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Business leaders gather at Statehouse in support of anti-discrimination legislation

(March 21, 2019) — Business leaders and advocates from across Ohio gathered Thursday at the Statehouse to pledge support for legislation that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.

The so-called Ohio Fairness Act, sponsored by Sen. Nickie Antonio, D-Lakewood, would update state anti-discrimination laws to include employment, housing and public accommodation protections for members of the LGBT community.

“The passage of this bill — which we hope to do this General Assembly — will signal to workers and to businesses that Ohio is an open, fair and welcoming place to put down roots, to pursue a career and to raise a family,” she said.

Antonio has introduced this bill four previous times, gaining little advancement in past Republican-controlled legislature. However, this time, Antonio said, is different.

More than 600 businesses statewide have indicated their support for the bill including Starbucks, BP, Bob Evans, U.S. Bank, Columbia Gas, Honda, and various Ohio universities and health-care facilities.

“The business of tomorrow are not built on bigotry and unwelcoming business community, but on the value of attracting and developing a diverse pool of talent,” Shawn Copeland, Ohio state director of the Human Rights Campaign, said.

With masses of baby boomers leaving the workforce, employers face a deficit, business leaders say. Qualified workers and members of the LGBTQ community are not coming to Ohio because of the lack of equal protections.

“Businesses view this policy as a tool to attract and recruit the best and the brightest talent, as well as diversify their labor force,” Columbus Chamber of Commerce board chair for government affairs Derrick Clay said. “Once recruited, employees must feel safe and welcomed in order to stay.”

Lima-resident and Allen County Chamber of Commerce member Marin Harbur knows this all too well.

Harbur was fired from her job in 2015 for identifying as transgender. She now works remotely for a company in Minnesota, an LGBT-friendly state — “exporting” her talents elsewhere.

Lima has since pledged its support for anti-discrimination laws.

“LGBTQ equality is not just important to big cities and trendy suburbs, but to rural Ohio as well,” Harbur said. “Lima is small, but our economy is growing. We need to attract the best talent regardless of race, color, religion, sex, military status or disability … If you are thoughtful and dedicated, we need you in our community.”

Similarly, Tom Greene, owner of Greene Tool Systems in Dayton, and Jennifer Evans of TransOhio shared their hopes for a more equal Ohio. Both are parents of LGBT-identifying children.

“Before my sons came out, this was a not an issue, but now it is because I see what happens to them,” Greene said.

“When children come out, you’re faced with a decision: ‘Do you love your children? Can you accept what they’re going through?’ And I love my children. And it was time for me to step up … because it’s just not fair.”