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Cincinnati council members want to make changes to non-discrimination ordinance

Includes gender, military status, breastfeeding
Cincinnati City Hall
Posted at 3:24 PM, May 23, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-23 19:43:33-04

CINCINNATI — Two Cincinnati council members are proposing changes to the city's non-discrimination ordinance to include updated language on gender, military status, breastfeeding women and more.

The changes apply to public area and businesses, landlords and employers.

Democrats Reggie Harris and Victoria Parks are proposing the changes, which council could vote on this week.

The current ordinance includes protections for transgender people under 'sexual orientation.' But, in the proposed changes, that would be replaced by new sections on 'gender identity,' 'gender expression' and 'sex.'

Also included in the changes are protections for 'military status,' 'familial status' and 'breastfeeding status.'

"I think women should be able to [breastfeed] unfettered, without being ticketed or kicked out of a restaurant," Parks said. "What I like about this council is that we are pretty commonsense. And the other thing is that this is a component in our efforts to increase equity in our city."

Read the full ordinance below:

Other changes would tighten exemptions in the current ordinance as it related to religious groups with public events and spaces, and size of affected businesses and landlords.

Harris said the changes would bring Cincinnati in line with other cities across Ohio, like Columbus, Worthington and Hilliard in central Ohio. They would also mirror some proposed equality legislation at the state and federal level, which has yet to pass either.

"We are not taking anything that is so radical or new or unheard of," Harris said. "We are making sure we are in line. And we're making sure everything that is in our non-discrimination ordinance is included in the Ohio Fairness Act that is yet to be passed but we are still advocating for."

Harris, Parks, Mayor Aftab Pureval and other council members were joined at a news conference Monday by Alana Jochum, executive director of Equality Ohio, and Pastor Lesley Jones, from Truth and Destiny Church. Harris is a former board member for Equality Ohio.

"This is about ensuring that our laws reflect our values of mutual support and acceptance," Pureval said.

The proposed changes come as some lawmakers in Columbus — and other state capitols — have introduced legislation targeting transgender kids in sports and transgender healthcare.

For local activists, the changes and updates represent a dramatic shift from the Cincinnati of 30 years ago.

"This isn't a small thing," said attorney Scott Knox. "Most businesses want to follow the law. It also has symbolism to it, announcing, 'Here's who our community wants to be. If you have valuable contributions to make, it doesn't matter if you're LGBTQ, come and make them.'"

In 1992, the City of Cincinnati adopted a human rights ordinance, which included sexual orientation. The backlash came quickly, with city voters approving a measure to remove sexual orientation from the ordinance in 1993.

"It sure felt a lot like your community doesn’t want you here," Knox told WCPO in 2021.

A federal judge ruled the measure unconstitutional. But then it got worse for the Cincinnati LGBTQ community.

Cincinnati voters approved Article XII, codifying that "no special class status may be granted based upon sexual orientation, conduct, or relationships."

"We were the only city in the country that had a regulation that said City Council was prohibited from passing any law that would protect LGBTQ people from discrimination," said Knox. "It said this one set of people had no access to the government."

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