it does not apply to private businesses.
- According to a 2013 poll by Goodwin Simon Strategic Research, 79% of Ohio registered voters believe laws should be passed to protect LGBT people for employment, housing, and public accommodations.
- Many bills have been brought to the Ohio General Assembly to protect LGBTQ people from workplace discrimination, but none have ever been given a vote in both chambers.
- Currently, Ohio Senate Bill 100 and House Bill 160 have been introduced for the 2017-2018 legislature to consider.
On a local level, over a dozen cities prohibit employment discrimination including Cleveland, Athens, Bowling Green, Columbus, Canton, Cincinnati, Dayton, Toledo, and several others. These local level protections are important, but often become difficult from an enforcement standpoint.
It is a major issue for the LGBTQ community that the DOJ is taking up the fight to justify discrimination against LGBTQ people, but it is not a new issue. As our community rallies to protect our rights, it is paramount that we do not focus all of our attention on the federal level and forget the importance of local politics. Local level protections are easier to put into place, and have a real effect on many people’s lives.